Advice

An early stage startup accelerator is an emotional rollercoaster

We’ve all heard it. “Going through an accelerator is an emotional rollercoaster.” And we’d be the first to agree. It’s not an easy or smooth experience. For anyone.

But what, exactly, does that rollercoaster look like?

At PIE, we’ve spent time analyzing the behavior of founders in our accelerator as well as other programs in which we’ve had the opportunity to participate. And that analysis has led to a rough sketch of the general ebb and flow of emotions that founders experience throughout the course of an accelerator program.

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

News

Why is PIE open sourcing its learnings?

Since 2008, PIE has been an ongoing series of experiments. First as a coworking space then as an early stage startup accelerator then as an accelerator for accelerators. Now, we’re embarking on our next experiment: the PIE Cookbook, an open source guide designed to help anyone, anywhere accelerate anything.

We’re excited to share what we’ve learned over the last 8 years — especially with the hopes that we help you avoid the mistakes we made.

To provide more context on the PIE Cookbook and why we’re so motivated to give away what we’ve learned for free, we’ve gathered up some of our Medium content for you:

We’ll continue to publish on Medium and here as we learn from — and screw up with — Kickstarter, as we work to develop and share our content out in the open, and as we collaborate on this new offering with communities around the world.

And if you’re interested in getting more details on the PIE Cookbook and its potential applications — even if you have no desire to start an accelerator of your own — please visit us on Kickstarter. We’re hoping to connect with as many amazing startup communities as we possibly can.

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.

News

It’s time for a new flavor of PIE

When Wieden+Kennedy collaborated with the Portland startup scene to make PIE a reality, it was an experiment. A way to test collaboration between the agency and startups. Truth be told, none of us foresaw it becoming an accelerator.

But that’s exactly what we became.

As such, PIE has spent five of the last six years building an accelerator program. Borrowing ideas from industry leaders like Y Combinator and Techstars — and imbuing them with a distinctly Portland flavor. In so doing, we created a platform that continues to explore how to help a wide range of startups and growth-stage companies. We found ways to collaborate with the largest privately held creative agency in the world — an agency with “Fail harder” built into its DNA — and the global brands that agency continues to attract as clients. We even had our share of exits with companies like AppThwack, Nutmeg, and Orchestrate.

So it seems to be working. And we’d like to think that these efforts have had a positive impact on the Portland startup scene. And maybe, even beyond. Hopefully, Portland feels the same way.

Speaking of Portland… wow. Good job, you! We’ve had an amazing vantage point to watch our once nascent startup scene grow, mature, and succeed. New companies. New support vehicles. New investments. And with that growth and maturity, things have changed. And many of the original challenges that PIE was designed to address have been overcome.

But, luckily, a whole new set of challenges have replaced them.

And that got us thinking about the next phase of our experiment — and how PIE should evolve to tackle these new challenges.

You see, we don’t talk about this much, but when we began the accelerator experiment, we designed it with a limited lifespan — like a fund. Or like a Replicant. And with that three-class lifespan in mind, we ran the accelerator as efficiently as we could. Experimenting with our resources to see how much could be done with how little. And how efficiently our capital could be used to help startups and create value.

We did okay. It was neither a raving success nor a miserable failure. But it was a good experiment. That ran efficiently and effectively. We ran it so efficiently in fact, that instead of ending with the three classes we’d planned, we wedged in a fourth. And now, after a lot of late nights, intensive mentoring, tears, cheers, and four graduated classes, we are proud to have had a hand in supporting a diverse portfolio of companies and a dynamic pool of incredible mentors from around the world who continue to be connected to the Portland startup scene.

PIE became an accelerator. Not because we planned it that way, but because we had to. Our proverbial gut said that it seemed like the right experiment to run at the time.

 

But it’s not that time anymore

 

You see, despite some pretty kick-ass results, PIE was never meant to be an accelerator. PIE was meant to be an incubator for on-going experiments.

