Advice, Community, Mentors

Five questions with Duncan Davidson, Bullpen Capital

Duncan Davidson, Managing Director at Bullpen Capital, visited PIE today and shared valuable advice to all of us in the space. While all the startups asked him questions related to their specific businesses, I simply wanted to learn more of what it’s like to be on his side of the table. I didn’t pitch him, but I did ask him five simple questions.

What’s your most recent investment and what was the tipping point that convinced you to go all in with them?

Good question. [Yay, me! Starting off strong.] If I go through the last 5 deals we’ve done, they all have similar tipping points. Here’s a couple of those.

a) SpotHero, a parking company out of Chicago.

Parking is suddenly a hot category, and there’s a bunch of valet deals in San Francisco. SpotHero’s like Uber for parking spots, where they have deals with national garage chains.

We knew parking was big. We’ve watched parking for years. SpotHero was showing two things that was a tipping point.

i) They cut national contracts so they could go to almost any city with masses of available parking slots and parking garages (and with no extra work). They don’t have to go slug city by city.

ii) Their trajectory was taking off. Most of the other people we saw were struggling. We liked SpotHero’s trajectory.

b) StayClassy, a Saas for .org

Again, there are five other companies trying to do this, but it was theirs that had a trajectory that was taking off. That’s a common theme for us. We’re watching companies like they’re in a competitive horse race…when one takes off, that tips it.

What’s your process look like? How do you actually go about making that decision with the others in your firm?

Somebody comes in and pitches us. Everyone wants to show a demo and how cool their technology is. No, no. We don’t care about your demo. We want to see what’s your business, how well you’re doing, how fast you’re growing, and what’s your plan for the next year.

We start with a fact based–”here’s the reality of the business” approach. If you don’t get passed that filter we don’t take any more time on it.

Then the process after that is to have you answer a few very fundamental questions. We throw questions up at the person driving it. If they can knock the questions off, we go to the next five questions. When we’re out of your questions, we regroup and make the decision.

If we’re following a category (like parking), then we’re already well educated. So when a company walks in the door and shows they’re winning in that market, we can make a fast decision. If it’s a market we don’t know well, we either don’t do the deal or spend a lot of homework (and it’s a very slow process) until we get up to speed.

One of the mistakes venture people make is the grass is always greener. In a market we know very little about, everybody looks like a pretty girl. In a market we know well, everybody’s an ugly chuck. So we’re better off dealing with the ugly children than the pretty girls just because we have experience to tell us what they don’t know.

How do you interact with the founders after investing?

We have two types of founders. One type are experienced, they know what they’re doing. Our interactions with them are occassional and usually on-demand. If they need help, they call us.

We have another class which are newbies—in their first time through—and they just have to learn things. “How do you run a good executive meeting, how do you run a board, how do you deal with problems A, B, and C?” So in that case, we’re a lot more proactive in helping them through their problems. When we talk to the people that we deal with, they almost say the same thing:

“You’re not in our face like a lot of venture people, but you’re there when we need you.”

You’ve been on the other side of the table before–as the founder of a startup with a successful exit. What is the one thing startups should know when looking for investment?

You’ve heard of the three rules of real estate, right? Location, location, location.

For example, you’re McDonalds—where do you put a fast food joint? You find the best traffic pattern.You want a house? There’s a certain logic to why that house is the right house on the street and the next house is the wrong house. Location is everything.

Likewise, there’s four rules of venture capital. Ready?

Too early, too early, too early, too late.

The one thing to know, people, is timing. Timing is everything. All startups build on the shoulders of past technical development. There comes a moment where the technology comes together and coalesces–then new things can happen. If you’re too early, then it’s too expensive—you’ll never get there. If you’re too late, you’re not Whatsapp that’d already sprinted past you. So getting that timing right—when the coalesce of opportunity and technology hit—jumping on it fast is everything.

What do you know / have you heard much about the Portland landscape? What’s the startup culture look like to you compared to other places?

Startup culture is a type of culture that’s prevailing the world. I go to Australia, I go to London, I go to Japan, I go to Singapore and Turkey—you find that the startup culture is pretty much the same. They can read all the same blogs, like TechCrunch. They’re all taking hipster styles. There’s a commonality.

