GoWild, a new outdoors app, was created by Louisville-area entrepreneurs to form a community – from grizzled hunters to novice campers to “noodlers”
BRAD LUTTRELL was walking through the woods in Bell County in the fall of 2016, scouting for deer, when the question flashed in his mind: “When I get one, am I even going to want to post it on Facebook?”
He’d been turned off by all the negative social media responses from the anti-hunting contingent. “Oh, do you feel like a man now?” someone had blogged the last time he’d put up a picture of a deer he’d hunted – a 10-point buck in Shelby County that should have been a moment of celebration for almost any deer hunter. “Do I even want to put up with that?” he wondered. “It’s a shame that I can do something I feel so proud of and yet not be able to tell people about it.” And just like that, an idea was born. Luttrell was convinced that what was lacking for the hunting community was a place where enthusiasts could get together to share information, war stories, photos, experiences and adventures. And learn. A place where beginners could get useful tips and mentoring from more-experienced hunters – and not just hunters, but also campers, hikers, anglers, et al. – without any social media clucking. Luttrell returned home to Louisville, where he’s creative director at the ad agency and web design firm OOHology, and did some online research. Nothing existed in the form he was thinking of. There were sites and apps for hunters, but they were poorly designed, hard to navigate, not particularly good user experiences. He enlisted a dream team among people he knew or worked with: web designer Donovan Sears; data scientist Zack Grimes, who developed the analytics; software developer Chris Gleim; Bassmaster Elite Series pro angler John Hunter as chief strategy officer; Lauren Gleim as chief marketing officer; and Amy Wiitala, chief financial officer. Luttrell said they all passed up lucrative fees to become equity holders and co-founders. The app was called GoWild. And go wild it did. Beta tested in January 2017, it was launched in September. Within four days, it was covered by the esteemed web site WideOpenSpaces. com, which proclaimed to its 11 million readers that GoWild was “one of the best outdoor apps we’ve ever seen.”
By December, the app had “thousands of users, and we’ve been adding 200 a day.” What’s the key to GoWild’s success? Partly, said Luttrell, it’s making it easy for interested people – both veteran outdoors devotees and beginners who want to get involved – to find the areas they’re interested in, at whatever level they participate. Luttrell grew up in Eastern Kentucky doing a lot of fishing, not so much hunting. “But as I hunted more, I began to learn how much I didn’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to teach yourself, and there was no public platform with which to learn. I just thought there had to be a better way for people to be helped.” On GoWild, experienced hunters or anglers (or hikers or bikers) can post about their recent successes, giving all kinds of tips about location and ammunition or bait they used, or problems to avoid. Newbies can post getting-started questions without fear of embarrassment. There’s a place for people’s photos, and there will eventually be a place for videos, as well. There’s information on best places to hunt or fish, various states’ licensing requirements and hunting or fishing schedules, great camping or off-roading sites. And, of course, there’s storytelling, every hunter’s or angler’s second-favorite pastime. And it’s not just the hunt or the catch that’s detailed. One of Luttrell’s own favorite features derives from his love of cooking the game he brings home. So there are tips about harvesting the animal, keeping the meat fresh, understanding the various cuts of meat, how to strip and de-bone fish, etc. And there are favorite recipes. Luttrell recently posted one of his favorites, venison barbacoa, from the Hank Shaw book, “Buck Buck Moose.” “Eating your catch is the ultimate act of conservation,” he said. “It’s using the entire animal, rather than just mounting the antlers and throwing the rest out.”
Future plans for the app will make it even more useful, and interesting. Proprietary, patent-pending technology called “The Legend Scoring System” will allow users to score their animals or fish via an algorithm that measures more than an elk’s antlers or a bass’s weight. “This will take into account all aspects of the experience,” said Luttrell. “It will consider the field conditions, the depth of the water, the distance of the shot, the type of equipment and ammunition or bait used, and all the other things you tell your buddies when you’re recounting the experience. There’s never been a scoring system for that. It’s less about antlers, more about outdoorsmanship. “And the app gets smarter with every submission,” he said. “As we build our own database, we’ll have historical data to compare your deer, fish, turkey or grouse to the ones you’ve harvested in years past – or even to compare it to where you stand overall with other GoWild users.” When it’s live, the scoring system will cross-reference 75 or 100 species, and users will be able to accumulate points that will go toward one of the lines of merchandise GoWild carries on its website, TimeToGoWild.com. (Don’t try to go to GoWild. com, you’ll automatically be taken to a gambling site called GoWildCasino.com.) Currently, there are T-shirts, hats, bags, coffee mugs and decals, but more is in the works. In addition, the app will begin to learn about its users: what they’re interested in and where they like to hunt, fish, hike or camp. From there, it will be able to make recommendations. “This could be as simple as showing more relevant posts than a traditional social platform,” Luttrell said, “or as complex as showcasing hunting tips for a user’s exact skill level, preferred state in which to hunt and the species the user likes to hunt. Each user can have a different experience, based on his or her specific outdoors hobbies.” Another aspect of GoWild that Luttrell feels will make it more popular is the “firewall” they’ve built to keep out the negativity of customary social media. In general, social media has become a contentious forum for discussions that escalate into arguments, then insults and, ultimately, into confrontations and threats. And this is especially true for the hunting community, which finds itself the target of gun-control advocates, animal rights activists, conservationists and the vegetarian/vegan contingent. In normal social media forums, Luttrell said, “our audience doesn’t have a place where it can discuss hunting without it leading to arguments, which lead to death threats.” Death threats? Who’s threatening whom? Surprisingly, said Luttrell, it’s the anti-hunters threatening the pro-hunters. And, he said, “Facebook and Instagram don’t do anything to prevent it. They don’t take a stance on anything.” It’s not a “firewall” in the sense of a network security system. “But GoWild is not an open, freedom-of-speech platform, in which everyone has a right to say whatever they wish to say,” said Luttrell. “If you sign up for our platform, you agree to support conservation efforts. If you come to this app trolling in a way that’s not conducive to conversation and positive debate, your account will be deleted.” In fact, it’s a discourse self-regulated by the GoWild community. “We have a reporting system that allows users to report anything they find to be inappropriate or against our terms and conditions,” Luttrell explained. “Those reports go to our team. Users who are considered to be in direct violation are deleted immediately, and users who are promoting activity that is not supported by conservation or ethical hunting practices are deleted after a GoWild team review.” The app is current available only on iPhones, but Luttrell has a late-winter target date to expand to Android phones, as well. In 2017, GoWild won one of 12 HOT Innovation Awards from EnterpriseCorp, the entrepreneurial arm of Greater Louisville Inc. The awards honor “technology-based companies that are utilizing innovation to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and incorporating some level of intellectual property with their innovation. Each has already gained customer traction as an indication of early adoption and is currently in or has had successful equity raises.” In fact, Luttrell said the company raised more than double its projected funding during the second quarter of its first fiscal year. And, its reach is already international. “I can tell by where we ship our merchandise,” he said. “We’ve been getting requests to ship orders to Australia, Germany, Sweden. It’s becoming exactly as I had imagined. If you provide a good experience for people, they’ll come back, share content and also tell their friends. But only if it’s a platform they can comfortably use.”
Within four days of launching, WideOpenSpaces.com proclaimed to its 11 million readers that GoWild was “one of the best outdoor apps we’ve ever seen.