Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 50)
This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Ben Hart, deputy director of GOED, and Mark Pittman, CEO of Blyncsy.
Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Ben Hart: (0:22) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m Ben Hart, deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. My guest today is Mark Pittman, the CEO of Blyncsy. Mark, it is an honor to have you with us today. How are you doing?
Mark Pittman: (0:36) Very well. Thanks, Ben. And, the honor’s all mine.
Ben Hart: (0:39) Well, we were aware of Blyncsy for some time. I know those in our listening audience cannot take in the gloriousness of your background, but I love to see the University of Utah campus behind you. Are you a Utah guy? Is there a connection there?
Mark Pittman: (0:53) I am a Utah grad. A Utah man am I.
Ben Hart: (0:57) Well, we love to have that. We love to feature the University of Utah, and all of our great universities, of course. This technology that you’ve been working on at Blyncsy is awesome.
We’re excited to dive into this, but tell us a little bit about yourself before we do that. Tell us a little bit about your growing up about your entrepreneurship journey, how you ended up at Blyncsy. Tell us a little bit about your history.
Mark Pittman: (1:22) Sure. I grew up in a military family. I spent most of the first half of my life, throughout Europe, primarily in Germany.
I come from a kind of dual citizen household. My mom is German. My dad was a soldier. We moved to Utah about 17 years ago or so. Whole new worlds for me, being kind of dropped into the oasis that is the Salt Lake Metro Valley. I went to Layton High School. I’m a proud Lancer. That led me to the University of Utah, and the University of Utah inspired me to start the company and ultimately get us where we are today. The funny roundabout journey for me is after my undergraduate degrees; I went to the law school at the University of Utah campus. In law school, they teach you how to identify risk and run from it. And sure enough, here I am, diving head deep into risk. I have my MBA to thank for that and the Lassonde Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Utah campus. And Troy d’Ambrosio there who inspired me to build something on my own.
The University of Utah became our first customer and made that a success story. That gave me the motivation I needed to take the big leap. I go from the comfort of school and student loans to the entrepreneurial journey that is a startup and its risks.
Ben Hart: (2:37) That is awesome. And love that you’re a Davis County person, at least born and bred. My kids will be Layton Lancers as well. We live up in the Layton area, and it is a great high school. I am fortunate enough to know a lot about Blyncsy and your background. I watched the progression of the company over the last couple of years.
It has been a cool trajectory that you’ve been on. The platform is super unique and really intuitive. I wonder if you wouldn’t mind giving us just a little bit of the background about Blyncsy, about the platform and company’s journey.
Mark Pittman: (3:11) Absolutely. In 2014, I got stuck at a traffic light leaving the University of Utah campus. And that’s when I had the light bulb moment. The aha moment. In fact, the light bulb was about the traffic light. I was stuck at this traffic light late in the winter; it was fairly icy out. I thought to myself, Hey, why doesn’t the traffic light know that I’m here? If we have all the information on how people move and behave couldn’t we optimize people’s movement? How do we get them from point A to point B faster, safest, most efficiently? That’s what started my journey to asking questions. We have some incredible partners here at the Utah Department of Transportation. Many Utahns may be surprised to know that UDOT is considered the most innovative and progressive department of transportation in the nation. In fact, we lead in almost every category. From an innovation perspective, UDOT’s been an innovative partner of ours to accelerate that.
And so we thought about the movement of people and how we optimize for safety and efficiency. That became our tagline: movement data intelligence. Our mission is to drive safety and efficiency in our communities. And what that means is we collect data on how people move and behave.
Now we do that in a very anonymous aggregate format that allows people to have their journey improved. So you may see Blyncsy in a variety of circumstances. You may see a little travel time signs next to the construction projects in the freeway rerouting you or telling you how long a detour will take. Or an alternate route is going to take to reduce the congestion and the travel time that it takes you to get through that. And also has the secondary effect of reducing rear-end collision risk and increasing safety in our communities.
We’re doing a variety of projects like that across the country. In fact, we’re now operating in 12 states and Canada. Some of our other more well-known projects include the Sundance Film Festival for the last four years, projects at the University of Utah, where we’re helping to optimize mobility on the university campus.
Our focus is how people move and behave and how we use that information to make our customer’s experience better. And those customers are typically taxpayers. Government represents the majority of our business. We focus on driving efficiency in those spaces. How do we make governments smarter, safer, more efficient? And how do we do that with empirical data that we can use to drive proof driven data points that help us measure the return on our investment?
