Full Transcript: Pigeonly Founder And CEO Frederick Hutson On GHOGH Podcast Part 1

Written by Staff
Frederick Hutson
Frederick Hutson, founder of Pigeonly. Photo: Anita Sanikop, Moguldom

In episode 53 of the GHOGH podcast, Jamarlin Martin talks to justice-tech pioneer Frederick Hutson, who founded Pigeonly to create communications products for inmates and their families that reduce the destructive impact of incarceration.

They talk about his time in the pen for selling marijuana, developing the Pigeonly idea on the inside, and raising capital from investors.

They discuss Pigeonly defeating lobbyists from the prison industrial complex and how we can weaponize technology to fight back and solve problems that disproportionately impact African Americans.

You can listen to the entire conversation right now in the audio player below. If you prefer to listen on your phone, GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin is available wherever you listen to podcasts — including Apple PodcastsSpotifyYouTube, and SoundCloud.

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 53: Frederick Hutson
Part 1: Jamarlin talks to justice-tech pioneer Frederick Hutson, who founded Pigeonly to create communications products for inmates and their families that reduce the destructive impact of incarceration. They talk about his time in the pen for selling marijuana, developing the Pigeonly idea on the inside, and raising capital from investors. They discuss Pigeonly defeating lobbyists from the prison industrial complex and how we can weaponize technology to fight back and solve problems that disproportionately impact African Americans.

This is a full transcript of the conversation which has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jamarlin Martin: You’re listening to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin. We have a go hard or go home approach as we talk to the leading tech leaders, politicians and influencers. Let’s GHOGH! Today we have Frederick Hutsonn, the founder and CEO of Pigeonly. How’s it going Frederick.

Frederick Hutson: I’m doing well.

Jamarlin Martin: Let’s dive right in. You have a super interesting story. Can we start with your background in terms of high school and how did you get to the point of starting Pigeonly?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah. I grew up in Saint Petersburg, Florida, which is right outside of Tampa. Just where I grew up at, it was just the drug culture, right? So that was always around me, for the most part though…

Jamarlin Martin: Saint Pete. You guys have another name for it?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, we called it “The Burg”. Yeah. So most of that time, I managed to stay out of trouble and stay on the right path for the most part. And then even one of the most successful people in my family at the time was my uncle who I looked up to a great deal and he was in the Air Force. So I said, that’s probably what I’m gonna do. So I got out of high school, signed up, went into the military, and then some of my close family friends when I was in the Air Force, they came out to Vegas. They told me what they were doing as far as moving marijuana from, at the time, Texas through to Florida and how they were doing it and how inefficient it was. I said, I can make that a lot better, make it a lot more efficient. It got so efficient, it caught the federal government’s attention, and I was indicted when I was 23 for distribution of something like 8,000 pounds of marijuana, something like that. So it was during that time when I went to prison and I just started noticing and seeing this huge population of people that no one’s paying attention to and more importantly that everyone had the same problem. It was very difficult and expensive to stay in touch. And then what I didn’t know at the time, which I learned later was, that my observation of how often people can stay in touch, how difficult was, was backed by over 40 years of research showing that people who couldn’t afford it, didn’t have the financial means to stay in touch, were more likely to get in trouble, more likely to be back in prison. The people who could maintain those family connections, those are the folks I didn’t see come back. Long story short, got out around 2012, I got my co-founder Alfonso who I had known for a good while, while I was in the Air Force, and we started what’s now Pigeonly, which in a sentence is basically a platform that makes it easy for people to search, find and communicate with their incarcerated loved one. So today we have customers over in 88 countries and we’re shipping over 3,000 to 4,000 orders a day all over the United States. We do a little over 2 million phone minutes a month. So now we’ve gotten to the point where we’re pretty well known in the industry as far as at least one of the largest independent providers providing that communication.

Jamarlin Martin: You were incarcerated for selling drugs. Was it marijuana or all types of drugs?

Frederick Hutson: Marijuana.

