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Meet Kyle Null

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kyle Null. 

Hi Kyle, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’m originally from Mishawaka, Indiana. Which is directly next to the more well-known city, South Bend (Notre Dame). I went to Indiana University, Bloomington where I received a degree in Informatics with a focus in Music Production in 2012. My original dream was to become a video game music composer, which didn’t quite work out for a young guy living in the Midwest. While I was composing music for indie video games and student films, I found a job working for Montessori Academy Edison Lakes (MAEL) in Mishawaka, Indiana as their IT Director and Informatics teacher. 

Which ended up leading me down the path that I’m on now. 

Growing up, my dad ran a nonprofit healthcare consulting business when and my older brother & I were his IT guys, so I always found it incredibly fulfilling to pleasantly surprise people by sincerely helping out & creatively solving problems. 

When I started working for the MAEL, zero Montessori schools had tech programs. I was hired on, simply enough, as an IT guy. I was to fix things in the most general sense. The teachers and administrative people needed computers, and I was there to do typical networking, server management, etc. With all of the routine, IT work taken care of in short order, I recognized other immediate needs. The first was that students had little to no access to technology whatsoever. 

I began facilitating computer classes for the students. It went well, and the school awarded me a $5000 budget to build a humble computer lab to serve their 300 kids. I bought parts and built fifteen computers from scratch. While doing so, some of the students would peak in and bravely curious would be rewarded with learning what I was doing. In Montessori, they have an open-door policy. So, students can wander via their sense of wonder. Which led me to developing an “open lab” where students and later teachers & parents could swing by and help. 

I knew that if the $5000 budget was renewed annually, I could gradually upgrade the computers piece by piece, year by year. It was somewhat of a survivalist strategy, but that’s the same kind of strategy I’d been using since I was a teenager building custom PCs like hot rods with my older brother in the garage. Working completely from scratch was a blessing because I had the benefit of a blank slate. 

There was such interest in my computer classes & open lab that I had to organize everything into a proper curriculum to keep things on track. This came together rapidly and felt natural, effortless. 

However, what was extremely challenging is Montessori schools have two conservative programs, AMI and AMS, and a more liberal program, MACTE. The former are fundamentally anti-technology — as are many of the teachers that went through the program. So, I always felt I was leading a technology revolution through the school. 

Later, I received a lot of kudos for all of this, but many of my fellow teachers were extremely skeptical of me when I arrived, and later became my biggest advocates. A significant percentage of the teachers had never really used computers, and I often found myself teaching them right next to the kids. There was a fifty-five-year-old teacher who had never once used a computer. I was teaching young and old alike the difference between a double and single click by making reference to the Little Caesar’s slogan, “Pizza Pizza!” The tech program, like Montessori programs in general, was multi-disciplinary and became highly synergistic. It brought us all together, and adding a technology component acted like a glue. It was the missing piece that made everything more immediately relevant to students for whom digital technology is a huge, inevitable, inescapable part of daily life. 

In Montessori education, they famously teach kids how to hold chopsticks before they learn how to hold a pencil, and as a result, they learn how to use pencils earlier than their non-Montessori peers. If you’re training kids how to use a pencil when they’re three, why not teach them how to use a keyboard and mouse, which they’ll probably end up using more of anyway? We had toddlers learning correct hand placement on computer keyboards without connecting them to a computer. I and other teachers would build our curricula around a monthly theme–say “outer space”–and foster connections between science, art, math, technology, etc. The focus, and what the administration loved, was on solving problems with technology, through a happy blend of digital and analog. 

Parents, lead teachers, the head of school, and school board began taking notice and saw the growth of what I was building and they decided to have the curriculum and open lab concept I developed added to their dual AMI and AMS accreditation. At the time this was unprecedented, and a huge deal. I called it Montessori Informatics. The curriculum had two objectives: to teach students how to teach themselves using technology, and for them to creatively use technology to solve problems. It grew into this perfect blend of analog and digital learning, which stemmed from allowing students to break things so that we could all troubleshoot fix them together. 

Meanwhile, I was leading afterschool programs at both MAEL and South Bend Boys and Girls Club for foster children as a volunteer. Music production was one of my more popular ones. I brought all of my professional gear & instruments in each day and the students would get to learn how to write, record, and edit music to eventually become completely mastered & finished product. 

Around then I randomly met a business manager in Michigan who was required to entirely replace all of her technology hardware every two years. This led to the donation of seventy-five computers, four heavy-duty office-grade printers, approximately $25,000 worth of ink (sooo much ink), and enough miscellaneous hardware that we had to store the overflow in the gym’s ball closet. I was personally driving U-Hauls to Michigan and back to pick all this all of this stuff up. 

