The New American Startup
An inspirational story of how western independence and self-reliance led Jason Kintzler to create a disruptive web technology from the unlikeliest of places.
From the Author
“This book was originally published for SlimBooks in 2012. After the contractual agreement expired, I decided to make it available online so that my story can continue inspire the next great pioneers and entrepreneurs for years to come. No matter your circumstance, chasing your dreams is up to you — and you alone. So roll up your sleeves, bare down and work your face off. Your journey starts here.”
Dedicated to everyone who believes in me, especially my mom for giving me the confidence to do anything. And thank you to the ones that didn’t believe in me, for providing the motivation to prove them otherwise.
This isn’t a book about how to start a business or how to succeed in life. In
the following pages, I won’t tell you what to do or how to do it. Instead, I’ll
share with you my story in hopes of inspiring your own.
My name is Jason Kintzler, and I founded Pitchengine from a small town in
the mountains of Wyoming. This is the story of how western independence
and self‐reliance led me to create a disruptive technology from the
unlikeliest of places. I believe this is bigger than just one company in one
town. I think it’s a throwback to the Main Street business of yesterday.
Chapter 1 | Stay
He paused to comprehend what I’d just said, then chuckled into the phone,
“Ah…the road less traveled.”
Pacing an empty hallway in a New York City high‐rise, I’d just turned down
a nine million dollar acquisition offer for my two‐year‐old company,
I was overwhelmed with a sense of relief. The proverbial weight had been
lifted from my shoulders. And, despite the magnitude of the phone call,
truthfully, it felt great. I’m sure it wasn’t the answer he was looking for, but
I knew he’d understand. After all, he’d seen firsthand what I was all about.
A few weeks earlier he and his business development guy left their suits at
the office and made the trip out to Lander, Wyoming to see the most
remote tech startup in the country close up. I’m still convinced it was partly
to make sure that it actually existed.
Lander is one of those places that people fall in love with as soon as they
visit. Nestled at the base of the Wind River Mountains, Lander is home to
cowboys, Indians, hippies, and about seven thousand other unique
characters. From climbers and mountain bikers to team ropers and
roughnecks, it’s a trailhead for exploration and discovery. To me, it’s places
like this that breed pioneers — trailblazers in their own right.
I was born in Lander during a snowstorm in 1977 in the hospital my dad was
named after — Bishop Randall Hospital. In the 1930s and 40s, my greatgrandfather farmed the land that borders the town. They purchased the
plot from Stub Farlow, the man said to be represented in Wyoming’s
trademarked Bucking Horse & Rider logo (the one that appears on the
state’s license plate). I was raised in a blue‐collar family that was no
stranger to cold, hard work. My grandparents raised my dad and his
siblings in a remote community outside of Riverton, WY called Sand Draw.
Literally, it was just that. Nothing more than a few structures stood there,
along with a gas plant where miles and miles of pipelines converged. Both
my grandfather and my dad spent their share of epic winters working on
those pipelines. Of course, they were also able to get away to spend time
bouncing through the hills in Jeep Wagoneers hunting for deer and fishing
My dad once told me he was happiest horseback on a mountaintop, in
snow so deep that his feet and stirrups dragged in it. I’ve been there, and I
can tell you there are few things more peaceful in the world. I consider
myself lucky to have been raised in Wyoming ‐ to have work ethic bred into
me, and a pioneering spirit that comes from some place way back in
For most young professional types, the allure of the city is far greater than
the charm of this place. Most kids leave here for some urban metropolis,
only returning to visit family for the holidays. For me, though, I always
knew this is where I wanted to be — in Wyoming.
It’s not your typical tech startup hub like Silicon Valley or Austin. It’s better,
because this place is legendary. Here, there is no “tech set” and there are
no launch parties. Here, there is unmatched independence and value
placed on work.
Wyoming’s story wasn’t concocted from Hollywood celebrities or country
singers. Nope. Instead, this was an untamed land where outlaws holed‐up
in hideouts and animals roamed wild.
There’s a freedom here that you can’t manufacture in other settings. It’s
not in ones and twos either, it’s by the lot. Everyone seems to exude a self-reliance that comes from his or her environment. I guess that’s been
instilled in me too.
Growing up, I met countless people who had acquired their wealth in the
city and then moved to Wyoming to live a quality of life that they’d always
My friend Eric Zinczenko, the EVP and Group Publisher for Bonnier titles
like Field & Stream and Popular Science in New York City, compares it to
working in the mines:
“You go into the city to mine your money, leaving the family behind and sometimes putting yourself at risk in the process. Then, you go home.”
Fortunately for me, I realized early on that Wyoming would play a role in
my future. It made it easier to say no to opportunities after college and to
pursue something more than a job title at a recognizable company.
Instead, I decided I would work at staying, not getting out. I thought,
“What if I could do what I’m passionate about in the place that I want to
live forever?” What if I did what I wanted to do, but never left? It was this
decision that, years later, led to The New American Start‐Up, Pitch Engine.
But back to Wyoming.
Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote, the first state
with a National Park, and the first state government to “go Google” by
moving to the cloud. This place is different and I sensed it from an early
age. Like the outlaw, Waylon Jennings, so eloquently put it, “You gave me
the freedom to go my own way. But, you gave me much more — you gave
me the freedom to stay.”
I think you can get a sense for how unique this place is just by visiting. So,
when those “corporate suits” re‐boarded that tiny 18‐passenger plane
bound for Denver and beyond, they were now wearing brand new Ariat
cowboy boots, recovering from a night of grass‐fed Wyoming ribeye
steaks and beer from the bottle. They left here with a new appreciation for
us and for what Pitchengine, had actually accomplished. That’s why I don’t
think he was all that shocked when I explained weeks later that I wasn’t
ready to sell it to him — at least, not yet.
Coming to that conclusion wasn’t easy. It was probably the most difficult
decision of my life, one of those defining moments. Kind of like the time I
decided to jump.
Chapter 2 | Jump
Standing knee‐deep in calm water, the last little bit of warm sun was
peeking through the trees onto her face. We’d just caught a glimpse of a
mountain goat grazing way up high on the rock wall that surrounded the
south side of the lake. We were well above 10,000 feet in elevation, casting
our flies onto the water and hoping for a rise. Little did she know, I was
about to set the ultimate hook.