Jamarlin Martin: Marijuana. Okay. Got It. And would you say that your experience in the Air Force helped you in the drug game in terms of, it gave you a unique…

03:08 —Frederick Hutson: I would say what I got from the Air Force was discipline. It really taught me a lot of discipline. It really taught me how important it is to have a process to everything that you want to do, because the military has a process for every single thing, right? It’s really outlined and it’s very rare you can do something that’s not on a program like that. So that’s something that I took forward and that’s something I was very disciplined about, regimen because we had people in three different countries and over 50, 60 people you’re managing and it’s not your typical employee or type of employee that you’re managing. Right. So it took a lot of discipline and took a lot of process to be able to manage it at the level where I was doing it. And I would say that’s probably some of the things that I took with me then that I even still to this day, because you know, for the most part business is business, it really doesn’t matter. Whether you’re selling marijuana, whether you’re selling cupcakes, for the most part it’s all the same process.

Jamarlin Martin: I’m thinking that that unique experience probably not a lot of people, if anybody, in Saint Pete are pushing marijuana but they’ve been into that system of the Air Force where you put the streets and that together, you may have a competitive advantage and that may have of course, helped you in tech as well. You get busted. How did that come about?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, so it was going on for about three or four years, probably closer to four or five years actually. And it was just one day. So at the time because the volume was getting so much, we had to get to the point where we had tractor trucks and it was just so large where we had to graduate from just using shipping centers and I used to go to different UPS stores and Mailbox Etc.s and Fedexs and things like that to ship it and got to the level where it wasn’t enough. So then I opened up my own mail store so that I would be able to have the means to be able to ship as much as I wanted. So one day I was at that store and it was really quiet. A couple of my friends that was in Saint Pete, I hadn’t heard from. Usually I would hear from people pretty early on the west coast, cause it’s early on the east coast. So I would hear from people around six, seven and I didn’t hear from any people that day, so the day just started out feeling weird.

Jamarlin Martin: I’m thinking Johnny Depp’s movie Blow where it’s like the final run…

Frederick Hutson: Yeah. That morning just didn’t feel right because it was a few days after big shipment hand went down. So I was waiting for the money to come back from the east coast. We’re not talking about $5,000, $6,000, $7,000. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. Right? So that stuff was like clockwork. That morning just felt strange because usually we would have our check-ins and messages and stuff like that. And it was just silent. So I said, I’m not going to strip out, this is not the first time that we’ve had scares. It’s not the first time that something has went sideways. It was just a part of the process and part of the business where shit will go sideways more often than not. So it didn’t throw me off right away, but it just didn’t feel right. So I end up going to the store and then about five or six cars just pull up, all of them marked cars and agents jump out with guns drawn. And at that point I knew what was happening. So they took me in to the federal building, which was maybe about 15, 20 minutes away from there. And they read me my charges and that was the beginning of the end.

Jamarlin Martin: It was all good a few weeks ago. Did you have some team members that took you out?

06:47 —Frederick Hutson: The thing about drugs is that you can’t do everything by yourself. Right. So at some point you’re going to involve other people and the more people you involve, the more opportunities or more links that can be broken. And that’s what happened. Right? We had UPS drivers and Fedex drivers and DHL drivers on payroll. Then you have UPS drivers that start making a lot more money than what they’re used to. And then you start going to work at UPS and you trade in your Camry for a Porshe truck, and people start asking questions. So that’s how it was. You start asking the right questions to the right people, start applying the right pressure, before you know it, people say, okay, yeah, it’s not coming from me, it’s coming from there. And then before you know it, I was the last person they picked up because I was the guy at the end of the chain. So it just one of those things where it just went upstream.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got It. So you spent time in the pen. Four years. What was that experience like? What does the public get wrong about spending years in the pen?

