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Madison company carves niche solving problems for waterfront property and boat owners

H2Owners tackles issues boat owners know all too well, like keeping birds from soiling canopy covers and docks.

The Fly-Bye is a simple system that attaches to boat-lift canopies and utilizes a web of fishing line designed to deter birds.

The Fly-Bye is a simple system that attaches to boat-lift canopies and utilizes a web of fishing line designed to deter birds.

Photographs courtesy H2Owners

With summer upon us, Wisconsin lake culture is in full swing.

H2Owners, a three-year-old Madison company catering to waterfront property and boat owners, is carving itself a niche by addressing some of the special situations lake lovers often find themselves in.

Matt Frankey, the founder and CEO of H2Owners, is a life-long Wisconsin resident who grew up going to his family’s cabin on a lake. He says from a very young age being on the water was something he loved.

“Over the years, I learned the unique problems waterfront property, boat owners, and water sports enthusiasts face,” Frankey explains. “I had a knack for coming up with solutions to the problems, and I always knew that someday I wanted to have a business that fit my love of water.”

H2Owners isn’t Frankey’s first go-round with business ownership over the past 30 years, and he’s used the lessons from those previous experiences to build his new business. It doesn’t hurt that he’s not just the owner of H2Owners, he’s also a client.

“Our cabin is still in the family, and I’ve lived in homes on other rivers and lakes throughout the state,” says Frankey. “Thinking of products stems from seeing a problem and trying to find a solution. All of our products are made by dock owners, for dock owners. Ideally, they help reclaim leisure time. I also listen carefully to my neighbors, friends, and people in the industry who can provide insight with their wishes and experiences.”

The solutions H2Owners has created go by simple names, and that’s by design. They do what they say.

The Pole

Among them are The Pole, a sturdy, multipurpose, adjustable pole for accessorizing docks, decks, patios, lawns, and more; BareBottoms, an eco-friendly lake-bottom blanket designed for weed control; Fly-Bye, an innovative solution of crisscrossing fishing line to keep birds off boat-lift canopies; and LaLa Lights, solar lights that can be mounted in a variety of ways on a dock or home.

H2Owners’ newest product, PooBot, is making its debut this summer. The concept is similar to a Roomba, only instead of cleaning up messes, the PooBot — or just “Poo,” as it’s affectionately known — is designed to prevent them from happening in the first place.

LaLa Light

“Birds, especially ducks, love to settle in on piers and docks,” notes the H2Owners website. “The problem is that they also love to leave their droppings. It doesn’t take long before your pier is an unsightly, unsavory mess that needs cleaning. Left too long, bird droppings can damage your pier surface or become a health concern for children and pets.

“There are lots of gadgets designed to prevent birds from occupying your pier,” the website continues. “If you have already tried plastic owls, coyotes, flying bird of prey kites, or some of the other things that are supposed to be great, you know they aren’t. If you use these, you know that sooner or later, the birds ignore them and make themselves at home.”

The PooBot, left, in a early stage of development, and a conceptual drawing, right, of the final product being released this summer.

Where PooBot is different is that it’s a solar-powered robot that can patrol a dock day and night. “The solution to preventing bird mess long term is having something in motion that will frighten away birds,” notes H2Owners’ site. “PooBot will patrol your entire pier and bravely approach even the most stubborn of waterfowl and they will leave. PooBot is solar powered, water safe, weather safe, and it will not go for a swim.

“Simply set PooBot on your pier, turn it on, and it will charge itself, learn your pier layout, and patrol the entire pier regularly day and night.”

Frankey’s process for developing a practical, no-nonsense solution to common problems facing waterfront property owners starts by simply identifying a problem.

Next, consider how common that problem is in order to decide if developing a solution will be worthwhile and whether there is enough need and demand that you can successfully sell that product, he says. If there is the perceived demand, look at what other products are available as solutions.

“Only if your idea is unique to them, do you push forward,” notes Frankey. “I generally can think of a number of potential solutions fairly quickly, and have a knack for seeing the more nuanced angles to a solution, but I don’t run right out and start prototyping.”

Frankey says H2Owners’ products primarily create a new option for consumers. “If there is a demand and we have a solution idea that is unique, we prototype, test, and then sell the product on a limited basis. The customers who purchase those limited products become a ‘beta’ group of sorts. We want to hear of any issues they have with our products in the real world, and for those customers, we will work to ensure that they will have a product they want and would recommend. We are in the process of doing this for our Fly-Bye product.”

With summer weather finally here, that kind of product testing is in full swing. Frankey says the Greater Madison area is fantastic for a business like H2Owners, allowing the company to develop and test products, work with local customers to further test and potentially improve them, and then extend those products to larger markets.

“This year, we have begun marketing, selling, and shipping our products across the United States and Canada,” comments Frankey. “Life on the water presents unique challenges, and H2Owners has set out to provide solutions. We even provide solutions for those not on the water by helping people enjoy their deck, patio, or backyard. Ultimately, we just want to help our customers reclaim their leisure time, on and off the water.”

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