A few years ago, I was a beta tester for a new phone application marrying social media with the Great Outdoors.
Naturally, I was intrigued.
There were few social media platforms catering to fishing and hunting interests at the time. Nobody appeared to have the market cornered. And this company, even in its infancy, had an ambitious goal to take it by storm.
That company is Louisville, Kentucky-based GoWild—an outdoor start-up guaranteed to pique one’s interest.
Why The App is Catching Fire
Against many competitors in the space, GoWild has effectively navigated the digital wilderness—especially as content becomes more politically divisive and concerns about censorship arise.
The company was co-founded by CEO Brad Luttrell, Donovan Sears, Zack Grimes and Chris Gleim. An Apple version debuted in September 2017. An Android version shortly followed.
Brad told me GoWild has a rightful place in the social media ecosystem since Silicon Valley largely misunderstands the hook and bullet crowd.
“GoWild is a social media platform built for outdoor enthusiasts, by outdoor enthusiasts,” Luttrell said. “We're focused on an audience that Silicon Valley has proven to misunderstand. With our platform, outdoorsmen and women can freely share hunting, fishing and outdoor content, discuss and browse gear, save trophies and more.”
He noted the outdoor industry, like other traditional industries, was reluctant to embrace digital tools but they’ve come around to embracing apps like his.
“Four years ago, I was surprised at how behind some of the outdoor industry is, particularly the hunting industry,” said Luttrell.
“But that is rapidly evolving and we're seeing tech emerging at a pace that is similar to what we saw in golf over the last decade. We're proud to be leading edge tech in the outdoor industry, and I strongly believe our social commerce technology is years ahead of any other social platform.”
In a recent news release, Kentucky native noted investors continue to place their trust in the app given its viability:
GoWild has completed a funding round of $2.25M, supported by investors who believe in our team, product and mission. That mission is to unlock the gate to the outdoors for all. With this milestone, we are well prepared and positioned to continue building the best social platform for outdoorsmen and women, as well as expand upon our gear functionality.
Remedying Tech Industry Shortcomings
Among the app’s many goals is to be a haven for sportsmen and women disillusioned by today’s online censorship.
“Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok have openly identified hunting and even fishing content as being a violation of content policies in that it is considered animal cruelty,” noted Lutrell.
“What this means for the regular user of these platforms is that you may very well post and nothing happens. But if your post gets reported, it can end up in front of a human whose job is to determine if your post violates these terms. This leads to cuts of wild game being censored, while store-bought steaks go viral.”
He added, “Many of these platforms have deflected concerns of censorship with the excuse that their content is sorted by algorithms, and not their teams, which largely hides the fact that a human designates what these machine learning algorithms value as good content.”
As for their algorithm, Luttrell noted their Trailmix News Feed isn’t
“designed to sort out content we find politically objectionable. Rather, its purpose is to “help the cream rise to the top.”
Brad also explained the platform rewards specific content items.
What kinds? Content helping new hunters and anglers learn new skills. It also strives to give the edge to people asking questions by awarding their posts greater reach.
What is their most engaging content? Trophy posts—which tabulate points based on species, method of catch/harvest, size, time allotted and more.
More recently, Brad said, there’s been a strong organic growth in female users.
The Future of Hunting, Even with Disruptions and All
Back in March, GoWild announced a marketing campaign amounting to $250,000 in free advertising to state wildlife agencies—$5,000 per state— for promoting fishing and hunting license sales.
I asked Brad for an update on the program.
“State agencies can still reach out to take advantage of our $5K advertising grant to help GoWild members in their states find how to purchase licenses or find public licenses,” he said.
“We also have advertising programs to help state agencies re-activate hunters, which is an advertising product outside of our platform. I believe we have the best re-activation advertising available to agencies.”
With regards to hunting’s future, Brad is cautiously optimistic–even with the COVID-19 curveball. Ironically, these last few months have injected new life into these activities, particularly hunting, with the push for “responsible recreation.”
“Anecdotally, I have seen an incredible amount of people using our platform to learn new outdoor skills,” Luttrell said. “I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to properly quantify what 2020 did for the outdoors, but it may have just saved it.”
“From my conversations with other professionals in the industry, it looks like the number of anglers will double this year for many states, hunters will see at least a 30% increase, and we'll see up to 8 million new gun owners. 2020 has been a tumultuous year in American cities, which has rekindled our love of the great American wilderness. For that we can be grateful.”