Denis O’Dwyer wants to bring the power of the Internet to the Great Outdoors.
His startup, Wide Open Spaces, is designed as an online community targeting hunters and fishing enthusiasts, a one-stop shop to buy gear, research new techniques, and discover a new place to while away an afternoon.
“This is participatory,” he says. “You’re not just reading about new gear. Our readers are passionate about getting out and doing it.”
Wide Open Spaces’s homepage borrows tricks from tabloid-style news websites. Content is arranged by category, featuring articles like “10 Things You Need to Know About Texas Duck Hunting,” and discussions about poaching penalties or the ethics of preserve hunting. Clickbait video abounds from instructional—”turtle trapping basics”—to Upworthy-style clips like one showing a woman petting and frolicking through fields with a moose. (Apparently this was at a conservation center in Alaska with a moose she had known since it was a calf. Don’t try this at home, folks.)
In particular, O’Dwyer is targeting women, a population he says most sporting communities have largely ignored. While women only make up 20 percent of the current hunting and shooting market, that number is growing, he says. And he added that “females still control 52 percent of the buying in this space.
A variety of startups are already in segments of the outdoor space. TackleGrab, a Boston-based e-retailer, sells monthly subscription boxes of bait and tackle. CampThat connects campers to sites and allows them to make reservations, while San Francisco-based AllTrails has paired up with National Geographic to provide information on trails.
Wide Open Spaces, which is based in Austin, aims to combine both e-retail and more travelogue content in a fully developed online community for both shooters and anglers. In fact, the current site is actually version 2.0. The startup was originally set up in 2011 as a flash-sales e-retail site, a Gilt for hunters and fishing enthusiasts, if you will. But after about a little more than a year, Dwyer says he realized that investors weren’t so keen on providing the kind of funds to scale up a flash-sales site.
Even Gilt, founded in 2007 and arguably the most successful in the sector, has begun to move beyond solely hosting flash sales to now include full-price men’s clothing.
And so O’Dwyer revamped Wide Open Spaces’s offerings, relaunching last September. “Our content will be unique to each region of the country as a way to engage the crowd,” he says. “Hunting and fishing are inherently local in nature. It’s different in Texas or Montana or upstate New York.”
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