Thomas Friedman, from the New York Times, wrote a book called, “The World is Flat.” It’s actually not true. The world’s actually very spiky. But if you go from spike to spike, like Bangalore to Singapore and you skip over all the places in the middle, it all looks the same. It’s spiky, but there’s a consistency. So when you go from startup community to startup community, they’re similar all over the world.

I find Portland to be very similar. The people are technically really smart, they’re versed pretty much in what’s going on. Their understanding is pretty good. The bad part is that this is a very thin ecosystem—the depth of mentors, the depth of funding, the depth of other people challenging you.

There’s a reason why steel concentrated in Pittsburg and cars in Detroit. There’s a reason why Hollywood is where the studios are. And the reason is, there’s a certain economic force to get all the best people in the same place where they can deal with each other face to face. So people come to Silicon Valley wanting to be king of the hill and deal face to face with the best people they can. That sort of thing is almost impossible to replicate.

The main problem with Portland is you could have a very good startup culture, but you’re never going to match what’s down there. The answer is two fold:

a) either accept that and just do really cool companies (and maybe they get funded in Silicon Valley), or
b) find something unique in the Portland ecosystem that you can be the world class center of. You have some skills here to do that.

Seattle may become the cloud center because Amazon, Microsoft are there. I think of Portland as the new Tuscany. Dealing with different food ideas, craft coffees, beers (you’ve got the great Hops here). You’re in the magic latitude for hops and things like that. The point is: food. You might be the great advances in food if you want to be.

Or another is you have cheap energy here. You could become a great data-center / cloud place. You have economic advantages for that. If I were in the Portland community, I would try to figure out what we could do better than anybody else in the world, own that, and become the place that attracts people from all over the world for that because you have a great city, a great lifestyle, and a lot of educated people here. People want to live here.

Well, Portland…what do you say? The new Tuscany of the States? The data-center capital of the West? What makes Portland so unique? Let us know with a comment below.

Advice, Community, Mentors

[Updated] How to hire for cultural fit.

Company culture is all the rage in PDX startup land. It’s incorporated into hiring processes and strategic planning meetings. There are even full time jobs dedicated to ensuring the success of a company’s culture. When you’ve got an intimate staff size that’s in the single or double digits, every new employee makes a difference, shifts the vibe, rocks the boat, changes at least one person’s job duties—all of these hopefully for the better.

Considering the high cost of turnover and awkwardness of employee relations issues, it makes perfect sense why startups place equal if not higher value on a culture vs skillset match. After all, a defining trait of working at a startup is that we hang out with our coworkers both in and out of the office – so these new hires had better be people we love.

The challenge is how do we ensure that we’re hiring someone who has mad job related skills AND will slide seamlessly into our group of crazies. Below are three steps for assessing culture fit and determining just who might be wo/man enough to join your nerd herd.

1) Start with identifying the culture.

Culture means the feel of a business vs the hard facts. Having a solid definition of what it feels like to work there is the first step in making good hires.

How I describe startup culture to friends, family, future coworkers:

  • The 3 C’s. Creativity, curiosity, crazy are required.
  • The 3 I’s. The recipe for a solid foundation is information + innovation = invention.
  • Lovers of ambiguity, hard/unforeseen problems, voicing opinions, post midnight emails work here. Their talent is vast and uncontained. They are inspirational. And they are all hilarious.
  • Recognition for both successes and failures happens on the regular.
  • There may not be a 401k, a career ladder, or even a job description. But employees can wear flip flops, bring their cats to work, come into and leave the office when they feel like it, and the startling abundance of free food and drink correlates directly to the free yoga and exercise options that are part of the total compensation package. Think perks vs benefits.

It’s important to figure out what your culture really is so that you can talk through it with prospective employees. Nothing in place? Start with polling your staff, your execs, people in the community who know you. Ask them how they’d describe the people they work with and the overall vibe. Ask about the perks vs benefits. Ask about what landed them there and why they stay.

2) Follow it up with identifying the true job need.

