Advice, Alumni, Community

Interns; if I had any right now, I’d make them write this for me

If you’re considering taking on interns, you should seriously take a moment to consider the pros and cons.


  • Coffee delivery service *
  • Work no one wants to do gets done
  • They have no bad habits yet, so you can teach them yours
  • You are directly responsible for teaching someone


  • You are directly responsible for teaching someone
  • They require more direction & attention than you probably expect
  • Things get done slowly

So you’ve weighed your options and want to bring on some interns. Good luck. Here are a few things we learned from having interns at Switchboard that you should do (or avoid).

Let them get their feet wet on day one

Find a project they can work on that doesn’t require a lot of your time. We had our interns build out an internal dashboard. This was a great opportunity to see just how much they really knew and how they worked. It also allowed them to start working without the overhead of diving into our code.

Review your code with them

Since you’re molding these duckling minds, you should review your work with them. This provides a perfect opportunity for you to teach them all of your bad habits.

Check in regularly

Something I was not great at was checking in regularly. It is easy to forget where they’re at in their abilities, so check in regularly to make sure they aren’t bored or in over their heads.

Interact with your interns outside the office

You should feed them, especially if they’re unpaid interns.

Be nice to your interns

This should go without saying. I just wanted to include this gif.

Include your interns in your company culture

You may be hiring one of these ducklings down the road, so now is the perfect time to make sure they fit with your team.

* I never once made my interns get my coffee. Go ahead and ask them. That said, you totally could.

Alumni, Community

5 Questions with Mark McCoy

Welcome to our new series “5 Questions”.  We’ll be sitting down with a PIE alum and asking them 5 questions about their entrepreneurial journey, and sharing their answers with you.  To kick things off, we sat down with Mark McCoy, Creative Director of Teak.

1. What are some of the bigger challenges for players in your industry?
There are so many. The big one I’ve been thinking about lately is: Getting new customers to adopt the practices they need to see success. There’s so much to this, understanding customer’s priorities, getting the user onboarding just right, and making sure that your value proposition aligns with the job they are trying to get done.

With a SaaS company like Teak, we are asking our customers to change their workflow– do something new that they weren’t doing before– so they can see an improvement in user growth and retention. The value is there, but getting a whole app development team on board is a big challenge.

First you have to motivate the emotions to understand the “why” they should try this new thing. Then, you have to explain the “how” to the practical side. Meanwhile, you need to make sure the emotion side is still excited and not overwhelmed, otherwise they might just procrastinate the whole thing.

Now, take that and spread it across a whole team where different people have different roles. It gets messy. You can see why on-boarding new people is an art form, a challenge, but also kind of fun to try to figure out.

2. What’s a small change you’ve recently made at Teak that’s resulted in large positive results?
We brought on Davey Jackson to lead our sales and business development. I like to think of him as “chief getting out and talking to more people officer.” Okay, bringing someone on isn’t really a small change, but it has brought a large positive result. We are now talking to more potential customers, learning more about their needs, and refining our offering as a result.

3. How has being in the Portland community helped your company become what it is today?
I should use this space to talk about how amazing PIE is and how the network of mentors is so generous and giving with their time and wisdom. They are, it’s been a really great experience.

But, because it’s almost lunch time as I’m writing this, I feel I should also highlight an under-appreciated member of the Portland scene: the Koi Fusion food truck. The Korean short rib burrito has fueled many of my work sessions and help power both creativity and productivity. Mmm… burrito…

4. How/when/why did you decide to jump ship and start your own company?
I’m a serial startup junky. I started at a gaming startup right out of college. That got bought, and then bought again. Then I started at another game startup where we faced the challenges that Teak is currently solving.

So, it was a natural move for us, we built a product for ourselves and figured, “hey, this would be useful for other people like us.”

5. PIE’s 2014 class will be arriving this summer. Having been through PIE and now a year out, what’s one piece of advice would you give to new participating founders?
Talk to customers. No, really, are you talking to customers? You should probably talk to more customers. There’s so much learning that comes out of those conversations and no amount of whiteboard speculation can substitute. Even for those of us who are building a product that scratches your own itch: Get out there and find out what your people really need.

Also, get a Korean short rib burrito. They are delicious.

(Bonus Question)
6. Is it always about burritos with you?