Ben Hart: (5:23) It’s fascinating. And for Sundance, for example, you know there’s a lot of good work that goes into trying to guess and understand what the impact of the Sundance Film Festival economically is. But what Blyncsy brings is a great differentiator. It’s no longer guessing. It’s understanding and knowing what that real impact is in terms of movement where people are at. You don’t have to wait for the tax dollars, quote-unquote. But I think at least in that example, it shows that a lot of times when we do our best kind of guessing and modeling and trying to get things right, we’re still way off.
But when you have real tangible data, that’s powerful. That’s when you can make really impactful decisions.
Mark Pittman: (6:14) You’re exactly right. That’s what our customers see. They want to understand how people move and behave. So let me give you a few examples. Sundance is a really clear one.
Previously, a lot of intercept surveys were being done in which people were being stopped inlines. They were being asked where they came from and how long they were there. People don’t always want to divulge the information. Maybe there are things that aren’t popular to divulge. There are social pressures. An example might be, Hey, where do you get lunch today? While the reality may be that you stopped at McDonald’s on the way up. You may want to say, Oh, we stopped at the local restaurant on main street. Those are the types of information data sets that often tend to get lost.
And there’s also a cost associated with that. Hiring people to stop someone, asking them what the survey results are, compiling those results and determining the accuracy of these results is very expensive. So comparatively, Blyncsy can assess how that information is compiled anonymously in an aggregate format that covers over 80% of the population virtually without anyone doing anything.
Ben Hart: (7:10) It is amazing. The other thing I would say about Blyncsy is as we look at some of the really cool companies that have pivoted, I think that’s the best way to say it. The companies that have pivoted have become very relevant during these pandemic times. Twenty years from now, people are going to listen to this. And they’re not going to understand the intensity of this pandemic, but we get it now we’re living through it. But Blyncsy is one of those great companies that has pivoted and is really becoming super relevant in terms of what you can offer to other businesses and people involved in tracing and other things.
I don’t know if you want to talk a little bit about what you guys are doing during the pandemic and your offerings.
Mark Pittman: (7:49) Absolutely. Well, Ben, let me tell you the background story. It’s a bit of a funny one. In April of 2016, I was sitting on the runway in Austin, Texas waiting to taxi to the gate, and I’d been watching the movie Contagion, a movie we have probably all seen recently. I started putting two and two together and said, “Hey, look, one day we’re going to be using this movement data that Blyncsy collects to understand how people interact with each other, how long they’ve been around each other, and whether or not they’ve been exposed to a contagion or a potential virus.”
In 2016, four years before the COVID-19 pandemic, we filed the U.S. patent on that technology. We were actually granted that patent in 2019. And then, of course when 2020 popped up, we were kind of cautious at first. We weren’t sure if this was real. I think all of us were kind of wondering.
It was kind of this January, February, March, period when it wasn’t quite clear how big of a deal this would be. How viral the contagion was going to be. We said, look, I think it’s time for us to step up. So we’ve been working on this technology for effectively four years. And most of the other folks you’ve seen in this space have popped up a cottage industry around the pandemic. But Blyncsy has been thinking about the movement of people and these types of interaction for years. And so, this left us in a prime position to help. We launched our first product called Mercury. Mercury is a contact tracing product that you can employ in state office buildings, university campuses and a variety of other spaces. And what it does is it uses the existing wifi infrastructure that’s already in place to provide you an anonymous form of contact tracing.
Picture it like this. You walk onto the University of Utah campus. You log into the wifi and you can accept the terms and conditions to join the contact tracing program. From there on out, every classroom that you go to is logged. Every person that you interact with is logged all on and protected in a privacy-focused environment. And why this is important is we don’t require anything to be downloaded to your phone. We don’t require any GPS information on you. The system is limited physically to the environment that you’re in. So it makes people feel comfortable when it comes to the issue of privacy. And it also makes them feel secure being in those spaces.
Hey, we know that Blyncsy can notify us within 30 minutes or less if we’ve been exposed to someone that tested positive for COVID-19. We can get a text message or send you an email. It comes to us quickly. We don’t have to feel social shame for it. We can be notified that there’s an issue we can choose to self-quarantine, get tested and understand if that exposure puts us at risk.
So that’s the focus of our product. And we’ve started rolling this out now across the country. In fact, states like California recently passed a law, AB-685, that requires employers to contact trace in their offices. If they don’t do that within 24 hours, they can be shut down by California OSHA and potentially even fined and have to keep records of this.
