“A simpler, more open and transparent way of doing business across our industry is the only way we can ensure the future of our way of life.” – Eric Dinger, co-founder and CEO, Powderhook
In a little under two years of work on the access problem, Powderhook has gained several important insights. Included in this story are five things we’ve learned and a call to action for the hunting, fishing and shooting industry. Examples from other industries are provided as a means to rationalize each argument. It is our hope this post can serve as a springboard for new ideas and better solutions.
Powderhook’s mission is Access for All. That means access for new hunters, anglers and shooters; for parents and their children; for neighbors who haven’t been out in the field for years; and for you. Powderhook works with the nation’s leading conservation organizations, retailers and manufacturers, bringing our industry together to solve some of its most important problems. We’re building a one-stop shop, like “Expedia for the Outdoors.”
It could be said that Powderhook is one of the nerdiest outdoor companies. Our team of 7 technical individuals employs a skill-set somewhat unique to the outdoor industry. We build software solutions for the challenges we believe are most integral to the future of our way of life. Our platform is used to create, market, find and acquire access.
When we first started Powderhook, we understood our mission to mean the average person needs a place to hunt, free or paid. Thus, we built one of the most complete data repositories for huntable and fishable lands information, both public and private, ever created. Our data come from upwards of 17 sources, and we have over 650,000 places to go. Very few organizations have ever built a lands database as far-reaching and comprehensive. This data can be viewed, free of charge, by visiting www.powderhook.com/map.
Over time, we have come to understand the access problem at a much deeper level. By speaking to hundreds of people on both the “have access” and “need access” sides of the equation, we have gained several important insights. In keeping with our values, we’ve decided to share these well-earned lessons with the industry.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Most days, people aren’t looking for places to hunt or fish. One day they might be looking for a tournament in which to fish; they may be interested in attending an NWTF banquet; or they might just want to find a range to sight in their rifle. The access problem is bigger and more complicated than simply finding someone a spot. For that reason we introduced group, event and trip management functionality.
To present our user an accurate picture of what they could do outdoors in their area, we started to think of our business as a social marketplace. We began to build a one-stop place to find groups, events, spots and trips for the hunter, shooter and angler.
In adopting this wider agenda, we have encountered several challenges we believe the industry must solve to propel itself forward. These problems are larger than what any company or single organization can change. They are as endemic and deeply rooted as their solutions are imperative. Challenging as they may be, they are also exacerbated by a generation of consumers, the future of our industry, who will, almost exclusively, purchase through their phone and have a low tolerance for inconvenience.
The key insights presented below represent, in our view, a cultural shift in thinking for our industry. For the future of our way of life, we must collectively adopt a simpler, more open and transparent way of doing business.
The Industry Must Create a Marketable Commodity Out of “Access”
Have you ever wondered why it’s so easy to book a hotel room? You can book the same hotel room across dozens of websites. Knowing that, have you ever really asked yourself why it’s so hard to find a duck blind to sit in, a place to hang your deer stand, or the upcoming 3-gun competitions in your area? The fundamental underlying issue is our industry lacks a standard tradable good — an inventory, like a room-night for hotels.
“Access” means several things, and somehow nothing all at once. It could mean a lease; a trespass fee; a role on a shooting team; a seat in a blind or a spot in your friend’s truck. We believe the industry, in the interest of creating a marketable commodity, will come to define “access” as a seat for a period of time — effectively, our version of a room-night. This is a natural conclusion given we buy, sell and trade periodic access to all kinds of things, including movies, concerts, vacation rentals and cars. It is our belief that an industry-wide adoption of this “seat” or “inventory” creation approach is integral to the perpetuation of our way of life. In doing so, we can create the opportunity and incentive for private industry, public/private partnerships and individuals to get to work marketing, giving, trading, buying and selling our collective access assets, regardless of who owns or creates them.
Powderhook has created the acronym G.U.E.S.T. to help serve as a moniker for this line of thinking. No matter what you do in this access or R3 (recruitment, retention and reactivation) arena, you are in the business of helping people find and consume Groups, Users, Events, Spots and Trips. Because license buying is an imperative, we believe selling a license is a bi-product of selling your audience on one or several of the components of G.U.E.S.T. Examples of which include:
- Hunting or fishing clubs
- Volunteer groups or local chapters
- Mentors, volunteers, teachers
- Hunting/fishing partners
- Fundraisers and R3 activities
- Fishing tournaments and shooting competitions
- Public/private land and water
- Free/paid places to go
- 4 seats in the truck
- One day in a duck blind
Agencies and NGOs Should Think of Themselves as Wholesalers of G.U.E.S.T.
The key holders of inventory must push us forward by creating an economic incentive for others to help with access and R3 problems. Private industry needs to be able to make money by directly aiding the process of getting people outdoors. Cabela’s should be selling access at retail. I should be able to sign-up for fishing tournaments on the Bass Pro Shops website. GunBroker.com should be selling Ducks Unlimited banquet tickets. Expedia should be booking campgrounds. Airbnb should be adding fishing licenses onto their lakefront home rental transactions. MidwayUSA should be taking registrations for 3-gun competitions.
The travel industry serves as a great model for us to observe. Hoteliers, rental car companies and airlines all allow direct consumption via their individual websites. You can buy a United flight on United.com. In much the same way we’re advocating the outdoor industry evolve, those same companies allow hundreds of other websites to make money from booking their inventory. You also can buy a United flight on Travelocity.com. Travelocity makes money, United makes money and more people travel more often. That economic incentive has lead to billions of additional dollars spent in marketing, advertising and product development. In a time when our industry desperately needs to recruit new people, adding additional private sales channels is a must.
