In our occasional series “Upstarts,” we profile Wyoming entrepreneurs. There’s no shortage of self-starters in this state, many of whom build, grow or make things… But until recently, tech start-ups were almost unheard of in the Cowboy State. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez visited with Jason Kintzler, who founded the Pitch Engine software platform in his native Lander and authored the book, “The New American Start-Up.” She filed this report.
REBECCA MARTINEZ: Like many successful entrepreneurs, Jason Kintzler saw a need, and came up with a marketable solution. In his case, the problem was marketing in the age of social media. Kintzler says companies were using antiquated tools – like Word documents and e-mail – to update media outlets and potential customers about what they were up to… but it was cumbersome.
JASON KINTZLER: And so, I came up with this idea to package it all together and share it as a link.
Martinez: In other words, each “pitch” a company sends out is a promotional package that can include photos, videos, relevant links. And it can be easily shared on social media sites.
KINTZLER: We’ve evolved into this publishing platform, not unlike what Microsoft did in publishing for small businesses back in the ‘90s. You know, all of a sudden, businesses could create their own flyers or, you know, create a poster. We’re sort of doing that for web and mobile, and it’s caught on.
MARTINEZ: The Pitch Engine office is certainly cool-looking enough to rival any Silicon Valley headquarters. The bright storefront on Lander’s Main Street has a hip minimalist design with bright furniture, exposed wood beams and a shag carpet. The cubicles have sliding stable doors. Wearing a T-shirt, work pants and a five-o-clock shadow, Kinztler fits in well among the laid-back staff. It’s his kind of workplace.
KINTZLER: I’m a Wyoming Kid. I was born in Lander, and grew up in Wyoming. And, for me, it was trying to figure out how to stay here, not trying to figure out how to get out.
MARTINEZ: Kintzler started out in journalism, as a news anchor in Billings before transitioning into a public relations job in Riverton.
KINTZLER: As a 20-something PR guy at the time, I was online doing things with social media sites like MySpace, at the time, or Facebook, and I could do all this cool stuff. But as a business or professional, I couldn’t do it, and so I came up with this idea to build Pitch Engine.
MARTINEZ: Kintzler started working on Pitch Engine on nights and weekends in 2008 and outsourced a web developer. He made sure the company could pay for itself from the start, and didn’t hire himself until months after the company was founded. He blogged about the challenges of brands gaining media attention, and marketed Pitch Engine on social networking sites. And it worked.
KINTZLER: I made a product for public relations pros and communicators. So when they see something cool, they share it, and they talk about it. And that’s sort of how it went viral.
MARTINEZ: Colorado-based Backbone Media was one of the first companies to use Pitch Engine. Backbone handles the marketing for outdoor brands including Eddie Bauer and Smartwool, and destinations including the Sun Valley and Telluride ski resorts. Ian Anderson is the public relations director for Backbone Media, and he says Pitch Engine has become invaluable for distributing press releases.
IAN ANDERSON: The traditional press release was essentially just a word document, pretty uninspiring and not dynamic or interactive in any way.
MARTINEZ: For instance, Backbone recently released a pitch about the GoPro camera company signing on as a sponsor for the Summer Mountain Games in Vail.
ANDERSON: What Pitch Engine allowed us to do was embed a video from GoPro with footage from the event straight into the release, as well as links to the destination. We can talk about the competitions, the concerts, etc. And then we added photos, and then it has all the shareable options so it can be easily Tweeted, posted to Facebook, added to Instagram, etc.
MARTINEZ: But Pitch Engine offers a range of costs and services, which help smaller businesses to market their brands. Paula McCormick handles marketing for the Wind River Visitors Council in Lander. McCormick says using Pitch Engine makes it easier to compete for the attention of tourists… But the platform also allows her to improve the Wind River Visitors Council’s visibility on search engines, and to track the exposure of each pitch.
PAULA MCCORMICK: I certainly think it helps level the playing field. For those of us who are maybe in remote areas or certainly have smaller budgets. And when we can get our information out and tget that increased exposure, I do think it helps level the playing field.
MARTINEZ: Now, more than 45-thousand companies use Pitch Engine to market their brands. Kintzler has already turned down a 9 million-dollar acquisition offer for the company. Even from tiny Lander, Pitch Engine is a success. But the challenges of running his tech business in Wyoming haven’t gone away. They’ve just changed over time.
KINTZLER: When we’re first starting out, we find that you know there’s not a lot of legal support for an Internet start-up. You go to a bank and they don’t understand that you don’t have these assets that they can count. It’s hard to get your arms around in Wyoming because we’re just not used to that.
MARTINEZ: But Kintzler says the state is trying. He has Governor Matt Mead’s ear when it comes to growing Wyoming’s tech industry, a major priority for the administration.
KINTZLER: As we grow, obviously finding employees is a difficult thing. We’ve managed to bring in employees from Chicago and Texas and places like that. And we’re up to 12 employees now, and that’s pretty exciting, but it is difficult.
MARTINEZ: Kitzler says the people he hires don’t necessarily come ready with the skills. Still, he has plans to expand the business in the state. And he says Pitch Engine might open a satellite office elsewhere someday, but he thinks small tech start-ups will continue to pop-up in places far from Silicon Valley. Kintzler says technology has made it so location is no longer important… but Lander suits him just fine.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.