Now that the ball was really rolling, I focused on preparing the older students for high school. I especially wanted the eighth graders to have laptops. So, we ran a tech fundraiser, and that netted upwards of $30k for technology on top of what we’d already pulled together. My eighth graders got their laptops, and the rest of the students got a seriously upgraded lab. We installed a projector and connected everyone to a Google Chromecast so they could stream their class projects from their phones for the whole school to see. I had to petition the school’s board to allow the kids to carry their phones in school, and again, to the amazement of all, they approved it. At this point, we felt unstoppable. I started enrolling in a plethora of Microsoft programs for free stuff for schools. Between our non-profit and educational status, we were getting approved for grants left and right. Microsoft gave us $25k of free software through TechSoup. It was thrilling to surf that momentum. 

We branched into extracurriculars when I proposed an esports after-school program. 60% of my junior high students wanted in, and predictably, the parents didn’t get it. Parents generally don’t understand video games. Stereotypes abound, and it’s hard for a lot of people to see video games as having any potential relevance to real life. On the other hand, by now it’s a standard Hollywood plot device that sports coaches teach their players about life through sport. I wanted to try to do a similar thing through video games: teamwork, discipline, fulfilling a role, dealing with frustration and loss, managing difficult people. I also wanted to teach kids how to create and stream content. Being a streamer was just becoming an actual career; the first person to make a million dollars streaming was right around then. 

I had to get up in front of the Montessori Board of Directors and give a presentation about Esports. Everyone is still a little confused about esports today; people were profoundly confused by esports ten years ago. I had to explain: this is real, it’s a thing, and it’s more relevant to these kids’ lives than a chess or strategy club. The most important thing, and what won the board over, was teaching kids balance. It was about video games being a fun part of social life. Ultimately, the board let us form an after-school League of Legends club. To get that approved in the year 2013 was a huge deal. 

Looking back, I didn’t realize how well I had done with the students. It wasn’t until I had long left the school to start my marketing business and out of nowhere, I started receiving emails and DMs on Instagram from students heading off to college and telling me how big of an influence I was on them. Moments that make the sacrifices to be a teacher 100% worth it. 

At the start of 2016, I met my wife on Okcupid.com, who was living in Warsaw, Poland at the time. I decided to drop it all to move to Poland to be with her. It was there I started my creative agency called Nullen, conveniently derived from my last name (Null) it means, to nourish. 

The from the beginning has always been to help small businesses and nonprofits creatively solve their problems & figure out how to be better versions of themselves. Taking everything, I learned from growing a local community and putting it into everything I do. 

In Poland, I volunteered to help over 200 local startup companies through the NXTWAW program. I worked with founds on their marketing, branding, and experience design. Many of the businesses are still flourishing to this day. 

Then in 2019, after living in Poland for 3 years, my wife and I moved to Cincinnati via her company Procter & Gamble, which is where we currently preside. 

My current clientele consists of small businesses, nonprofits, and Montessori programs throughout the United States and locally in the tri-state (Giving Voice Foundation, One Stop Liquors in KY, and Potere Life Coaching). I hope in sharing my story that I can continue to get opportunities to help local tri-state communities grow via their small businesses, nonprofits, and educational programs. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The biggest challenge has been moving away from the network I spent years build to now being forced to start from scratch in Cincinnati. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I provide affordable professional digital marketing, web design, branding, and experience design services that increase the capacity & capability of small businesses, nonprofits, and educational programs. 

What sets the work I do apart is I offer sustainable solutions that make it possible for my clients to become self-reliant. So, wherever your business currently is, whether you’re just starting a brand-new business, or are 30 years in, I can evaluate what you need and I can provide you with the exact service you need for the most ideal price possible. But then, the day you want to empower an employee or yourself I’ll teach you how to do it with the objective that I’ll then move on to the next step. 

For example, I can make you a beautifully responsive website & provide you with support on updating & maintaining it. But then because of the solution I’ve implemented, I can easily teach you or someone within your company to take over those responsibilities. Leaving you room in your marketing & advertising budget to solve the next problem on your list. 

Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Digital marketing is an extremely over-saturated market right now. Everyone that has a phone puts out there that they’re a social media expert of some kind. So, it’s important to define your niche. Who specifically are you aiming to help out? Advertise that you’re a Tik Tok Expert instead of a Social Media Expert instead, for example. 

The smaller your audience is and the more you tailor your message track & services to that audience the easier it’ll be to gradually expand out. Whereas if you take a broad approach, you’ll inevitably be forced to find a niche market to find success. 

For me, I currently feel my scope is still too broad. Which comes from having helped many different types of businesses, nonprofits, and schools out. So, it’s more focused on how can I make a positive impact on this local community instead because then it feels more natural to work with everyone in that way. Since I’m new to the tri-state it just makes it harder to build connections in order to do that. 

Pricing:

  • Initial Consultation is always free.
  • All project work & consulting pricing depends on the business’ budget, risk level, and scope of work.

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Image Credits
Kyle Null

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