Alumni, News

Ruby Gem now on Orchestrate

Orchestrate, the PIE alum that makes databases simple, have made them even simpler with a new Ruby Gem. Over the past few weeks, Matthew Lyon and Orchestrate have been working to create a new Ruby client for their Rest API. The new Ruby Gem is based on a library that was put together by Orchestrate customer James Carrasque, and it helps resolve performance issues that working with API clients for HTTP services have had in the past.

Lyon says he’ll continue working to provide first-class experiences of the Orchestrate API, and we look forward to seeing more. Watch their development in progress on Github, or find the Ruby client here.


Alumni, News

Athletepath Launches New Feature

Athletepath, launched a new product last week and it’s awesome.  Now, the PIE alum that makes racing events social by connecting amateur athletes to their friends and fans, along with their performance results, has user activity feeds.  This new feature enables the discovery of new events, and increases the engagement and interaction for the athlete and their whole world of racing.  Feed_v2


With 1.6 million athletes (and growing) on their platform, Athletepath is well on their way to becoming THE destination for all things racing.   Congrats to the fittest startup team in Portland, you make us all look lazy.

To try it out for yourself, sign up here.


Alumni, News

Vadio + Vevo = MOAR Music

Yesterday PIE alum Vadio (that kept the PIE office filled with music until the wee hours of the morning) announced a major partnership with Vevo.

Why is this so great for the Vadio team? Vevo is the world’s leading all-premium music video and entertainment platform, with over 5.5 billion monthly views. This partnership enables Vadio to bring Vevo’s catalogue of over 100,000 music videos, live concert events and original programming to its streaming media partners.

The Vadio team, with offices in Portland and LA, has created technology that enables their customers (radio stations) to synchronize their audio streams with video content.

Here’s a little more on that from co-founder and CEO of Vadio, Bryce Clemmer:

“Vevo is synonymous with quality music and entertainment programming, making them an ideal partner to enable the conversion of audio to video streaming content, While audio streaming continues to grow in popularity, video streaming has expanded exponentially. With Vevo on board, we can enable media companies around the world to take full advantage of the video revolution.”

Congrats to the Vadio team!

Alumni, Community

Passing The Torch – A Look Back at My Internship at PIE

PIE is going to be welcoming in their new intern next week, and in honor of passing the metaphorical torch, I thought I would share my story as PIE’s first intern.

Throughout life I’ve been confronted with tough choices. Do I go to college instate or take out ridiculous loans and go to my dream school? Do I take a full-time job that leads me to Florida or do I intern with W+K’s incubator experiment? Do I take a job with a famous ad agency or try my hand at an up-and-coming startup?

At the center of those tough decisions is PIE. The best decision I ever made because it lead me to my next tough decision and validated both past and future decisions. A feeling I’m sure any startup would attribute to the incubator.

Here is a place that exposes a world that was once exclusive. Here is a place that wants its startups to succeed but will push them to discover whether or not they can. A place that believes in you, invests in you, educates you, and pushes you to learn through action while giving you the support you need from past alumni and respected members of the tech community.

Like PIE, my internship was an experiment. I was the first ever PIE intern, so my responsibilities weren’t clear-cut. I came on board in PIE’s third year of its program and with the first iteration of PIElette. I was given a brief rundown of the program – its schedule and expectations – and told to jump in where I saw fit. And so I did. Whether it was holding down the PIE fort with admin assistance, writing recaps for guest speakers, acting as a TA by guiding the learning experience of the students in PIElette, acting as a co-liaison between each startup and W+K, or providing materials and documentation for the rebranding process, I was always ready for the next task and to soak in EVERYTHING. I would say half of PIE is listening to those who are wiser than you (whether you’re an intern or a startup) and the other half is acting on those things learned.

The internship had a lot of the same gains a startup receives in the PIE program –education on building a business from scratch, a growing network to the Portland tech community, and the ongoing mentorship of some really smart people. The power trio – Kirsten Golden, Program Manager, Rick Turoczy, Managing Director and co-founder, and Renny Gleeson, co-founder and W+K Head of Global Interactive Strategy. These three have accomplished something amazing with PIE.

I’m proud to have been a part of the process, grateful for the second family that I left with, and excited to continue living the startup experience with Orchestrate, a PIE alum.

Alumni, Community

PIE Alum Job Board Roundup

It feels like just yesterday we were watching these folks at demo day.  Now here they are, out on their own, growing and hiring like crazy.  Makes us so proud!  Alright, enough of the sentiment, lets get down to business.  Here is a round up of PIE companies that are hiring.

