The secret to Seattle’s success in tech, and what needs to happen to spark the next wave of growth – GeekWire

Seattle’s tech scene has been built based on nitty-gritty infrastructure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Despite all its success, Seattle’s tech community needs an unprecedented win to take it to the next level — a fast-growing, world-changing startup that creates a huge return for its backers and sparks a new wave of angel investing. The challenge: this isn’t what has historically fueled the region’s tech sector. But all of the work so far might have laid the foundation for this next generation.

Those are some of the takeaways from a conversation with GeekWire co-founder John Cook on an episode of Under Construction, a new podcast from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, hosted by Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland.

“In past because Seattle is isolated in the Northwest and doesn’t sit in a big media hub, a lot of the innovations and creations that you’ve seen come out of Seattle are what you would maybe call a bit more boring,” Cook said on the show. “There’s a reason why enterprise software and cloud computing have grown up here.”

It’s “the nitty-gritty infrastructure,” the technology that “makes everything work,” he said.

GeekWire co-founder John Cook

“It’s extremely important. There’s a ton of money in it,” he said. “There are some amazingly valuable companies that are growing up in this area. And so I think Seattle historically has been able to develop technologies in hard and complex areas — and that’s a real benefit.”

Historically, that has translated into long company life cycles, not the breakout successes more common in Silicon Valley. Examples from Seattle include Tableau Software, the data visualization company that went public in 2013, a decade after it was founded; and travel and expense management company Concur Technologies, which sold to SAP in 2014 for $8.3 billion, more than a decade after it was founded.

“What Seattle needs in order to spark this next generation of capital and investing is a home run that hits really quickly, like an Instagram … where twenty or thirty angels are invested in it and they make a crap-ton of money really quickly,” Cook said.

Seattle Metro Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland hosts the Chamber’s new “Under Construction” podcast.

While it might not lend itself to such rapid growth, health technology is one promising area, he said. Much of the breakthroughs in that space would be impossible without the cloud infrastructure coming out of Seattle.

Innovative health technology is “an area that I think is just going to accelerate and I think Seattle is really interestingly positioned for that with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure,” Cook said. “Cloud computing is going to power the intelligence behind the ability for these researchers to … make the medicines or the cures that they want to go after.”

“I see that transformation really happening in a big way and Seattle being positioned very well for that with the scientific health research, with UW, Fred Hutch and then the computing horsepower from Amazon, Microsoft and others.”

Listen to the “Under Construction” podcast above, which includes more of Cook’s comments on Seattle and tech. Listen more episodes of the Seattle Chamber’s Under Construction podcast here, and subscribe via Soundcloud.

(We’re featuring the discussion as part of a new GeekWire series spotlighting some some of our favorite podcasts about startups, leadership, technology, science and more from the Seattle region and beyond. Email suggestions for future guest podcasts to

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