Describe FishBrain in a few sentences.
FishBrain is a social network and mobile app for the world’s biggest hobby. There are 60 million people who fish in the US alone, more than the number of golfers and tennis players combined. The global fishing market is worth 48 billion dollars a year.
Where did the idea of FishBrain originate from?
I’m not an angler myself. My background is that I previously started another company and was living in the US for seven years and had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do next while I was there. I realized that I didn’t have the big corporation gene in me so I decided that I could either join a startup or found one. I knew that I wanted to create a deep social network; The big social networks we have today such as Facebook, Instagram and Path are all based on sharing among friends. But if you have a hobby and a passion it can sometimes be negative to share this to a social network of this character. If you’re interested in ice hockey or riding your friends will at some point tell you to stop posting pictures of your horse, but if you’re part of a peer group with people who share your interest they will give you positive feedback while a friends group would provide you with negative feedback. As a result of this I knew that I wanted to create a deep social network, but I didn’t know which one.
I was reading an article in Forbes or Financial Times that listed the ten biggest hobbies and they wrote that angling was number one. I’m not a great angler myself, but I teamed up with two Swedish guys who are anglers so we do have the knowledge in-house, but it’s not provided by me.
You founded your company in 2010, how has the product evolved during these years? Have the users impacted the product in a specific way?
Both yes and no. We have been careful with being to user driven in our development of the product. We now have 750 000 users and we receive a lot of feedback and feature requests, but the most important thing to us is to have a clear vision of where we want to take the product in 3-5 years. We receive a lot of feedback along the way so it’s not a straight line, if we see that the feedback is consistent among many users we will rethink the way we’re doing something. We are measuring more now and are more metrics driven than user driven. One thing I like about apps is that we can see if a feature is having a negative impact on our KPI’s or retention and our experience tells us that it’s hard to guess, you have to make changes and be prepared to redo things if it turns out to be negative.
Your users seem to be very engaged in the community. How do you work with creating a habit and make them contribute to the app?
We are not doing so much yet. It is still early for us, we want to look more at offline activities such as events and ambassador programs. We currently have 15-20 local ambassadors in Florida who are already active users on FishBrain and who travel to fishing clubs, contests and events to inform people about FishBrain, but this is still being done at a small scale.
You reached 750 000 users in February. Is it still the American market that is the majority of the user base or are there more interesting markets for you to look at?
The US consists of half a million of our users, so up until now the product has been USA driven. Other exciting markets are China and Japan, but since it is complicated for Western companies to enter China out of technical standpoint we will look closer at Japan initially.
What has been your biggest learning so far with FishBrain?
We are a startup that has been doing pretty well, and one learning is that it’s easy to become distracted. We have received many proposals and sometimes it has been hard to say no. We’ve done a couple of partnerships in traditional media that has not been very rewarding, so we are more focused on the product and to constantly improve it. Another learning is that you can add many features to the app, but it will make it more complex and the user experience will suffer as a result. Now we are trying to remove something every time something is being added to the app in order to avoid it being too complex. The UI/UX part has been super important for us.
How do you think that the internet has changed this industry?
We don’t believe that it has been changed so much yet, but if we can keep doing this for four or five more years we hope that everything that is being done offline today will be taken online. It can range from buying a fishing card in-app instead of at the gas station, buy fishing gear in-app since it’s not dependent on fit the same way clothes are and share information about fishing clothing and similar in-app instead of through phone calls and emails.
What has your marketing focus been? Which channels do you use?
We have tested a lot of things and our marketing is now focused on two things: First, app install ads on Facebook is the only paid marketing we are doing currently, and it’s not a silver bullet that works for everybody. Other companies within fitness cannot compete against the established fitness companies, while our competitors tend to not have a strong digital presence. There is no competitor within fishing that is the equivalent of Nike that we have to compete against with our ads. We reach half of our American users via Facebook, so it’s a great channel for us.