It’s becoming an onerous burden for a lot of these employers. Take into account the CDC effectively set the standard of care for what employers need to be doing in their environments. And that does include contact tracing. So now you as an employer, you’ve got to basically be a semi epidemiologist. You’ve got to engage in contact tracing and support your employees. And the burden is really high. So for a very low monthly cost, Blyncsy can use the wifi system it’s already in your office space to automate the contact tracing process and protect you in this compliant rich environment making sure that your employees are safe to make sure you can continue functioning. And of course, to ensure that we can stop the spread of the virus.
Ben Hart: (11:24) Phenomenal. You do see little cottage industries popping up around several different aspects of the pandemic. And I think everyone wonders what’s the new normal in an economic sense. What’s the new economy going to look like?
I think it’s funny because people are coming late to the game and understanding this technology just as the pandemic has started, but you’re knee-deep in this already.You’re poised to come out of whatever the next step is stronger than anybody.
Mark Pittman: (11:54) Yeah, absolutely. Ben, I think this has also changed the world, right? We were caught unaware or realizing that we were unprepared for something of this scale. That’s not going to bring the reality in the future, at least hopefully. Universities and office buildings, schools in particular, are all changing ventilation systems, seating charts and sanitizers. I jokingly say that I’ll watch a show on Netflix. I think to myself, Hey that behavior is not COVID safe, right. They’re gathering in a group or I’ll watch an old movie. It’s a whole new world for us today. Well, imagine I’m getting on a plane or walking downtown without a face mask anymore. It’s a whole different world.
We believe that a lot of businesses, particularly large employers, people who have high-risk populations like university campuses or consolidated environments like convention centers and conference centers, will have technology like this in place going forward.
Whether it’s the flu or COVID-19, the technology has applications for other things around safety and efficiency, smarter heating and cooling and other things that we’re building out. Providing this type of safety and security application in an anonymous, privacy-focused robust way, I think will be a new normal.
Ben Hart: (13:00) And you have been able to crack the nut in terms of security. That’s been one of the arguments with contact tracing is they don’t want to give up privacy, but you guys have found the right way where this is voluntary, and you’re not taking away anybody’s ability to make a decision. And yet you’re still able to do it effectively. That is really impressive.
Mark Pittman: (13:20) We’re headquartered in one of the most conservative states in the country. So we’ve always been very privacy conscious, and that’s coming from the top-down. My focus in law school, before starting the company, was privacy and trying to understand how that would impact our future.
So in 2016, we worked with a variety of groups, including the ACLU and Libertas and, the Utah Department of Transportation, and a variety of other partners to pass one of the first data privacy bills at the state level. House Bill 369 at the time really the first of its kind data privacy act in the state of Utah.
And we helped draft a lot of the language because we want it to be champions of the cause. Privacy is very important to me. And it’s very important to our company. We believe that the players who do it best will win the most market share overall. And that’s really been our focus. How can we do this in a way that doesn’t make people feel icky or sticky about it?
I have this experience all the time where I’ll talk about something with my mom or sister will say, Hey, I’m looking for KitchenAid for Christmas. And all of a sudden, I get a targeted ad. It gives you that feeling that people are watching and that’s the opposite of what we wanted to have.
We wanted to have an environment in which you knew exactly what was happening. Everything was controlled. It was limited to the physical environments that you consented to be in. And we were as aggregated, anonymous as possible at all times.
Ben Hart: (14:40) It’s incredible. I just think about something and I start getting ads for it anymore.
It’s incredible how that works. It really is an incredible system that you’ve got built. You’ve cracked the nut on security. I mean, it’s not just about the big guys in government, but you’re really helping mom and pop in smaller shops as well. Ensuring compliance is getting to be huge. That’s always a big part of not just the pandemic world but I think moving forward it’s not just going to be about what is the standard of care. It’s going to be more about what we can do to make our customers feel safe. There’s going to be a pretty high standard that businesses will have to achieve, whether through regulation or by their own choice. That’s the way the market’s going.
And you guys are ahead of that curve. So what’s the future of Blyncsy?
