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 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?