By: Lloyed Lobo
If you’re a hunting enthusiast who’s frustrated looking through all the maps, textual boundaries and complicated tables to determine the rules and regulations regarding what, when and where you can hunt, you need to check out iHunter.
iHunter is a mobile app that simplifies the process of abiding by the rules by making use of publicly available geo-spatial data and the Alberta Wildlife Act. Hunters can precisely see which Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) they are in using the GPS built into their phones. Once they know which WMUs they are interested in, they can see a simplified and usable summary of the big game, predator, and game bird seasons that are open there. They can use the location based sunrise and sunset calculator to ensure that they are hunting during legal hunting times and email their location to let their friends and family know where they are.
The last I checked, iHunter was the number one paid sports app in Canada. We recently talked to cofounders Mark Stenroos and Gareth Burke to learn more.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an “ah-ha” moment?
After a long-standing annual hunting trip to Peace River never materialized this year, I began looking to establish new hunting grounds nearer to Calgary. Without a network of fellow hunters in the area to guide me, I did as any software developer would do when needing answers, and used Google. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t find many hunters willing to give away their best spots, but I did find a variety of different web services that allowed anyone with enough patience to obtain the contact information and location of leaseholders of nearby Crown land (which can be hunted on with the permission of the lease holder). While I did find a few great spots to go hunting, I was intrigued by the data I was using and eventually stumbled upon the WMU boundary data. I had just been looking at the same data on printed, difficult to read maps a few hours before, and it hit me that I might be able to load this data on my phone. It was time consuming to retrieve, and in a coordinate system I didn’t yet understand, but it was interesting, free and I wanted to see what I could do with it. After a few hours I had one of 200 WMUs displaying properly on an iPhone, and I knew the data could be useful (at least to me).
Once I determined that the entire province’s data could be loaded, and confirmed that others online had been asking for the very thing I had started to build, I was hooked. The other features came naturally as I tried to apply technology to the challenges I was facing day to day in the field.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
I knew from the start we had a product idea that could be immensely useful to many hunters. I also knew that it was mid-September, and this year’s hunting season was well underway and ending in two and a half months. If there was any chance for this product to become part of a business, the idea needed to be validated by real users, during hunting season.
Going from product concept to shipping a polished, useful app that people have been willing to spend money on, in less than one month, has been the biggest challenge. It has been a tremendous amount of work, but we have enjoyed every minute of it.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup??
We are still such a new product and team that we haven’t had the opportunity or time to stop and ask for much help, although we surely need it. However, without a doubt, our spouses and their patience has been the primary reason we have been able to get to this point. Our network of friends and family, many of who live and breathe hunting, have also been a great resource to validate ideas and provide honest criticism. I do want to thank the guys at Randomtype for their early support, and the owners of some local businesses that have helped promote the product (Calgary Shooting Centre, Jim Bows Archery, and the Calgary Archery Center).
What’s new with your startup that we can share?
iHunter Alberta has made it to the top paid sports app in Canada and the feedback from the users has been phenomenal.
Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?
We haven’t had the need to do either at this point, but I hope it’s easier to raise needed capital than build a talented team.
What has contributed to your success to this point?
I don’t think we are at a point where I can say we are successful. We have early feedback telling us we have a product that is needed, but we don’t know yet whether it’s a sustainable business, or just a starting point for a great development and design partnership. The success we’ve had, though, is a result of hard work and relationship building. We have spent entire days in archery and gun shops talking with other hunters who have provided invaluable feedback. We started working with others in the Calgary startup community, which has been unbelievably inspiring and motivating.
To other startups, I would suggest getting out and meeting those in the community, and getting to know your users personally. Be responsive to feature requests, focus on building long term relationships rather than looking for a quick benefit for yourselves, and try to give something back to those that help you, if possible.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
Both of us have had the entrepreneurial spirit for a while now. Gareth has been doing freelance design work since graduation. I have run a clothing company, done freelance work, and tried to launch an internet startup. I think we both just want to see the work we do directly impact users. Creating value is the key, and if we can continue doing that, we will continue down this path.
What are your thoughts on Calgary’s startup community?
Although we are just getting our feet wet in the Calgary startup community, the commitment and generosity of those involved was evident from day one. Volunteers putting on great events like Mobile Monday, Demo Camp, and Startup Calgary make the difference. Great companies like DecoderHQ, Randomtype and Boast Capital that help startups in need make the difference. We are excited to see what else will come out of Calgary in years to come, with the support of so many great volunteers and organizations.
What’s your ask right now?
If you’re an Alberta outdoorsmen, please check out iHunter in the App Store today.
Lloyed Lobo covers Calgary’s tech startup community. He is a Partner at Boast Capital and a Board Member for Startup Calgary.
This interview was originally published by Startup Calgary, a non-profit organization focused on cultivating the tech startup community in Calgary. For more information, visit startupcalgary.ca.
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