During AfroTech Conference 2022, Frederick Hutson was a speaker on “The Product of My Environment” panel. When the Pigeonly CEO sat down with AfroTech after the discussion, the title’s significance became even more clear.
Within the course of the interview, Hutson shared he’s a believer that everyone has an unfair advantage in life that oftentimes can appear to be a hindrance. In his case, being “a felon” gave him the insight and knowledge to make Pigeonly — a tech platform that helps connect incarcerated individuals to their loved ones for low costs — what it is today.
Launched in 2013, Pigeonly started off as a business-to-consumer (B2C) company for the majority of its existence and transitioned into becoming a business-to-government (B2G) company.
Since then, it has seen a lot of growth and expansion. Although there weren’t investors knocking on Hutson’s door, he and his team’s faith in Pigeonly is what helped move their decision-making in the right direction.
“I think not having that safety net, not having that parachute really forced us to be as innovative as we could, but also practical at the same time,” Hutson told AfroTech. “And we took our time. So, we may have taken more steps to get there than if we had a bunch of venture capital behind us. But even still those small steps allowed us to build something stable. And there’s a lot of companies that had a lot of backing that started around the same time that we started and they’re not here anymore.”
“So, I think there’s something to be said of when you build something with your customer and revenue and just solid business from day one,” he continued. “There’s something to be said about your ability to have staying power and weather storms like Covid and things that really have shaken a lot of businesses that maybe did not have as strong [of] a foundation.”
While Pigeonly helps incarcerated individuals connect through calls, letters, postcards, and more for a low price, a different barrier arose to tackle: Lost connections.
Connections would often get lost if someone were to be moved to another facility in a new state without their loved ones’ knowledge. To support tracking incarcerated individuals’ current mailing addresses, Pigeonly built software to organize their records to help people quickly find where they’re located.
“The worst thing that you want to happen is for someone to feel like they’ve been lost in the system,” Hutson said. And you can’t connect with them and those connections that are really important end up getting further, further and further away. Then, before you know it, you’re not hearing from anyone. You lose touch with everyone. That was a big part of what we knew was going to be our metrics of success is we needed to be able to easily and accurately help people find who they’re looking for so that they can connect with them.”
Along with supporting the incarcerated through Pigeonly, Hutson is also building other companies with them in mind.
The co-founder shared with AfroTech that there is company on the way that aims to advocate for incarcerated individuals’ attorney-client privilege over their legal records and mail.