Community

Join us for Portland Startup Week 2017

Now in its third year, Portland Startup Week is a (little longer than a) weeklong celebration of the founders, companies, and supporters who make the Portland startup community what it is. PIE is proud to have been the founding organizer for this event, and we’re happy to continue as the organizer of the event, this year.

Because it’s important for startups. And for Portland.

From reviving classic Portland startup gatherings to discussing how we become an even better startup community, the week promises something for everyone. If you’re in Portland — or close enough to swing by — we’d love to have you participate.

For more information or to stay in the loop, visit Portland Startup Week, follow @pdxstartupweek on Twitter, or like Portland Startup Week on Facebook.

Community

A sampling of PIE in 2016

It’s that time of year. You know, that time when you’re supposed to take a moment to reflect on your organization and its accomplishments over the past year? Or maybe it’s more that your team has been so heads-down-busily-quiet over the last few months that you want folks to know what you’ve been doing. And your team hasn’t been publishing as much as you thought they would. Because they’ve been working on any number of things… Read More

Community

What experiment is PIE cooking up next?

It’s no secret. We’ve been rethinking the Portland Incubator Experiment. (It’s an experiment, after all.)

What began eight years ago as a collaboration between the largest privately held creative agency in the world, Wieden+Kennedy, and the Portland startup scene led to a coworking space, an early-stage and mid-stage startup accelerator, a corporate accelerator, hackdays, startup events, and a hub for community, among other things. And all these iterations have been valuable.

As we’ve been evaluating PIE, we wanted to continue to provide value to the startup community—in the broadest sense—and use our resources in the best way possible.

So after a number of conversations with startups, mentors, advisors, peers, and patrons, we’ve hit upon what we should be doing next. And now we’re ready to share the next phase of the experiment with you.

Introducing the PIE Cookbook

 

The PIE Cookbook will be an open source guide for creating, building, and improving your startup accelerator. Starting one from scratch? Already have one running? Traditional startup accelerator, new take on the accelerator mode, or corporate incubator looking for inspiration the PIE cookbook will have something for you. Once complete, it will contain everything we’ve learned over the eight years of running PIE—successes, failures, and everything in between. What’s more, it will be completely free and open source so that anyone, anywhere, can put what we’ve learned to good use.

Why are we open sourcing our program and processes?

 

First, we believe the most efficient way to scale PIE is to provide direct access to our learnings. Second, we believe each and every community—enabled with the right tools and insights—has the potential to assist and accelerate promising folks further and faster toward success. Third, we believe there’s no secret formula to running an accelerator, and that sharing is the best way to help us all help each other.

And that’s just good for everyone.

Even if all we manage to do is simply document the PIE process, we’ll consider this project a success. But we hope the PIE Cookbook is the beginning of something much more meaningful. As an open source project, you will have the opportunity take part in creating the most effective documentation for startup accelerators, ever. And anyone can use the PIE Cookbook as the basis for documenting and running an accelerator program—whether it follows the PIE path or just avoids our mistakes.

If this sounds interesting to you, please take a look at the PIE Cookbook Kickstarter campaign and join us on this project.

More to come…

 

We realize that many of the folks who follow PIE are founders. And their interests lie not in building an accelerator but in being accelerated. Rest assured, we haven’t forgotten our roots as a program designed to build better founders. There’s more coming in that regard. 2016 is going to be a lot of fun, and a lot of hardwork, and the PIE Cookbook is just the first experiment we have planned for this year.

So please stay tuned. We’re excited to share the next phase of the experiment as it comes together.

Advice, Community

Want to build a startup accelerator?

At PIE, we’re extremely lucky in that we get to talk to amazing founders and startups, day in and day out. But they’re not the only folks interested in chatting with us. We also get a lot—a lot—of inquiries about how PIE came to be. And how they can go about building a startup accelerator for their respective communities or cities.

So we took a few minutes to crank out some content in this regard, featuring the seven easy steps for building a startup accelerator.

This isn’t a guide. Or a regimen. This isn’t the answer. This is simply how PIE became an accelerator. There is no right timespan for this. For some communities, it happens more quickly and organically. For others, it takes a long, long, long time.

For more, read “Want to start an accelerator?

 

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Community, News

Getting an early start on 2016: Accelerator and startup opportunities

Where did the year go? We’ve been meeting with awesome startups. And working with amazing accelerators. And helping our alums. And, and, and… time just flew by.