PIE incubates new ways for corporations and startups to work together. PIE tests how those with scale and resources can collaborate with innovators to create mutual value. PIE unlocks the tribal knowledge of entrepreneurial ecosystems to help build better founders — and help some of those founders (predominantly Portland founders) to be more successful. PIE fosters interesting services and technologies — and hopefully, makes it easier to start successful companies in Portland.

PIE enables us to explore concepts. To put hypotheses to the test. To work. To try. To fail. To learn. And to have the wherewithal to get up and go at it again.

First, as a coworking space. Then, as an accelerator.

In our current iteration, the easiest — and most straightforward — thing to do would be to continue running the accelerator as we’ve run it to date. Well, okay, not easy… but it would be us doing what we’ve gotten pretty decent at doing. With outcomes that would be relatively predictable.

But easy is not what we do.

We like to fix problems. We like to try new experiments. We like to make things difficult to make them interesting. Long story short, we like to start new things.

And so, even though it’s going to be scary and messy and rife with uncertainty, it’s time for the next phase of the experiment.

We’re not changing everything, mind you. One thing will remain absolutely consistent: we’ll continue to strive to help Portland startups and the Portland startup scene. Because that’s what makes PIE, well, PIE.

But the fresh PIE — the new experiment — will be different. Familiar, but different. Because what’s needed now is different than when we began.

Without giving too much away, this new experiment will tackle how we provide the same type of assistance we’ve provided in the past. But this time, at scale. So we can help more than the handful of startups we traditionally welcomed into the space, every year. So we can help more and more founders. To find new ways to collaborate and create value. And help ensure that this amazing momentum that Portland has harnessed, continues. In Portland… and beyond.

Even better? The next phase of the PIE experiment is already underway. You may have noticed some telltale signs of this next version of the experiment. Such as:

But that’s just the beginning. There will be much, much more. Some of it will work. Some of it will fail miserably. Like any new thing, this is going to be messy and difficult. And full of highs and lows. And along the way, we’re likely to accidentally stumble into some awesome things we never really intended. Because this is — and will continue to be — the Portland Incubator Experiment.

We realize that this is a lot to digest. Undoubtedly, this will raise a few expletives. And probably some questions. Let’s cover the questions:

 

FAQs

 

Will there be an application period for a class, this year?

Nope. There will be no formal application for a new class this year. We are always interested in working with teams building amazing things, so please don’t be shy about reaching out to us. But we will be focusing our efforts on things beyond our traditional three-month accelerator program.

But let’s say that I was really hoping to go through an accelerator. What then?

If you’re seeking an accelerator program, the following applications are either open or opening soon:

How can you help more startups without hosting a class?

Whoa, nelly! Stay tuned.

So you’re never doing an accelerator again?

Never say never. This is an experiment. We’re not ruling anything out. And we’re constantly re-evaluating PIE and its impact. We simply need our time and resources to be completely focused on the next phase of PIE at the moment. After that, who knows?

If you’re not going to do a class, how are you going to keep busy?

Don’t you worry. We aren’t kicking back and taking a break. But we also haven’t hit “the big reveal” yet. One effort, for example, has us focused on assisting our portfolio companies —  helping us understand what growth stage startups need and how an accelerator might benefit that stage of startups. Another has been collaborating with other local and regional incubators and accelerators. Still another has been figuring out how the PIE model might be applied in other communities or industries. But there are a bunch of other things in the works, too.

I see you work with other accelerators in Portland. Do you work with accelerators outside of Portland?

Most definitely. PIE has been lucky enough to chat with accelerators and incubators from all over the world. If you’re running one of those programs or are thinking about starting one of those programs, please — by all means — get in touch with us.

Do you have any podcasts you’d recommend?

That’s a really odd question. It’s almost like we asked you to ask that. But since you asked… we’re in the midst of starting up a podcast by accelerators, for accelerators. It might be worth a listen.

I like Slack. How do I get invited to the Portland Startups Slack?

Seriously? This is just starting to sound like one of those pseudo FAQs that folks make up. Fine. Just head over to the registration page. We’ll look forward to chatting with you.

Is Wieden+Kennedy still involved with PIE?

Oh good. A serious question again. Finally. And the answer is yes, most definitely. W+K keeps looking to increase their impact on the startup ecosystem. And that’s another part of the “Experiment” — capital “E” — you’ll be hearing more about.