Frederick Hutson: It’s different. I could speak on federal because my time was in the federal institution, which is a lot different than states. But from the federal side, it really depends. So I went in when I was 23, so because of my age and because of the crime. So one of the things that the government has is if you have over certain amount of drugs, even if it’s marijuana, they classify you as a violent offender. So because my indictment was over a thousand kilograms, it classified me as a violet offender. So I had to do things like register in Vegas as a voilent offender and all those other kinds of things. And what that also does is that when you go to prison, they raise your security level so that instead of going to a camp or going to a low institution, you shoot straight to the top and you go to a penitentiary, which is the worst of the worst, right? So you might have a five or six-year sentence, but you’re doing time with somebody who has life. So it creates a very different dynamic. But what I will say is one of the things that the way the institutions and just the culture of prison, is that everything is really driven by respect. You give respect, but then you also have to know how to demand respect back. And that’s pretty much how it is.

09:09 —Jamarlin Martin: Were you tested there?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, I mean things would happen. For example, I’ll tell you a funny story. So in the room there’s just an open room. You have TVs on the wall and all the TVS have radio tuners so that in order for you to hear the TV, you tune your radio. So the first thing you do in prison is you buy a radio and then you can tune to the radio, you can listen to the music or you can watch whatever’s on the television. So guys that’s been there a while, they have spots. So if you’re new, you don’t know what somebody’s spot is, and the spot is not distinguishable from another spot. It’s just a spot on the floor and this is this guy’s spot and this is where he’ll put his chair to watch the show. So I was there for maybe not that long, maybe a couple of weeks. And I put my chair in the wrong spot. So I’m sitting in someone’s spot, I don’t know whose spot I’m sitting in.

Jamarlin Martin: You don’t know the rules.

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, I don’t know. Right. So the thing that’s interesting is that everything is segregated. So all the races stay together. So the Blacks with the Blacks, the whites with the whites, the Mexicans with the Mexicans. There’s some Mexican gangs that role with the Blacks. There’s some Mexican gangs that role with the whites or some Mexicans that role by themselves. Because I did my time mostly on the west coast, the gang culture is very, very strong on the west coast.

Jamarlin Martin: So what state were you in?

Frederick Hutson: At this time I was in Arizona.

Jamarlin Martin: Arizona. Okay. Got It.

Frederick Hutson: Yeah. So institutions on that side of the country are majority Mexican. Right? So any conflict that you have. I can have a conflict with one individual, it doesn’t end with me. It turns to all the Blacks now have a conflict with whatever group that person came from with all his group. So that’s what happened. So in the TV room, because me and this guy had his conflict, then all of a sudden it was Mexicans against the Blacks because of that conflict. Right? So that was one of those things where they put everybody on lockdown and it was all crazy, but it just gets crazy because, and that’s just one of many incidents. There were guys in a dispute over a washing machine and we had a riot that went on for days.

Jamarlin Martin: It’s like individual conflict is like tribal conflict.

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, absolutely. That’s just how it is. And it’s one of those things where, where are you from? You have the groups within the group. So if you’re from Florida, you’re with the Florida guys. Florida guys are within the Blacks and then the Blacks are just as a whole. Or if you’re a Crip and you’re a Crip within the Crips, and the Crips are within the Blacks as a whole. And then that’s how it goes.

Jamarlin Martin: You take this experience and you come up with an innovative solution, Pigeonly. Talk about putting the idea in place and how far away is that from you getting out of jail?

11:42 —Frederick Hutson: Yeah. So it takes a lot of time to get adjusted. You’re in a whole different world. Once you kind of get that adjusted and you kind of get into a routine, whether it’s working out, going to the law library, going to the regular library, whatever it is that you do. Then you start figuring out how to program, what you call it inside, you call it programming because you had to figure out how to do the time or else you just lose your mind. Right? So you basically set up this program, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this. And it just uses up your day and that’s how you can get through the day. So what I used to do was, after working out obviously, and read and things like that, I would just brainstorm business ideas and I would just make the whole business model in my head or on paper, whatever I had access to. So I would go through every step from just envisioning how much money I would need to what I would buy, how many people I would employ. And I would just basically, it was just my way of, for lack of a better word, mental exercise, just to kind of go through the process of what I thought, at least what I understood. The cool thing about federal prison is that what you’re also with are with a lot of white collar guys, right? So these are the guys who were at Fortune 500 companies and who are in for tax evasion or there was a lot of politicians and things like that. So you get a very diverse group of people when it comes to federal institutions. So I had a lot of people around me that I leveraged for mentors and they would teach me, not only the language of business in some cases, but also the steps that you had to take. And I would just apply that to all the problems that I would see. So I’ve always naturally been good at identifying a problem and building a solution for it. But a lot of those guys turned into my mentors and how to put a framework around that and what is it like to build a financial model. Things like that. Things that I didn’t know before, I learned a lot of that in jail. And that’s what I’d be doing. So I did that for several business ideas, whatever I can come up with. Some were stupid. Some made sense. Some didn’t. But it was all about practice for me. It was all about that mental exercise for me. And it necessarily wasn’t about actually doing it. It was really about just going through that mental exercise of going through all those steps. By the time I got released, I almost felt like I did that shit already before. You know what I’m saying? So it really went down, from the outside looking in, people were looking at us and they were looking at the speed of which we were getting things done. But it almost felt like I had run through this and through my mind over and over and over and over for years with different ideas.