But we know you’ve been busy too. So we wanted to take a few minutes to highlight some opportunities that you might have missed—both for awesome startups and those who are interested in helping awesome startups.

1776 Challenge Cup Portland

This year, PIE is proud to partner with our peers back east to play the local host for the 1776 Challenge Cup competition. The free, quick pitch competition provides startups an opportunity to showcase their efforts to their local community and the possibility of moving on to larger and larger stages at regional and global competitions.

All of the regional winners and a host of wild cards will be invited to participate in the Challenge Cup Global Finals next June in Washington, D.C. There, they’ll compete for over $1 million in prizes, as well as spend time with the investors, customers, media and other key connections that can help them succeed on a global scale.

PIE is currently seeking startups for the December 10, 2015, local competition at OMSI. We’re looking for startups that are providing solutions for: cities, education, energy, food, health, money, security, and transportation.

Working on something that fits? Please submit your 1776 Challenge Cup application no later than 11:59PM Pacific Time on November 30, 2015.

For more information or to attend the event, visit 1776 Challenge Cup Local: Portland, hosted by PIE.

Interested in helping startups?

Portland is home to a number of incubators and accelerators that support both local startups—and entrepreneurs from around the world.

If you’ve ever been interested in helping startups, there are a number of interesting opportunities to get involved:

(Image courtesy Hockley Photography. Used with permission.)

Advice, Community, Mentors

How to filter through all your startup advice this Thanksgiving

“Here’s what you should do.” It’s a sentence you’ve probably heard a lot. Friends, family, peers, mentors, investors—they all have helpful advice, but when your cousin Billy gives you business advice this Thanksgiving that conflicts with advice an investor gave you just last week, what should you do?

First, take a big bite of stuffing.

Then think about it. Advice and feedback is important, but you simply can’t weigh all feedback the same. Startups at PIE have spoken to peers, investors, and dozens of mentors over the past few months and here’s how they’ve sorted through it all.

How invested are they? How much care / concern do they have for you and your goals?

Kai, cofounder of Krumplr thinks about this every time he chats with someone. “You learn a lot of how to read people over time—customers, your bosses, people you manage, and across many different cultures. I start out by saying, ‘Does the person I’m talking to like me or not? Does the person I’m talking to care or not?’ And that’s something that you can very quickly establish. If it’s a positive relationship, I multiple pretty much any critique I get by a factor of five.”

You might meet with someone who doesn’t care and isn’t willing to put in the intellectual effort. Their feedback may be vague—platitudes in a way—like “focus your message”, “find your target audience.” It might be helpful to ask probing questions to find out if they really understood your problem.

There are on the other hand also people who don’t really care but are still willing to put in the intellectual challenge. “Those are good people to listen to,” says Kai. And finally, people who care and invest their time and effort to understanding your problem and thinking about your solution. That’s a given, pay attention to their input.

How experienced are they?

This one’s a little trickier to navigate because it’s often easy to confuse loud volume and confident delivery with actual success and experience. Aunt Susan’s confident remarks on how you should launch your business may sound extremely persuasive, but being an excellent baker doesn’t mean she has relevant experience in your industry. The same is true with anyone else who gives you feedback—investors, mentors, peers. Just because something worked a certain way in their field doesn’t always mean it’ll translate to yours. Levi from Droplr looks for people who have a track record of experience and success. He’ll give them extra attention if they’ve achieved success in his particular industry.

Are they willing to tell you the truth?

Kevin from Nutmeg appreciates individuals who exhibit a sense of trust with no hidden agenda. “The most value we received from PIE were from mentors who weren’t afraid to call bullshit right away. They’d say, ‘you should do x, and here’s why.’” Are the people you’re hearing from worried about offending you or hurting you? You might want to be careful if all of a mentor’s feedback is as sweet as that pumpkin pie. There’s nothing wrong with good feedback, especially if you’re on your A game as a startup, but make sure the person you’re talking to isn’t afraid to make you cry if they need to.

Are you receiving repetitive feedback?

Imagine arriving home on Thanksgiving day only to find your friends and family sitting in a semicircle around the front door. You soon realize that this is a planned intervention. They have a message to tell you—it’s important and everyone seems to realize it except you. (Let’s hope this doesn’t actually happen!) The point is, while there are multiple ways to run a business, hearing repetitive advice from a number of people is probably a good indicator that it’s worth listening to.

What’s your gut telling you?

