Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Did you go to Portland Incubator Experiment’s Demo Day on Friday? Were you as amazed as we are by our incredibly talented compatriots and the entire PIE team? Three cheers.

Which bring us to the debrief. Everyone wants to know: “So, what happened next? Did you meet with fancy venture capitalists? Did they write you a check for a million dollars on the spot?” 

Yes. Yes they did.

So after the presentation we headed up to the reception and there was a guy who handed us a generous pour of whiskey, whipped out a term sheet, and said, “name the number.” We did. We threw on a few extra zeros for good measure. And then skipped down to the bank to cash in on our good fortune.*

Now, have you ever seen the doors of the downtown United States National bank in Portland? Here, let me show you in excruciating detail how beautiful they are:

There are eight scenes celebrating domestic welfare, international goodwill, understanding and expression, knowledge and service, progress through direction, growth through the will, and the home makers. Do you think it would be okay to say that these are the verticals we would like to pursue? Would that fly in a pitch? “Here are our markets. They’re ripped directly from the bronze doors of a turn of the century bank.”** 

What came to mind immediately were Ghiberti’s doors of the Baptistry depicting scenes from the Old Testament, created 500 years ago. I’d pass them every day while living in Florence. What you have here, in gray and crazy downtown Portland, rival their Florentine cousins.  I did a double take because I realized that no, I was not standing in front of a divine edifice, but rather a tribute to American capitalism. At a bank. A BANK. (I later learned the artist, Avard Fairbanks, was inspired by Ghiberti.)

And so here’s what I’ve surmised: investing in these eight values it will lead, inevitably, to a return on investment. And not only for the investor, but for everyone who has shared in that prosperity. The builder and planner and scientist and homemaker will walk through those doors and think, “damn straight I belong on the doors.” Could you possibly imagine who would be depicted on these doors were they built today? This is where the laughing came in. Because I stood in front of those doors and laughed so hard I kind of cried. 

I know what you might be thinking. “You are a tech start up. Screw you and your lofty goals.” Here at Switchboard Headquarters it is nearly impossible to separate our product from dreaming about how it could help the people depicted here flourish. How can Switchboard be used by caretakers? How can it be used by scientists, educators, innovators? How can it be used by artists, makers, and the international community? It’s enough to know that at one point in history, the definition of wealth included them, and that investments in tech might bring about that renaissance once again.  

*Fake story. I figured “cash! cash! cash!” would pique your interest more than “behold these bronze doors.” 

**To bring it full circle, the architect of the bank is A.E. Doyle  who designed Reed College, including Eliot Hall from which came the famed Doyle Owl. And Fairbanks’ most famous design is the Dodge Ram symbol, Dodge being a client of Wieden+Kennedy. So, there you go.