Frederick Hutson, Co-Founder, CEO, Pigeonly
Terrence Nelson: What do you believe the success of Pigeonly says to the prison industry and communications industry?
Frederick Hutson: Pigeonly’s success says, building something for profit and building something that can do good are not mutually exclusive. That's the first thing Pigeonly’s says, that you can create something that provides value for people at an affordable price and still do well. Companies don't have to take this predatory approach to business. In the prison communication business the model that they have is broken. Their business model is to award the contracts to the provider that's going to promise the highest kick back to the institution. It's not necessarily awarded to the company who's going to give the inmates/family members the best price or best service. The existing model sets up an environment where the organizations are rewarded based on how much money they promise to give back to the institution, which means they can have higher pricing, which means the family members end up bearing that cost. I think technology is to the point where the world is moving very quickly and there are multiple ways to leverage technology to solve this problem in a smart and efficient way. While also being able to build a decent company that is financially strong at the same time by doing right by people and making an impact at the same time.
Nelson: Pigeionly is probably the only company that views and treats inmates as customers. What kind of advantage do you believe that gives you in the marketplace?
Hutson: When you take the approach that the inmates and their families are your customers you also have to take the approach that your whole mission as a company is to provide value to these customers. You have to ask, what can I do what can I do to wow the customer? How can I give them an experience that's so incredible that they would want to do business with Pigeonly? Our customers use us to solve a very specific problem for them because we make it easier because we make it more affordable and they enjoy the experience. Keeping that focus allows us to remind ourselves, why we’re doing it and who we’re doing it for versus looking at it the same way some of our competitors look at it, where they look at the institution as the customer. I think that is a very big distinction between how we view the market and other players in the market.
Nelson: I imagine there are a lot of politics involved in doing business with corrections facilities, but do you think technology helped Pigeonly level the playing so you could cut through the politics?
Hutson: Absolutely, one of the things that's unique to Pigeonly is that everything that we do does not require a buy in or relationship with the facility. That means that with everything we do, we are able to focus on the end user/consumer. In our world it's just like any other product or service that operates in this economy, where if your service is not good or your prices are too high or you have a bad brand the consumer simply does not have to do business with you. They aren't forced to do business with you, whereas in an institutional environment regardless of the service regardless of the pricing they are forced to do business with them because there are no other alternatives there are no options. So technology helps us in a big sense in that, we were able to build something that can be scalable that we can address very specific issues for people all over the United States and abroad.
Nelson: What does innovation mean to you?
Hutson: I’ll tell you what innovation does not mean to me. It does not mean doing something that has never been done or creating something brand new. At one point I used to believe if you weren't doing something that no one has ever heard of and you're the first you weren't really doing anything innovative. What I'm starting to see now and what I'm starting to learn now, as I look at the tech world is that, innovation is being able to take something and being able to put your remix and spin on it to be able to solve a problem in your own way, while providing value to a great number of people. I think you can take something that's been existing for years and you don't exactly have to reinvent the wheel but you can repackage it and reposition it to work well for a demographic of people that's being overlooked.