Jamarlin Martin: You’re saying you had Pigeonly in your mind while you were locked up?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah, I actually tried to give it… We laugh about it now, but one of my dudes that was in my housing unit, I actually tried to give the idea to him, cause I had so many ideas and things I wanted to do and I was like, hey, why don’t you do this? He’s like, “Nah, I don’t wanna do that.”

Jamarlin Martin: Are you thinking about subscription and stuff like that?

Frederick Hutson: I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about just a business to make it easy at the time for people to be able to upload and send photos from their phone and have those photos shipped and delivered. So that’s as far as it went at the time.

Jamarlin Martin: Yeah. What I love about your experience is that we can get into technology and the startup game and maybe some people want to use this and go work at Facebook or work at Google or whatever, but we can also solve problems that are specific to us and we can weaponize it to lift our people up. It’s not just kind of, hey, get into STEM or get into tech. You can go into the Silicon Valley pipeline, but you can also get into this game and create positive weapons for us, people who look like us. You spent four years, almost five years in the pen. And how do you feel about white folks being structured to legalize marijuana and then start making billions while there’s so much pain and suffering among the Black poor who were doing the same thing under an illegal, so called illegal regime. You have a lot of skin in the game on this issue. How does that make you feel?

15:56 —Frederick Hutson: I think one of the things that shows and reminds you the world that we lived in is the fact that I have a felony with marijuana that prevents me from ever being able to participate in the legal marijuana business. And that’s not just me, that’s anybody that has a felony. You won’t even be able to qualify for a license. It’s what we’ve seen time and time again where there’s systematic and systemic things that are in place that allows one group of people to be more prosperous than others. It’s no different. We don’t start on a level playing field. We don’t start at the same line. Even if you’ve never seen a day of prison or if you’ve never been outside of the law in your life, you still don’t start off on an equal platform as your white counterpart. It’s just not true. So it’s one of those things where, at least for me personally, it makes me more so, one, be conscious of it and then do what I can to be involved in policies and to make sure that I can use whichever leverage that I have and network that I have to make sure I’m in the rooms when these policies are discussed and when those things are happening because that’s the only real way we’re going to see change. I mean, there’s more to just voting and all that. It’s really about putting your money and energy to have people pushing your agendas like what other groups do. And I think that’s what we’re missing.

Jamarlin Martin: In terms of lobbying and special interests.

Frederick Hutson: Right. And I think that’s what we have to start thinking that way if we really want things to turn our way. Other than that, it’s just somebody that wants to do something for you. But when you think of other groups and you look at other initiatives that have happened, and you can pick whatever initiative that’s happened in the past, they had a group that not only was pushing for something but they also put in their resources and energy behind that to put that person in the front to say, hey, we’re hiring you to get this job done, so to speak.

Jamarlin Martin: It sounds like what you’re talking about is, the design of the monopoly board is so much more important than whatever the thimble is doing in terms of. for Black people, we’re getting caught up on these micro issues. These issues may be important, how someone looks, the gender, someone said this, someone made you feel a certain way. But the monopoly board is based on lobbying money and special interests. Those are the people who are designing the policies and your oppression. According to Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and then the chairman of Google, he said, lobbyists write all the laws. So why aren’t we?

