What ever happened to Video Sprint after PIE?

It was late October 2012. We had just returned from three months of near perfect sunshine in Portland, Oregon to the grey and dingy early winter of former East Berlin. After a couple weeks, the euphoria of Demo Day had died down and reality began to sink in. Prospective clients for Video Sprints didn’t have reasonable budgets for our services. Our business model was flawed. After a brief period of flirting with the idea of developing Video Sprint software, we headed south to visit Pati’s family for Christmas and put our plans on hold for the new year. We finally were reckoning with something we’d been hearing the whole time at PIE about our business: “that’s cool – but how does it scale?”

January 2013. We were artists in residence in the Frankfurter Kunstverein. We spent that cold and snowy month living in an art museum and producing our most experimental video to date: a portrait of four artists called Another Dimension. On long walks taken through the winter streets of Frankfurt, we looked ahead to the coming months of the new year and decided to focus on our individual strengths for a while. Pati went on to expand her client roster of corporate design agencies in Berlin. Gabe took directing work in California, did lots of public speaking, and produced new video artwork.

But there was something else. Something gnawing at our consciousness the whole time. A parallel story of what was and what could be that was stubbornly, persistently calling us to act. In short: something which could scale.

You might have seen us using it when we were at PIE. Fervently scribbling notes during a presentation or drawing storyboards for our videos. Truly, there were moments during PIE where our daily use of the prototype created cognitive dissonance to the tune of: “Why are we working on Video Sprint when we could be working on this?!” Working on what, you ask?

Betabook: a portable whiteboard in the form of a book.

So here’s that parallel story:

Early February 2010. It was a typical grey-skied winter afternoon in Berlin. A group of designers, makers and tinkerers gathered together in one of Berlin’s first coworking spaces – the Betahaus – for a workshop on Open Design. Among the participants was Jay Cousins – a recent transplant to Berlin from Sheffield, UK. Jay was leading a workshop on creating self-made plastics. Jay’s enthusiasm caught our eye. As the only video production company present, KS12 became the workshop’s storytellers. When Jay sat for an interview, he uttered a one-liner which would set the tone for our friendship. “Basically,” Jay said, “everything should be delivered in beta“.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2012. Jay was cleaning up his apartment when he came across some old notebooks. After reviewing the contents and salvaging only a couple pages in each book, the waste created struck him as a problem to solve. Then inspiration hit. He took the empty notebook binding and affixed a piece of whiteboard plastic inside: the first Betabook was born.

Jay approached us about helping him to make a Kickstarter video to get the Betabook out into the world. We said we’d think about it after we had some time to test his prototypes and so in the summer of 2012 we left for Portland with a Betabook in our production kit. After using the prototype for a couple months, it became clear to us that it had a bigger future. So in the beginning of 2013 they developed a supply chain, built and tested dozens of prototypes, and in the summer of 2014 founded Betabook LLC. The design was improved from a rough proof of concept to a refined and beautiful object. Which brings us to the present day: mere days before the launch of Betabook on Kickstarter.

We used the Betabook prototype during our time at PIE for everything from meeting notes to business model diagrams. Since then we have iterated on the plastic surface so that it wipes completely clean.

Betabook is a product born in Berlin – but the minimum viable product was road-tested in Portland, specifically at PIE.

If we hadn’t used it intensely during our time in the incubator who knows if we would have been convinced of the value. After all, at that time the prototype was just a scrappy old journal binding with a piece of duct tape and a sheet of dirty plastic glued inside. But besides the practical testing we did at PIE we learned countless other lessons which have had an impact on our ability to move forward with the Betabook. As graduates of film and design schools, PIE served as our crash course in startup business. Mentors like Renny, Rick, Nick, Kirsten, Marcelino Alvarez, John Jay, Amber Case, Brad Berens, Jason Glaspey, Andy Baio, Mat Ellis and Brad Feld – among dozens of others – gave us invaluable insights. Our classmates served as mirrors for us, helping us to see ourselves as entrepreneurs even if at times we felt like amateurs.

Next week we are launching Betabook on Kickstarter. If you want to help spread the word before we launch, please encourage people to sign up here for our email list:


You might also check out our (somewhat cheeky) trailer about the history of tablets.
We’re using hashtag #betabook and we’re @betabook on Instagram; @betabookco on Twitter.

Sarcasm, Sincerity and Cynicism: Portland vs. Berlin

YouTube Preview Image

Being back in Berlin after three months in Portland, its difficult not to give in to the desire to compare and contrast the two cities. It’s safe to say we miss Portland. In our newfound homesickness we’ve indulged in watching (and re-watching) clips of the TV show Portlandia on YouTube. And having gotten a chance to get to know the city this summer these sarcastic sketches ring true on many levels. The results of our experiment extending the conversation from Early Stage onto Quora reflected this self-aware side of Portland in the fact that the most upvoted answer to all of the questions we posted was this list of zingers from Ken Westin about why not to create your next startup company in Portland. Due to the popularity of Ken’s answer, we thought it would be fun to adapt it into a collaborative video:

Yet there is certainly a counterpoint to this view of Portland – one which may have a hard time grabbing the limelight from this sort of good-natured sarcasm because of its sincerity. It’s embodied by the long and thoughtful answer given by Jeffrey Hardison to our question “How is Portland poised to lead the new wave of design-driven startups?” As we work on editing Early Stage we have to admit that it’s perspectives like Jeffrey’s which resonate more strongly with the sentiments we’d encountered in Portland’s startup community.