Mark Pittman: (15:30) Movement element is our core focus, So whether it’s our original product Pulse, which was focused on improving safety, reliability and efficiency on our roadways or one of our newest products that we were preparing to launch this year prior to the pandemic and had to put on pause called Payver. The technology uses your cell phone to convert your cell phone into a real-time HD video collection device to advance the connected autonomous vehicle future. So imagine the ways of video data having real-time HD video data processing, potholes, construction, traffic cones, accidents, congestion on any major road at any point in time and provide that information in real-time to organizations like UDOT and other agencies who can use that information to respond quickly. And now, of course, to Mercury, our newest product line, the contact tracing product. So we’re focused now on taking these efficiency scales and taking them to the next level. We understand that Mercury will have a clear deliverable for a lot of our customers for a long time.
So how can we leverage this infrastructure to do even more? So we’re working on applications to take that technology, not just to do contact tracing with it, but provide occupancy data for safety and efficiency in buildings. So from a fire code perspective or an earthquake hazard perspective, how do we know how many people were in a building at a time?
How do we use that information to adjust heating and cooling schedules? For environments like universities, how can we use it to optimize classroom scheduling to reduce the burden on parking lots? How do we adjust and move janitorial staff and others to drive efficiency and cost savings in our buildings and spaces?
That the future is AI. We’re really in a machine learning world today. This concept of AI, I think is still a little bit off. We’re really headed in that direction aggressively, and COVID has put a new spin on things. It’s helped us understand that we can drive a lot of efficiencies from the current spaces we have.
There’s a lot of work from home opportunity, but it also means that our time together will be that much more precious. And how do we optimize that to approve the experience that people have in those spaces, reduce the impact on the environment, and of course also on our pocketbooks?
Ben Hart: (17:36) That is phenomenal.
The future really is going to be an incredible world. I guess you look at the technology we have now, and we already have a lot of things that didn’t exist 20 years ago. I look at Mercury, I look at the direction you guys are going. It’s going to be really phenomenal.
It’s neat to see all of these technological advancements. Mark, If you wouldn’t mind giving us a little bit of a feel for developing and building a company here in Utah. Hopefully, you’ve had access to capital, access to talent and you mentioned the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center.
Hopefully, you’ve had a good experience growing a business here.
Mark Pittman: (18:16) Ben, we couldn’t have started a company in a better place. From a variety of areas. It’s very fortuitous that we started the company here. One being home to the best department of transportation in the country got us off to the best start that we could have.
We have some of the best talent, lots of U of U grads if you will and others. Access to incredible talent. And, of course, we have access to a government that’s very supportive of the growth of startups and environments. So we can’t thank GOED enough for their support of Blyncsy throughout the years, you’ve really helped us accelerate our business. Being able to hire more people and drive an economic impact back to the state. But we’ve also directed capital here. Most of our investors come from the Salt Lake City Valley or from the Park City area. And we’ve really had everything that we needed to be a successful company.
It’s not just in the state, but also drives our products right into 12 other states and even internationally into Canada now. Thank you to GOED. We’d love to provide a discount code to anyone who wants to use Mercury as a reward for listening to today’s podcast. So you can use the code GOED2020 when you check out with your Mercury product. Thank GOED for that because they’ve been incredible to us and many other businesses in the state in ensuring the success and vitality of our economic development.
Ben Hart: (19:25) We love that. We love being part of a discount code as well. That’s always a good thing. So people want to get more information on Mercury and Blyncsy. Is it just blyncsy.com? What is the website?
Mark Pittman: (19:39) www.blyncsy.com. Blyncsy is a tricky spelling. It’s B L Y N C S Y.com.
Ben Hart: (19:45) Perfect,Well, we are ecstatic to have you in the state of Utah. We want you to continue to grow here and to be successful here as we want with every company in this state. Blyncsy is on the cutting edge and we could not be more honored to have Blyncsy and the new product rollout for Mercury happening. We hope it’s a national and international success. And so we hope you come back often and tell us about the amazing things happening with Blyncsy. It’s been an honor to have you here with us today. Mark. Any final thoughts?
Mark Pittman: (20:15) Well, thanks, Ben. Thanks again for having us, and thanks for all the hard work that you do for the citizens in the state of Utah and the country. We’re a driving engineer in the west and we have ripple effects across the country. The work we do and GOED is a large part of the reason we’re successful as we are as a state.
Ben Hart: (20:30) Well, thank you, Mark. Blyncsy is one of the coolest companies you will ever get to know. Go check out their website, blyncsy.com. Thank you for spending a few minutes with us today listening to this podcast, we hope you found it beneficial. We’ll look forward to our next podcast experience. Thank you.
Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.