18:50 —Frederick Hutson: We’re just not thinking that way. And I had no idea it was going to get into all this. Just going to role with it. But it was one of the things that we started paying attention to what our company is, is that we realized that in order for us to really be disruptive, I mean we’re going against two multi-billion dollar organizations that are in our space that basically had the correction space locked up when it comes to communications. And I learned early on…

Jamarlin Martin: You’re talking about the private prison complex, the industrial complex.

Frederick Hutson: Exactly. So what started exposing me to what we’re talking about is I realized that we can have as good a product as we want. We can have all the investment funding that we need, but unless you have the right people in the right room that’s pushing your interest, you’re not going to get anywhere.

Jamarlin Martin: The lobbies have so much power.

Frederick Hutson: You’re not going anywhere. So I’ll give an example. So over the past 10 years there has been a huge battle in the FCC when it comes to phone rate blocking. So basically what these phone companies were doing, these prison phone companies in particular were doing was that if you was consumer and you signed up for let’s say Pigeonly or a company similar to Pigeonly, and that would allow you to save rates or save money on your phone calls, they would block your calls. So essentially what they were telling Jamarlin is that you can’t use Sprint, you can’t use AT&T. You have to use this provider because they knew that that were guaranteed that they would be able to get the most revenue out of you. So what we did and what we learned the hard way is that we had to invest in attorneys and lobbyists to make sure our interests was heard, to say, “Yo, this is fucked up. You should not be able to do that. You should not be able to dictate to a consumer what phone company they can and can’t use.” So this went on for years. We put a lot of money into that and the law eventually passed where you can’t do that anymore. Right. So now it is illegal for that to happen. That wasn’t illegal a few years before we existed.

Jamarlin Martin: Is that at a specific state level?

Frederick Hutson: No it’s federal. FCC-wide. So that’s just a small example. Yeah. That’s a small example of us pushing our interest, talking to the right people…

Jamarlin Martin: And banging against the lobbyists.

20:51 —Frederick Hutson: And then pushing an agenda that not only was good for us, but also was good just for the consumer because the consumer should not be forced to always have to make a call a certain way then ensures a company makes the highest profit. That doesn’t make sense. Right. But it’s been that way for years. And the people that has paid the price of that was all brown and Black folks. They was complaining. They were sending all the letters that they want. But until someone actually put dollars and effort into it and put the right people in a room that has an influence, it doesn’t change. And that’s true with any policy, major policy shifts and that’s what we’re starting to see with criminal justice. All this criminal justice talk that you’re seeing. You see all the people that are talking about it, but behind the scenes you have people that have financial interest in changing things. You have the Koch brothers, you have a lot of big people that are putting lots of money into what we just see and we feel like, oh, everybody’s talking our criminal justice now. And so I think as a people, we start understanding how the game works, we can start playing the game for our own benefit.

Jamarlin Martin: We need to think bigger in terms of lobbying. Yeah. I would say when you hear a lot of Black voters who are politically active, lobbying and special interest groups doesn’t make their top five. That’s a problem because that’s where the design of the monopoly board of course is taking place. So your revenue model, where do you generate the most revenue?

Frederick Hutson: For us, we have a subscription-based model. So right now people can basically pick and choose. We have six consumer facing products. We have the phone product, which obviously is our most popular.

Jamarlin Martin: How does the phone product work?

