Startup School Radio: Pigeonly's Frederick Hutson On The Importance Of Early Believers



In the latest episode of YC's Startup School Radio, podcast that features stories and practical advice about starting, funding, and scaling companies, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with his fellow YC partner Qasar Younis. In addition to being YC's newly-appointed COO, Qasar has also founded several companies, including TalkBin, the Winter 2011 alum that went on to be acquired by Google.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here.

In the second portion of the episode, Aaron interviewed Frederick Hutson, the co-founder and CEO of W15 alum Pigeonly, the company that provides affordable communication services for prison inmates to connect with their families. In one interesting part of Frederick's interview, he talked about the challenges of talking to Silicon Valley investors about inmate services, which is a problem many of them aren't well acquainted with:

Frederick: What I quickly learned as I was talking to folks [about investing in Pigeonly], there were some biases. One was that they just couldn't wrap their brains around the system, because the problem we were solving was so far removed from what they understood. There wasn't any prejudice or anything against me as an individual, but it was just, 'I literally can't wrap my brain around this problem to even know if it's real or not.' And that's the biggest thing when we talk to most people, is that I have to spend a lot of time educating them on the problem that we're solving, and then we can move forward to even talk about the business. That's how we were able to weed out and find out the people who were interested in it.

Our early group of believers, they really turned and set the stage for everyone else. So then when people saw our base, and they saw Erik [Moore from Base Ventures, one of the early investors in Zappos], and they saw [Mitch] Kapor, then we started getting a lot of the other people saying, 'Okay, maybe they know something and we trust them. So we'll go along with them.' 

Aaron: ...So it's been a couple months out of YC, and so just as a parting piece of wisdom, what did you take from YC back to the company that's driving you forward now? Like what's the thing that, for Pigeonly, is the core lesson that you need to keep pushing on that's going to drive your business?

Frederick: I think focus. I think focus is highly important, because there's so many things that you can be doing, and it's easy to get distracted. And, also, I think the second lesson for me that's really...we picked up from one of the speakers is focusing on what our driving metric is.

So for us it's constant, weekly communication. And we made that the core of our business. We made that the core of our meetings. And now everything we do our question is, 'Is this going to drive more consistent weekly communication for our user base?' And that's really helped us, and helped us make some hard decisions, to really do the right thing at the right time.