The only thing biting were giant mosquitos, so I asked her to come pick out
a new fly from the box in the chest pocket of my vest. As she waded over, I
opened the lid to reveal a nice assortment of flies — and a diamond
engagement ring. I dropped to one knee (which put me quite deep in cold
water) and asked her if she’d spend the rest of her life with me. Lucky for
me, Jasmine said yes.
Products of our generation, Jasmine and I “friended” and reconnected on
MySpace. We’d met years earlier through mutual friends when I was a
news anchor in her hometown of Billings, Montana, but it was the social
network that managed to ‘connect’ us.
I spent much of my free time that first year with Jasmine in front of my
computer, formulating ideas for what would eventually become
Pitchengine. At that time, I was doing marketing for an outdoor products
manufacturer. My desk was small, but the stack of Fast Company and Inc.
magazines on my floor was tall enough to reach the seat of my chair. I was
fascinated by the speed and innovation that was happening in the
marketing and media spaces and I was a sponge for everything tech and
new media. I liked the inspiration I got from those publications, but I
mostly loved the design.
I’ve always been a creative type. My favorite thing to do as a journalist was
to tell stories with video, photos, or music. I spent countless nights
designing and redesigning logos, ads, and other collateral for anyone who
needed it. As an in‐house creative at work, I was constantly dealing with
digital media assets — sending ads to publications, press releases to
journalists and photos to sales reps and vendors. At the time, email and ftp
(File Transfer Protocol) were the only options that existed to deliver this
type of content. It was antiquated and at times, an extremely frustrating
Basically, you had three options:
– Send a Word Doc via email
You would hit “send” and hope that the person on the other end received
the email AND had the right version of Word AND could actually open the
– Send a high‐res photo via email
This was always a waste of time as every email server blocked file sizes
over a couple megabytes. Yet, we tried it time and again.
– Upload the photo to an ftp site
In theory, this was a great solution, but it was clunky and the receiving
party never seemed to get the password right.
So, here I was, a twenty‐something guy who could upload thirty photos to
MySpace in a couple minutes. But, as a professional designer, I couldn’t
send someone a single large image. From that, the first seed was planted.
It was just a kernel, but it was my first attempt at solving a problem using
The idea was to create a platform where advertisers and publications
would connect to share content. If a designer needed to create an ad for a
particular publication, they would simply go to this site, download the ad
template for their particular size of ad, and then upload it right back to
that publication’s inbox. It was pretty simple technology to pull off and the
element of having ad agencies and creatives networked together with
media outlets would be great. But, there was something else happening
that went well beyond software, and the implications seemed far reaching.
I began to blog about social media and its impact on PR and journalism. I
spent almost every night researching and blogging. I remember being so
excited by what I was coming up with, that I couldn’t even wait until the
next day to publish it. I was regularly posting stuff at 11:30 at night or 1:00
in the morning. Looking back, I think it’s fair to say I was obsessed, but I
knew it would all pay off eventually. And it did.
In just about six months, the network grew to more than a thousand
people who engaged with my blog posts and shared them with their own
personal networks. Most of the members were PR pros or journalists that
seemed to like my direct approach. I kept the topics simple and
suggestions straightforward. It was unfiltered and it was resonating with
It took months to really find and develop my own personal brand. Voted
“Most Likely To Be On The Real World” in high school, I was never one to
hold back my opinions. So, when I started to blog about the realities of the
PR process, I wasn’t shy. And people listened. I’d experienced both sides of
the media relations aisle — so, I knew what was real and what wasn’t.
Through my posts, I was publicly challenging the decades‐old processes of
billion dollar companies that had never been really exposed. It made me a
hero to some and an outlaw to others. I don’t think the outlaw thing was
coincidence. After all, my heroes had always been outlaws.
In 2001, I met one of those outlaws at a Butte Press Club luncheon in Butte,
Montana. I had only been in the town for a few months and was amazed at
the history and character of the place. It was my first year after college and
I was an anchor for the 5:30pm newscast for Butte, Bozeman, and Helena
when I met Robert “Evel” Knievel.
Knievel was an original Butte hell‐raiser who, in his early days, constantly
found himself running from the law. He recounted stories of his youth as a
criminal in the booming mining city long before he ever took to the air in
his famous “skycycle.” He spoke about his epic life full of gigantic highs
and monumental lows, and also about the lessons he’d learned along the
However, I was most struck by Knievel’s gumption. He was calculating, but
ambitious. He didn’t see challenges, he saw opportunity. That’s what made
him a hero and one of the last great self‐promoters. On New Year’s Eve
1967, Knievel jumped the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. It
instantaneously catapulted him to fame. Surprisingly, little did the world
know at that time, that the hype around the event was completely self-made.
Knievel and others put in calls to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas telling them
that he had ABC’s Wide World of Sports on board and that he was going to
jump his Harley Davidson over the fountains of their hotel. He then
proceeded to call ABC to inform them that he had Caesars Palace on board and that they couldn’t miss his jump. Neither entity had committed, but
somehow, he convinced them both simultaneously, that it was happening.
He would become famous as a daredevil, no doubt. But, it was his
understanding of publicity and showmanship that propelled him to
legendary status. He was the first reality television star who’d built a brand
for himself. People were drawn to this inimitable, brazen, authentic man.
Love him or hate him, they watched him. They watched him because he
was real, and, typically, people relate to real.
Chapter 3 | Authenticity
As a kid, I spent many mornings sitting with my Dad at the coffee shop,
listening to old cowboys talking about politics and telling stories. These
guys fed off of each other ‐ each storyteller better than the one before,
each story more compelling than the last. So, when I first started to
actively use Facebook and Twitter, it occurred to me that this would be no
different. If those old guys had smartphones, they’d be telling us those
same great stories, just in a new digital format.
Social media is always heralded for its power to ‘connect us’ with people,
but I think there’s a bigger shift happening and it’s making all of us more
conscious of content and creativity. We’re all becoming a sort of “microjournalist”, reporting on our daily lives.
Content is anything we express through a medium. For the cowboy, it has
traditionally been campfire stories or cowboy poetry. For the artist, a
canvas or a photograph. For the business, an advertisement or a press
The content creator of my parents’ era looked like the typical corporate
stock photo. It was a “business person” who spent time in Word docs and
PowerPoints. They wore professional business attire and spent a lot of
time waiting for printers to spit out their documents. Their content was
derived from a template, their writing and their salutations were formal.
