“I’m hungry for knowledge. The whole thing is to learn every day, to get brighter and brighter. That’s what this world is about.”— Jay-Z
I’m at an exciting point in my life where I get to build a project with new technology. One that connects technology and the real world and promotes outdoor activity and competition. Once I recognized the opportunity, I knew I had to do it. Here’s the story of how it got started:
A few months ago a good friend of mine, Lucas Black, came to me with an idea for a mobile app for fishing tournaments. This came as a surprise to me because Lucas has been an actor most of his life and as long as I’ve known him, has never shown a want for doing anything in business. Also, the guy can barely work his email, so this was either going to be the best or worst idea I’d ever heard.
The idea started off as a peer to peer fishing platform, allowing friends to compete against each other at any time no matter where they are located. Could we create a universal fishing tournament that anyone in the world could participate in? Then, could people see where other anglers are catching fish and then ask them if they want to have a match or just know where the best spots are for the day to go fishing?
The initial thoughts surrounding how the app would work involved using a phone to take a picture and using some kind of machine learning to recognize the fish and measure the size by photo. If we could do that, it would accomplish our goal of allowing anyone in the world to be able to create and compete without limitations to location or time. This would allow us to collect the data for where people caught fish and send that to the anglers. Then, people could use the software to create their own tournaments and go 2v2, 4v4 or any other number. They could set up tournaments themselves, make their own rules and compete.
Two parts came next: Doing research on the opportunity and finding out if it’s even capable of being built.
As we started doing research on the opportunity, we quickly learned how big the world of fishing is. In 2015, 45.7 million Americans participated in recreational fishing, amounting in $200 billion in retail sales.
Then we started looking at how current fishing tournaments are run. The sheer number of tournaments was astounding, 30,000–50,000 fishing tournaments take place in the US every year. Most of these tournaments promote catch and release but the way the scoring systems operate makes that really difficult to do well. Right now, after people catch fish, they have to take them to a weigh station that is normally a couple miles from where they catch the fish, or they have to send a picture on a ruler in to be scored manually later. Whenever they get to release the fish, they are releasing it in a new habitat decreasing its chances of survival. Also, all tournaments the participants have to be on location, which makes it difficult for some people to participate in and is something we’d be hoping to eliminate as a factor, if someone just wanted to compete for the day.
Most importantly no one has executed a real time fishing tournament software where people can compete peer to peer. Boom!
After recognizing that this would be a good project to build. I had to figure out if this was even something capable of being built. I reached out to a couple of developers in my coworking space, Gravitate, to see what tech was possible today. We discovered that we could use Apple’s ARkit to measure the fish on mobile devices. So when someone catches a fish they hold their phone camera up to it then the fish is boxed, measured, and scored immediately without any extra work from the angler. (Not without limitations, currently we will have a small margin of error on the accuracy and the fish has to be laid down to measure, but we’re betting as the software and hardware gets better this is not something to be concerned about long term. It’s good enough now to get started) This way all the competitors will know exactly where they stand and how much time they have left.
Putting the team together
Now that I knew it was possible to build, the first thing I had to decide was if I wanted to work with Lucas. Lucas has been a close friend of mine and role model for a number of years. Getting into bed with that person is not something I was going to take lightly. If this doesn’t work I still wanted to be invited to hang on trips or dinners. When Matt Fiscus (our other business partner that I’ll get to later) and I were going down to hang with Lucas and Maggie (Lucas’s brilliant wife) I told him that Lucas was the type of person that makes you want to be the best version of yourself, in every aspect, just by the way he lives. Family, friends, faith, work, how he treats people, health, positivity, everything he does it’s to be at the highest level he can be. I‘ve watched him work and seen how disciplined he is and the type of character he has. Thinking about all that made the concerns of working with him go out the window. On top of that I’ve watched him grow his game of golf in Missouri (We were both amateur golfers in Missouri) for a number of years when we lived there, and knew he’d be perfect to run the marketing side of this project, considering he’s just as competitive of a fisherman as a golfer.
I’ve got quite a few stories that show Lucas’s high character, but I’ll share this one for now:
My first trip down to see Lucas in New Orleans was when he started working on NCIS: New Orleans. They were filming the Halloween episode of season 1 and it was premier day on television for the show. Our mutual best friend, Chris Johnson, and I went down to hang. Hanging out on set for dialogue day was very boring, so we decided to turn up on bourbon street, as one does on their first visit to that city.