Cloudability: “…building a completely new approach to managing the technology supply chain. We’re fast paced, motivated and have a lot of fun together. We’re evangelical about the cloud. Over 8000 companies use our platform to manage more than $500M of cloud spending. Our mission is to change the way companies leverage the cloud…”

Big Data Architect :
Dir. Tech Account Management:


Vadio: “…creating beautiful and engaging video experiences for digital media. We power online video channels across four continents and are quickly growing.”

Software Engineer – Python/Node.js:


Lytics: “…makes it possible for marketers to create comprehensive customer profiles across all touchpoints (mobile, social, web) and truly target their messages to increase results and improve customer experience…”

Job Board:

Stublisher: “…working to bridge the gap between digital and analog – ideating, designing and engineering interactive experiences. As a company, we balance both client work and internal experiments which are aimed at furthering communication around shared interests…”


Orchestrate: “…gives developers access to multiple databases for full-text search, graph, and events queries, through a REST API.”

Job Board:

Other PIE companies to keep an eye on:

Urban Airship
Portland Startup Switchboard is always a good resource for job postings and other ‘asks’ and ‘offers’ within the Portland startup community.

Alumni, Mentors, News

Once a Mentor, Now I’ve Joined Orchestrate Full-time

Like many PIE mentors, I have been looking for ways to be more helpful to the companies and alumni. When class is in session, I spend a half day most weeks co-working alongside the founders. This casual approach has worked well, because I get to know the teams in a different way than if I had a quick ten minute meeting. There are so many aspects to starting a company and it’s been a wonderful experience to watch this from the outside. My overwhelming feeling has been that my niche background as a developer-turned-developer-communicator means I can only help so much.

When Orchestrate became a PIE company, Rick introduced me to CEO Tony Falco. With my background editing the premier API directory, ProgrammableWeb, I’d seen thousands of APIs. I’d been a technical journalist and had watched the trends in developer-focused companies. The founding principals behind Orchestrate’s database API aligned well with my own thinking and we had a lot of good conversations about where the industry is headed. I was impressed with their team of infrastructure experts and I felt my most useful in my several years as a PIE mentor.

Along the way I joined transactional email service SendGrid, whose API and related services are popular with developers. I became an accidental marketer and I learned the approach wasn’t that different from reporting about technical topics. In both cases, I was sharing knowledge to solve developer problems. My role at SendGrid was necessarily cross-department and I saw how each of these areas of the company contributed to one of today’s most successful developer-focused companies.

Recently Tony and I sat down for coffee and discovered there was a way my unique background could be more helpful. Today I am joining Orchestrate full-time to build a developer relations team to help coders be my productive and creative. I’ll still be a PIE mentor, but I may have to more publicly acknowledge my favorite. As I expand my skill set and further narrow my speciality, you’d better believe I’ll be reaching out to my fellow mentors, as we work to make Orchestrate one of tomorrow’s most successful developer-focused companies.

Alumni, Community, News

Things Worth Sharing: A Portland Round Up

It is great to be a part of a community like Portland that always has interesting things going on and interesting folks to keep you inspired. In case you missed them, here are a few things that caught our attention around the startup scene last week.

Alumni, Community

Build the Best Rainbow

Hi there,

Mara here from Switchboard. There are six days left to apply to PIE. I’m going to tell you why you should.

So before we get started I want you to go and visit another three incubators’ websites. Just the first three that pop into your head. Go on. Take a look around. Check out the photos. Watch the videos. I want you to ask yourself this question: what is the culture of this incubator? Go ahead. I’ll wait here.

Are you back? Hi again.

Now please watch this video about PIE.

Here’s the thing: the word incubator is problematic. It implies that you are going to enter into an isolation tank of like-minded, ambitious entrepreneurs. You’ll sleep under your desk, subsist on ramen, and meet all day with people in t-shirts and blazers. A white board and marker will be the most creative tools at your disposal. Here’s the other thing:  companies are shaped by the culture of their incubator. Just like an artist (we’ll get to that part in a minute), the technology you create is a reflection of the ecosystem you are in. If you are in a sensory deprived cubicle tethered to your laptop mindlessly inhaling processed noodles in an office of people doing the same what you create will be informed by that environment. And until I discovered PIE, that environment looked bleak, homogenous, and unstimulating.

If you want a sense of why I thought this this was the work I was doing prior to starting Switchboard, and this was the view from my front yard. Yeah. An isolation tank of geeks was my worst nightmare. I resigned myself to the fact that technology was completely incompatible with humanity, beauty, and delight.

