You need to surround yourself with smart people who share your passion for the product and the mission.
By Adam Sylvain
Entrepreneur Eben Pingree T’13 has always championed a good story. After graduating from Williams College, he interned for his favorite author, Dave Eggers. Pingree then moved to another publishing house where he worked on a book about his childhood hero and rock legend Bruce Springsteen.
Although he ultimately decided the publishing career path was not for him, Pingree’s belief in the power of stories to bring people together has continued to inspire his entrepreneurial endeavors. His latest venture, Kinsome, aims to build stronger bonds between kids and their grandparents through a social journaling app powered by AI technology.
“Rather than traditional journaling, which can often feel like work, Kinsome provides a conversational experience powered by AI to learn what a given kid likes to talk about and coach them on providing thoughtful, thorough updates for their grandparents,” explains Pingree. “The app then sends those audio updates to the grandparent along with appended prompts tailored specifically to what the child covered that day.”
To illustrate, Pingree recalls a play that his son performed in at summer camp which was all about U.S. presidents. After sharing this update on the platform, the app prompted his son’s grandfather, Pingree’s dad, to share any memories he has of a U.S. president from his childhood. As it turned out, he had met President JFK when he was in the Boy Scouts. “My son had never heard that story and frankly, I never heard a lot of the details of that story, so an exercise like that becomes this great building block in the foundation of a deeper relationship,” says Pingree.
Pingree and his team are also experimenting with other ways to leverage the technology, including generational translation. For example, to help a grandparent contextualize a reference to Taylor Swift or, conversely, help a grandchild understand the cultural significance of Elvis Presley.
Kinsome is Pingree’s third startup, which will officially launch in early September 2023. He still fondly recalls the first product he created while at Tuck, a trivia app called Glory Days—a subtle nod to his Springsteen fandom.
“I was with a group of friends at the Norwich Inn, and we were all sitting around playing Trivial Pursuit,” says Pingree. “At some point, we started talking about how much more fun the game would be if the questions were about our shared memories as a group of friends.”
With this inspiration, Pingree set out to build what he describes as a “playful” app that made it fun and easy to create a set of personalized trivia questions. Glory Days ultimately morphed into another company he founded called Syft, which created a platform to seamlessly revisit old photos and cherished memories with friends and family by automatically sourcing that content from other apps.
Before starting his work on Kinsome in October 2022, Pingree spent nearly a decade in product management roles, first at SessionM, and later EverTrue, where he eventually became the company’s chief product officer.
We asked Pingree to reflect on key lessons he has learned during his entrepreneurial journey.
On the Inspiration Behind Kinsome
My mother and father-in-law both received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis during the same week. As I started to learn more about the disease, I was blown away by the evidence that loneliness and isolation are closely tied to cognitive decline. I started talking with older people to learn more about their experiences and what kept coming up was this desire to have deeper relationships with their grandkids. Many recalled having grandparents who played a big role in their lives, and they felt like they didn’t have that opportunity. I want to make sure my kids get to know their grandparents as well as they can by capturing some of their stories, memories, and wisdom in a way that solidifies that bond.
On the Importance of Mission
The mission is critical. You need to have a mission that everyone involved is passionate about and is willing to move mountains for. In my experience, that collective energy and focus is what makes it possible to endure the inevitable highs and lows that come with launching a startup.
On Building the Right Team
You need to surround yourself with smart people who share your passion for the product and the mission. That starts with building a great team and at Kinsome I’m fortunate to have two terrific cofounders, Mike Gerbush and Ashley Hocking. It also extends to a network of mentors, advisers, and investors who can offer encouragement and create the runway needed to build and iterate on a high-quality product.
On the Impact of the Tuck Network
The person who has probably played the biggest role in setting me on this path is Lars Albright T’05, who has offered invaluable support as an adviser and investor going back to my first venture. I also worked for him at his company, SessionM, which taught me a lot about product management and what it’s like to go through pretty insane growth as a company leading up to its acquisition by Mastercard. Now at Kinsome, we have more than ten Dartmouth or Tuck alumni who are investors and another three or four who have joined as formal advisers. It’s hard to imagine where we would be without that support.
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