Wide Open Spaces Creates Online Community for Anglers & Hunters

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still drive Wide Open Spaces’s profits. The startup gets a cut, usually between four and 12 percent, of sales through affiliate marketing relationships with major sporting goods makers. The site also sells advertising.

For O’Dwyer, a more robust content experience increases the probability of sales because enthusiasts stay on the site longer than to just click on a flash sale. He says he has particularly focused on the startup’s mobile site, which accounts for half of Wide Open Spaces’s traffic. “Consumers in this space have caught up to the tech crowd,” he says. “When out in the field, they all have smartphones. Your wife’s friends could be vegans or members of PETA, but we could provide a platform where you could share your catches or your kills with like-minded individuals.”

Wide Open Spaces is in the middle of raising a $1.1 million round to help fund an expansion of the revamp. It previously raised $1.75 million as a flash-sales site from investors such as Houston-based Mercury Fund, RPM Ventures in Ann Arbor, MI, and Dundee Venture Capital in Omaha, NE. The startup has eight employees.

The site features a comparison-shopping engine allowing users to search 1.5 million sporting products from more than 150 retailers, O’Dwyer says. Since the relaunch last fall, visitors have grown from 70,000 to more than two million last month. He is now looking to hire additional writers.

The biggest challenge for Wide Open Spaces, O’Dwyer says, is customers getting accustomed to buying sporting goods online. “You want to hold and touch gear,” he says. “That’s changing as you see the shift from retailers to e-commerce. My wife is in the 5th inning of buying online; I’m 3rd inning.”

New York native O’Dwyer, who previously served as vice president for local sales for Yelp and director of sales at Yahoo, conceived the idea for Wide Open Spaces in 2005 when as a newbie to Texas he was invited on his first fishing trip here. “I grew up deep-sea fishing off of Long Island and New Jersey, versus in Texas where I went bass fishing,” he says.

O’Dwyer searched online for ideas for the sort of insider intelligence that he felt he needed for his trip but says he didn’t find anything. “Engineers who build tech companies in the Valley or New York don’t have an overwhelming passion for hunting and fishing,” he says. “They’re not building products that serve their outside passions, they’re doing a hotel booking app or home rental website.”

“I hunt and fish,” he added. “I have a co-founder who hunts and fishes.”

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