Is this simply because you couldn’t come up with a PIE flavor that started with “e”?

No. For the Python (Monty, not the language) fans out there, “Elderberry” is waiting in the wings. (Fun Fact: PIE classes are designated by pie flavors, in alphabetic order. Like Android releases, but better.)

More soon.

Renny & Rick

News

PIE is now more CENTRL-ly located

Six years ago, PIE began as an idea. An experiment. An experiment that was founded on the idea of helping and supporting the Portland, Oregon, startup community. Since day one—when we walked into an empty retail space at the corner of NW Davis and NW 12th on the first floor of Wieden+Kennedy’s global headquarters—we’ve tried to remain true to that founding principle.

The Portland startup community has grown and changed a great deal over the course of those years. And PIE has changed with it. Serving as coworking space, an early stage startup accelerator, and a home away from home for visiting startup and technology types from around the world.

But we still felt like we could be doing more. Like having more events. Making PIE even more accessible. Helping more startups and founders in Portland. Making more connections.

But to do that, we always felt like we needed a bit more space. And so we’ve been working for the past couple of years trying to come up with a way to pull that off. Now, we’re happy to report that we’ve figured that out.

PIE has relocated to CENTRL Office, a new coworking space in the Pearl District of Portland.

Okay. Admittedly, it’s only a block away from where we were. But it provides us with resources that allow us to get even more involved with our awesome startup community.

As part of the move, PIE gains the opportunity to collaborate with CENTRL on more programming and gatherings for the broader Portland startup community. Furthermore, it presents opportunities to make PIE’s existing resources and alums more accessible to everyone in startup community, whether they have been formally connected to PIE or not.

Local who wants to see where we sit? Startup type visiting Portland? We’d love to have you swing by. Come find us at CENTRL Office, 1355 NW Everett Street. We’re up the stairs on the westside. The friendly CENTRL folks will point you our way.

And stay tuned as we start ramping up events and activities. (HINT: We may already have one on the books.) We’ve got a little more room with which to work. And we’re looking forward to taking advantage of that—for all of us.

Alumni, Community, News

PIE’s 2014 Demo Day

pie5This whole experiment thing called PIE has been going for five years—constantly changing, continually experimenting and it’s been awesome to see the Portland tech community evolve alongside us. We’ve all come a long way over these past five years and the opportunities ahead are exciting.

The startups in this year’s class have spent three months absorbing everything possible from the PIE mentor network, the Portland community, Wieden+Kennedy and more. The day to share the results of these interactions is finally approaching: October 24th is PIE’s 2014 Demo Day.

This year’s Demo Day will feature presentations from our portfolio companies and highlights from our latest experiments. We’ll also take a look back at five years of PIE and the amazing startups with whom we have had the pleasure to work.

The event, held in Gerding Theater, sold out within a few days—and since we like to think of Demo Day as a community event, we’re always looking for ways to ensure we can get our awesome startup community together in person to take part in it. We’re happy to announce that our friends at eBay have been kind enough to host a PIE Demo Day simulcast. They have room for 100 folks to join them.

If for some reason you’re too far away and can’t join us at the Gerding Theater or the Simulcast, we also have a livestream link for you. Details for the Simulcast and the Livestream are below:

PIE Demo Day 2014 – Simulcast
Friday, October 24 1:30–4pm
eBay Community Lounge
Click to RSVP

PIE Demo Day 2014 – Livestream
Friday, October 24 2–4pm
Click to visit livestream link

See you in a week!

Community

The Importance of Community

It’s football season again, and while we don’t know who will win it all, we do know one thing: successful teams take time to pause, reflect and review game film—every single week. There are poor plays that must never be repeated and there are great plays that should definitely be emphasized. So we’re going to do just that. No, we’re not going to review PIE film (there are no hidden cameras at PIE), but we are going to take the occasional opportunity to reflect. There’s a lot we can learn.