While those processes still exist, they’re fading fast. Today’s content
creator can’t be profiled out of a group of people. We’re all creating
content in the form of blog posts, tweets, text messages and all kinds of
other mediums. And, what’s most noteworthy is there are no standards or
templates. These content creators are hackers — using whatever medium
suits their story or their audience best.
They’ve replaced formality with casual authenticity and conversational
language. The production has gone from standard to creative and diverse.
The most effective communicators and storytellers today don’t have much
in common except that people are listening, reading, or watching.
Today, a company can convey far more about their brand with a gallery of
amazing images than with a formal press release or an ad. They build trust
and connections with brands over time, not on a whim or a tagline.
I believe that each of us is the best person to tell our own story. We are the
most passionate about what we do and no one else can say it with as much
authenticity as we can. My biggest challenge is empowering those people
to tell their own stories.
I believe that with a little technology and direction, people can rally their
supporters through their own networks, grow their businesses, and tell
their own stories better and more simply. To do this, however, would
The New American Startup by Jason Kintzler
mean that I would have to break the status quo. The formality and
processes of the past generation of content creators would have to be
challenged and I couldn’t think of anyone better to do it.
My vision for Pitchengine would require much more than functionality, it
would require thick skin, and a passion for what I believed. I knew I would
step on some toes, but if I did it for the right reasons, I couldn’t go wrong. I
have never once felt like we were pulling the wool over someone’s eyes or
just doing what was buzzworthy.
I go to bed every night knowing I’m doing right by the people that truly
believe in, and support, what I do. Fortunately, those people are customers
too. That’s been one of the coolest rewards of this whole journey. But, it
didn’t come easy. It came with stress, many sleepless nights, and a ton of
hard work. Each day has been something new: an adventure, a challenge,
Chapter 4 | Learn
The more I learned about new web technologies, the more frustrated I got
by the marketing and public relations process. I’d spend time and money
at work building and printing press kits to stack in mass next to what
seemed like thousands of others. How in the world is our stuff going to
stand out? It always came back to having a good story. And as a former
journalist, I knew how to tell a story. Problem was, as a brand, there was no
platform or medium to tell it. Ads just weren’t cutting it anymore and the
press release was far too formal.
Most brands had taken to blogging at this point. Problem was, no one
really understood what that meant. To this day, I still don’t know what
defines something as a blog. Yet, you’d regularly hear “experts” telling
marketers that they needed to blog once a week if they wanted to do it
right. I always thought this approach seemed forced, inauthentic, and
would result in readers tuning it out. People were just talking for the sake
Armed with my content platform concept and some decent storytelling
chops, I began to hone in on the concept of a digital press kit. Instead of
expecting journalists to handle my printed Word docs and CDs full of
images, I would drop them a link to simplify the process for everyone. I
explained to my PR friends, “Not only will you make it easy for them, but
they’ll learn that they can come to you for instant content.”
I started to mock‐up what I was thinking and that’s when I realized that
this could be far more effective if stories were delivered one at a time as
they happened, instead of trying to fill an entire pressroom with content. It
would be like producing a story for publication, except we would be the
journalists, instead of the media outlet. Over the next couple years, this concept would be given the label, “embedded” or “brand journalism” by
This was the first time that PR began to be the focus. Until now, I’d never
really dug too deep beyond the press kit and media outreach. I began to
research what was out there and well, there wasn’t much. A PR guy, Todd
Defren, had created a concept for a new kind of press release that he called
the “social media press release.” It was the first progression of the press
release I’d seen and people seemed to be hungry for change. In PDF
format, Todd broke down the release and compartmentalized the content.
It was still a press release for media, but it was more engaging and enabled
it to be shared and bookmarked easily with the inclusion of sharing
The genius of it all was that Todd included the words ‘social media’ in the
description. PR people would refer to his template again and again for the
next year as they reached for any way to incorporate “social” into their
workflow in a productive way.
I began to put more of my ideas on paper and started to develop a concept
for just how this machine I was envisioning would function. PR and
marketing people, like me, needed a way to get the word out online. Social
media had blown up at an incredible pace, but companies weren’t sure
how to effectively incorporate their brands or products into this new
medium. Twitter gave us 140 characters and Facebook was far from a
storytelling platform. So, I set out to solve a few problems at once and
Pitchengine started to take shape.
Even though I had all the fundamentals in hand, the most important
component to Pitchengine’s early success was born out of inspiration.
Buried in that pile of magazines next to my desk was an article that really
stuck with me. It was a piece about a concept called the, “viral expansion
loop” and it explained how Gina Bianchini, founder of the social network builder, Ning, used this concept to grow her userbase rapidly garnering
huge adoption in a matter of months.
Most of us were already part of the viral loop equation at one time or
another. In 1996, Hotmail placed a link in the body of every email that led
people to create their own Hotmail account for free. Within 30 months,
they went from zero to 30 million members.
I needed to spread the word about Pitchengine quickly, but organically. By
making it free to create pitches and including a link to let others create
theirs, users would grow adoption for me. This became a critical key to our
growth, especially when large brands like Budweiser and Geico were
sharing their content to huge audiences.
I understood the web, but I wasn’t a developer. Most of the startups I was
reading about were the product of coders. They would hack away and
build something from nothing. It was amazing, but it was ugly. For a
creative guy, this new web wasn’t pretty and I would have a hard time
putting out a product for marketers if it looked like what was already out
there. I needed something that would stand out.
Knowing that I didn’t have the HTML skills to build it, I decided that I’d
outsource the work to someone that could. After all, I didn’t foresee a lot
of overhead at the time and I knew I’d have to get it right from the start.
So, I met with a creative agency and asked them to work up a bid. For just
$16,000 I could launch my vision into reality and deliver a new kind of tool
to an industry that didn’t know it needed it. Problem was, I didn’t have
more than a thousand dollars in the bank, and that sixteen grand seemed
like a small fortune. For the first time, things got very real.