But whether your personal stance on Portland leans more in the sarcastic or sincere direction, from our view back in Berlin both stances seem equally acceptable compared to the cynicism we often encounter here at home. Compared to the friendliness and openness of Portland, Berlin has an energy which at times feels very heavy. A combination of Berlin’s history and it’s own acute sense of that history can make this town a tough place to try something new. I realize this outlook may contradict the experience of many fellow Berliners as well as visitors to the city who perceive Berlin as a bohemian refuge. And certainly it does live up to its reputation as that sort of place.

However, if we who live in Berlin consider ourselves creative refugees – escapees from more hostile (commercial) environments where our creative expression is less appreciated or viable – we must accept that the tolerance and permissiveness of this bohemia simultaneously can have the function of neutralizing our intensity and our passions. That a certain degree of laisse faire attitude sometimes can slip into cynical inaction.

And if there’s one take-away from Portland that we’ve brought back with us to Berlin it’s to keep our passion at the forefront of what we do.

A New Video Sprint: Introducing “Early Stage”

On October 5, 2012, we will join the 2012 class of Wieden + Kennedy’s Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) in sharing our companies’ visions with investors, the media and the larger startup community at PIE Demo Day.

In a uniquely self-reflexive moment, Demo Day will also mark the public launch of our new process Video Sprint.

As participants in this year’s PIE class, we’ve had the chance to learn and grow alongside the other PIE companies. Our firsthand experience of the incubator has given us intimate access to the ups and downs of accelerating an early stage startup company. We’ve become embedded in the vibrant ecosystem of investors, entrepreneurs, developers, designers, mentors, advisors and community members which make up the Portland startup scene, and we’re excited to share the story.

At the same time that we’ve become insiders at PIE, we’ve remained aliens in Portland. We’ve fallen in love with this city over the last couple months. The friendly people, tasty food, bike-friendly streets, well-designed signage, and direct access to nature – these have all been a welcome contrast to the day-to-day we’re used to in Berlin. While we’re looking forward to returning home in a couple weeks, we’ll be leaving a little piece of ourselves behind in Portland.

Early Stage

Why is Portland an interesting place to create a startup? How can we understand entrepreneurs and software engineers to be a new creative class? What roles do story and performance play in the creation of an enterprise? Following the true story of a group of aspiring startups in the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), in the context of Portland’s creative and technology ecosystem, KS12 introduces Early Stage, a Video Sprint in collaboration with PIE which starts a conversation on these topics and invites your participation.

Participate on Quora

We are working with questions from our interview process on Quora. You are invited to join the process by providing answers for these questions. We will be incorporating answers to these and other questions into the Video Sprint. Here are the questions:

Why is Portland an interesting place to create a startup?
How can we understand entrepreneurs and software engineers to be a new creative class?
What roles do story and performance play in the creation of an enterprise?
What can startups learn from an advertising agency about storytelling?
What can startup culture teach us about creativity?
How do crazy ideas grow into real businesses?

Participate on Twitter

You can also participate by sharing your thoughts as the project progresses on Twitter using the hashtag #earlystage and make sure to follow @ks12 and @piepdx as the story continues. We’ll be blogging the project here: www.earlystage.videosprint.net.

KS12 + You = More Awesome


After our first week at PIE we’re ready to turn up the volume a bit. We came out to Portland to take the chance to grow KS12 into something bigger, and given the stage we’re at with our experience and portfolio, that means finding new partners to join our company.

We’re looking for a fellow adventurer to join our team as a producer.

You’re a risk-taker and a born entrepreneur. You enjoy making bold moves even when that means you might fail. You possess an infectious optimism and determination that energizes the people around you. You love big ideas and have the skills to execute them. You’re a tough negotiator and a sharp strategist. Numbers are your friends, whether its writing budgets, negotiating deals or calculating profits – and you possess exacting communication skills. You get the details right while staying conscious of the big picture.

But most importantly: you share our unyielding passion for telling authentic stories in the digital age.

We know that finding the right producer to join our team isn’t just a matter of reviewing your CV for qualifications and scheduling an interview. We’ll need to share creative chemistry and work together on a project or two. So here’s what we have in mind:

Introducing KS12 Story Labs

We love experimenting with new ways for telling stories: we call the frameworks for these experiments Story Labs.

During our time at PIE we will conduct a series of Story Labs, building on our existing approaches (Video Sprints, Design Fiction, etc.) as well as developing all-new methods. It’s our intention to use these Story Labs as an audition process for producers because we believe strongly in the power of hands-on collaboration to build or break working relationships.

We’re ready to share the responsibilities and the rewards of making KS12 a cutting edge creative studio. If you’re up for the challenge of building a relationship with us, we’d love to hear from you and learn how you intend to make KS12 more awesome!