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Angling for a better catch: Wisconsin company takes fishing high tech

In a never-ending quest to outsmart the gill-bearing underwater world, the pursuit for sport fish has evolved from sticks and cane poles to underwater cameras, live bait, artificial bait, handmade bait that looks like live bait, flies, dragonflies or spawn of dragonflies, and even cheese and gummy worms.

The bait used is just as important as when it’s used. There is an old fishing adage declaring, “Winds from the east, fish bite the least, winds from the west, fish bite the best.” But Brian Jensen, president of Fishidy.com, has his own thoughts on the matter: “I think fishing is best when winds are from the south,” he said, “but I also think it has more to do with fronts coming in than wind direction.” Though his theory isn’t wrapped into a neat little rhyme, Jensen could be on track to either prove or disprove the age-old question with the help of satellite technology, and help serious anglers in the process. One might say his new company is catching the data and releasing it to those in search of a more productive fishing experience.

“If you share one spot with 10 friends, and they share with you, you get 10 more spots, but you’ve only shared one.” – Brian Jensen, Fishidy.com

Several years ago, while prepping for an expensive fishing tournament in Minnesota, Jensen, 31, a lifelong angler from Sun Prairie, Wis., attempted to research the lake he’d be fishing. Not only was his online search time consuming, but the information he did find turned out to be, in many cases, inaccurate.

At the time, Jensen was working for GeoDecisions, a software technology consulting firm with an office in Madison, and consulting for Fishing Hot Spots of Rhinelander, Wis., which was creating fishing maps in paper format. “I knew their data was valuable,” he said of the Rhinelander company, “but it wasn’t Web- or mobile-friendly.” It got him thinking – fishermen have a lot of time to think – and spawned the development of his new business, Fishidy.com.

M-apping fish

Jensen describes Fishidy.com as “an intelligent location-based social network for anglers.” The site provides anglers with very detailed interactive fishing maps of bodies of water, and also shares their experiences, if they so choose, with a social network. “Anglers tend to be more secretive than other recreationalists,” he said, about those elusive secret fishing spots. “We understand that, but if they had the ability to share information about their sports selectively, for instance, only with those people they trusted, they’d share more. We give them options in how to share.

“I think sharing is healthy,” he says. “If you share one spot with 10 friends, and they share with you, you get 10 more spots, but you’ve only shared one.” The result is a map dotted with favorite fishing locales, and the more users, the more dots appear. “That’s when this really gets powerful,” Jensen said. “When I log into my account, I can turn on the map and see all of my friends’ fishing spots. The more people you’re connected to, the more lakes you bookmark, the more this will help.”

 

Fishidy.com has mapped over 4,000 waterways and is continually adding more. It uses Microsoft Bing for its base map, allowing users to search worldwide. The software has about 27 different features for each map it displays ­– such as water depth, the locations of weed beds, flooded timber, fish cribs, or nearest boat launches. Clicking into any of these will result in a lengthier description, and users can also preprint maps before they set out in their boats.

On the mobile app side, the Fishidy.com site uses GPS technology to track geographic coordinates, allowing anglers with smart phones to peg their specific locations and lock them in for a return trip. They are also clued in to the nearest waterways, offered fishing tips and species data, and can see graphs of the moon phases and real-time weather.

“This makes the angler much more intelligent,” Jensen said. “Our system can show an angler all the places they’ve caught fish when the wind was from the southwest, for example,” and allow them to share that information, if they so choose, with their social network. Yet all the technology in the world won’t make a fish jump in the boat, as any angler will testify. It still takes plenty of skill and a good degree of luck to catch the fish, which often have an uncanny ability to outsmart their human predators. But hunters and fishers of any stripe will usually agree that it’s the chase that keeps them coming back, and the hopeful anticipation of the end prize.

Jensen believes that helping people be better anglers only helps the sport grow. “The more people fish, the likelier they are to buy a license, the more the DNR can manage fisheries, and the more lakes will be stocked. As more people get engaged in the sport, more money will be raised for research and managing our resources.”

He started working on his idea about three years ago. “It took a long time to go through the project, find seed money, and assemble a team,” he said. Luckily, his employer at the time, GeoDecisions, was encouraging innovation and looking to diversify its own portfolio. The company threw its support behind Jensen as an equity owner and investor in Fishidy.com, and Fishidy.com is now located next door.

After some focus group research and alpha and beta testing, “version 1.0” launched last March, with GeoDecisions providing some contracted telephone support and technical staff expertise if necessary. “I’m no longer working for GeoDecisions, technically,” Jensen said, “but we have a really tight relationship.” Fishing Hot Spots also is a founding partner.

Fishing for funding

Fishidy.com recently received a Qualified New Business Venture certification from the state of Wisconsin, which allows investors in the new business to receive a 25% tax credit on the amount invested. Jensen made the best of the qualification process, which he said lasted about eight weeks, by repurposing his original business plan and being well prepared to answer questions.

The QNBV certification, he notes, helps open doors and alleviates some of the risk that investors might take on. Though it has generated leads, Jensen is constantly working to sell the angel and venture investors on the idea. Some, he says optimistically, are currently in the “courting” process.

“We’re targeting sophisticated and professional investors that have invested in mobile, Web, and social business models,” Jensen said, adding that they’ve done their due diligence and have sought support from as far away as Chicago. But he’s clear that Fishidy.com is a Wisconsin company. “We’d like as much Wisconsin backing as possible.

Thus far, Fishidy.com has largely been funded by GeoDecisions and Fishing Hot Spots, whose confidence in the company’s mapping technology has resulted in seed money totaling “upwards of six figures.”

 

The company is also making enough money to keep its three full-time staff members paid, thanks to a revenue model based on online subscriptions. Visitors can access the website for free and take advantage of several interesting features, but must pay $9.99 for a month, $29.99 for six months, or $49.99 a year to subscribe at a “premium” level, which provides them access to all the bells and whistles. Jensen said the company has been successful in converting 3% to 5% of its 10,000 users into premium subscribers. “So the reason we’re raising money now is to take this to the next level. We want to be at 1 million users at the end of 2013.”

And Jensen believes that five years from now, Fishidy.com will become the dominant digital resource for anglers, growing to 6 million members and maintaining a 5% conversion rate. “We’re not targeting all anglers,” he said. “We’re interested in those who are really passionate about fishing as a main hobby.”

And so it goes, that the man who is passionate about fishing for muskies and walleyes, this year spent the least amount of time doing what he loves. Rather, as he promotes his product at trade shows nationwide, including the upcoming BassMaster Classic in Tulsa, Okla., Jensen is fishing for investors and looking forward to landing the prize catch of his life.

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