Frederick Hutson: So it’s very similar to Google voice or Skype when you sign up. You tell us, “I want to be able to receive a call from John Smith.” One of the things that’s unique to us is that we built a database that tracks everyone who’s in the system. And it tracks every institution. It knows information like what’s the phone rates at this given prison, what’s the address. what’s the visitation rules, what’s the pricings? And it tracks it out. There’s over 17,000 facilities that it’s tracking 24/7, because each institution is different. You can be literally across the street from each other. They’re completely different. So when you go to our site and you put in John Smith, it’ll allow you to see where John Smith is. You can say, “Okay, cool. I want to be able to get calls from John Smith.” You can press the phone button, it’ll give you a telephone number and then going forward, John Smith will call that number instead of your regular number to be able to reach you. And then when he calls the Pigeonly number, we’ll connect that call to your existing cell phone or land line. In doing so, we’re routing the call the cheapest way possible. So for example, instead of paying, in federal prison, you get to speak 300 minutes so it costs $70 at 23 cents a minute. With our service, the same 300 minutes costs you 18 cents. So it’s more expensive to not be a Pigeonly customer than it is to be a Pigeonly customer.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay, got it. How many of your customers are Black in the United States?

Frederick Hutson: I don’t know that stat, but if I use the prison stat, I would say the majority.

Jamarlin Martin: You’ve got subscriptions, you’ve got phones.

24:02 —Frederick Hutson: We have phones, we have letters, postcards, greeting cards, articles. So basically we just give people multiple options on how to stay in touch. Basically try to connect all of us who live in this digital world, to this population that lives in a mostly analog world.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay. Got it. Can I use your platform to type a letter online and then you’re going to send it out?

Frederick Hutson: So basically how it works is that you’ll type the letter, you can sign it with your finger just to give that personalized touch and then you hit the send button and it goes off, and then it’s printed, shipped and mailed. And then the inmate receives the actual tangible letter that you typed in three to five days.

Jamarlin Martin: Can you talk to the problem of, a lot of our people, some family members get lost in the system?

Frederick Hutson: Absolutely.

Jamarlin Martin: Can you talk about how big a problem that is?

Frederick Hutson: Yeah. That’s one of the reasons why we built what we call Haystack, and Haystack is basically our platform that makes it very hard for someone to be lost in the system. Because one of the things that we found out, at least from my experience as well, is that I was in eight different institutions. So some of my close family and friends couldn’t even find me. Right. And there’s some attorneys that can’t find their clients because you’re bounced around so much and it’s not like there’s some customer service line you can call at a jail and say, “Hey, I’m looking for somebody or where’s this person.” You don’t get a notification. It just happens. So when I saw that, I said, we can tie all these databases together and one of the problems is that, you would think that this wouldn’t be the case, but states don’t talk to each other. Institutions don’t talk to each other. So you can go from one institution to another. There’s no communication between the two. So, for example, the way criminal justice data is stored and tracked in California is completely opposite than how it’s stored and tracked in Texas and how it is stored and tracked in Florida and none of the institutions talk to each other. So what basically what we built was a software layer on top of that to tile these independent data sources together. So you can have one centralized database that can kind of see from a 50,000 foot view of everything that’s going on across the system. So what that helps, for example, we have a lot of attorneys that use our service to be able to know at any time where their loved one is or where their client is or whoever they’re trying to see. They can see where that person is. Even though I’m all that data’s there, it’s just not tied together. It’s very antiquated the way it is set up today.

Jamarlin Martin: You have your business model thought out before you get out. It’s time to get investors. Talk about that process.

Frederick Hutson: Yeah. So, when we started, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So we first built the first version of what Pigeonly which was a very basic, ugly, barely working but worked way for people to upload photos…

Jamarlin Martin: How did you get your first developer? Did you go to Odesk or something like that?

Frederick Hutson: It was freelancer.com.

Jamarlin Martin: Okay, got it. Yeah, that’s what I did. Early in the game, scraping.

Frederick Hutson: Exactly. So you went on it and you post a job and we got that first person and I was looking for someone that I can just talk plain English to because once again, I didn’t know the speech. Now I can speak fluent developer talk. But at the time I couldn’t, right. So I had to hire someone. I can just speak in plain English and say, “Hey, this is what I’m trying to accomplish, what I’m trying to build.” And then they can convert that into functional specs that an engineer can use to actually build something that is pretty close, if not exactly what you want. Because there’s always a disconnect a lot of times between the business parties and the engineering team or the design side of the house in engineering teams, a lot of times it disconnects between the two. But we had somehow figured out how to get the product built, Alfonso and I. And I was watching CNN one day and then CNN special “Black in America” came on and it was talking about the NewMe Accelerator. At the time I didn’t know what accelerator was. I’d never heard of an accelerator. We had talked to a couple of people in Tampa about an investment, but there was like…

Jamarlin Martin: Florida.