“When it’s meant to be, it will happen.” That’s what Jasmine would say
every time I started to vocalize my frustration for not being able to jump
on this new idea in full force. In those words, I heard genuine support for
my goal. But, I also felt motivated to prove to her it was indeed, meant to
Chapter 5 | Luck
Flying out of Riverton, Wyoming in February is quite an experience. There
are only a couple flights a day, both bound for Denver. Once you make it
through security you’re ushered outside into the frigid morning air to the
stairs of the plane. Once inside, you take your seat — either the one on the
left or the right of the aisle — and sit tight. You don’t dare take your coat
off yet. The heat won’t be coming on until around 20,000 feet or so –
however long it takes for the heater to warm up. Just about the time
you’re comfortable enough to catch some shuteye, the turbulence above
Colorado’s Front Range kicks‐in and you’re “engaged” until landing.
Fortunately, I was headed for warmer weather in Las Vegas for another
giant trade show. My wife and a couple of her friends would drive down
mid‐week and experience what it was all about first hand.
By now, almost six months had passed since I received the estimate to
start work on Pitchengine. I was trying to be optimistically patient about
the status of things. The more time that passed, the more details I’d
worked out in my head and the more ideas I’d come up with for just how it
The night before my wife arrived, I decided to kill some time in the hotel
lobby at the Hilton adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. I wasn’t
much of a gambler, but I feel like that’s just part of the Vegas experience.
So, I slipped twenty bucks into a penny slot machine and let it ride.
Most of the time, I never really know what’s going on with those machines.
This one was based on the TV game show, “Deal or No Deal,” and it wasn’t
too complicated — just push the button and get a chance to open virtual
suitcases. I can’t remember exactly what came up when I pushed the
button for the fourth or fifth time, but I do recall the instant
Everything was frozen, the bell was ringing and the yellow light starting
flashing obnoxiously. I’d won the jackpot on the penny slot machine — a
whopping $3,600. Not exactly the kind of jackpot you dream of, but it
would turn out to be the catalyst for making my dreams come true indeed.
I waited a few minutes for the attendant to count back the money, which
was all in one hundred dollar bills. I folded up the wad of cash, stuffed it in
my pocket and walked away.
When Jasmine arrived the next evening, she could tell something was up. I
wasn’t very subtle about hiding my grin. Once we brought her luggage up
to the room, I popped the question:
“Remember when you said, ’When it’s meant to be, it will happen?’”
I reached into my pocket and unfurled that roll of hundred dollar bills and
watched her eyes light up. I didn’t need to say anymore. She knew what I
meant, but I’m not sure she really knew what she was in for.
The next day, I made a call to the agency that had bid to do the work to
create the first version of Pitchengine. With what I had saved and what I’d
just won, I had the critical 50% down that I needed to start building and
that’s just what I did.
While that $3,600 wasn’t a whole lot, it would jump‐start my life as an
entrepreneur and the beginning of Pitchengine. From that moment on, my
life would become about building a foundation in more ways than one.
Chapter 6 | Start
If you’ve started a business, taken a new job, or just dove into a project of
magnitude you can probably relate to the way it consumes you. Things
that once seemed very important become less relevant as your vision and
desire come into laser‐like focus. That’s exactly how I felt on March 10,
2009, when Jasmine and I welcomed our first son, Cooper, into our arms.
It was such a sweet juxtaposition — starting our future in more ways than
one. I’d spent the whole night sitting in a rickety wooden chair next to my
wife’s hospital bed, while she slept. It was in that chair that I sketched out
the first redesign of the Pitchengine social release. That design eventually
took things to a new level for the business. And, so did that little boy.
From that day on, my key role would be as Daddy, not CEO. I’m sure any
parent can tell you, it’s an incredible time in your life and it puts everything
into place. In an instant, it all makes sense. Of all the good fortunes I’ve
experienced, nothing comes close to the privilege of being a parent. For
me, being a dad came with both joy and pressure. Suddenly, for the first
time, my decisions in business and life would have an impact on someone
who depended solely on me to provide for them. In many ways, Cooper’s
birth marked a new, more calculated me.
I wouldn’t say I’m any less risky today than I was before, but I certainly
measure everything with a keener eye. And that’s translated to my
entrepreneurial life as well. With a growing number of employees and their
families joining Pitchengine, I’ve discovered a new level of responsibility to
them. That’s something you won’t read about in business books or
I’m not talking about ping‐pong tables or Xboxes at work. I’m talking about
building a sustainable company based on solid, steady growth and sound
decisions. As you’d imagine, those aren’t the typical traits of a brash,
creative entrepreneur like me. That’s why I can’t take credit for any of
them. That credit falls squarely on the shoulders of my COO and confidant,
He was with me the first time I attended South by Southwest (SXSW) in
Austin, Texas as a Finalist for the Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator
Competition. A group of venture capital investor types had selected a few
startups to pitch their ideas “American Idol style” in front of a panel of
three judges. I was super‐confident going in. I think I was the only startup
of the five in my group that actually had a revenue model and was cash
flow positive pretty much from the beginning. But, my naivety would get
the best of me. This was about more than a business model.
I was introduced by a funnyman who thought a sarcastic comment about
Wyoming and technology would set the table nicely for my five‐minute
pitch. As I took the stage in my cowboy boots and suit jacket, they must have just assumed it was a setup. All of the other startup entrepreneurs
were in uniform — converse, skinny jeans, and a hoodie or t‐shirt. So, I
wasn’t surprised when the line of questioning was off base and out of
touch with reality. This wasn’t about a business model, it was about who
was the most like Twitter — the app that had really captured the world
While that startup competition was an early lesson in reality, SXSW as a
whole was incredible.
For the first time, I wasn’t going it alone. I’d brought along Fabian, a friend
and former co‐worker, to get some insight into both the technology space
and Pitchengine’s role within it.
I had been working on Fabian for a few weeks already and he knew that my
goal was to make him my first big hire. Fabian was a former Washington,
D.C. accountant with an extensive background in both finance and sales.
He was organized, I was all over the map. He was left brain, I was right.
What’s more, he already lived in Lander and loved it there. It was a great fit
I wasn’t of celebrity status, like a few of my friends in the space, but it’s fair
to say that a lot of people knew of Pitchengine and were excited about it.
Fabian got to see firsthand that Pitchengine’s brand presence wasn’t just
my aspiration. It was reality. It was probably the best business decision I’ve
By the time we departed Austin, I think Fabian had a newfound
appreciation for what we were doing. It was like a third‐party endorsement
from the entire tech industry.