Lastly, here’s the comment I heard from nearly every startup. Learn to listen to your gut. Ultimately, it’s your business. Deep down inside you know where you want to steer this ship, and you wouldn’t feel comfortable going against this anyway. Use feedback as a way to rethink your direction, but at the end of the day, if you can’t convince yourself that the advice you’re hearing is good and true, you might just have to go with your gut.

And while you’re having that Thanksgiving conversation with your friends and family, don’t forget to get seconds on that stuffing.

One can always make better decisions with stuffing.

Advice, Community, Mentors

How to find a mentor by not asking for one

I’m here to talk about building mentor relationships. I wish I could write a listicle or “how to” document. The truth is that building mentor relationships is complicated. There is nothing more personal or nuanced. I’m going to try to put into words how we over at Switchboard built our mentor relationships, and maybe parts will ring true to you.

1. The mentor arrives
The mentor doesn’t announce herself. She doesn’t arrive on horseback and blow a bugle to signal her arrival as The Mentor. The best way to describe the feeling of knowing the mentor has arrived is to recognize the feeling of wanting to be led by the person before you.

As David Foster Wallace said… “[A] real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.”

When that person arrives, I feel a stirring in my heart and a desire to download that person’s brain. I follow my intuition, seize the opportunity, and figure out a way to do that that is fun for the both of us.

2. Call the mentor into service
There are a few things that I’ve learned about asking for a mentor’s help. We never ask them to be our mentor. This sounds counterintuitive. Sheryl Sandberg writes about this in a chapter in Lean In called “Don’t Ask Anyone to be Your Mentor.” And I think she has a point. Corbett Barr says something similar over at Fizzle. ” In the real world, mentors are usually organic relationships without specific titles, goals or responsibilities.”

We at Switchboard often ask people to help us solve problems during a defined period of time. Sometimes that means informal drinks every month. Sometimes that means having a jam session where we brainstorm a new feature or streamlined a process with a “think tank” of mentors (pictured above with Tom, James, and Jessica). There are many benefits to this approach: a core team is formed, we don’t have to play “telephone” in translating one person’s opinion to another, and there’s an energy of excitement and shared purpose.

We ask for unorthodox favors. For example, I once posted on PDX Startups Switchboard in which I asked if any local founders would be willing to invite me to their all hands staff meetings. Our team had just expanded. I didn’t know how to structure or lead a meeting. As you’ll see from the post, Cloudability’s Mat and Little Bird’s Marshall generously hosted me and I constantly refer to what I learned there.

If we find a mentor who is an exceptionally busy person (like Matt the founder of Metafilter, pictured), we’ll ask them to come in to PIE and give a talk so others in the office can benefit and we can hear the questions that other companies have. We also have many mentors who are younger than us (like Kaori). This is often overlooked. As Bill Nye put it, “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.”

3. Listen to the mentor
It may seem obvious, but I’m constantly working on how to listen better to my mentors. I’ll vision how I want the time to go before we meet. I say things to myself like,  “I will ask questions that start with ‘how did you…” and ‘what did you…'” “I will listen more than I talk.” “These are the points they made last time I’d like to follow up on.” Larry King put it,  “I’ve never learned anything while I was talking.” Listening, truly listening without looking for the opportunity to respond, is a difficult art.

4. Thank the mentor
This cannot be overstated. Thank. The. Mentor. We do our best to follow up. Whether we work with someone over months or just one afternoon, we make sure to follow up with the outcome of our time together. This is in the form of a quick email. “Just wanted to let you know that the feature we talked about is live!” This makes mentors feel like their time is well spent and there was a tangible outcome to our work together. We send thank you notes and describe how they helped us and why we value their contribution. I once ambushed Guy Kawasaki at a conference and, for that hour, he was an invaluable mentor who gave us input that significantly changed the direction of our product (his thank you card and keyboard stickers pictured). I’ve found that no act of mentorship is too small to be acknowledged.

The full circle of our time as mentees is that we are now called on to mentor in return. And the best way those relationships begin is not with, “Will you be my mentor” but rather “Hi. Let’s hang out.”

 

Mara Zepeda is the cofounder and CEO of Switchboard as well as a mentor at PIE. Find her on Twiter @marazepeda and visit Portland Startups Switchboard to see how they’re helping the Portland startup community.
Advice, Community, Mentors

The Next Year (& Beyond) Plan – Part 1

You’ve had a piece of the PIE… Now What?

