Fishbrain: Hooking the Next Unicorn

 

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Sweden has already produced five start-ups that are now valued at $1 billion or more. Fishbrain, a deceptively simple fishing app, is being tipped as the next big thing.

 

 

It all started as a fisherman’s dream

All fishermen have probably had the same dream that Jens Persson had back in 2010 on one of his fishing trips. He envisioned a place where anglers could share their catch data and use that data to find patterns: the best spots to fish, the best time to fish, and what you could expect to hook.

Together with Marcus Fransson, who had started up Parans, a technology company of his own a few years earlier, Persson, a web architect, got to work on developing Fishbrain. It might all have ended there – just another app shared by a friends and fellow hobbyists but with a limited number of users – if not for Johan Attby, a Swedish entrepreneur killing time in the States after selling his startup Tific.

“I had an 18-month exit contract and was looking for my next project,” says Attby. “I’m a very analytical guy so when I started thinking about what to do next I looked for macro trends that I believed in.  When something gets really big in society there’s often a business opportunity – but timing is critical.”

If you have a passion or hobby, Attby says, you have to share your experience with like-minded people, not friends. This creates deeper engagement and conversation, which is now called ‘deep social networks’.

“Sport fishing is the world’s biggest hobby and ideal for a social network, because anglers have the urge to brag about their catches. I decided to jump on this opportunity and after doing some research, I found Marcus and Jens and we joined forces,” he says.

“Johan is a very skilled and experienced entrepreneur,” says Persson.  “He is one of the most focused people I’ve ever worked with and was the missing piece to take Fishbrain forward.”

It was the perfect match.  Fransson and Persson needed someone who had the business savvy and experience needed to take Fishbrain to the next level, and Attby, who came in with investment and took the role of CEO, lit the fire.

Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley when it comes to producing unicorns – startups valued at one billion dollars or more – on a per-capita basis. There are more than 20,000 startups in the city, with an increase of 338% in international investments since 2014.

While there are a number of contenders in the running to become Sweden’s sixth unicorn, Fishbrain, launched in 2013, is being increasingly eyed by international investors, with $8 million raised in it’s most recent round of funding.

There were already more than a dozen fishing apps on the market when Fishbrain launched but Fishbrain was the first one to manage to scale it. A lot of competitors had created an app and thrown it up on the app store, thinking it would automatically take off. If only it were that easy.

“Our competitors fail in two areas: some are basically Instagram for fishermen, while others are overly technical.  We’ve found the right balance between social media and utility,” says Attby.

Without the social dimension, which gives space for bragging rights, Fishbrain wouldn’t have growth  – but number crunching is also important: forecast and recommendations on where, when, and how to fish.  Fishbrain is, at heart, social media for fisherman, but in order to stand out it needed to build a strong backend to address the fact that fishermen are passionate and serious about their hobby.

That passion is the key to Fishbrain’s future.

“Fishing has an extremely loyal fan base and is often a lifelong hobby,” says Attby. “You can start as a kid and continue fishing right up until you draw your last breath. If your platform is good enough you can hopefully count on slow, steady growth from that loyal fan base.”

From 50.000 to 1.6 million users

Going from promising upstart to established leader isn’t as easy as it sounds; many a tech company has failed before reaching the coveted ‘network effect’.

“Essentially, we need to hit 10-20% density because that’s when things really kick in: your friends and other people interested in this area are probably already on there when you sign up, you get stronger word of mouth, and people start returning regularly. Getting to that point is the hard part – and we’re not there yet.”

While Fishbrain’s estimated 1.6 million users (up from roughly 50,000 at launch) are scattered around the world, the main market is the US, which boasts around 60 million people who identify as fishermen.

“Our top markets are the US, Australia, Canada, Sweden, and the UK. The US is the fastest growing one and nearly 100% of our focus is there,” says Attby.

“If you establish yourself in the US, very often South America, Europe, and other regions will follow, so if we take the States we’re well on our way.”

The trick – keep it interesting

In order to achieve that much coveted world domination Fishbrain has formed several partnerships in the States, teaming up with both the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF).  The co-operations aim to also support the sport of fishing.

“Our users can help track endangered species and give that information to the Wildlife Service, which, in turn, passes that information onto their field biologists. This all helps make fishing sustainable.”

Big plans are afoot to expand Fishbrain’s scope, including geographical expansion and improved services in a number of sectors.

“We’re very early in the product,” says Attby. “While we are not competing with big companies like other apps, such as fitness, we have to keep evolving in order to achieve that critical mass. The trick is to keep it interesting while not alienating current or future users. Our vision is to be the platform for everything sport fishing.”

And there’s nothing fishy about that.

Scandinavian Traveler

The brains behind Fishbrain

Johan Attby
Age: 41
Family: Wife, two kids, 8 and 4
Career: CEO of Fishbrain, MSc engineering physics at ­Chalmers University of Technology, Founder of Tific

Jens Persson
Age: 38
Family: Married, one son
Career: Co-founder of Has.it, art director, designer

Marcus Fransson
Age: 39
Family: married, 2 kids
Career: CEO/co-founder of Parans, independent consultant

 

Fishbrain’s top 5 fishing spots 

Cabo, Baja California, Mexico
Marlin, sailfish

Tampa Bay, Florida, USA
King mackerel, tarpon, snook

Dangriga, Belize
Great barracuda, yellowtail

Fraser River, Canada
White sturgeon

Trinity River, Texas, USA
Alligator gar

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