Student Entrepreneur Thrives in Albuquerque

Guin in front of Lobo Rainforest Building Main entrance, peering towards Downtown Albuquerque. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

By Maria Gomez / NM News Port /

When 21-year-old entrepreneur Kyle Guin isn’t traveling, enjoying the outdoors or watching his favorite TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” he is busy working on his startup companies Pencil-In and Shutter Bombs.

Kyle Guin sitting at the head of a conference table in Lobo Rainforest, where he lives and works. He is Founder and CEO of two startup companies. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

Guin is an Aztec High School graduate now attending The University of New Mexico. As a Liberal Arts and Integrative Studies student, he can receive credit for working on his companies and studying independently.

“That is pretty much the only way I can learn, if I teach myself. I taught myself everything about business, pitching, graphic design, web design and marketing. It’s been completely self-taught out of necessity for my businesses to succeed,” said Guin.

The multidisciplinary major allows students to design their own degree from courses across the campus and apply their learning in fieldwork. His focus areas are marketing, computer science and entrepreneurship.  

“From the second I came to college, I knew what I wanted to do. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to build amazing things and try to make change in as many ways as I could and bring my ideas to life,” said Guin. “ My freshman year I didn’t know how to do that but I tried my best.”

Guin started by doing freelance videography, photography and graphic design but wanted to create something more concrete for himself, he said.

“I wanted to get into something a little more serious that might have a little more of a broader impact and would build me more professionally,” said Guin.

Lisa Kuuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of STC.UNM (a technology transfer organization). Kuuttila’s job is to implement STC’s vision “to play a vital role in New Mexico’s economic development and to be a leader in technology commercialization.” Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

CEO and Chief Economic Development Officer of STC.UNM (STC) Lisa Kuuttila, has worked with Guin for a few years now.

“He approached us at one of the early pitch competitions about two and a half years ago. We were just kicking off Innovation Academy at UNM and recruiting students who were like Kyle, interested in entrepreneurial endeavors as well as pursuing their education. So he took space in our venture lab even before we moved into this building [Lobo Rainforest],” said Kuuttila.

Guin showing a white Shutter Bomb in the Lobo Rainforest courtyard. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

“We began working with him on Pencil-In which was his first company and he’s just been involved in a lot of entrepreneurial activities through Innovation Academy and through Lobo Rainforest,” said Kuuttila. “He’s helped us mentor other students, he’s been a judge at different events and of course now he’s starting a second business, Shutter Bombs.”

Guin’s technology company Pencil-In is a mobile application for iOS devices, that can take a picture of a printed schedule or event and add it in to the user’s phone calendar.

“I decided to get into technology and I noticed this problem that I was having myself and I did some customer discovery and figured out that other people are having the same problem of scheduling as I am, so I decided to pursue that,” said Guin.

He started the company in September 2016, built a prototype by March 2017, and was on the market in September 2017. Pencil-In has been on the Apple application store for about six months now and currently has over 7,000 users.

Pencil-In is built using computer vision software, meaning that artificial systems can process and extract information from images. Guin plans on building a full toolbox of computer vision tools for his application. “We were first to market with this calendar type scanner,” Guin said. “Our application falls under productivity and business. We have our calendar scanner, text extraction scanner, and contact scanner on there.”

Guin’s goal is for users to replace other applications with Pencil-In. “They’ll go and delete three applications off of their phone because our application has all three of those features wrapped into one,” said Guin.  

Guin’s most popular and best selling Shutter Bomb is the color Blue, featured in this image. Photo: Courtesy of Website

 Guin’s love for photography and videography sparked his second company, Shutter Bombs.

Shutter Bombs are colored smoke bombs for photography and videography use and is marketed specifically to content creators.

“With Shutter Bombs it was where I had a passion and something I really enjoy doing. I knew a lot about the space and I took a look at the markets and availability of the product [smoke bombs] and who was selling them,” said Guin. “It was a collaboration between everything with my knowledge with branding, marketing and so I just brought all of that together.”

He likes to hangout with friends and work on the business by taking photos and videos.

“It doesn’t seem like I’m working on Shutter Bombs because it’s just like what I would usually do. That’s more of my lifestyle business,” said Guin.  

Shutter Bombs brand differentiates itself from many competitors because it is the only company that is branded to the creative crowd, said Guin.

Being a student and young entrepreneur hasn’t always been easy for Guin.“It was sometime in the Spring of his freshman year and I think he was getting disillusioned with taking the core classes that everybody had to take and he didn’t see the point of it,” said Kuuttila. “Then when he got into the pitch competition, got really excited and won one of the prizes and started to work with his mentor, you could see a big change in him.”

