Matt Orr sought a change of pace after a decade on the Gulf Coast. He found it on another west coast.
North Carolina native Matt Orr, with his youthful charm and southern accent, made an unusual relocation choice in 2002.
He moved to Sarasota — a town known more for retirees and 5 p.m. dinners than young people and late-night clubs. Orr was a success: Within a decade he built a reputation as a go-to source for anything that would bring vibrancy, and youth, to Sarasota and the surrounding business community.
Orr lived in Sarasota until early 2013, when he relocated again, to Venice, Calif., both for personal and professional reasons. On the personal, he wanted to live closer to his partner, Seth Sherman, who works in Hollywood. On the professional, Orr wanted work with more meaning and at a larger entity than many of his earlier entrepreneurial efforts. Orr is now an editor at Upworthy, a popular social news aggregator website with a focus on politics, entertainment and culture videos and stories.
“I wanted to do something that would impact society in a very positive way,” says Orr. “And I wanted to have a brand behind my name.”
Orr says his job is simple: He finds stuff online that makes people think, smile or do something, and he shares it. “After gaining appreciation for working teachers and small-town America,” Orr writes on his Upworthy bio, “I became a card carrying adult interested in politics and how it affects clean food and water, rights for all people, climate and health.”
A Business Observer 40 under 40 winner in 2004, Orr's first job in town was with Sarasota-based Michael Saunders & Co., where he sold downtown condos at the onset of the boom. A partial list of Orr's other accomplishments includes: He co-founded the Sarasota Young Professional's Group; he co-launched the HuB, a business incubator that was first a co-working space; and he helped organize the Vinyl Music Festival.
Orr also founded This Week in Sarasota, a website and community calendar with events, articles and blogs geared toward young people. The Observer Media Group, publishers of the Business Observer, now owns This Week in Sarasota.
Orr, in a recent phone interview, says California has been a blast. He occasionally posts Facebook updates of celebrity run-ins, but his greater passion lies in the Venice community in which he lives. He says the range of demographics is similar to Sarasota in that homeless people live within walking distance of multimillion-dollar homes.
But while Sarasota is beautiful, says Orr, Venice is more progressive. That goes for its politics, he says, in addition to the distinct marijuana scent around town. “It's a really interesting and unique community,” says Orr. “It's an amazing place.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Here's a look back at some of Matt Orr's answers to the questionnaire published in the Business Observer's 2004 40 under 40 issue.
Mentor or business hero: My idea of a business hero changes from time to time. One would be Michael Saunders. I tend to hold respect for small businesses that make it to the top — Michael Saunders is a perfect example of that. As a single mom in the 1970s, in a conservative town, Michael Saunders was able to succeed as one of the most powerful people in this area. She was also able to succeed as one of the most recognized real estate professionals in the nation. I have learned from her that personality can take you far.
Greatest fear: Besides spiders ... looking back and realizing that I had the opportunity and I did not make a difference.
Book on nightstand: “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Rise of the Creative Class.”