Erik Olson | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Erik Olson


Portland Design Works consists of a small team that creates beautiful, simple gear for everyday cycling. Designed with intention, PDW products are produced in consideration of aesthetics, durability and fun. Since 2008, PDW been developing gear that everyday cyclists would want to use for any of their rides. Having launched with only a handful of grips, the company has expanded to offer more than 50 products, ranging from fenders to water bottle cages to make city riding comfortable, safe and convenient.

The Mistake:

When we started up, it was myself for the first six months and then another co-founder jumped on board to take over sales and marketing. For the first two or three years then, it was just the two of us.  

We sat right across from each other and were always on the same page. We hammered out brand ideology, image, customer service, product creation. It was all baked into our DNA, and we knew exactly what the company was all about, how we wanted the business to run, and what we wanted to achieve.  

When we started adding to the team, we didn’t think to change that. We thought, let’s just get after it and get stuff done, and never took the time to sit down and communicate our mission or vision or even process with anyone we hired. But we did engage in employee reviews. And after all of them shared with us that communication could be better – that our employees really had no idea what was going on – we decided we could improve.

We’ve always had an open office, and employees float in and out. But people just weren’t asking us about a lot of things, and we didn’t think to offer up information. So what we heard in the employee reviews honestly sort of surprised us.

There were definitely some inefficiencies that were occurring as a result of poor communications. We took a hard look at it and noticed some issues in everything from customer identification to brand presentation, to bookkeeping and invoicing.

Improving our communications has strengthened our culture tremendously.

The Lesson:

In about year four of operations, we brought in an outside facilitator. We were and are still a small team of about six people. But we thought it would be good to have someone from the outside who could move the conversation along and get us all having the same conversation. We broke down the company right to our foundation. We shared and set our core values, and long- and short-term goals.

We started weekly meetings, which we still have to this day. We all sit down, go around the table, and discuss what’s happening with product development, what’s happening in inventory. Customer service tells us what they’re hearing and what’s going on with them. Those little weekly meetings keep everyone in the same loop

The outcome is not necessarily as measurable in a traditional sense of profit and loss. But improving our communications has strengthened our culture tremendously. And we just run a lot smoother.

Follow Portland Design Works on Twitter at: @portlanddesignw

Pictured: Erik Olson | Photo courtesy of Erik Olson

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