“The world has been against us in a lot of ways especially on this start up [Pencil-In],” said Guin.

When he tried a private round of funding it resulted in his software being stolen and nearly ended in a lawsuit, he said. He also had to switch gears when a larger company built similar software.

However, Guin said every time a challenge appears he likes to think about how to build off of it instead of just stopping.

“You can relate it to everything that I’ve done in life. Everything that I’ve ever done in life, I’ve done the hard way and reverse engineered everything and just done it backwards. It makes my life really hard honestly because I’m constantly reinventing the wheel but it’s kind of just the way I look at things,” said Guin.

“I think that’s Kyle’s motto. He tries things, they don’t always work out, he thinks of ideas that can be tried, he asks for things and he doesn’t always get told ‘yes’ but I think part of his process has been learning what he’s good at. Then, really exploiting that,” said Kuuttila.  

Guin in front of Lobo Rainforest Building Main entrance, peering towards Downtown Albuquerque. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

Guin funded Pencil-In by winning $1,000 from two STC/Innovation Academy Rainforest Pitch Competitions, a small grant from the National Science Foundation and some of his own money. In total, Pencil-In has attracted roughly $15,000 in investments.. He is currently pursuing a larger National Science Foundation grant of $50,000.

“All of that has been done through what we call free money because it was done though grants, pitch contests and out of pocket. It’s not too much but it’s a decent amount to keep it going,” said Guin.

 Shutter Bombs is financed differently and carries nearly no overhead costs, said Guin. He built the website, runs the social media and creates all of the content himself. However, he recently won $1,000 in prize money for Shutter Bombs at the December 2017 Rainforest Pitch Competition.

When he first started Shutter Bombs he didn’t stock any products and shipped directly from a distributor. Now, he is in the process of changing his manufacturing to increase Shutter Bombs’ profit margin from 33 percent to about 80 percent, said Guin.

“That one had little upfront cost, just time. You have to invest a lot of time and put your skills into what you can do and just outsource the things you can’t do,” said Guin.

Painted artwork on the wall in the lobby of the Lobo Rainforest building by Victor W. Hwang and Greg Horowitt. The art shares encouraging words and humbling reminders for entrepreneurs. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM News Port

Guin said he loves his office at Lobo Rainforest because he has 24 hour access and the building is full of experts and collaborators. He also serves as the Lobo Rainforest Student Ambassador for the Innovation Academy and STC, he helps the two organizations build a brand for the Lobo Rainforest Building.

“I think the best place to be is here at Lobo Rainforest because we have Sandia National Labs, Air Force Research Labs, Los Alamos National Labs… they’re constantly coming up with new inventions and then hiring entrepreneurs who turn those inventions into companies,” said Guin.

“He’s really a lot of fun to work with and it’s great to have that student enthusiasm and energy in the building,” said Kuuttila.   

“The thing that I see here at Lobo Rainforest is people just going for it and I think that’s great because that’s what I’m all about,” said Guin.

Guin has a different process from most entrepreneurs because he doesn’t like to create traditional business plans. “I’m definitely more on the rebellious side. If I have an idea I’m just going to run with it. I’m not going to sit there, I’m not going to pull out a legal pad and do a pros and cons list,” said Guin.   

He is motivated by sharing his knowledge with fellow entrepreneurs. As Lobo Rainforest Student Ambassador, Guin teaches students how to navigate at Lobo Rainforest in order to get the best experience possible. He also enjoys reaping the benefits of his hard work.

Guin thinking of bright ideas. The Lobby located inside of the Lobo Rainforest main entrance features a kitchen unit for convenience. Photo: Maria Gomez / NM Newsport

“I work very hard, I spent Spring Break in Australia and it’s so nice knowing that I’ve worked for this and I’m able to go live life because of that. I come back and I’m refreshed and ready to continue,” said Guin.

 In the future Guin wants to continue doing the same things just bigger and better, he said. “In the next few years I would like to be working with large companies, large amounts of money and big marketing campaigns,” said Guin. He likes to say ‘yes’ to most opportunities and is open to being an entrepreneur in many different industries.  

 “He’s a delightful young man to work with and I think a really great example for other students to aspire to, who are thinking about starting their own business. Just go for it, don’t be shy,” said Kuuttila.

“Regardless of what happens, whether we build a sustainable business or we are acquired by a bigger company or if we had to shut it down tomorrow, it built so much value for myself professionally and so much experience that nothing could have ever compared to what I’ve done,” said Guin. “It’s probably going to create opportunity for the rest of my life. I’m very happy with what I’ve done here.”

His favorite phrase is “Only chase dreams” – G-Eazy.

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