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How This Entrepreneur Went From 4 Years In Prison To Building A $3M A Year Business

fred hutsonFrederick Hutson spent more than four years in prison after he was busted for drug trafficking. Police arrested him at his Las Vegas mail store, where he had been mailing marijuana to his Florida business via FedEx, UPS and DHL.

Hutson began working on his new ideas soon after he started his 51-month sentence in 2007, at age 24.

“I did my time that way,” he says. “While I was there I just saw how grossly inefficient the prison system was and there was just so many opportunities.”

A big problem for the 2.3 million inmates in the U.S. is trying to keeping in touch with friends and family on the outside. There’s no internet in prison, so all communication is through mail or the phone. Calls are often expensive and especially long distance calls. Now-a-days people on the outside lead increasingly digitized lives, write less and don’t get around to sending photos for weeks on end.

“It was a pain point I experienced firsthand,” says Hutson. “I’m very close with my family and I knew they cared about me but even with knowing how much they cared about me, they were still sometimes unable to send me photos.”

Transitioning from digital to analog is the problem Hutson set out to solve with his business Pigeonly. Many people don’t want to sit down, write and then find a mailbox to send a letter to an inmate. An email or text is simple and much more regularly used. This is where the light bulb moment came for Hutson. What if you created a website that printed out emails, texts or photos from your computer, Facebook or Instagram and mailed them for you in the plain white envelopes these correctional institutions favored?

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Pigeonly was born. Pigeonly is a platform that centralizes the state-level prison databases, making it a quick search to find where an inmate is in the system and giving love ones an easy way to communicate with them.

“People get lost in the system all the time,” he explains. “We have attorneys contacting us trying to find their clients.”

Ironically, Pigeonly got its wheels moving, using the same dying mail system the app is created to help users avoid. “We identified 500 people and sent them greeting cards saying here’s a product people can use to send you photographs. Three or four days after our cards landed, we started seeing people show up on our website creating accounts and sending photos, so we kept doing that,” says Hutson.

Hutson says getting funding for the business wasn’t easy. “It can be hard because as an entrepreneur, you feel like it’s your baby and when you talk to someone about your baby and they go, no that’s whack, I’m not interested. You can’t take that personal, you have to be able to talk to the next person with the same intensity and fervor,” he says.

Convincing investors to write a check for the first million was the hardest. “I probably talked to about 60 investors, and in our seed round we had six, so that gives you an idea of how many no’s you had to get to the six yes’s,” he says.

To date, Pigeonly is a $3 million dollar a year company, who employs over 20 people. Hutson says, about a third of the company’s workforce are people with criminal histories.

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10 comments

Darrell Tolbert March 12, 2016 at 7:57 am

Awesome!! Awesome! From one ex con to another I stand up and salute you!! Awesome!

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Isha Rogers March 12, 2016 at 10:16 am

Love this story! Very inspirational

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Caren Braclet March 12, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Wow I’ve never heard or seen of this what a great idea and you never gave up after all the no’s

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Jason Baker March 12, 2016 at 1:28 pm

As a person who has experienced the hardships of trying to to keep in touch with loved ones while in the system, I sincerely applaud this man and his vision. What a great idea. I wish I would have thought of it lol Much success brotha!!

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Tamikia Jordan March 12, 2016 at 7:58 pm

This story gives me HOPE… My son spent 7yrs of his life in prison. He’s home (1yr) now thank the LORD… I pray everyday that he is able to find employment. I wish you and your family many blessing, peace and happiness.. I will share this story with him… Thanks for sharing..

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Lolo March 14, 2016 at 1:12 am

YES, I SALUTE YOU TOO!… YOU TOOK A BAD SITUATION AND LEARNED FROM IT … YOU TOOK THE TIME TO ANALYZE THIS BROKEN SYSTEM WHILE DOING TIME…YOU FLIPPED IT…AND IT WORKED FOR YOU AND EVERYONE ELSE…YOU FIGURED OUT…
HOW YOU CAN HELP THE PEOPLE STAY IN CONTACT WITH THEIR PEOPLE AND MAKE MEGA BUCKS THE HONEST WAY….I APPLAUD YOU…THAT’S WHY THEY SAY FOLLOW YOUR DREAM AND” A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE”. NOW SEND A BUSINESS CARD TO EVERYONES POSTAL ADDRESS INFORMING THEM OF YOUR BUISNESS ADVISING THEM HOW TO REACH OUT TO YOU …FOR THOSE THAT DON’T HAVE SOCIAL NETWORK…BLESSINGS!!!

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Jeneice March 14, 2016 at 6:01 pm

I actually became an account holder before I read your testimony. My son is presently incarcerated and has great vision for his exodus. Sending him your story for added inspiration. CAN IT BE SENT THROUGH PIGEONLY?

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Kevin Surratt March 18, 2016 at 11:04 am

Hats off to U my man. I graduated with my associate degree from LeCordon Bleu degree from Scottdale, Az, they sent me to Lad Vegas to work as a Chef at the Wynn casino on the strip, I was their 3 weeks and was arrested at a bus stop for robbery. They sentenced me to 15 months in prison, my dream was destroyed and it’s been hell every since!!! U are an inspiration brother!!!!!

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Bridgett Johnson March 27, 2016 at 10:25 am

What an awesome way to turn a set back into a comeback & not stop there, but then reach back & help your Brothas. Give God the Glory !

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Mack April 18, 2016 at 6:28 pm

EVERYTHING starts with an Idea. Keep dreaming brother, something else is coming your way.

Reply

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