Brian Jensen knows what it is like to plan a fishing trip and have high hopes dashed. No pail of panfish. No bucket of bass.
All because information about the lake, river or creek wasn’t readily available. Out of one such experience came the idea for Fishidy, an Internet-based mobile app service that puts information anglers need to know about the lakes they plan to fish at their fingertips.
Q: When did you start Fishidy? How has it evolved?
A: The company was formed in 2011. We didn’t go live until 2013. We had about a two-year development and testing phase before we basically launched the platform openly. From there, we were able to get about 100,000 users pretty organically through social media and referrals. We were able to raise some equity financing, which was led by Hyde Park Angels of Chicago. We raised $1.5 million, and over a million of that came from the state of Wisconsin.
Q: What were some of the early challenges of starting a company from scratch?
A: One of the hardest things was really on the product development side. We probably did a little bit too much guessing or thinking what the customer wants without actually doing enough prototyping and customer research, so it set us back a little bit in development. I think that whole development process has to be customer-driven from the day you start. I don’t know that we necessarily did that as well as we should have.
The second-biggest challenge we had was just sales and marketing, especially with a consumer assistance software app, can be incredibly expensive. So we had to get really smart on using things like public relations, social media and search engine marketing — things that were relatively cheap but effective. Obviously, we didn’t have the money to buy huge TV or radio spots.
Q: How can your content be accessed?
A: It is web-based and it is an app so you can use it on any device at fishidy.com, and we have a fully compatible mobile website as well. You can also download it from the Android and iTunes store.
Q: You’ve won pitch contests. You’ve also had the chance to pitch your company to major investors as well.
A: I won the (Greater Madison) Chamber of Commerce’s first pitch competition, Pressure Chamber, which got me a trip out to Silicon Valley. I pitched out there. We were, at the time, just closing a round here, but we’ve made some good initial contacts out there — people I’ve been talking with about making a future investment, so that went well. I also pitched when (entrepreneur and tech expert) Steve Blank came here for his Rise of the Rest Tour. I was one of the few companies that participated in that. We had an unbelievable showing — not just me but, obviously, the other companies that were pitching in that program. We all got some good exposure out of that.
Q: What advice would you give to those new to those processes?
A: Keep things shorter. Be more precise. If you’re solving a complex problem, you really have to make it understandable because even talking with investors about Fishidy and fishing was relatively simple. Educating them was still a huge part of the process and in most cases you don’t have more than 10-15 minutes if you even get the chance to present to them.
The next thing I would recommend is to definitely have an elevator pitch. Have it memorized or at least know all your major talking points because that’s going to be your opportunity to get some of these follow-on meetings or follow-on pitches so you really have to do it.
The third thing is: If you have the opportunity — especially when you’re new or in very early stages — is to look at accelerators. I know there are a ton in town here in Madison. I’m actually part of one that’s down in St. Louis. Do that, they’ll be a huge help to your business.
Q: How has promoting your company changed since you started?
A: The big thing is early on we were really focused on the super-avid anglers — the people that fish in tournaments, the people that fish at least once a week. We’ve done a pretty good job of starting to penetrate that market. So where we are now is really trying to get more casual anglers into the platform.
Q: What strategies for effective social media use do you recommend?
A: It’s not just something you do. You really have to focus and have a strategy in place. It’s not something where you can post something once a day and be done with it. You need to have a really good mix of content — your product content, stuff about your company, your staff, but also humorous things you find related to the industry you’re in, engagement-type tactics like doing polls and asking people questions or asking users for stories. You have to be really diverse with the type of content you’re posting and you need to do as much as you can to get your followers engaged.
Q: How long did it take you to get the right formula for that?
A: It was really probably six months to a year into it. Trying to build enough critical mass where you actually have an audience to engage. Most people know that 90 percent of the people are voyeurs and 10 percent are contributors. So you need to build enough where you’re not just having the same five, 10 people engage with you. That was a process of just getting people to “like” our page — doing whatever we could to drive likes. then when we thought we had a good amount of likes then we really deployed a content strategy and a pretty aggressive overall social media strategy.
Q: How did the idea for the business come about?
A: A horrific fishing trip on my part. I was up on Rainy Lake in northern Minnesota — 100,000 acres. I had the worst week of fishing in my life. Really, I just felt kind of lost up there. It was a bit daunting, I didn’t know anything about where to go. I was missing that critical piece.
So, that was the genesis of the idea.
I was able to bring a technology partner in early. I was able to bring in the top mapping content provider in the U.S. and the rest is history.
Q: Where do you hope to be five to 10 years from now?
A: We are already looking at expanding globally. You’re looking at a U.S. market that sort of taps out at about 60 million. We know that recreational angling worldwide is well over 100 million.
If we can get 10 percent of the overall market — which I think is achievable — that’s where I expect us to be in five years.
Q: What else should we know?
A: One thing that is really cool about our company is we operate very lean in the sense that there are very few platforms that have that many users, that much infrastructure and they’re able to do it with just a handful of software developers, so it’s a credit to our engineering team who have built a very robust yet manageable platform.
Q: Besides fishing and work, what do you do to relax?
A: That’s very little time you’re talking about. I’m a huge, huge Packers and Badgers fan. I’m also into live music. I like rock, I like country, I like hip-hop. I like all of it.