“You’re never a hero in your hometown,” he said.
He was referring to a slogan that the FBI used back in the day for new
recruits. Once someone was selected to become an agent, they were
transferred to a different region in the country. Since everyone already
knew them in their city or town, they probably had a different view of
Here I was, flying around the country, speaking at places like Stanford and
USC and at conferences like SXSW but, in my own community, no one
really knew what I was doing. I don’t even think my family understood the
magnitude of it all, but that was okay with me — I was pursuing something
bigger. It would be more tangible in time.
Chapter 7 | Disrupt
Even in the early going, social media savvy PR pros were adopting
Pitchengine as their own. It was more than new software. To them, it
represented an alternative to the tired PR processes they were growing
As I traveled around speaking, I was greeted by wide‐eyed PR pros and
students who told me they were inspired. They wanted to start changing
things up, starting today. There’s nothing more motivating than people
who believe in what you’re doing.
So, what exactly were we doing? That’s a fair question — one that even the
PR industry’s biggest companies were asking. We must have grown to
20,000 brands by that second year and there was no sign of slowing. That,
had everybody wondering what we were up to.
To understand Pitchengine, you must first understand the press release
and the antiquated public relations process.
In 2008, as social media was going mainstream with businesses and
brands, Pitchengine enabled them to package up PR content and share it
through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and at the time, Digg.
The traditional wire services saw these social networks as yet another
distribution point for their customers to send press releases. Problem was,
press releases weren’t all that social. Granted, a hundred years ago they
were the plug‐and‐play technologies of their day, when newspaper
journalists would typeset them into articles. However, social media was
about brevity and creativity. You had just seconds to be noticed in a
multimedia rich news feed. The standard Associated Press format press releases just didn’t cut it on this new medium of discovery, but that didn’t
stop people from adding “share this” capabilities and “tweet” buttons in
hopes that people would just assume it was working.
I’d recognized early on though, that those billion dollar industry giants
were actually living dinosaurs. They weren’t going to just copy what I’d
created, because that would jeopardize their own successful model. For
decades, the linear PR distribution process looked like this:
Company –> Journalist –> Publication –> Audience
With the advent of the wire services, for a fee you could send a press
release to more journalists via the wire in hopes of reaching that same
So, imagine when people started discovering a way for those companies to
send content directly to their audiences. And, what if those audiences
were people who cared about their products or services in the first place?
That would be very disruptive to the lifeblood of your company and it
probably wouldn’t please your shareholders.
Company –> Audience
Pitchengine enabled PR pros to tell their stories in their clients’ brand voice
and include the multimedia elements that made them attractive to their
audiences. It no longer needed to be “newsworthy” as determined by the
wire services. Before PitchEngine, press releases were just for journalists.
We were entering a new era of public relations and PitchEngine was the
By year two, Pitchengine was being considered a revolution.
Entrepreneurs like Jason Goldberg, Founder of Fab.com, said it could,
“define and lead PR 2.0.” A blogger even called it, “One of the PR
industry’s most transformative innovations.”
Some of my proudest moments are when people explain Pitchengine in their own words. It seems like something small, but to have a vision that
no one else can see finally start to become visible is extremely satisfying.
I’d later learn that during that time Pitchengine was becoming a topic of
discussion in the boardrooms of the industry’s largest companies. People
were paying attention, doing their due diligence and in some cases, calling
to ask what we were up to. For the most part though, all of them thought
that because they were larger and older, somehow they were smarter than
us. They didn’t understand the vision, and that was fine by me.
One of those companies had identified us as a possible acquisition target
in the summer of 2011. At the risk of disclosing too much let’s just call
them, Corporation A. Just as they began to dig into the business, we
received an offer from another company, Corporation B, who happened to
be a competitor to Corporation A.
I was upfront and straightforward with Corporation B. We’d been dealing
with Corporation A for weeks and I had grown tired of the distraction.
When I shared the details of Corporation A’s offer with B, the response
from B’s business development guy was brief:
“Take the money and run. Don’t walk.”
He was telling me that we weren’t worth the money, and that was the last I
heard from Corporation B. Needless to say, I didn’t take the money or his
sage advice. He and his company only saw what was in front of them on
paper, they couldn’t see my vision or the promise behind it because it
didn’t fit into their process. It was another turning point for me and it
reinforced to me that only by doing it — by realizing my vision — would
others truly understand it.
To this day, I’m still motivated by that statement.
Chapter 8 | Drive
I first met Ford’s head of social media, Scott Monty, at a dinner during
BlogWorld, a new media conference held in Las Vegas. As you can
imagine, I was quick to share with him that I drove a Ford vehicle, but the
response I got was a bit unexpected. “A Super Duty? Those are for
contractors,” he joked. He was referring to my Ford F‐350 diesel pickup
truck. I guess his reaction was to be expected. After all, when I thought of
startup entrepreneurs, they were white collar, not blue. They drove hybrid
sports cars in San Francisco. But this was no regular startup and I wasn’t
your typical entrepreneur.
A few months earlier, I backed‐up and hooked that truck onto
Pitchengine’s first asset as a business — a 16‐foot enclosed trailer loaded
with booth fixtures and furniture.
I set out from Wyoming to the International PRSA Conference in San
Diego with a tank full of fuel and a long road ahead. I left in a snowstorm
and arrived in the California sunshine. Pulling that trailer off of Interstate
15 and into that hotel parking lot was a proud moment for me. For one, I
consider myself among the best trailer backers and parkers I know, with
the exception of my dad. And secondly, it was yet another step I was
taking on my own accord. Success or failure depended on only one person,
Those trailer skills didn’t come from a class. Growing up, I spent my
summers in Wyoming working with my Dad. This entailed everything from
working around the ranch to driving a tractor for his custom haying
business. That’s where I really became “trailer savvy” — mostly because I
had to. There wasn’t an excuse in the book that I could use. I had to learn,
not damage any equipment, and work. If I did, my Dad would be proud. It
was as simple as that. There was no other incentive and to be honest, I
didn’t need one.
I look back at this time and realize what a role it actually played in my
eventual mental toughness and drive. I’ve always worked hard because
that’s what made sense to me. What else would be worth the reward? This
idea of unparalleled work ethic is what our country was built on. And, this
is why I believe a new type of tech startup can emerge in this decade ‐ one
that can be a sustainable business with a foundation much like those of the
last century. It’s the new American startup and it’s a throwback to the
brick‐and‐mortar Main Street store of yesterday.