The focus here is to be adding new positions gracefully, thoughtfully, sustainably—not just because “holy shit we need an Ops guy Dev Ops Hero NOW” that may not be needed in one month. This is important in terms of presenting an accurate portrayal of not only the job you’re interviewing someone for, but a *culture of transparency.

Prep internal constituents:

In order to keep a culture chill. Be as open as possible about the process to alleviate confusion around a hire. Be certain on the full time/part time/permanent/temporary status of a needed position. Talk it over with staff so they’re in the loop on what potential new person may be coming on, and what this will mean for a person/team job-wise. Even the tiniest of heads up can head off staff revolt. This is particularly important for those who will be meeting prospective candidates. The goal is for employees to feel well informed and fully comfortable talking about this new opportunity with the interviewee across the table vs “yeah, I guess we need a front-end dude dude/dudette, that’s what they told me this morning.” Current staff contributes to a big cultural first impression.

External constituents:

Let’s be honest, startup jobs ebb and flow constantly. Re-orgs, or shit—just ‘orgs’—happen all the time. It’s our hiring responsibility to convey the job needed at the time of the interview, discuss potential evolutions of said job, address stability as best we can, and simply put: be transparent.

By disclosing everything we know about an open position at that very moment with staff and candidates, we fill in all of the blanks. This way staff is onboard and willing to participate in the process if necessary, and candidates don’t have to piece together the details of the job, which can breed confusion about the culture. And in some cases even result in declining an offer.

*If being transparent about the job/culture is a challenge – be open about the lack of transparency. No surprises. And then work on improving transparency. That may very well be my next blog post topic…

3) Assessing potential new coworkers.

Ask good questions. Listen listen listen, way more than you talk. It’s amazing what people will say if you just… listen. Have a short list of broad ideas on what you hope they’ll say. Have an even shorter list of dealbreakers. Notice how you feel about each answer, take the occasional note, but see if you can get a good read on your intuitive response to what a candidate is saying and how they are saying it.

A few culture-related questions:

  • Motivation: why are you here? what motivates you outside of cold hard cash? have you ever felt unmotivated – what happened, how did you respond, who besides you was a factor, and what did you learn? what has been your greatest nonverbal reward?
  • Victories and losses: what are some of your greatest triumphs and greatest challenges that you’ve had in your career? how do you know when you’ve nailed it or blown it completely? at what point do you ask for help? what is your recovery process? what is your celebration process?
  • Playing well with others: how would your best and most challenging boss, coworker describe you? list a few characteristics that you need from a boss/coworker that would be a dealbreaker? who have been some of your most inspirational bosses/coworkers, and why? how/when do you know it’s appropriate to speak up, or tag in and help a coworker?
  • The job: what excites you about this opportunity, what made you apply? do any of the responsibilities make you feel anxious, and if so, what would you need in order to feel confident about your ability to handle the job? how does this role compare or contrast to what you’re currently doing, and on that note, what is motivating you to consider new opportunities?
  • Logistics: what would we learn about you in a few months that we wouldn’t know about you on day 1? what is your preferred communication style, favorite color, most influential person in your life? are you a morning person vs night owl? how do you kill time when stranded at an airport?
  • Questions for you: ask them to ask you anything. Hope that they will have something to ask, be ok with if it they don’t. If you’re comfortable with it, share your contact information so that they may follow up with you directly if questions arise post interview.

Making the decision…

Keep it simple. Just like culture is a feel, a candidate will leave you with the same. A feel, a gut vibe response. Remember that they are sizing up potential culture fit as much as you are, so all you can do is present a clear picture of what it looks like at your company and hope for a good match instead of forcing it to fill a role. Take the extra time to ask non job specific questions. Read the resume, check the references. When it comes to give the thumbs up/down, don’t second guess yourself and don’t get bogged down in analyzing or quantifying specifics. *Pay attention and give voice to your gut vibe – it’s (almost) always right. No arguing.

*This applies not only to hiring but to all life decisions.

Update:
Note from the Editor: This post has been edited to suit all audiences, as was the author’s original intent. We believe in the importance of fostering and promoting diversity and inclusion not only at PIE, but in the greater Portland startup community—beards or no beards.

