Abe Fettig (left) and Elliot Murphy are tasked with building out a San Francisco-based startup's software development team in Portland.

Abe Fettig (left) and Elliot Murphy are tasked with building out a San Francisco-based startup’s software development team in Portland. (Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer).


A San Francisco-based software startup has planted its flag in Portland, choosing the city as its East Coast beachhead and home to its nascent development team.

The startup, called Figly, has hired local software engineer Elliot Murphy to open “Figly East” in Portland. Murphy, Figly’s new VP of engineering, has a budget to hire three senior software developers, with more expected as the company scales up.

Murphy is joined in Portland by Abe Fettig, who has worked remotely for Figly for two years. Murphy and Fettig met while working at Portland’s ThinkTank, a co-working space on Congress Street. For now, Murphy and Fettig will continue to work out of ThinkTank, but Murphy expects that as the team grows, they’ll need to find their own space.

Figly is not the first out-of-state startup to bet on Portland. Likeable Local, a social media tech startup based in New York City, also chose to locate its development team in Portland. Likeable Local’s team also located at ThinkTank, but it outgrew the space and recently signed a lease on new digs in town.

Figly has been in stealth mode for a few years. It was working on developing a knowledge-sharing application before recently pivoting to tackle a larger problem: the difficulty of building user-friendly enterprise software.

Large companies like FedEx and Costco often need to develop their own internal applications to meet specific commercial or industrial needs. To date, the usability and sync-able features of these internal applications has lagged behind the more user-friendly apps available to consumers, according to Murphy. Figly plans to change that by building its own platform to streamline the process of building enterprise applications.

“Bringing the consumer-level functionality people have come to be delighted by is completely absent from enterprise software,” Murphy said. “Our goal is to basically take the development effort of building an enterprise application from about 10 person months down to a week. We think it could be pretty big.”

Murphy recently left a job as CTO of a Massachusetts-based health care startup. When looking for a new job, he was adamant that his new bosses allow him to remain in Portland, where Murphy relocated to from Florida three years ago for the quality of life. Once he secured that assurance from Figly’s founders, it didn’t take much convincing before his new bosses allowed him to hire more people in Portland.

John Dismore, one of Figly’s founders, said he and his partner’s philosophy has always been to hire the best people wherever they are, “so Abe and Elliot didn’t need to do any convincing there.”

“So our starting point wasn’t Maine or Portland per se but rather Abe and Elliot and the skills they bring to our team,” Dismore wrote in an email. “I will say however that Portland appears to have a really vibrant tech community and we see our team growing there largely due to Abe & Elliot being so actively involved in various meetups and the ThinkTank co-working space.”

While many startups benefit from tapping the army of software developers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, that plethora of talent can also be a detriment for a startup looking to build a dev team.

“There are plenty of engineers out there, but it’s a saturated market. It’s sort of an echo chamber,” Murphy said. “What was really appealing to [Figly’s founders] about having folks on the East Coast and specifically around Portland is that it’s a desirable place for people to raise families and there’s a different talent pool that we can pull from.”

In Silicon Valley, companies face high employee turnover as software developers hop from one new hot startup to another. Murphy expects an engineer working in Portland will likely stick around longer. He didn’t say it, but it’s safe to assume software developers in Portland probably cost less than those in San Fran and Silicon Valley.

“We really want to build something bigger,” Murphy said.

To be clear, Murphy will hire software engineers who are located elsewhere, but will look to hire locally whenever possible. He doesn’t expect he’ll have a problem, but does expect to do what he can to attract local talent and help groom it through an internship program.

“I think we have a huge opportunity in developing new talent here in Maine,” he said. “It seems to be enough diversity that there’s always people working on interesting things and we just have to remember we need to be bringing along the next generation, as well.”

The story of Figly East is a perfect example of the importance of co-working spaces, and the collaboration they create, for the local innovation economy. If it wasn’t for Murphy and Fettig working in such close proximity, the collaboration that led to Figly East would likely not have happened.

“ThinkTank really has been the perfect place to incubate projects and be plugged into the community,” Murphy said.

Interested in working for Figly? Murphy says he’s looking for full-stack software engineers with a few years experience. Got what it takes? Email Elliot at [email protected].