So, as I backed that trailer into a tiny parking space and unhooked it from
the hitch, I smiled a proud smile. The Pitchengine stickers I had stuck on
the side were small, but they represented a whole lot more than a brand
name. It was a badge that I knew would one day mean something to more
people than I could imagine. It’s those kind of adventures that have really
stuck with me these past few years. Sometimes you don’t realize just how
big the steps you’re taking actually are until they’ve passed. Other times,
you realize how surreal it is right when it’s happening.
One of the big selling features of that truck was “Ford Sync” which enabled
me to sync‐up my smartphone with my audio system for hands‐free phone
calls on the road. I can’t imagine Ford had “conference room” in mind
when they designed it, but that’s what it became.
Fabian and I pulled off the highway into a parking lot when we heard the
phone ringing. I think we were near Wickenburg, Arizona coming back
from a conference and tradeshow at Arizona State University in Phoenix.
We were expecting the call and we didn’t want to miss this one. Just like
that, from our 6,000 lb. mobile conference room, we were connected with
both the Atlanta and New York offices of CNN. They’d reached out to
discuss implementing our newsroom technology into their public relations
I remember saying to Fabian, “Did we just talk to CNN about building their newsroom?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Just checking,” I joked.
It wasn’t more than an hour or two up the highway when we found
ourselves on a call with a PR group in London asking us how they could get
their clients up and running with Pitchengine. It’s moments like those that
have stuck with me.
When you live in the least populous state in the union, that also happens to
be one of the largest, you do a fair bit of driving. I would compare this
highway time to something like a yoga session. It’s when all the good stuff
happens. Your mind is clear, the sky is gigantic, and ideas run rampant. I’ve
cherished this time ever since I can remember.
Those highways always provided some direction.
Chapter 9 | Exit
“What is your exit strategy?”
It’s a question you’re supposed to know the answer to when you build a
startup. I’d read about it in countless articles and business books, but it was
never really relevant until I met my first VCs (venture capital investors).
When you read about tech companies, it seems like it’s always about how
much money they’ve raised. Regardless of the impact they have on an
industry, the attention given to a startup can be directly tied to its
valuation. For me, it’s obviously not how I would suggest measuring the
success of a business.
In the first year or two of Pitchengine, I must have talked to thirty VCs.
Some cold called, others I met at conferences or trade shows. They all
wanted to know the answer to the exit question and for me, it always came
back to the fact that I didn’t really need the money. The model was
working and we were cash flow positive. Considering funding was a little
like talking yourself into a third helping of dinner when you’re already
I’m not against venture capital investors, or the process in general. VC is
actually an amazing driver of our nation’s economy. In the 80s and 90s,
venture‐backed companies helped propel our economy and contributed to
about 10% of our GDP.
I was fortunate to meet Bob Grady when he paid a visit to our offices to
learn about Pitchengine for Leadership Wyoming, a nine‐month long
educational program where Wyoming leaders tour the region to learn
about businesses and opportunities within the state.
Grady is a venture capitalist and investment banker who lives just over the
mountain from Lander in Jackson. He served as a partner at the Carlyle
Group, the world’s second largest private‐equity firm and most recently,
he’s managed the state of New Jersey’s $68 billion pension fund for
Governor Chris Christie. During his visit, he asked all the right questions,
and when we had the first opportunity, Fabian and I made the trip to
Jackson to learn more about our newfound local resource.
Grady is a super‐experienced, uber‐connected kind of guy and he took an
entire day to meet with us just to talk about Pitchengine, Wyoming and
business in general. I’m drawn to passionate, driven people and I’ve met
many of them here. It was one of the more educational days I’ve spent
inside the state.
It’s been incredibly humbling to go from the young guy asking questions
and scratching for resources, to the guy at the table in the Governor’s
mansion offering advice for growing technology in our state.
I’ve been asked that question multiple times recently and it’s a difficult one
to answer. Conventional wisdom would tell you that Wyoming needs to
find ways to grow the technology community and provide better access to
capital for early stage companies. For me, it keeps coming back to being
that independent spirit that Wyoming represents. Why should we be like
Silicon Valley or Austin when we can be different? If you look at the
budding startup scene in Chicago, you get a much more traditional
business approach than the accelerated growth, rapid exit strategy on the
This is why I believe we’re doing more than building a tech startup. We’re
building a model for how it can work, not just here in Wyoming, but in
other small towns across the country. In my Instagram (picture) of
America, I see historic Main Streets transformed into vibrant business
complexes where people work just as their grandparents did two
generations before them.
If you drive down Main Street in Lander today, you’ll find the Pitchengine
office right in the heart of town. It’s my goal to not only have a presence,
but to play a lead role in my community as a business with a future. I want
parents and grandparents to see for themselves that we do indeed provide
opportunities for their children and grandchildren to return home after
college and have a real career, like I did, in the place they call home.
If our community and others like ours can understand the importance of
innovation, they can help provide an infrastructure to foster that growth.
It’s support, not just capital, that can help cultivate such growth. From the
employees they hire to the success they share locally, small towns have a
unique opportunity to cultivate sustainable businesses built from uniquely
Early on in the Pitchengine formation, I selected a VC firm to work with
that helped me understand the bigger picture and what my options for
investment actually looked like — although I never did attempt to raise any
money. Their insight was certainly valuable for me, especially since I was
isolated from things I would eventually need to run my businesses
During that time, I was introduced to David Cohen, the Founder and CEO
of TechStars, a mentorship‐driven startup accelerator he founded in
Boulder, Colorado. TechStars had just graduated their first set of ten
startups, most of which received funding for their ideas upon finishing the
program. If I could’ve gone back a year in time, I would have loved to have
thrown my hat into the TechStars pool.
The next time I ran into David he introduced me as, “A guy who’s done a
lot with a little.” That description really resonated with me. I’m proud of
what we’ve been able to accomplish considering the unique set of
circumstances and challenges we’ve endured.
Chapter 10 | Challenges
Most days I was awake and in the shower before Jasmine or the baby woke
up. I’d been getting up extra early to check on the site and answer emails
before I went to work.