-Kirsten Golden, Program Manager

Advice, Community

What’s in Your Bag? With PIE startups

Every startup has a bag of go-to tricks and tools, and the new “What’s in your Bag” series is dedicated to unveiling some of PIE community’s favorites. This series is a compilation of essential tools for team communication, analytics, engineering, and—in general—successful startup life.

Here’s a look at the top two favorite tools for communication.

Kato is a team chat service used for real-time internal communication by companies large and small. It can be used for group communication via forums, private messaging and file sharing, so it significantly reduces the number of emails teams send back and forth each day. It’s also a great platform to share very relevant, funny (and/or) distracting .gifs with the team.

.gif pick of the week:
Sneeze

Kat from StandIn spoke about using the platform in more ways. “Kato also has ad hoc rooms that you can spin up per user and embed in your site, which is really appealing for us.” They’re currently thinking about integrating that into their My Account sections for support.

“One of the most important pieces… err parts of PIE is the collaboration among the companies in the space,” said Rick Turoczy, cofounder and general manager. “And for our staff, it’s a great way to have multiple conversations open without having to swap windows or rooms. We’ve found that Kato provides us with a way to interact with both current startups and alums without a great deal of friction. And with an awful lot of gifs. ”

Learn more about Kato here.

Slack is another favorite among some of the companies here at PIE. Companies like AppThwack, Fleck, and StandIn mostly boast about its clean interface and polished UI.

“You can put code in it and have it formatted, and it’s better for displaying content from pasted links.” – Asa, StandIn

“We have been using Slack and it’s just so darn polished. iOS, Android and Mac clients, better design, great features. It’s really awesome.” -Rory, Fleck

Not only does Slack have great design, but it allows for custom emojis—that’s Kyle from Stublisher’s favorite part.

While both Kato and Slack are great tools, they both still have room for improvement. “One thing Kato has that Slack has been saying is coming for a few months and has yet to deliver is public support channels so you can use Slack with customers/potential customers.” – Trent, AppThwack

Check out Slack for yourself here, and stay tuned for more startup essentials next 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 familiar..it’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

Advice

You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Answers – Some FAQs About PIE

Below are some of the frequently asked questions that PIE + co has been getting regarding Portland, the PIE experience, our partnership with Wieden+Kennedy, and a few other things for good measure.

What sort of companies do you work with and what stages?
Our area of expertise tends to be technology companies, specifically platforms and enabling technologies.  We focus on early stage companies – that can mean a lot of different things for our companies – pre revenue or revenue positive, back of the napkin concept, bootstrapping there is no right answer. Honestly, we like being challenged.  We’re always looking for new types of companies that will help us expand our capabilities.  See a full list of our companies here.

What requirements do you have for being in PIE?
We require that the team has someone who is a technical “builder” It doesn’t have to be a founder, but someone on the team needs to have technical acumen.  Why? Well, the second requirement of PIE is that you have product in market (meaning someone besides your team and your mom needs to be using your product, early alpha, beta, etc.) in order to go on stage for demo day.

How structured is the day-to-day time in the accelerator?
Heavily unstructured and chaotic.  We customize our program to each company; acceleration is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  While we have some programming that applies to all of the startups, the vast majority of our time is spent one-on-one with our companies, helping them get to the next stage that they define as their goal. We then take that intimate knowledge of the startups and the challenges they face and sync them up with mentors who have expertise to explore those issues.

This matchmaking — putting startups together with the appropriate mentors for the specific problem they are attacking that day and repeating that process with each new problem— provides the most value for both the startups and the mentors.

Who are the mentors?
Tech + business powerhouses – who else? PIE has an extensive network of mentors spanning from founders, top-notch engineers, VCs and a ton of other folks who are much smarter than we are.  We also have the added benefit of having our alumni included in the mentor pool, as well as the creative folks who make up all 8 of Wieden+Kennedy’s offices.

What benefits do you see in being in Portland?
Portland is a vibrant and growing city with very active tech, startup, and maker communities. The cost of living is low and you can easily walk, bike or take public transit to most, if not all, places.  Companies like Airbnb, Mozilla, New Relic, and Salesforce all have recently opened offices here.  The bay is a quick and direct flight away.  Oh, and Portland is gorgeous in the summer time, why else do you think we run the program from July – October?  Don’t just take our word for it, check out this post on the AppFog blog.

