We at Pigeon wouldn't be here today without local support from the startup community. That's why we jumped at the opportunity to give back and become a gold sponsor of an annual startup event, a condensed weekend during which time an idea goes from concept to prototype before it's pitched to influencial judges.
Basically, anyone can sign up as a developer (front-end, full-stack, whatever), designer, or as a non-technical attendee. Some people come with ideas they pitch, and everyone gets to vote on the ideas they think could be a success before branching into functional teams and getting to work. All in all, we hope this year is another great success for the organizers and are thankful they're bringing something like this to the beautiful city of Pensacola, FL.
Practical one-way communication immune to cyber intrusion
What is your company going to make?
Pigeon is part aviary and pigeon breeder with roots in pigeon racing, and it's also a software company. Customers place an order with a message and address, and a member of our team works with the appropriate pigeon from the fleet to ensure a timely arrival at the correct destination.
Which category best applies to your company?
Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?
Please enter the url of a 1 minute unlisted (not private) YouTube video introducing the founders. (Follow the Video Guidelines.)
Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.
Josh and Brian are working on a side project trying to launch the first ever freemium cloud-hosted phone system. Chad and Andrew are videographers on the side and have a few revenue generating businesses.
How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?
Josh and Brian have worked on projects in the past. Their first startup is still operating today. Brian used to work with Andrew years ago at a telecom software company, and all four individuals are currently working out of a co-working space in Pensacola, FL and came together for this project.
How far along are you?
We've secured seed funding for a fleet of 6 adult pigeons. Pigeon is currently in a private beta phase. Signups who refer others can improve their place in line the more they successfully refer.
If you've already started working on it, how long have you been working and how many lines of code (if applicable) have you written?
5 months & 55000 lines of code
Which of the following best describes your progress?
If you have already participated or committed to participate in an incubator, "accelerator" or "pre-accelerator" program, please tell us about it.
We do currently work with an incubator called Precision Incubators (www.precisionincubators.com).
Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you're making?
Two members of our founding team have backgrounds in pigeon racing or are poultry enthusiasts. We have yet to see a bird-based communication system with a quality onboarding process and pricing structure that makes sense. Our initial market research suggests Pigeon can become a major player in the pigeon-as-a-service (PaaS) space.
What's new about what you're making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn't exist yet (or they don't know about it)?
To our knowledge no other companies do exactly what we do. Some substitutes exist, but they're not PaaS businesses. Alternatives include non-organic parcel delivery services and internet messaging applications.
Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
Pigeon will be first to market in its specific niche, but indirect competitors include FedEx, UPS, USPS, and instant messaging applications like Slack, Google Hangouts, and AOL Instant Messenger.
What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?
Receiving a custom message you know took real time and effort to reach its destination makes the emotions soar sky high. It's difficult to explain to non-pigeon users (NPUs), but the excitement is real and will create consistently loyal customers once they begin using the service.
How do or will you make money? How much could you make?
We have a 92% delivery success-rate, which is accounted for in the pricing model. Users pre-pay for each successfully delivered message and are refunded if a message fails. Pigeon has a very robust training program and should be able to scale well during the first 3 years.
How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won't be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?
The private beta establishes a user base pre-launch and lets us gauge market interest. We don't believe we face a chicken-and-egg problem because we don't plan to raise any chickens, only pigeons.
If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.
We had entertained thoughts many months ago to employ hawks, owls, or ravens instead of pigeons. Training time and operating costs would have been prohibitively expensive, and we would have needed to bring in another co-founder to help us manage the unfamiliar birds.
Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered.
The most surprising thing we discovered when founding Pigeon was just how unregulated the PaaS environment was. There's little to no oversight with regard to airspace restrictions and message content. We see this changing over time as the industry matures.
What convinced you to apply to Y Combinator?
Starting a business in a fairly new industry is scary. We hope to leverage YCs alumni and proven track record of mentorship to make this a success.
I'll be the first to tell you, Pigeon is awesome. Our handpicked, personally trained fleet constantly surprises us, in terms of intelligence and memory as well as physical ability.
Queue up the terror when, 4 months ago, our top performer at the time (Steve) hit a slump for seemingly no reason at all. We knew it had to be a parasite; any pigeon breeder worth his salt can recognize the symptoms of tapeworm or ascariasis. The real problem for us wasn't even disinfecting the loft (not a single member of the fleet picked up Steve's symptoms thankfully).
No, the real problem was deworming, fixing our champion bird in the first place.
We applied BelgaWormac.
We used Ascapilla.
We gave Steve a multivitamin and probiotic religiously.
As our terrible luck would have it, Steve did indeed have worms, Capillary worms. I hadn't even heard about these at the time, and to my credit they're almost impossible to detect. So following two more trips to the bird rehabilitation clinic, we finally obtained the right kind of dewormer and saw steady improvements in Steve's diet and demeanor. I wouldn't say it was our scariest ordeal since starting Pigeon, but it was definitely Steve's scariest.
This issue initially came to my attention after speaking to a longtime GHC member who proudly owns 4 racing pigeons and has won multiple 100 mile races. Until then I had always assumed the government had some kind of plan for keeping the PaaS industry safe, not to mention racing birds.
As drones become more commonplace in this country, we can't help but ask ourselves, "what about the pigeons"?
The FAA is turning commercial drone use into a very complex regulatory environment for any organizations wanting to conduct serious business using drones. We get that. But can you please do something for the safety of our birds while you're at it?
There is no legislation that protects our birds once in the air, no law that grants them any airspace.
You heard that right. The FAA technically allows drones and carrier pigeons to occupy the same airspace.
If we could apply for air worthiness certificates on behalf of our fleet we of course would, but that wouldn't necessarily solve the problem. The FAA won't protect messenger pigeons by classifying them as autonomous UAVs, and really they need their own airspace. I realize it's a stretch (V stands for vehicle, by the way), but more needs to be done at the federal level because drones aren't going away.