Software firm New Relic isn’t based in Portland, but the city has a major influence on the company.
And a lot of that can be traced to Jim Gochee, the company’s chief product officer, who has been here from the company’s start.
New Relic employs more than 400 people in Portland, where they occupy four floors in US Bancorp Tower downtown. Most of that workforce is engineers developing the company’s application-management product, which is used by more than 16,000 customers, including Fortune 500 and Global 2000 brands. Those companies use New Relic to monitor how their own software is working.
A push into larger enterprise customers over the last two years has re-accelerated New Relic’s growth, leading to its first-ever non-GAAP operating profit last month.
“That was a huge milestone for us,” said Gochee, the company’s highest-ranking Portland-based executive.
Gochee moved to Portland in 2002. He joined San Francisco-based New Relic when it launched 10 years ago by his old college buddy, CEO and founder Lew Cirne. Gochee has witnessed the company grow from a handful of engineers to more than 1,200 global employees, and helped take the company public in 2014.
We caught up with Gochee to talk about the journey from startup to IPO and growth of Portland’s reputation for software. This interview has been edited for length.
How did you end up in Portland? I grew up in New Hampshire, went to college at Dartmouth. After college I moved to the Bay Area to work for Apple. Did that for four years. Got married to my college sweetheart. We then moved to Wisconsin for six years. She is from Oregon and Wisconsin didn’t quite feel like it was going to be home, so we moved. I have always loved Oregon. In many ways, once you get out of the city, rural Oregon feels like New Hampshire to me. Lots of mountains and outdoor spaces and outdoor activities. That’s how I ended up in Portland in 2002.
Portland software wasn’t as vibrant in 2002. Where did you land? I ended up being a remote worker for a company called Wily Technology. That was a company that was founded by Lew Cirne, who is our CEO of New Relic. Lew and I met in college. When I couldn’t find a job in Portland I reached out to my network and they were hiring. I was just a remote telecommuter.
Did you think at the time that Portland could become the software hub it is now? I thought that it would come, and here’s why: It’s close enough to the Bay Area, and I knew from personal experience that the Bay Area was a challenging place to live from a cost-of-living perspective. And you don’t have the natural outdoor beauty in the Bay Area that you have here, at least I don’t think. Certainly, California has lots of beautiful places, but you don’t have to hardly drive here to get that. So I always thought Portland was fairly well positioned. However, what I never fully predicted was this artisan movement and younger people wanting to come to Portland, and different ways of thinking about social issues and business artisanship and craftsmanship issues. That has been really interesting. It was fairly blue collar when I first moved here.
You joined the company when it had fewer than 10 people. Now it’s a big public company. What has that journey been like? This is my first time seeing (a company) through to this size. I have worked at small startups before. And New Relic is by far and away the most successful one. To be on the journey from under 10, where I was working with our CEO writing code and very little management and executive leadership, to the size it’s at now and the position I’m in, where I oversee all of the product organization, these opportunities come once in a lifetime. While we are not as high profile and as big as the Googles and the Facebooks, we have our own story that, in some ways, is very similar in that tech guys started small and were able to grow something very big.
How did you train yourself as the organization got bigger? For me personally, I have always just had to continue to analyze and learn on the job. A couple of resources I would really recommend: First, Harvard Business Review has fantastic, really concise and impactful articles on all kinds of business topics. I have been a huge fan of Harvard Business Review. I love to always have a business book that I am reading. A couple recently that I have read, “Good Strategy, Bad Strategy,” “Competing Against Luck” and the “Mindset” book. Just really being willing to learn and to read and to think.
What is the biggest lesson you learned from taking a small company through to its IPO? You have to really have a growth mindset, in that, face your fears in terms of the things you don’t think you are good at or you don’t think you could ever do. Face those fears and take it as a learning opportunity because the demands that will be placed on you as an individual when you are at a fast-growth company like this are really steep.
How does the growth of Portland’s tech scene compare to other places? I think Portland still struggles from not having a large — like mega large — software company, in the sense that Seattle has Microsoft and Amazon both, which is fantastic for them. Portland, to me, feels more like Boston or New York in this respect. It’s a catch-22 and it’s around the VCs and the startups and having the executive talent and is there critical mass. I think Portland has reached critical mass for that smaller tech company and certainly a lot of bootstrapped, self-funded companies I see doing really well. But there isn’t that critical mass of higher risk ventures with VC capital to match.
Is that good or bad? Truthfully, I think it’s OK. The ideas that are generating out of Portland, the companies I see are kind of more grounded in reality. They can’t be so pie-in-the-sky because they can’t get funding. I know for example some of the local VCs will only fund if there is already $1 million to $2 million in revenue. So the companies had to really prove themselves before the VCs are willing to step in. It means the things that come out of Portland will be real things that customers are willing to pay money for.
How do you see New Relic fitting into this whole landscape? I think we are very complementary. We are now drawing people from outside of the city to move here. In a way we are an anchor employer. And we know we have had people leave and go start companies.
New Relic has a reputation for having a good culture. How do you describe the culture here? It’s a very warm and caring and people-oriented culture, which in tech is a little bit unusual. Usually in tech the culture can be around who is the smartest or who is the most knowledgeable on certain technologies. And what we found over time was that our best performing teams were the ones that got along well. We always joke, our CEO is from Canada, and they are all pretty friendly. Those of us in Portland, we think we are pretty friendly, too. We wanted a friendly, nice place. Now, we are all building a company, so we have to sometimes be hard or make decisions we don’t want to do. But at the end of the day, it’s easier if people are getting along well, supporting each other. That is when you tend to be the most productive.
How do you nurture that in your team? These cultural things get established early. What happens is the people you hire carry the culture forward. When we look at whether an employee is having success here, (we ask) are they supporting the team? Are they inclusive in how they interact with others? Sometimes we have to make a hard decision if we think that individual is not really doing that.
Title: Chief product officer, New Relic
Hometown: Milford, N.H.
Education: Bachelor of arts in computer science, Dartmouth College
Moved to Portland: 2002
Most played on the playlist: “At Folsom Prison,” Johnny Cash
Favorite Portland restaurant: Le Chon
Outdoor activities: skiing, boating, wind surfing, paddle boarding
Favorite Oregon skiing: Mt. Bachelor
Top La Croix flavor: Pamplemousse