Header Image - Entrepreneurship Center - Kyle Henderson and Derek Carter

Bit by Bit

Note: This story was originally featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Berry magazine.

Kyle Henderson and Derek Carter taught themselves to program computers before they were old enough to drive a car, but it was professional skills developed at Berry that helped pave their road to success as high-tech entrepreneurs.  

Every successful business starts with an idea. Kyle Henderson (05C) got his at a 2009 technology conference in Chicago. 

The “Eureka!” moment came as he listened to a presenter discuss an involved and expensive research study commissioned by Yahoo that used eye-tracking and other biometrics to measure people’s experiences with online forms. As a product manager in the computing industry, Henderson immediately recognized the value of such data. But there had to be a better, cheaper, faster way to get it!

Enter YouEye, the Silicon Valley-based tech startup Henderson co-founded with Derek Carter (05C), a longtime friend dating back to their days working together as freshmen in the Berry Information Technology Students (BITS) program. Together, they developed and marketed a platform that uses in-depth video analysis of online survey participants to help clients better understand the actions, opinions and feelings of customers accessing digital products and services. 

“The core idea behind YouEye was that you can get to the better user experience faster by being able to measure not only what people do but also how they feel about doing it,” Henderson explained. 

A client list that includes Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Walmart and Ebay speaks to the strength of that idea, as does the $8 million in funding provided by private donors and strategic partner GFK, one of the world’s largest market-research organizations. 

Growing from humble roots in Carter’s spare bedroom, the company now boasts 29 full-time employees, 15 contractors and approximately 15,000 paid online study participants (with access to many more). Success didn’t come easily – both recall a long night sitting in Henderson’s kitchen hashing out everything that possibly could go wrong – but vision and hard work eventually triumphed, thanks in no small measure to the friendship and working relationship they had developed at Berry. 

“It was a great partnership right from the start,” Carter said. “We knew where our skills ended and the other’s began and where they overlapped. We knew we could trust each other in terms of the stuff we were getting done. We knew how to work with one another. We had already learned how to resolve our conflicts a long time ago in peaceful ways. 

“All of that came together so that we could hit the ground running. If Berry hadn’t given us an opportunity to work together, that wouldn’t have happened. And if we hadn’t built that friendship, that wouldn’t have happened either.” 

Kyle Henderson and Derek CarterExperiential learning 

Growing up in the midst of a technological revolution, Henderson and Carter learned the ins and outs of computer programming years before they first set foot on the Berry campus. Henderson “grew up inside a digital advertising agency” owned by his entrepreneurial father, while Carter created his first program – a “coolness factor rating system” – at the age of 12. By 14, he was building his own computers. 

At Berry, they had the opportunity to indulge their shared passion as participants in BITS, a work initiative started in the late 1990s with support from Martha Berry’s great-nephew, Randy Berry, and his wife, Nancy, in which students hone their computing skills while providing on-campus technical support for students, faculty and staff. Randy, now a college trustee, loved the idea of extending his Aunt Martha’s vision for student work into the world of high technology, and Henderson and Carter are two of the many who have benefitted from the opportunity. 

“As a working experience, it was great,” said Carter. “It was also the first time, I think, that we felt treated like adults in the way that we were allowed the freedom to tackle problems in our own way and work together.” 

Henderson praised professional skills he developed while working with departments across campus, noting, “It effectively taught me, without realizing it, how you deal with a client and build a client relationship. 

“It was literally like having our own little software company, and because of that, it prepared us for going out in the world and starting to build tech solutions for paying customers.” 

Complementing those experiences were lessons learned through Berry’s liberal arts curriculum. As a philosophy major and political science minor, Henderson developed critical-thinking and public speaking skills that he further enhanced through participation in Model United Nations. Carter, meanwhile, nurtured his love for writing as a communication major with a double concentration in speech and journalism. 

“Both programming and writing for me are ways to basically express my creativity in very fun ways,” Carter said. “It’s like building with Legos.” 

Idea to action

Graduation brought a temporary end to their professional collaboration but not their friendship. They remained in contact as Carter worked as a programming and development consultant in Atlanta and Henderson gained experience with a succession of startup companies, including a Facebook-like social media site in China. 

Their paths intersected in late 2007 when Henderson recruited Carter to join a Washington, D.C., startup. Two years later, Henderson approached Carter with another proposition – YouEye. 

“Derek and I chat all the time,” Henderson related. “And we get ideas every other day for something that could be interesting. But every once in a while, one of those ideas comes around that you just can’t shake. It just keeps coming back time and time again; this was one of those ideas.” 

Carter was initially skeptical, remarking, “Kyle, I like the idea; I think it’s impossible,” but soon he began devoting nights and weekends to developing the programming solutions necessary to make it feasible. 

“The road has been so difficult technologically,” he acknowledged. “It’s been every bit as difficult as I foresaw way back, which was actually astounding to me.” 

While Carter worked to overcome technical obstacles, Henderson went about the task of recruiting financial support for the venture, becoming “the guy that you saw everywhere” during the year leading up to the debut of their first working prototype at the 2011 LAUNCH conference in San Francisco for promising tech startups. 

Recalling his pitch to potential investors, Henderson said, “I was just very, very up front about what I was good at, what I knew, what I needed to know more of and what I had absolutely no concept of. That went a very long way in building relationships with people wanting to help us.” 

New insights

In the five years since finishing as runner-up for best design and product at that initial LAUNCH conference, YouEye has been able to carve its own unique niche by streamlining the traditional research process while also providing a new take on the data being collected. 

Surveys are conducted entirely online with participants using their own webcams and camera phones, resulting in lower costs and faster turnaround. The video is then processed by the company’s proprietary analytics platform, which not only quantifies actions but also feelings and mood by considering such factors as tone of voice and facial expression. This information is of great value to companies hoping to improve their customer experience, but Henderson imagines even broader future applications. 

“What’s interesting is that the core problem YouEye works on isn’t about making websites better; it’s about helping computer systems understand human experience,” he explained. “I really think that YouEye is collecting a data set that is going to be helpful in creating artificial intelligence because it’ll help computers interpret human reaction and behavior.” 

Because that data is collected from a dizzying (and growing) array of consumer device platforms, the process of development is never-ending for the YouEye team. 

“Our platform is kind of like a living body,” said Carter, who serves as the company’s chief technology officer. “We’re constantly replacing and updating different parts of it. It’s a living, breathing thing.”

More to come

While he continues to serve on the YouEye board of directors, Henderson – who in 2014 was named to a list of 40 rising stars under the age of 40 in Silicon Valley – is actively exploring new opportunities in the Bay Area. He and Carter also continue to share ideas with an eye toward future collaborations. 

“A standard item of conversation for us is, ‘Hey, let’s talk about the ideas that we’ve come up with,’” Carter noted. “So it’s very likely that even after YouEye, we’ll try another endeavor.”

Editor’s Note: Another endeavor might arise sooner rather than later for Henderson and Carter. Shortly after signing off on the information in this story, the duo announced the sale of YouEye to UserZoom, an industry-leading user experience research and testing platform with offices in four countries. Congratulations!