What is the involvement of W+K in the process?
The companies who participate in the PIE program have the opportunity to work with teams at Wieden+Kennedy from branding and strategic positioning, to folks who want to muck around on your platform.  We look for new opportunities to engage with Wieden every year so don’t be surprised if other opportunities happen.

Where do we apply?
Right here.

Community, News

Include. Innovate. Invest – A Look at I3PDX with the PDC

I consider myself very fortunate to have folks like Rick and Kirsten from PIE as allies and colleagues when it comes to making Portland an even better city for startups.  Not only do they support the ecosystem in many ways but are also advocates on the topic of inclusion in the startup space.

In 2013 PDC embarked on a new initiative, now called Include. Innovate. Invest. PORTLAND (I3PDX) to realize more diversity in terms of gender and race in startup founding teams and in innovative industries such as tech, green tech, and athletic & outdoor.  Our path has been guided by the work  begun by others such as Dwayne Johnson & Thompson Morrison with the TAO Foundation, Deena Pierott from I Urban Teen, and PIE’s efforts facilitating PIELette and incubating Code Scouts.

And while we’re able to build on this local work, we’re also inspired by the momentum building nationally on the topic of tech inclusion, particularly in how it plays out in the media – from this critique of Y Combinator to Reverend Jesse Jackson’s visit to Silicon Valley to highlight the lack of diversity. In the past few years, we’ve seen organizations such as Kapor Center, CODE 2040, and Digital Undivided designing strong programs to directly address the diversity issue; and the emergence of apublication that enlists authors who are tech industry veterans and some of the most outspoken advocates of tech inclusion in the country.

Let’s be honest, topics about diversity and inclusion can be uncomfortable.  Regardless of our gender or ethnicity, we all seem to have some discomfort when engaging around the topic. Some feel attacked, some feel excluded, but at our best, we hold compassion and understanding for both.  How do we push through that discomfort to ask ourselves how more diverse voices can be heard and encouraged to become leaders in tech?  From my vantage point at PDC, our economic sustainability is absolutely tied to a more diverse tech leadership and workforce.  We have no choice. We can’t ignore the fact that half of the children in Portland Public Schools are people of color and half of our population is female.

One of the key lessons I have learned from thought leaders is that if you want to increase the pipeline and inspire the next generation of people of color and women to enter technology, you need to provide students and aspiring entrepreneurs with the ability to connect with mentors who look like them.  So  it’s very important to recognize the diverse leaders we already have in Portland and cultivate more.

That’s why the first step in I3PDX was opening up the conversation at an event February 27 with four diverse Portland leaders in tech and design.  D’Wayne Edwards of Pensole, Marcelino Alvarez of Uncorked Studios, Michael Gray of Globesherpa, and Paola Moretto of Nouvola authentically shared their career experiences. We also developed relationships with organizations that have ties with professionals of color already working in tech and design, including   Hispanicpros and Urban League Young Professionals. Each hasconnections with talented designers and engineers working on corporate campuses on the west side of the Metro area who were not yet plugged into the startup community in Portland.  As a result, we had an extremely diverse and inspirational crowd at the February 27 event representing the beginning of a community dedicated to diversity in tech.

In March, we partnered with Digital Undivided on START Portland, a workshop DU conducts in cities all over the country to inspire women, particularly those of color, to consider starting a tech company.  I attended the FOCUS 100 conference last year and we plan to bring a Portland contingent to the conference in New York this coming October.

For our second event on April 10, we used feedback from the first event to build more connections between an engaged crowd of diverse professionals and organizations and mentors in the startup community.  Mentors such as Ivo Lukas, Bill Lynch, and Marcelino Alvarez and organizations such as PIE, OEN, and Portland Seed Fund hosted table sessions with those interested in starting a startup or learning more about available resources.

Here’s a sneak peak at what’s next.