During the first year of Pitchengine, I still had a full‐time job in marketing. I
had been speaking off and on by then and was doing a fair bit of consulting
as well. In retrospect, I’m not even sure how I made it all work, but I did. It’s
amazing how much you can accomplish when you’re doing what you’re
I had the first iteration of the software built for around $20,000, but by
three or four months in I’d put at least $40,000 into the site and it was
starting to become more and more critical that I stay on top of things.
So, when I logged on that morning to check things out I was greeted with
an alarming Twitter message from a Pitchengine user:
“I think you’ve been hacked by terrorists.”
Sounds far‐fetched, right?! I wished it was. I clicked on the Pitchengine
bookmark in my browser and what came up made my stomach turn. The
page that loaded was like nothing I’d ever seen before — filled with hateful
messages aimed at America, Denmark and Israel. It was obviously from an
extremist, but why me? Why Pitchengine?
My heart pounded out of my chest. I’ve never been closer to losing
everything I’d created than at that very moment. I called my developer,
waking him out of bed, and he began to load up the database.
“It’s all gone,” he shuttered.
Just like that, I was told that thousands of users, and their data, were gone
– wiped from the system like a bad dream. Despite all of the security
precautions we had in place, somewhere there was a breach. And it could
cost us everything.
Whatever you think you know about how web and native apps work, I can
promise you it’s about twelve‐hundred times harder than that. Every
button you push, every function you perform, takes copious amounts of
forethought and engineering somewhere along the way.
To this day, I’m astonished at just how complex programming is and how
talented these coders really are that make it all work. They study every day
and their work is unlike anything my right brain can comprehend. But,
they’re human too — actual flesh and blood like you and me — and mistakes
One thing about having a guy like me calling the plays is that I like to keep
things in a constant state of flux. There is never a true ‘down cycle’ where
we just aren’t doing much. Even when users aren’t seeing progress, it’s
happening behind the scenes. We’re designing, we’re building, and we’re
We’ll get to the resolution in a bit, but I can’t tell you what a cool feeling it
is when you realize that this ‘thing’ has become bigger than you. What was
once just a solo act had become a band, a road crew, and a bunch of fans.
A musician friend of mine put that in context for me a few years ago.
It was by fate that I stumbled into the historic Roman Theater in Red
Lodge, Montana one chilly afternoon in college during a charity fundraiser
being headlined by a guy named, John Herrmann. He was playing songs
from his self‐titled album (those things our parents used to put in CD
players) called, “Elephant Country” and it was incredible. I could tell right
away that he wasn’t your typical local musician.
John Herrmann is probably the most talented person I’ve ever met. He’s a musician who can write, produce, play, and sing without reading or writing
a single note of music. Turns out, John was quite a rock star in Europe in
the late 1980s with his band, “All Quiet.” We became lifelong friends
almost instantly and he served as a huge inspiration for me, especially
during my most impressionable college years.
Despite bucket loads of raw talent as a solo artist, John tells me that his
dream scenario is to be back with a band. The energy and creativity you
can feed off of when other inspired people are around you cannot be
That’s why it’s critical to me that we build this team here in Lander, and
not try to maintain the energy and the urgency from some remote
location. Building a team like this is like building a family, and you can’t do
much when they’re not part of your life.
While I may be a frontman, I certainly haven’t achieved the rock star
status, yet. One of the best mantras I’ve heard actually came from a VC
friend of mine, Brian Wallace.
“You’re only famous once,” he said.
It’s another way of explaining that you
only get one shot. You either have to make dust or eat dust. That’s
motivation enough for me to storm the mountain.
It’s also what made finding out that the hackers hadn’t managed to erase
us off the planet such great news.
Fortunately, we had been planning a migration of data to more powerful
servers. During this process, we’d begun porting data over to this new
server and were close to flipping the switch on the new stuff when the
attack happened. Luckily, no data was stolen. They had run an executable
file that simply went in and wiped out our data. But, it did cause panic,
especially to a startup founder who thought he’d lost everything.
I reported the hack to the local FBI office as it was obviously meant to
cause harm and damage. I later surmised that the attack was actually in
retaliation to the content being published by an organization using
Pitchengine. It was the classic, “Don’t shoot the messenger” kind of
Panic and devastation behind us, we did become a better, more secure
company. It was as much a lesson in humility as it was a strength training
exercise. It would really test our mettle.
Those kinds of challenges seem to prove your wherewithal as a young
company. In the beginning, every decision you make can have a huge
impact on the bigger picture. And, each seed you plant has to be handled
with the utmost care and delicacy.
Chapter 11 | Change
Raising a family and a company in parallel has provided my life with an
interesting dynamic. It’s difficult to be good at both, but I try hard every
day to be the best husband, father, founder, and co‐worker I can be.
Two boys and a baby on the way. Ten employees and growing. And, I’m
still learning every day.
One of the most incredible things about this type of startup is that each
day is fresh and new. Our days are not decided by a board or a quarterly
quota. Instead, most days are filled with discovery. Maybe it’s the creative
in me, but I like to start every project with a blank canvas. I’ve never been
much for parameters and I never make assumptions. I think about each problem we encounter with a clean slate, and in most cases, that produces
This blank slate approach has helped our team come up with some pretty
cool ideas and solutions. We’re constantly reinventing our own products,
thought process, and even skill sets. This came in handy when we started
building the next generation Pitchengine in 2012 — a platform designed for
the new era of content producers.
Fabian and I had spent the previous year and a half traveling around the
state talking to small businesses for the Wyoming Small Business
Development Center and Central Wyoming College in Riverton. We
provided one or two‐day clinics for business people who wanted to
understand how technology could help transform their businesses. We
wouldn’t hype social media and tell everyone that they had to be on
Facebook, instead we would level with people and give them insight into
what the big deal was and how it might help them grow their company, or
For both of us, these days were among the most fulfilling we had during
that time. It was so rewarding to see people go away energized and
inspired, but at the same time be armed with an understanding for this
new world of doing business online and on mobile platforms.
While we were traveling to different cities and towns in the state we were
simultaneously building this next iteration of Pitchengine. We’d began
seeing a shift in our user base. What started as a tool primarily for PR pros
had begun to see adoption from small businesses from all corners of the
It wasn’t all that surprising. After all, Pitchengine’s rise to popularity
followed closely with social media’s adoption into the mainstream.