And then I discovered PIE. PIE is the most creative incubator in the most creative company in the most creative building in the most creative city in the world.

There I said it.

So why is creativity important? Because creating technology is an act of art. As Paul Graham put it: “What hackers and painters have in common is that they’re both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things.”And every act of art is about stealing. Austin Kleon, the authority on creativity and stealing, said it best: “You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.” So look for the incubator that will help you become the best thief, and steal from the most creative people, with the most diverse resources, so you can make the best thing.

What do I mean by resources? Well, there’s all the stuff you already know. You will get money. You will get desks in a beautiful light-filled office. You will have access to generous, big-hearted, life-changing mentors. You’ll share the experience with other visionary companies. There’s free beer and lunch. Program directors Kirsten, Rick, and Renny will light the path with a disarmingly effective combination of competence, empathy, ball-busting, and sardonic wit. But if you look around, as I did, you will also get a schmorgasboard of an ecosystem. And you can gorge yourself.

I want to share with you 20 parts of my ecosystem and the profound impact they had on the technology we built. Here, I’ve even made you a map. As you can see, 99% of this ecosystem is within a five minute walk of PIE’s office.

1. Our team is made up of whip-smart students funneled from nearby Reed College and Portland State University. The city is bursting with young, hungry, diverse, creative talent.

2. We are reminded, every day, that the work comes first, that the person with the best story wins, and to fail harder. These messages are written in the walls of the Wieden+Kennedy.

3. In this building there is a drawer of glitter and a letterpress in the basement. They emit a sonar of inspiration.

4. On the roof deck there is a hammock. In the summer there are parties and sometimes a chest freezer of popsicles appears. On clear days there is a direct view of Mt.Hood.

5. This is John Jay. His office faces 12th street. I’ve seen his light on at 1 AM. If you are working half as hard as John works you might be on the right track.

6. Wieden+Kennedy commissions artists to make art in their lobby. When I’m sick of staring at my computer I can watch people live paint. Wat.

7. When I’m tired, I can take a nap in the nap room. Or get a massage.

8. When I’m lethargic I hoola-hoop to Snoop Dog on the basketball court. Sometimes I’m joined by random children. This weekend we watched Drunken Master in the office.

9. There is also a human sized nest.

10. This one time, Pink Martini performed in the lobby amidst 6,000 balloons. I could go on. Let’s leave the building, shall we?

11. A few blocks away is the largest new and used bookstore in the world, Powell’s. I’ve spent entire days reading on the floor.

12. Around the corner you’ll find Maurice, a pastry luncheonette started with a Kickstarter campaign. I go here to be reminded of what can be made on a shoestring.

13. I’ve been schooled in the art of customer service at Nong’s, a Thai chicken food cart. Nong is the local entrepreneur I admire the most.

14. Thank you cards are our most important business expense. We buy them at Oblation and Blick Art Supply.

15. Observing the operations at the Ace Hotel, Stumptown, Heart Coffee, Canoe, Multnomah Whiskey Library, Blue Star Donuts and Tilt has taught me so much about marketing, workflow, and customer experience.

16. I could go on about the city’s cultural offerings: Creative Mornings, ADX, XOXO, TechFest Northwest, DesignWeek, the Yale Union, the Portland Art Museum.  Have I mentioned the nature? And then there are the artists and makers. The number of people doing awesome things here is startling. It’s like a 21st-century Florence. It’s intimate, scrappy, collaborative, boot-strappy and on the brink.

17. When I started PIE I didn’t know how to breathe or turn my mind off. I learned both through a daily practice at YoYo Yogi.

18. There is an abundance of crappily written but useful business books. There is no need to buy them. I check them out from the Multnomah Public Library.

19. Then there is Peter.  He sells the Street Roots newspaper in front of the nearby Whole Foods. He’s my Patron Saint of Perseverance.

20. When I forget what matters in the world, what really matters, I stand in front of these doors.

So, look. Perhaps making software in an acultural vacuum is your jam. This factory farm incubator model is the rule, not the exception. Switchboard would never have grown, let alone flourished, out of this arid soil.

I’m writing this love letter to the handful of people reading this who dream of something else (this is sounding eerily’s different, I promise). You’re a resilient, resourceful, rule-bending scamp who thrives on making something from nothing. You’re more interested in building the world’s best rainbow, not discovering the pot of gold at the end. You can stop looking. We’re waiting for you. Join us.

Mara Zepeda and Sean Lerner co-founded Switchboard and met on Twitter