Ryan Frew grew up in Cleveland with an abundance of energy and curiosity. Those traits have helped the Xavier University grad go from high school business owner (pressure washing) to nascent entrepreneur (YounGlobe) to technical solutions expert at Microsoft and finally to founder of TinnCann, an online marketplace that facilitates one-on-one conversations with experts in fields like arts, sports, and technology.
An avid autocross racer, Frew met a professional driver who shared tips with him, which provided the inspiration for TinnCann’s launch in October 2020. “The idea definitely came from racing,” says Frew, who tinkered with the project at night while working at Microsoft. “I told my wife about it, joking that this was the right one, and she said, ‘Yeah, that actually is a good idea.’ So I erased the bad ideas off the whiteboard and eventually felt like I needed to take this on full-time.”
Frew launched TinnCann’s website from his East Walnut Hills home. In July 2021, he landed a spot in Techstars, a Chicago accelerator program that provided access to $120,000 in equity financing. When he finished, he hired Molly Meiners and Christine Lenahan to recruit experts.
“I’m happy with the months from October 2021 to today,” says Frew. “Working alone upstairs through COVID, I was less happy. We had 19 experts in January, and today we’ve more than doubled that. What I’ve learned as we add experts is to ask them what they really love to talk about. Everyone perks up when you ask that.”
Frew cites Jenn Gustetic, director of early stage innovations at NASA, as a good example. She said she loved talking to girls in K through 12 about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). “This is a person who oversees a multi-million dollar budget,” he says, “and she’s charging $50 for a 30-minute conversation because she hopes to connect with girls who don’t have access to a resource like her.”
Access at a reasonable cost (the experts keep 80 percent of fees) and ease of use are two of Frew’s priorities. The TinnCann technology is simple: Visit the site, browse the expert profiles, book the session; a Zoom link (the current version of two cans connected by a string) confirms the transaction. “If you’re a high school athlete who’s serious about track and field and want to talk to a two-time Olympic discus thrower (Alex Rose) who carried the flag for Samoa (in Tokyo in 2020), the probability of that happening was really low unless you were lucky with finances, geography, or connections,” Frew says. “Now you can do that in three clicks.”
TinnCann currently has a roster of more than 50 experts, so the next step is building demand. “We’re going to high schools and nonprofits and asking who among their coaches, students, and clients would benefit from trying this,” says Frew. “The goal is to give people connections with somebody who understands them in a way that maybe not everyone around them does.”