Making an Impact in an Underserved Market: Prison

Bright Lights, Green Sights

Priscila Bala '14, director of the Mentor Network at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and Frederick Hutson

Frederick Hutson’s career path had a seemingly inauspicious start: in 2005 he was arrested for trafficking marijuana and sentenced to 51 months in federal prison. Once there, “I was exposed to a problem I knew nothing about,” he said, speaking in the Yale Center for Business and the Environment’s Bright Lights, Green Sights series. Keeping in touch with family and loved ones proved both difficult and expensive.

“Technology was at a point where this could be solved,” Hutson said, “but no one was building solutions for this demographic.”

Upon leaving prison he founded Pigeonly, which provides services that keep communication open between inmates and their families. The company started by printing and mailing photographs to prisoners. The service gained traction and, energized, the two moved operations to Silicon Valley to begin venture rounds.

“Raising capital is the most time-consuming thing you will do,” Hutson explained. “You spend so much of your time ruling out people who are not going to move forward so that you can spend time with those who will.” The gap between his personal experience and those on the other side of the table only compounded the challenge; he had to spend as much time explaining the problem as he did his solution.

Hutson eventually found six backers and, from there, began to build his team, learning how to be a CEO as he went. “I’ve come to realize that the job of a CEO is not to understand all the nuts and bolts of how the business works, but to focus on the ‘what’—what can you actually build?” He had no experience in computer science, so that’s where he hired. “Be cognizant of what skills and talents you have, then build your team as a complement,” he said.

Over time, Pigeonly’s mission has become more ambitious. “When we started, we just wanted to make it easy to get photos,” Hutson said. But he pointed to the tremendous, and often ignored, opportunity for technology in underserved markets. Along with providing inexpensive photographs, letters, and phone communication to those in prison, Pigeonly today is looking into financial service products and job-search engines for low-income customers. “I want to create technology products that disrupt and solve for folks that most of the industry doesn’t have time for.”

About the Event

Join us for our next installment of this insightful speaker series with Frederick Hutson, founder of Pigeonly.  

Pigeonly is a technology company that focuses on building products for overlooked and underserved markets. Today, Hutson and his business partner, Alonzo Brooks, are leading a team of 30 from their Las Vegas headquarters, having raised $4.8 million of funding to date from Silicon Valley investors.

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