Always stay in direct contact with your customers. You’ll better understand their needs, and that will help you develop new products that better serve their needs and even create entirely new markets.

 

An entrepreneur with a background in communications, Brandon Austin turned his love of fishing into GoFish Cam, an award-winning company helping attract more people of all ages and experience levels to fishing.

Brandon developed the idea for the wireless underwater camera while fishing with his family. Some days, the fish would bite as soon as the hook hit the water. Other days, they wouldn’t see a nibble. Brandon became frustrated, because he never knew what he was doing wrong. There were too many unknown variables, and the learning curve seemed impossibly steep. That’s when it hit him. What if you could see what was happening underwater? What if you could attach a camera directly to your fishing line?

Brandon started talking to every angler he could find about how they would use an in-line fishing camera. They loved it. The feedback he got was overwhelmingly positive, and Brandon knew he had something special. After months of exhaustive R&D, he put a prototype on Kickstarter, and the community embraced the idea, helping him raise the seed money he needed in just a few weeks.

Driven by a strong foundation of angling enthusiasts, the help of his brother Ryan, and his personal obsession with fishing, Brandon developed and launched GoFish Cam in 2015.

In 2019, Brandon and GoFish Cam partnered with Unorthodox Ventures, the Austin-based twist on a business incubator and investment firm by Big Ass Fans Founder Carey Smith.

Smith launched Unorthodox Ventures following the 2017 sale of the fan and light maker, which he bootstrapped to a $500 million exit. Smith has built a team that offers everything investment firms lacked when they approached him near daily at Big Ass Fans over the course of two decades. The Unorthodox Ventures team consists of experts who help entrepreneurs by providing support for everything from engineering and marketing to customer service and logistics. So much of venture capital simply focuses on providing money, and what’s interesting about that?

Where did the idea for GoFish Cam come from?

I came up with the idea for GoFish Cam while fishing with my family. Some days the fish would bite quickly. Others we wouldn’t see a nibble. It was frustrating to say the least. So I started wondering what would happen if I could see underwater by attaching a camera to my fishing line.

I started talking to everyone I knew, and they loved the idea. I posted my final prototype on Kickstarter after months and months of work and raised an incredible amount of seed money to start.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

The bulk of my day is always spent talking with customers. There are so many ways to use GoFish Cam, and it’s always interesting to learn how anglers have improved their techniques by reviewing the camera’s footage.

It’s also heartening to hear how their families and friends are more likely to go fishing with them because of how much they enjoy watching the footage from the boat or shore and sharing it on social media. In fact, we commissioned a study of our customers and found 90 percent of them reported their friends and family were more likely to join them. That’s especially important because an American Sportfishing Association survey found half of anglers were more likely to fish if friends or family joined them.

We also find that a significant and growing portion of our users are children and young adults. That’s important because the number of anglers in that age group is declining, and a long-term decline could be felt far more broadly than just in how Americans spend their leisure time. Tax revenues from fishing licenses and fees annually raise more than $1 billion for conservation, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We need younger generations to enjoy the outdoors just as much as so many others do.

Beyond customer chats, I meet with our social media manager, as well as our digital marketing and PR teams. I also reach out to speak with specialty shops and our ambassadors and affiliates.

Days always include meetings with our R&D staff, too, as I provide them with feedback from customers to help us develop new products and features.

I also like to write notes to each customer, thanking them for their purchases.

How do you bring ideas to life?

We crowd-sourced and crowd-funded our first idea to bring it to life. Since we talk daily with customers and have our R&D and engineering teams constantly looking at new opportunities, we’re finding what’s missing in the outdoors industry. To bring that to fruition, it’s about seeing how relevant those ideas are to customers and how we can solve them with well-designed and well-manufactured products.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Definitely all things social. People typically think of fishing as an individual sport, but it’s a group activity. As the American Sportfishing Association found in its survey, half of all anglers fish more often when friends and family join them. By having a strong presence on social media, we’re able to connect with anglers all around the world.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I’m very good at staying in touch with friends and partners. That’s helped me build a strong network that’s always been a major source of support as we’ve expanded the company.

What advice would you give your younger self?

We’re based in Texas, and it’s so hot that there’s no need for winter clothes! Seriously, though, it would be to focus on what you’re best at doing. While it’s important to shore up your weaknesses, it’s more important to build on your strengths. You can always hire people to cover your weaknesses. After all, nobody can be everything.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

It’s still better to be trusting and take leaps of faith with new relationships than to hold back and miss out on opportunities.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I always question myself and my strategies. It’s very easy to get into a routine and think that everything is going well, but you have to be your own worst critic. Otherwise, what you might think is successful is anything but.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Strong customer service has been so important for us. So many brands today make it difficult to speak with anyone, let alone the founder (or “flounder” in my case). Every customer to date has had some interaction with me, and it has really helped us build a following.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Lots of people think a product’s success is associated with its distribution. Basically, can you find it on every store shelf? We went down that same distribution path initially, because it’s tough as a young company to say no when retailers and distributors wave checks in your face. But handing over your product to someone else is unwise. You lose that connection with customers, and that’s so important.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Sunglasses that don’t leave tan lines. Being out on a boat frequently, I always get the worst tan lines.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

It was a new personal outside-of-the-water camera, and it was more than $100. I’ve used it for both my personal life and our work. I’ve long been a fan of taking home movies of my family and friends in our everyday lives, so it’s great to invest in a quality camera.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Definitely Siri. She’s great for calendar reminders and taking notes.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I highly recommend “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story.”
Snapchat’s founder has had such a target on his back after rebuffing Facebook’s advances, and, despite that, Snapchat keeps building new and better offerings. Even when Facebook and Instagram copy those features, Snapchat always has a new innovation.

What is your favorite quote?

We partnered with Big Ass Fans Founder Carey Smith and his Unorthodox Ventures business incubator and investment firm earlier this year, and it’s been such an incredible time learning from him.

He often remarks that “business gives you such an opportunity to affect a large number of people,” and it’s so true.

When we developed the GoFish Cam, I thought solely about how it would help people catch fish more easily. Since launching, we’ve partnered extensively with conservationists and researchers around the world who have used the underwater camera in their work.

The New England Aquarium is using GoFish cameras to examine the behavior of the oceanic whitetip shark. In Mozambique, the Bazaruto Center for Scientific Studies has used the cameras to help study both the general and predatory behavior of sharks, tuna and marlin, among other types of fish. Their findings have helped them expand the protection limits of the national park. The scientists are now exploring using the GoFish Cam cameras as part of their work researching and restoring coral reefs.

We even have a number of police and fire departments that have used the cameras to aid in search-and-rescue efforts.

Our company’s impact has been much greater than I ever imagined.

Key Learnings:

  • Always stay in direct contact with your customers. You’ll better understand their needs, and that will help you develop new products that better serve their needs and even create entirely new markets.
  • Working with distributors and retailers separates you from your customers. Be wary of anyone or anything that gets in between you and your customer.
  • Delight your customers any way you can. A handwritten note in today’s age goes a long way.
  • Feeling stressed by competitors? Read “How to Turn Down a Billion Dollars: The Snapchat Story” to see that even the largest of competitors can be outmaneuvered.

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