On Supporting Young Innovators: A talk with Kyle Guin
When it comes to keeping and attracting young innovators in our state, opportunities are key. Over the last five years, education institutions and leaders in the private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors have been making investments to generate more opportunities, especially in the realm of entrepreneurship. These efforts, like the innovationAcademy at UNM, are beginning to gain traction and see results.
One of the first graduates of the UNM innovationAcademy, Kyle Guin, started two companies, sold one of them and completed his degree in liberal arts with a concentration in early-stage business and operations–all at the same time. We asked Kyle a few questions about his two startups, Shutter Bombs and Pencil-In, and why he chooses to build his businesses in Albuquerque.
Q: What makes ABQ a good place for your businesses?
A: Albuquerque has been a good home for my businesses because of how cost-effective the city is. Everything from office space to talent is more affordable.
Q: What resources have helped you in ABQ?
A: The Lobo Rainforest and the ecosystem around it has been the biggest resource I have taken advantage of. The Shutter Bomb office is located in STC.UNM's venture lab where they give discounts for student-operated companies. STC.UNM is also under amazing leadership and their staff are always willing to help. Any time I need a connection to someone or need any guidance personally or professionally there is always someone there who is willing to lend a helping hand. I don't believe there are a lot of places that have people whose time is so valuable, yet they keep an open door and are always willing to talk. On top of that, having the innovationAcademy in the same building is a huge life-saver. Robert, Rebecca and Tiffini have been supportive since the day I moved to Albuquerque. I honestly wouldn't have graduated college without the innovationAcademy. Shutter Bombs and Pencil-In were both founded because of the seed money I received from winning the Lobo Rainforest Pitch competitions that the innovationAcademy puts on. They are an amazing resource for student businesses.
Q: What challenges have you faced?
A: We had a bad deal where we built a business card scanner into Pencil-In after a potential investor suggested we add it as an additional feature. Once we had the prototype working we did a demo for the investor. Everything went well and they seemed very interested, but then they went completely cold. After about a month they told us that because we didn't have any we didn’t file for intellectual property and since we were using open source software we weren’t protected. Then, they released a card scanner on their own platform. It's important to mention that we weren't the first people to come up with a business card scanner — they didn’t steal it from us exactly. They were, however, smart enough to engineer their own card scanner considering we told them exactly how ours worked. This was a big bump to come to them with a prototype that they then implemented themselves.
Another big bump we ran into was with Shutter Bombs. Looking back it is a funny story but at the time it was really scary. Shutter Bombs went from 0 mph to 100 very quickly. Because of that, we never had the opportunity to set up the correct shipping infrastructure, so we were shipping all of our orders through USPS. This was questionable, but our competitors were doing it so we decided to follow suit. At this point, we had shipped over 800 orders through USPS. Then one day we received a cease and desist from USPS stating that they would sue us if we continued shipping through them. We were looking at $250 to $100,000 per offense. So we had to refund every order that had not been shipped out and find a new shipping provider.
Q: What’s next for Pencil-In?
A: Pencil-In isn't in my control anymore. MyLens acquired it when I went to work for them. Unfortunately, MyLens re-located to Austin about two months ago, and since I was still in school I decided to step away. The software is in great hands though and if they follow through with the concepts we developed, then Pencil-In will be a really cool piece of technology for all of us to use!
Q: Any growth in the profit margin of Shutter Bombs? How are you building that business locally?
A: Shutter Bombs is doing amazing. The company itself is growing at a very healthy rate right now and, because of this, so are our profit margins. The more smoke bombs we sell, the higher our inventory volume becomes, which lowers our cost per unit! We are also getting ready for two new products in our lineup and will be rebranding to become more of a photography tool company. I’m really excited to release the new products soon!
Most of Shutter Bombs business is online but we do make efforts to grow locally. We recently just became the official smoke bomb of New Mexico United! Every time you see the guys score a goal and the yellow and black smoke bombs go off, that's us! We also support some local photography meetups, we helped out with a video for Somos ABQ and we have a little league team that we sponsored last season!
Q: Thoughts on the “brain drain”?
A: It's a bummer to see people go, but we have to realize that Albuquerque isn't for everyone. If someone believes they can thrive in a new city then we should support that. We graduate new professionals every semester and people are moving here every day. Let's not concentrate on those leaving, instead let's concentrate on those who are here.
Q: Do young entrepreneurs you know leave the state?
A: Yes! I’m really proud of them, too. They found amazing opportunities and are making Albuquerque look great from outside the state!
Q: Why did you choose to stay in ABQ?
A: I'm able to live an amazing life in Albuquerque. My businesses are healthy here, my family is close, I have amazing friends here and a lot of support from the city.
Connect the Dots
Since 2013, over 100 nonprofit, business and community leaders, service providers, educational institutions and philanthropists have participated in City Alive to collaboratively build an environment in Albuquerque where homegrown businesses succeed. The innovationAcademy, and its presence on the Innovate ABQ site, is an excellent example of collective impact. When organizations come together, we are able to tackle challenges that no one organization could address alone.