When Lucas got done with a 14 hour workday he calls us and picks up our drunk selves. We were so drunk we couldn’t even find where our car was parked. That next morning they were filming on the French quarter at 8am, which meant Lucas only got a few hours of sleep. Johnson and I walked to our car and proceeded to accidentally hang out on the wrong set for an hour waiting for Lucas (Trumbo was the movie set we were on and Johnson even went up to John Goodman and said he didn’t know John was in NCIS…) Oops. Regardless of that Lucas was working the whole time. That evening they were filming the parade for the Halloween episode and had a street at the French quarter blocked off with 400 extras in costumes and a marching band for the parade. Lucas was the “baconator” and was adlibing Arnold Schwarzenegger lines that kept making the actors laugh. Everytime someone laughed they had to start the whole scene and parade over. By the time they got done it was a 4 hour shoot and 10 pm and another 14 hour work day for Lucas. As soon as they finished, Lucas was swarmed by all the extras wanting pictures with him. I went to pull him out and he told me no. He stayed and took pictures with everyone that wanted one. It lasted for an hour. His answer after was, “all these people worked really hard for four hours and little money, to make our show what it needs to be. The least I can do is take pictures with everyone that wants one. They earned it.” This was at the end of back to back 14 hour days, and he had to be back at work at 7 am the next day. Dealing with two drunk friends visiting and a sick baby at home, he still took the time to appreciate everyone working with him. That’s the kind of leadership that sets the company culture and what I want to be around.
I also knew I needed a technical cofounder as almost all of this project development wise is over my head. So I brought my co-founder from Boss Brims, Matt Fiscus on board. That guy is a product genius, he just doesn’t know it yet. I could go on and on about why I like working with him, but the most important thing was that I could only bring people that have the same moral aptitude as Lucas. Anyone I bring on this team has to be on that level. The other thing I needed was someone that was in it to “win the tournament”. I grew up around a group of golfers and we had a saying that there are two types of competitors — those that want to win the tournament and those that just want the trophy to tell people that they have the trophy. Matt fits that mold of winning the tournament and wanting to go through the ups and downs it takes to get good enough to win. He’s a process guy and is motivated by learning. He was in from the moment I asked and is ready for this monumental task we’re building.
Team is now set. Below is a little bit of our trip down to New Orleans to get everything organized to start.
Asking for help
One of the things that changed the trajectory of my career as an entrepreneur was joining a coworking space in Des Moines called Gravitate. It’s a place where I became surrounded by some of the biggest badasses, in many different fields, in town. Everyone here is Iowa nice, which means whenever I ask someone, they’ll usually meet me for coffee and are willing to share advice. The reason this is new to me is because I came from an athletic world. In my previous business I was the lone developer (very loose terminology for developer) and worked from home. This was my first time being surrounded by high level creative talent in every aspect. I met Matt there, and Cam Webb, the really talented mobile developer whose helping us to build the first version of the sizing with ARkit and someone whose mentored us on how to build the product. Along with many other entrepreneurs at different levels of their journey to help us out with advice. As we started mapping the project out, Matt and I then got invited to Dwolla’s Monetery conference for our hat making startup, Boss Brims.
Monetery’s goal was to connect local founders to investors, and since Boss Brims is a preorder type of business, we’d never consider outside investment for it. But this fishing app was different. It’s something we thought if we could make it work, with our team, we could use the investment money to blow this thing up globally.
We needed help with learning the investment game. One of our good friends at Gravitate is Derek Broox, a guy who is currently a lead engineer at Venmo by way of selling a company to PayPal. He introduced us to his brilliant and very strange in the best way CEO of the company they sold, Harper Reed. He gave us a lot of good advice on how meetings with investors go, and it ended with “The whole thing is bonkers. There is no right answer, no one knows shit! So just be yourselves.” (we actually copied our entire pitch deck after theirs, because we know it at least worked once lol)
Then we met with one of my local mentors Mike Colwell, for more advice on the matter. He gave us some good reading material and after meeting with him we felt more prepared for the event. PS — I would recommend any entrepreneur in Des Moines to reach out to Mike Colwell for advice and mentorship. He’s a really nice and sharp guy that connects you with whoever the best people in town are to get advice from.
Since it takes a high-quality team and community to win in business, we’re off to a good start!
Then when it came time for meetings at Monetery, we didn’t get a single 1 on 1 with an investor. No one wanted to meet with us about our project! It was a little gut punch but not overly surprising. Mike had told us to do the research on the investors because we’d be interviewing them as much as them interviewing us. As I was doing the research, we didn’t fit a single funds investment criteria. We were either too early or they only invested in different fields. We’re building a game and are in sports.
After that we had to reassess our plan. The good news is that Lucas is compensated well for his job and is also one of the best people I’ve seen at managing his money. So he could bootstrap the beginning of the project to get it built and once we prove it works and people want it, then we can go on with the process to raise the money we need from investors.
I also want to send my appreciation to the people at Dwolla for hosting Monetery, because if we didn’t go through the process we did to get ready for the event, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as prepared moving forward as we are now!
We’ve got a lot of things going for us. Putting Lucas in the right places to make content is going to be one hell of a distribution strategy. We have a very talented, hardworking team that’s passionate about this project. It’s going to be so much fun building a game and getting people outdoors competing. Also, helping anglers have the data for where to fish and connect them with other anglers to compete. And the idea itself, if we’re able to execute is so cool! Below is Randy Moss (a sports hero of mine) and Prime Time showing the want for this kind of app.
Next time I post it’ll be after we launch the app. Thanks for following this journey. I’m excited to see where it takes me! -SUL