Tokens Lands in Lincoln
In a seemingly short period of time, Walter Pitchford went from player to coach.
While playing for the NBA, Pitchford, a former Huskers basketball player, had an idea. He thought about a deal app which could help customers easily use discounts at various businesses.
Pitchford texted a friend with connections in the tech industry and quickly decided to start the app, which was outsourced to Intellectsoft, a company in Palo Alto.
With development for Tokens in motion, Pitchford decided to return to Nebraska to helm his new business. He said his love for Nebraska remained after college and he treats Lincoln like home.
“I’ve really enjoyed being here,” Pitchford said. “It was bittersweet that I had to depart from here in the first place, due to some family concerns. If I never came to Nebraska, I’m not sure I would have been doing this business. I have so much support from the fans, my Lincoln family here. That’s one thing, [I feel like] I’m giving back.”
Once settled back into Lincoln, Pitchford met Aaron Cornwell, a Wesleyan graduate who connected with Pitchford over attending the same church.
“I was waiting for a ride at 12th and P, and overheard Walter say to someone that he was taking a business class,” Cornwell said. “We crossed the street together and I jokingly asked if he wanted to start a business. He responded that he already had started a business, we chatted and exchanged numbers.”
After a few meetings, Pitchford asked Cornwell to join Tokens as a co-founder. Eventually Cornwell introduced Pitchford to Platte Gruber, another acquaintance from church. Soon after, Gruber also joined Tokens as a developer and co-founder.
As Pitchford was settling in Lincoln, he approached Paul Jarrett, founder of Bulu Inc. After setting up a meeting, Jarrett set up Pitchford with office space in the Bulu headquarters.
In addition to working in the Bulu space, Pitchford credits Jarrett as a mentor and major influence on his business.
“He helps me shorten my learning curve and he humbles me every day,” Pitchford said. “I’m always humbled coming in here. It’s a blessing that this has ever happened.”
While Pitchford found influences and support in Lincoln, his family’s history of running a business played a driving role in the creation of Tokens. Pitchford’s grandfather was one of five co-founders of the Black McDonald’s Operators Association in the 1970s. Ray Croc, founder of the McDonald’s franchise, even attended the grand opening of Pitchford’s grandfather’s restaurant.
“There’s business all throughout our family,” Pitchford said. “My parents worked for my grandfather, [and]that’s where that business part comes from and it’s been a part of me [my whole life].”
Tokens now hosts seven interns with plans to move out of the Bulu headquarters and into a new office space in downtown Lincoln soon.
“The mentality of having a team is like being a coach,” Pitchford said. “Your mindset has to be you’re a coach, not a player. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to transition into.”
Pitchford recently announced he will merge his two positions as he returns to basketball once again with the Georgian Super League. He said he plans to oversee and invest in Tokens from overseas while his co-founders run day-to-day operations in Lincoln.
Pitchford said starting his business and leading it through ups and downs has made him sharper and tough-willed. Something he said he couldn’t have done without the encouragement he’s received.
“Business has helped my mental game,” Pitchford said. “Business helps make you tougher. It is no joke. I’m just thankful to be supported.”
Founded in 1967, the Downtown Lincoln Association provides services and champions initiatives for maintaining and enhancing our vibrant downtown. Our vision is to create an energetic downtown environment where we live, learn, work, invest and play. DLA has evolved into a multi-faceted organization supporting a wide range of programs and activities including maintenance, economic development and advocacy.