Katherine Krajnak has been a project manager at the Portland Development Commission (PDC)for five years, and most recently managed the Startup PDX Challenge and the Produce Row initiative in the Central Eastside. Her current work at PDC involves projects and initiatives to bolster Portland’s high-growth entrepreneurs across industry and throughout the city. You can follow her on Twitter as @StartupCityPDX.

Advice

How to pick the best accelerator for you

You’re starting a company.  Your product is the next big thing, that no one had thought of – or at least executed well.  Your founding team is comprised of top-notch thinkers and doers and your network has assured you of one thing: People Will. Want. This.

So now what?  For many, the next logical step would be to apply for an early stage accelerator.  But with +800 accelerators in the US alone, deciding which one is the best for your company is hard.  Sure there are the media darlings, the TechStars, YCs, and 500 – but what about the sector specific programs, or the corporate accelerators, or even PIE?

Deep breath.

It’s not easy. Picking the right accelerator is like picking a life partner.  Your relationship with them should go beyond an announcement of being selected and a demo day round up.

So how do you go about picking the right one?  First, you need to understand that there is no right choice. There is only the right choice for you and your company. Companies that fly high at YC may be miserable in other programs. Startups that work well in corporate accelerators may flounder in less focused efforts.

Long story short, you need to find the accelerator that  most closely matches your startup’s need. And here are our tips on how to best to do that.

Experience : Who is driving the ship?  What is their reputation around town and around the industry? Are they credible?  Remember, this relationship will be a very important part of your company, from here forward. And you’ll be relying on them a lot during and after the program.

Alumni : How many have gone through their program and where are they now?  What types of companies have found success in the program? Not all success stories are newsworthy, so do some homework. Pro tip: Be strategic, alumni typically know when application windows are open and their referrals go a long way.

Capital : What is their track record?  It’s important that you understand how their investments are structured and what it means for your cap table. Because that could affect your investors down the road.  Do they follow on? Are their alumni successful at raising their next rounds?

Network: The program directors and managers are only part of the equation. Find out who makes up their network and how involved they are. Mentors are not only great for their copious amounts of battle stories and wisdom, but often become go-to candidates for advisory boards and can potentially unlock more introductions.  A good network goes beyond alumni + mentors. Look into who else they have good working relationships with – VCs, law firms, or even other startup companies that might not have gone through their program.  It takes a village to raise a startup, so make sure they’ve got one.

Resources: Mentors, partnerships, and special perks are an important part of a balanced breakfast… err accelerator. Many accelerators have sweetheart deals with vendors and services that are helpful to a growing company.  Take advantage of them.

Momentum: What are you looking to get out of your experience with said accelerator? And do you honestly think they can help get you there?  You’ve typically got 3 months – 1 year in this program – and every day counts.  Think about your roadmap. The right accelerator should be able to get your further.  And finally, understand what success looks like to them. Is that a mold you’re ready to fit in?

You should believe in your accelerator as much as you want them to believe in you.  The relationship needs to be mutually beneficial, to be successful.   The same logic we use to decide each class is the same logic you should use to decide which accelerator to join.  Like with any other major decision, do a gut check – does it feel like the right decision?

News

Now Accepting Applications

Have you heard? We’re accepting applications for our 2014 class from now until April 30th, 11:59 PST.  The program runs July – October, official dates to be announced.

The application is now available here or via AngelList.  Be prepared to talk about the awesome product you’re building, the dream team you’ve got behind it and even why you think you’d be a good addition to the PIE portfolio.

Not sure about PIE or what it is?

The Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) is a partnership among leading brands, technology innovators, and Wieden+Kennedy — the largest privately held advertising and communications company in the world. It serves as a hub for community, entrepreneurship, and creative thinking. To date, PIE has had the opportunity to work with more than 40 startups. PIE alumni have created more than 500 jobs and raised more than $110 million in funding.

We’ve been home to companies like OrchestrateSimple, Lytics and Urban Airship.  Check out all of the companies we’ve worked with here.  Any one of those folks would be happy to chat with you about their time in PIE … so ask them.  Who knows, maybe you could get a referral out of them.

Still have questions?  Stay tuned for an Ask Us Anything style live chat with the founders and managers of PIE.

So go apply already.