The second thing we use is PR, since we are disrupting an old market there is generally a lot of interest in writing about us and we receive good buzz around FishBrain as a company, but it doesn’t generate a lot of downloads. Another part is that users invite each other, in general all active users will invite other friends who fish to FishBrain.
What possibilities do you see to market yourselves in the coming year? Which methods and channels appeal to you?
I believe in combining Facebook with grassroot marketing and offline activities such as ambassador programs.
How do you measure success? Which metrics do you use?
App activity is the most important one since our content is 100% user generated. We look at how many logged activities we have (how many catches for example). So there are two main things, activity and the amount of content being generated.
There are different things of importance, for FishBrain it is a little bit like with Twitter and Facebook, and that is that many people will consume content and engage through comments, likes et cetera but who will not create content themselves. These people are important as sources of future revenue though.
Monthly active users are important to us. Growth is another important metric, we are the fastest growing app in our category and since we are market leaders we have to keep growing faster than everybody else.
I read that you are growing with a thousand members a day. How do you make them stay with you?Now we have 2000 members a day, and it’s all about making the first user experience as good as possible. The user experience 2015 will be better than what it was 2014 since we now have a good amount of content when the user arrives to the app. That’s the negative part about being first on a social network, that it’s not enough content to consume. This is something we have built up on the US market but for other markets such as Japan the experience will be much worse, so from a product standpoint we have to work more with curating content (e.g. take nice catches uploaded from the US members and show to the Japanese users) and filter our user content.
Could you describe how you work with gamification to create engagement?
We are not doing enough of it, but are planning to do more of it during 2015, I think it’s a missed opportunity to not have it as a part of the app. Currently you can compete amongst friends, fishing clubs or somebody else. You can also become ‘King of the Water’ in an area. One interesting way of doing it is to let users become the best angler in his area, have the best catch in the world et cetera to add this element to the app.
Why do you think that FishBrain has become so successful?
I think that part of it is that we are serial entrepreneurs, I made a lot of mistakes in the first company that resulted in me making less of those mistakes this time around. I also believe that it’s because we have 13 people on the team with 8 focusing on the product, making us very product focused.
Was there a specific moment when you realized that there was a market for your product?
Not really, we have always iterated. Whenever we did something we could see that it was being well received, people signed up, getting users was relatively simple, people wanted to upload content, so it felt right from the beginning. The plan we made two years ago hasn’t changed, it has more been about smaller adjustments.
Has the behavior of anglers changed with technology? E.g. that people choose to show their positions instead of keeping them a secret?
I do not think that we have changed behaviors, but the big question was if people wanted to share at all. We have three options in the app, either you share the exact position for the catch, you share the position for the area (e.g. which water) or you only share the catch without any position data. But the majority of users will share exact position or area, and there are some people who choose to keep them a secret. But since angling is a social activity being exercised with friends there is no sensitivity around sharing the data publicly.
Are there any other communities that you are inspired by in your work with FishBrain?
There are two parts of our app, one is the utility part where we provide users with a lot of knowledge through our data collecting. For that I like Strava, an app for bicyclists but that also features running now. They are doing a great job with the utility part, they started later than Runkeeper but narrowed down it’s core business and has only recently added a social part to the app.
The second thing is the social network and in that aspect I think that Soundcloud is very good at community management.
What do you see as the future of angling?
To make sure that everything surrounding fishing can be included in the app. Everything from finding places to go fishing, to buying your gear, finding fishing guides, travel destinations (anglers tend to travel a lot), we see all of this as future possibilities for FishBrain.
Are there any philosophical quotes that inform your business thinking?
I don’t use quotes for inspiration but prefer common sense instead! I thinks that a lot of management literature is massively overrated but Peter Thiels “Zero to One” is an exception. To paraphrase the book, I didn’t realise how important it is to create a monopoly within a vertical, which is exactly what we’re doing at FishBrain.
Thanks Johan for your time. It’s been very interesting to chat!
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