While we’ve only been in the industry for a couple years, it has become our belief that our agency and NGO friends face nearly impossible odds in changing the tide in our industry. The agencies we’ve gotten to know are running dozens of different lines of business, from marketing agency and publisher to range operator and event planner. Because of this construct and the built-in inefficiency, resources become strapped, and effectiveness and innovation are swapped for status quo in the interest of just plain getting the work done each day. We believe a simplification of the agency and NGO business model through the adoption of the “wholesale” mindset can have a drastic impact on the output of these organizations and the effectiveness of their role in the broader industry.
The Industry Needs a Common Repository of Geographic Information
Powderhook has invested several hundred thousand dollars in the creation of our map. No one should have to do it again. Our map, or one like ours with considerably more input from the industry, should exist as an open standard for hunting- and fishing-related geographic information. With an open standard, all public agencies, NGOs, private companies and individuals could access a common tool and update a related data asset. Currently geo information exists in hundreds of data silos. Several fish and wildlife agencies have invested heavily in their mapping infrastructure. Others have not. Each has done it in their own way, making for a significantly higher cost for an NGO, private company or individual who may be willing to invest in their own version of R3. When a park closes on a fish and wildlife website, it should also reflect as closed on Powderhook, Google Maps and any other place people might seek that information. When a new hunting land is added from a private access program, it should be visible across the entire industry. An open environment, welcoming of user contributions, such as www.openstreetmaps.com, is how we make it happen.
We Must Manage our Collective Reputation
To do so, we need to commit to a national hunter, shooter and angler registry. Each person in the registry should receive a unique identifier they can use to manage their reputation as they move throughout the industry. This common identifier would allow for simplification of the licensing and tag application process. It would enable people to register, sign-up, purchase and participate more efficiently. In addition, it would enable the R3 movement to measure the behaviors and outcomes of their programs. Strangely, this already exists under our noses. Facebook uses your common identity to allow you login to countless websites. In doing so, they’re able to track your behavior across your web behaviors in much the same manner our industry needs to do.
The idea of a national license or registration program is an old one. There may never be a day when a person can purchase a license in one state and legally hunt another state; however, a common identifier will enable technology similar to Foursquare’s “check-in” to make licensing across multiple states a simpler and more open process.
Your common identifier would know you are an active member of Ducks Unlimited, which may gain you access to DU programs or hunts not available to the general public. It would know your Hunter Safety Number, eliminating the frustration and pressure of materializing this form of identification for each new place a person hunts or fishes. Further, landowners cite wanting to know who is on their land and what they’re doing as the number one reason they deny access. A common identifier could aid sportsmen and women in that communication process.
We Need a Marketplace
Have you ever thought about what makes ebay so special? The magic in ebay is that there aren’t two ebays. If you’re looking to sell something used online, you go to ebay. Because of that, if you’re looking to buy something used online, you go to ebay. People sell on ebay because people buy on ebay, because people sell on ebay. This phenomenon is something referred to as the “network effect.” Simply defined, network effect refers to the notion that each additional buyer and seller added to a marketplace makes the marketplace better for each existing buyer and seller.
Our economy is in the early stages of a new type of revolution. Economists refer to this new way of doing business as the peer-to-peer or share economy movement. Using a marketplace business model, companies such as Lyft, StubHub, Uber, GunBroker, Airbnb, Homeaway, Etsy and many others are changing the way in which things are bought and sold. It can be said they’re systematically deconstructing fixed and mature industry one efficient, peer-to-peer transaction at a time. Last night, Airbnb was the second largest hotelier in the world, yet almost none of their sellers are even businesses. A marketplace, like those mentioned here, is part of the future of nearly all industries. We believe the adoption of a single marketplace is a key component of the future of the hunting and shooting industry.
According the U.S. Fish and Wildlife data from 2012, Americans spent $10.1 billion on access. Yet in spite of this immense demand, there is no single point of entry or simple process for consuming this “access.” Just to get started, our industry requires hours of research, earning of a certificate, wading through vast regulations to procure a license. With license in hand the process of securing a place to hunt or fish may be just as daunting. If we are to be competitive with other outlets for our customer’s time, this simply isn’t good enough.
Why don’t we have a marketplace already, if it’s such a good idea? Dozens have tried. Powderhook is working on it. But, the outdoor industry is very different than others. The level of fragmentation, the desire for hunters and anglers to preserve their spots, the lack of a fundamental commodity, the extremely high cost of seller acquisition, and the deep role of government, licensing and regulation will require the builder of a marketplace in the outdoor space to have immense staying power. Things that may move quickly in other industries simply cannot in the hunting, fishing and shooting space. But, rest assured, if our industry is to make it into the next generation of hunters, anglers and shooters, a marketplace will be a key component of how it all works. Our children won’t stand for the inefficiencies. They’ll just play soccer or video games instead.
Will our children hunt? Will they care about the second amendment? Will they value our beloved North American Model of Wildlife Conservation? Or, will the race of an urbanized lifestyle; the relative torture it takes to earn a hunter-ed certificate; the traveling soccer teams; the two income households; the need to make time; the hassle of finding a place to go; the pain it takes to figure out permits; the anti-hunting noise — will the pressure finally erode our base and crack our foundation?
Fixing these problems for the next generation is impossible for you to do, no matter who you are. Powderhook is no exception. From a technical standpoint, Powderhook can build some of the solutions our industry needs. As one of the first for-profit companies to burrow into the access problem, our brand is positioned well to get it done; however, a nice brand and the technical ability to do something will get our solutions only so far. As industry leaders, we must get busy empowering individuals and private industry to make the changes we need by ensuring our every investment makes our collective offerings simpler, more open and transparent.
About the author:
Eric Dinger is the co-founder and CEO of Powderhook.com, a website built to help people find access to hunting and fishing spots, trips, groups and events. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.