Patrick Finnegan, the 18-yr-old co-founder and CEO of WorldState, will kick things off for us. He’s been with us for a month and will be here until Demo Day, so keep an eye out for his posts where he’ll shed some insight into his experiences. Here are his recent thoughts:

Although the Coconut PIE class (Class of 2013) graduated last year and many have moved on from the daily routine of PIE, they are still very much a part of the class. PIE truly is a close knit family. It stems from the authentic feel and the type of people Kirsten and Rick strive to bring into the program.

Just last week, I was in a jam not having a bike to get me around and without any transfer of fee’s or many asks, Michelle Rowley of Code Scouts leant me her bike. This is just one small example of the trust we have in each other here—it’s something so many corporations try and do by hiring six figure salary culture officers and conducting multiple team building exercises. Here, it’s organic. Whether it is help with branding, an intro to someone, or keeping you accountable, the alumni and mentors go above and beyond to help people.

There is one other person I want to highlight in my post this week—someone I aspire to be  both because of her authentic self as well as her strong passion and leadership skills that make her one of the best CEO’s out there today.

Her name is Mara, cofounder and CEO of Switchboard. At first glance, you may feel intimidated to reach out to her, but the minute you ask for help, her advice is incredibly helpful and comes from a genuine place. Why does she do it one might ask? Alex, CTO of Teak, said she is known for creating community. She is not even in Derby Pie (Class of 2014), yet she still takes time to invite me to dinner and dive into intellectual conversations while also running a startup that is going to be on the cover of Time. She doesn’t push you away and say she is too busy even when she literally has no time. Instead, she embraces you just like any other caring mentor would. She sincerely cares, and her honesty has been a tremendous help.

So as I reflect on this past week, I have two thoughts: community is important. It is no doubt this community that is at the core of PIE and maybe even at the core of the Portland tech scene. People like Michelle have shown me tremendous support that I think is vital for the success of any startup. And my final reflection is the importance of honesty. Sugarcoating, although great in the short term, in the end leads to falsehoods. Thanks to the honest outlook and advice I’ve received from Mara, I will be prepared to deal with tough investors, and plain old “NO’s”.

Alumni, Community

5 Questions with Vadio’s Elliot Swan

We recently shared news that PIE Alum Vadio, the platform that allows streaming music services to sync their audio with corresponding music videos, had raised $2 million.

Now we’re all aware of the fact that no company gets to $2 million without first facing a few challenges and tough decisions. So today we’ve caught up with Elliot Swan, cofounder of Vadio, and asked him to give us a glimpse into some of his experiences along the way.

1. When did you decide to jump ship and start your own company?

We had been working on Vadio part-time on the side and had a basic prototype put together that we would slowly continue to build and show around. I remember one evening suddenly coming to the realization that if I really wanted to see whether this thing would fly, I needed to take the full leap. And I knew I couldn’t live the rest of my life always wondering if something could have come of this had I only taken a risk and tried.

2. What was one of the biggest challenges entering this industry?

The music industry is notoriously complicated, so getting buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders took a lot of work. I see too many music startups try to brashly jump into the middle of the industry and claim they’re here to change the world without bothering to get to know people or understand how things work. It can be tough, but patience and humility go a long way.

3. How has being in the Portland community helped your company become what it is today?

Portland has a great startup community, and everybody wants to see everybody succeed. It’s amazing being able to walk down the street to a handful of other startups and ask for input.

4. What’s a small change you’ve recently made at Vadio that’s resulted in large positive results?

Anybody over here would tell you I love A/B tests. One we recently ran tested various wording options for the buttons that launch our players — we increased click-throughs by 10% just by adding a single word!

5. PIE’s 2014 class is already one-month in to the program. Having been through PIE and now a couple years out, what’s one piece of advice would you give to its participating founders?

For the next 3 months you will be constantly surrounded by super-smart people. Get to know all of them! You have no idea how valuable they will be to you and you will be to them over the years.

6. (Bonus question:) What’s your favorite music video?

Hands-down, Dance Thief by Con Bro Chill. It deserves way more views.

I had’t heard of Con Bro Chill before this, but the moment I started watching their music video, I knew it had PDX + weird written all over it. Portland—let’s bump up these views!