Community

PIE 2017: A rebuilding year

We’ve been taking some time to look back at 2017, as most of us are wont to do this time of year. And now seemed like an appropriate time to share some of these reflections. Partially because it was six years ago last week that PIE staged our very first Demo Day, January 17, 2012.

pie-demo-day-1-2012

As with any good reflection, we started with what we promised to do last year at this time. And to my surprise—I say, “surprise” because it didn’t feel like we accomplished much—PIE actually accomplished most of what we set out to do for the year:

✅ Completing the PIE Cookbook
✅ Expanding the PIE Cookbook community
✅ Increasing efforts around diversity and inclusion in our community
✅ Exploring new and different applications of the accelerator model
✅ Continuing to support existing partnerships
❌ Creating more content, publishing more often, and generally being more transparent

And in addition to what we set out to do, we also managed to hire a new program manager; not only support but strengthen our partnerships with Built Oregon, CENTRL Office, and Prosper Portland; organize another successful Portland Startup Week; proudly watch PIE alums like Cloudability, dotdotdash, Droplr, Lytics, Outdoor Project, Supportland, Switchboard, Uncorked Studios, and more have a strong year; and took equal pride as members of the PIE family chased new pursuits like Reflect and Torch.

Looking back, it seemed like it was a pretty productive year. So I had to keep asking myself why it felt so frustrating. Why was I “surprised” that we accomplished these things? And why was it that I still felt like we didn’t get anything done?

And then it dawned on me. It was because I didn’t feel like we had an impact. We accomplished tasks. We nudged projects forward. We kept a few things going. But we didn’t create change. We expanded our community but we didn’t strengthen our community. We didn’t push the experiment forward.

So it didn’t feel very good. It was a year of frustration, a year of questions, and year of reboots. It was a rebuilding year at best. And a gap year at worst.

But that cloud, like many, has a silver lining. The year of frustration and cynicism and disappointment also provided vantage. Enabling us to step back and to objectively reassess what it was we were doing with PIE. It gave us the opportunity to truly question what we were hoping to accomplish. And why were doing it. And what was working.

Now, we’ve realized that the main experiment we were pursuing in 2017 was a failure. Trying to work behind the scenes with other accelerator programs—a move we assumed would allow PIE to scale its impact most efficiently while providing a revenue stream for the organization—was a flop.

That wasn’t what the Portland startup community needed. That wasn’t what founders needed. That wasn’t a sustainable business model. And that wasn’t a viable means of expanding the sort of impact we had hoped to provide. Truth be told, it wasn’t even an effective means of providing the same level of impact we had managed to provide in previous years. At best, we had gone backwards. At worst, we had become completely irrelevant.

That said, like all experiments, it was good to pursue it. To test and to learn. But we’re also completely willing to admit that the experiment was a failed one. Like many experiments we’ve run over nearly a decade of PIE.

To make matters even worse, we recognized telltale signs of bonds weakening in our community. We found fragmentation and confusion. And we found folks feeling detached and disconnected. In reality, we found our community was suffering from many of the same issues that had originally inspired us to start PIE in the first place. Only with an exponentially larger group of people.

And that, to us, seemed like an opportunity.

So we hit the brakes and began listening again. Listening for what the community needed. Listening for what startups needed. And listening for what PIE could do to have a meaningful and significant impact in our community.

As such, much of 2017 was taken up with rethinking and reinventing PIE and then talking with anyone who would listen. Revising. And then talking with everyone again. Listening to their suggestions and critiques. Revising… You get the picture. We’ve torn it all down. Rethought everything. And all of that—all of that nudging things forward and rethinking everything and listening listening listening—has us prepared to dive headlong in 2018.

What we’ve come up with is a new experiment. With a new version of PIE that we hope will be a better match for the actual needs of the Portland startup community. And one that has a demonstrable, tangible, and measurable impact on both Portland and PIE, itself, this year.

So what does PIE 2018 look like? We’re glad you asked. And we’re looking forward to sharing some of those details in our next post.

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