Listen First, Stay True, and Pivot When You Need to: Lessons from a Utah Startup

This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue

by Kamel Greene, Founder and CEO, Poly Platform

For a lot of people, college is a time for social explosion. But in Provo, Utah, in 2015, this was not the case for me, and I discovered a need for an engagement platform. As a football transfer from Washington State University to Brigham Young University, I found myself in a new area with a new culture where, and as a non-LDS student-athlete, I was outside of the social circles of BYU’s campus. I attempted to find clubs and activities of interest to me, but it was unclear where I should look to find such campus resources. I struggled to adjust to my first year at BYU. I felt alone, but no one would have known. On social media, I had 5,000 followers, but in reality, I only knew two people who attended BYU.

What I was lacking was genuine social interaction, and I was not alone. The latest research shows that 70% of university students report feeling lonely. Such feelings of isolation not only exist among students, but among adults as well, and challenges with mental health have become a public health crisis.

I decided to build Mesh, a mobile app that seeks to address the growing lack of genuine social communication among college students. As I built the Mesh App, I began graduate school at BYU, where I received my Master’s in Public Administration. During my time in graduate school, I interned for a local municipality and realized that lack of engagement, connection, and organizational communication were not isolated to universities and students. Cities and companies also sought to connect with their residents and employees. Upon that realization, I pivoted the Mesh App into Poly, a robust platform that leverages organizational engagement.

Poly exists to give organizations a central hub to have a voice without the noise of social media. Updates and events on social media get lost among others’ posts. Poly provides an exclusive platform for the members of the organization to be engaged as a community without outside noise.

The platform allows organizations to schedule events and send mobile push notifications to the members of their organization, as well as conduct surveys and polls with real-time data analytics for data driven decision making.

Running a startup in Utah has been an adventure. Utah tech is on a booming growth trajectory. Even being from Silicon Valley, I wouldn’t be a CEO right now if it weren’t for the resources that Utah’s tech community has afforded me. There is a wealth of resources here, and I’ve received help from so many different people in Utah’s close-knit tech community.

Along this adventure, I’ve learned three lessons. The first lesson is to always listen first. Don't do all the talking. Entrepreneurial personalities sometimes tend to fall into talking a lot about their ideas, but you can always learn more by listening.

The second lesson I’ve learned is to not necessarily conform to the norms of society. In order to be a successful entrepreneur you have to go your own way. You need to listen to people, but you also need to know what your values are and not stray from those. Learn what you can from others, but make sure the insights you take away will help you accomplish your specific goals.

The third lesson is to be adaptable. You always have to be ready to pivot. Poly started out as Mesh, which targeted Universities as a B2C mobile app, and we shifted to Poly in order to serve more organizations more effectively. When faced with a challenge, you have to be ready to adapt in order to succeed. Poly wouldn’t be where it is today if we didn’t adapt in order to provide a better solution to our customers.

Poly Platform is the powerful organizational engagement platform that it is today thanks to the Utah tech community and their support for local startups, as well as the Poly team, my own experiences and willingness to learn and adapt along the way, while staying true to my purpose.

Our mission statement at Poly is to diminish isolation and develop a better sense of belonging across organizations we work with by providing a robust platform where people can connect with their organizations and communities while enhancing organizational administrators' voice. We're excited to keep working with Utah cities, schools, and companies to accomplish this mission.

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