As this year’s PIE class wraps up it’s official program and settles down to dig in and advance their products and companies, I thought it would be useful to put together some strategies for thinking about the future.

This two part series highlights the more operational areas of growing a company and supporting the product once it’s launched. It is not meant to be a “how to” but a guide to start thinking and planning best and worst case scenarios.

So what’s your first year plan look like? How should you be thinking about it?

There’s no hard and fast rules about “the right” way to grow and maintain a company except that revenue should exceed expenses to be sustainable. A business plan helps, and those of you who are beginning to look at seed investment will need to at least have a cursory version of one.

Operational Forecasting

It takes money (cash) to launch and continue running a company. From the companies I met with at PIE, many were hitting the VC trail to pitch for Seed funding. An important thing to think about at this stage is until the Seed funding comes in where is the cash coming from and how much do you think you need?

Running models which forecast out spend through anticipated Seed then spend once the check has cleared (let’s say a 12mo. cycle) is going to be helpful. On the expense side this includes travel (to pitch), legal fees, marketing efforts, money needed to support the product (hosting, licenses), insurance and current payroll. One of the bonuses of sticking around PIE after the session has ended is free rent, which alone could save your company five figures this year of expenses, so take advantage!

From here, sales/revenue forecasting (being as realistic as possible). Where do customers (or sponsors, advertisers) 1-100 come in, 101-1000, and what would be an average percentage to use for growth? (I use 3% as a safe metric).

Overlay the expense forecast against the revenue one and you’ve got an initial idea of your company’s break even point, operating costs and revenue opportunities.

I also think it’s wise to run a Plan B scenario where the company doesn’t land funding (we all know it happens) or the lead time takes 2-3x longer than anticipated. Can the company quickly produce enough revenue to be sustainable? How does that affect the growth plan?

Understanding both sides of these scenarios will help inform how the company should operate and where there might be major decision factors to consider.

Goals, KPI Creation & Monitoring

With so many moving parts required to operate a business, it’s important to set goals to measure company performance against. These goals, measured over a set time frame will allow founders and the management team to gauge how different areas of the operations are doing.

A couple of examples of goals and their associated KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) are:
Increase App Downloads 10% in next month. KPI’s could be traffic/user sources, daily downloads, social media mentions.
Increase Sales on Website 20% over a 3 month period. KPI’s could be daily sales, shopping cart abandonment %’s, and competitive pricing.

Setting goals should inform business decisions in areas such as your product, positioning, pricing, traction in the market, customer service and define areas which need help or re-strategizing. KPI’s are used to drive the actions in these areas.

There are several KPI dashboard tools out in the market which could be worth researching and investing in to help.

Hiring

Allison Krug wrote a strong piece about hiring for startups back in September. Areas I think worth expanding upon are:

Inventory the capacity your current team (I know that sounds terribly Dilbert-esq). Are they fully booked with work, and are there opportunities to cross train which would give both the company an additional skill set and the employee a chance to learn something new? Understanding where your team is now and what they can produce informs your product milestones, roadmap and operational capabilities. Running an OPE (Overall People Effectiveness) model, which supports the Lean Startup methodology, is a useful tool to understand the productive %s of your team.

When budgeting for new hires, if they are full time salaried, add ~22% to the market base salary. This will cover the company’s piece of employee taxes, any benefits given plus on-boarding costs (e.g.: a new laptop). Based on the percentage above every 5 hires will cost the company roughly the equivalent of a 6th employee.

One last (potentially eye opening) note about the realities of hiring, once you bring on a hire as an salaried employee (not consulting) the company becomes liable for part or all of their unemployment payments (in Oregon at least) should the employee file within 24 months of working for the company. The company pays into the Oregon Unemployment Insurance fund through their share of the employee payroll taxes, so take Alison’s advice to heart, make sure your hire is a good fit on all sides!

Next post, I’ll cover strategies about product and issues which could affect you as a founder. Other PIE mentors, it would be great to see additional thoughts and input to what I’ve outlined above!


Kris Pennella is a business operations and product strategy consultant focusing on start-ups to mid-size companies, as well as a mentor at PIE. Find her on Twitter: @littlepots or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Alumni, Community, News

PIE alum news roundup

While we spent the past few months rambling about our current PIE class, the PIE alum network was still busy making things happen.

Awards, features, and funding—here’s a brief round up of what some of them have been up to:

Missed PIE’s Demo Day a few weeks ago? Catch all the pitches from PIE Demo Day 2014 here.