Communicators were first to realize the potential and later, main street
America began to enter the fold.
For whatever reason, I was tuned‐in to this. I saw the rapid rise of Groupon
as an indicator. While the coupon concept was nothing new, it signaled
something greater — businesses wanted to be online and they weren’t
afraid to experiment.
During our time with hundreds of small business owners we heard the
same thing time and time again.“We’re on Facebook, but it’s not working
My consultant friends would see this as an opportunity to teach them how
to effectively communicate with their customers and cultivate
relationships with their audience. But, let’s be honest, that doesn’t always
equate to increased sales.
Our competitors in the marketing and PR space saw it as an opportunity to
pretend that they could turn Facebook into a marketing tool to push deals
and garner ‘likes.’ They would use the buzzwords and market their “easy
button” to anyone who was willing to push it.
I saw it as an opportunity to solve their problem. To build something that
made sense to them, not try to retrofit a social platform into a business
tool. Businesses understood marketing. They were starting to understand
content, but they didn’t necessarily understand how blogging or Facebook
fit into the mix. I knew Pitchengine was working for the people that got it,
but how could we make it simple enough for every business to use it
For the first couple of years, our customer service team spent most of their
time educating PR pros on my vision. Some in the industry understood and
wanted to venture into this new world of content creation and distribution.
Others were dismayed that we weren’t like the other services that simply,
“sent their stuff out” to media outlets like traditional services. I spent the
majority of my time blogging and speaking about this and I’ve still got a
long, long way to go before there’s a fundamental change, but I promise
you ‐ there will be upheaval in the PR industry.
PR industry aside, we wanted the everyday business owner to get it. To do
this we had to create something very, very easy to use. We had to build
something so obvious that everyone would say, “I should’ve built that.”
Just like they did after I created Pitchengine. But, believe it or not, creating
something simple is one of the hardest things to do.
Chapter 12 | Simplified
“Do you want to be a lifestyle startup or a growth startup?”
I used to take offense to that question because it felt like an ultimatum.
Are you going to just play around or are you going for rapid or “hockey
stick” type growth (aptly named for the shape that it makes on a
spreadsheet or chart). You get asked this question by several people when
you’re starting out in the tech space.
Potential investors want to know, and rightfully so. After all, they want to
see their investment returned at a huge multiplier.
It’s become very obvious to me that we are mostly a lifestyle startup.
We’re growing steadily, but organically. We spend money wisely and
invest in the larger vision we share as a company. My new found
“entrepreneurial intuition,” and a great deal of confidence, tells me that
Pitchengine will become a growth startup sooner than later. The early
feedback of what we’ve created for those small businesses and
mainstream communicators is exactly what we’d hoped for.
The new Pitchengine enables people to create simple marketing messages
or announcements using their smartphones or computers and deliver
them directly to their customers or audience.
It’s kind of like email was for businesses a few years ago, but I think it has
the potential to do what Microsoft Office did for desktop publishing.
There’s never been a platform like this. Only time will tell if it will have the
kind of impact on content creation that I envisioned.
One thing is clear, we’re not slowing down and I’m on track with my
broader vision for empowering the storyteller. Some of the most creative
content ever produced is being pushed out to people, not just daily, but
every split second. I believe this will provide for a better, more relevant
experience from the web and from mobile devices.
Although it’s sometimes daunting, my desire to change the way people
view traditional processes or the status quo is really quite simple. I listen
and I learn like a sponge, but I don’t make assumptions just because
someone, somewhere said so.
All of the challenges and obstacles are just problems to solve if you have a
clear, concise vision for something. If I had no business to grow and no
employees to support, I would still be working at sharing this vision.
When you’re this passionate about something it’s just that simple. This
approach doesn’t stop with Pitchengine either. In the past two years,
we’ve created some really amazing models and companies that you’ll hear
about soon. We’ve been able to monetize journalism in a small town when
many news outlets are closing their doors. We’re creating ways for
athletes and organizations to scale and manage sponsorships using
technology. All this while still trying to realize the vision for Pitchengine.
I can already picture myself in a post‐Pitchengine life. I’d still be creating
and driving change in something. Those close to me know that it’s just part
of my makeup. I can’t restrain my passion for that. I’ll probably spend a fair
amount of time in a tractor — cutting, baling, and stacking hay for the fun
of it. I long for that peaceful time where I can just think.
Mostly though, I can’t wait to watch my kids grow and develop an
appreciation for the things I value so much. Like me, they will learn the
value of hard work from their dad. They will be instilled with confidence
and love from their mom, like I was. And, they’ll never blame someone else
for the challenges and obstacles they face — they will endure them and be
greater for them.
All said, those are the things that inspire me. Those are the bricks that built
my company and the values that are shaping my family.
I started this journey as a one‐year‐old child of divorced, working class
parents. I wouldn’t trade that adversity and experience for anything. Even
as a kid, I always knew I would be better for it.
I believe the next generation of leaders will share similar qualities. It will be
the independent thinkers who are authentic and true to their values that
will create the next great things. I think that’s the way our grandparents
and great‐grandparents would’ve done it. They would’ve rolled up their
sleeves and dug their steel shovels into the dirt. If it was too hard, they
would have wet it down and tried again, finding creative ways to get the
The new entrepreneur will be a throwback to the ones that built this
country. Like me, they will do it despite their geographic location,
demographics, or financial standing. They’ll defy their critics and create
their own processes.
I believe we all have the ability to do something great, but we need to be
inspired. We need to find the confidence and the ambition to accomplish
it. And, we need to do it without sacrificing our values and vision so that it
fits into our lives from top to bottom.
If you’re thinking about taking a leap or jumping into something
completely new, I suggest taking a look within first. Risk is relative. If
you’ve built yourself a solid foundation as a person, as a son or daughter ‐
everything beyond that is just upward construction. You can always fall
back on the things that make you great.
Everywhere I look I see opportunity. This is an exceptional time in our
history and I’m humbled to be a part of it. I lead by example, which is why
I’m comfortable saying this:
I haven’t built just any tech company using just another process. I believe
I’ve created something different. I believe I’ve built The New American
Copyright © 2012–2018 by Jason Kintzler
Appeared in book originally published by SlimBooks, Inc,
8462 Beverly Lane, Dublin, CA 94568
Cover Design: Jason Kleist
All rights reserved.