27:51 —Frederick Hutson: Yeah. It was like, what tech? What do you have any assets? I was like, what assets, it’s software? Right.

Jamarlin Martin: At least, I know at this time Florida would be super low on tech and high on crazy.

Frederick Hutson: They don’t understand. They just don’t get it. Right. So I almost started to give up on it and we were just focused on making revenue. Right? So then I saw this thing and it was talking about Silicon Valley and I was like, what the hell is that? And then I started reading about it and Google and I was like, “Yo, there is a place where they embrace this and give people money if you have a tech business?” I think we kind of qualify as a tech business. So I started applying to all of them that I could find. I applied to Y Combinator. I applied to Techstars. I applied the NewMe Accelerator. I apply to everyone that I could find an application for. I even found one, I forget the name of it, they’re gone now. But there was one in Tampa that I even applied to. Right? They all said no. A few months rolled around, the next class was coming out. I did the same…

Jamarlin Martin: Did they ever give you feedback? Any of them?

Frederick Hutson: No, they would just say, no, we didn’t accept you, they’ll let you down softly, keep pushing, you’re doing a great job, but whatever.

Jamarlin Martin: I got to think they’re thinking the market’s not big enough. This is just some off the wall shit. Go ahead

Frederick Hutson: So then the second go around we got a response from NewMe and it was maybe two or three weeks before the class was about to start. And at the time I’m on probation, I’m not allowed to leave the state. So I pick up and I leave. And I said, “I’ll just figure out the rest later.” And I’m like, man, I hope I don’t get stopped, I hope I didn’t get pulled over cause I’m violating my probation, they going to send me right back to jail. So I get out to San Francisco to start the program. And then I would be in a program and I’d shoot back to Florida so that I could be around if the probation came around. Eventually I sent the letter of acceptance that we were getting into this program and I sent it to the probation officers and they gave me approval to travel and while I was in the accelerator I was the only person that had the probation officer showing up at the damn accelerator house. And the other guys are looking at me like, “Who the hell is this coming flashing a badge and stuff around.” But that was just a part of what I had to go through. So, long story short, as we went through that program, at the end of it, we were the only company that had a tangible working product with customers and was making money every day. And it wasn’t because we knew that that was important to have, because we didn’t know anything different. We didn’t know that. We thought that was the norm.

Jamarlin Martin: You didn’t know like, Hey, I’m just trying to get in a situation. I can lose money for seven years.

30:27 —Frederick Hutson: Exactly. So we just were doing what we thought we had to do. And basically, when it was time for Demo Day and was time to talk to the first batch of investors that they introduced us to, we stood out because we knew what our customer acquisition costs were, we knew what our revenue per day was. We knew what our growth rates from week to week was. So we knew what those things were. It validated that at the bare minimum, if people didn’t understand what we were doing because they’d never heard it before because most investors, after they said, “We’ve heard just about every variation of every type of pitch in the world. We haven’t heard anybody talk about anything remotely close to this market.” We were one of the very first companies to even talk about doing what they’re starting to call justice tech and all this kinds of stuff now. There wasn’t a thing then. So people had to at least pay attention to us because we had tangible numbers and a lot of what we considered our peers, not necessarily in the class, but just a new company starting out. A lot of them didn’t have customers. A lot of them didn’t have revenue and things like that. And we had that, right? So a lot of them didn’t have a customer acquisition strategy that worked. So people had to pay attention to us at that point. And that’s how we were able to secure our first million dollars in seed funding.

Jamarlin Martin: This is part one. Tune into the next episode for part two. Thanks everybody for listening to GHOGH. You can check me out @JamarlinMartin on Twitter and also come check us out at Moguldom.com. That’s M O G U L D O M.com. Be sure to subscribe to our daily newsletter. You can get the latest information on crypto, tech, economic empowerment and politics. Let’s GHOGH!