Mallard Bay is the Airbnb for guided hunting and fishing

Americans spent more than $144.8 billion on fishing and hunting in 2022 alone, according to a survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Guided hunting and fishing excursions are a substantial part of that industry, but they’ve largely remained offline. Bookings are done over the phone and paid for by physical checks or cash. Mallard Bay is looking to change that.

The Houston-based startup is a marketplace for consumers who hunt and fish to find and book guided tours the same way they would book a hotel online. Mallard Bay is also a vertical SaaS platform for the outfitters themselves to bring their back office online and provide additional services like marketing.

The startup announced this week a $4.6 million Series A led by Soul Venture Partners with participation from existing investor Acadian Capital Ventures, and other angel investors. Logan Meaux, co-founder and CEO of Mallard Bay, told TechCrunch he got the idea for the company after a botched hunting trip with his dad back when he was in college. He thought he had booked a three-day guided duck hunt in Oklahoma. When they showed up, they found out the hunt was double booked and their only option was to hunt for one day with 13 other people. Meaux never fired a single shot.

At the time, Meaux was working for his dad’s startup Waitr, which raised $24 million in venture capital before exiting in 2018, and thought he could launch a company of his own. In 2019, he and two other co-founders got to work. The original idea was to just create a marketplace like Airbnb for people to book these guided hunts. Once the company started asking outfitters and guides what they thought of the idea, they realized that they were going to need to bring more to the table to get guides to sign on. That led them to start building out Guidetech, Mallard Bay’s back office solution for outfitters.

“[Outfitters] were receptive to the idea, knew that keeping up with the times was something they wanted to do, but inherently outfitters are not business owners first,” Meaux said. “They started out as guides, and they’re doing what they love, and they’re building a passion-based business. [With] us being passionate about not only outdoors and going hunting and fishing, but also the software space, we kind of brought that domain expertise to them to tell them, ‘Hey, if you guys are going to make this transition, we’re the guys for that.’”

After the company got Toby Brohlin, a hunting influencer, on the platform, more outfitters started to sign up. Brohlin has booked more than $1 million in gross bookings, Meux said. The platform as a whole facilitated more than $6 million in gross bookings in 2023 and is on track to reach $30 million to $35 million in 2024.

Despite the market size, and the company’s traction, Meaux said it was hard to get investors to sign on — the firm spoke to over 270 investors to raise this round — because investors didn’t understand the category or its potential. The startup also had to navigate people’s negative perceptions around hunting and ensure potential backers that this wasn’t a platform to book exotic hunting trips in Africa. Another key point the founders wanted to share with investors: When hunting and fishing are done ethically, it actually helps with conservation, something the company is passionate about.

“The one thing that comes with hunting and fishing is being a conservationist,” Meaux said. “It just kind of comes with the territory because ultimately, as we were shown the ropes from our parents on how to do things, we want our kids to be able to do those same things. If you don’t have sustainable practices, sustainable wildlife management, overpopulation is detrimental to wildlife in general.”

Mallard Bay, Logan Meaux

Mallard Bay co-founders, from left: Wyatt Mallett, Logan Meaux, Joel Moreau and Tam Nguyen. Image Credits: Mallard Bay

While I’m not a hunter myself, and only dabble in fishing occasionally, Mallard Bay’s deal caught my eye because I can’t say I hear about hunting or fishing often in the startup and tech ecosystem. Hunting SaaS is an interesting concept! And it’s not even the only hunting-related company that’s recently raised funding: HLRBO, an online platform to make it easier to find hunting land leases, raised a $1 million seed round in February.

It’s also notable how much Mallard has been able to grow since its 2021 launch. Mallard Bay’s bookings have grown 600% year over year, which is impressive for any category but notable in a category like hunting and fishing that seems relatively niche. As I’ve said before, the riches are in the niches — likely because the niche markets are never as small as they initially may seem.

People in the U.S. spent over $394 billion on outdoor activities — including hunting and fishing, but also hiking, birdwatching and others — but a lot of those industries are still largely offline or reliant on low-grade, hard-to-navigate tech. I experienced this last month when I tried to find parking to hike Sedona, Arizona’s very popular Devil’s Bridge trail. I had to piece together information from multiple blogs to see whether I even needed a parking pass.

There are case studies beyond Mallard Bay, too, that show these outdoor-focused applications have customer demand. Strava, an app targeting runners and bikers, boasts over 100 million users. Applications that connect people who share a common outdoorsy activity like fishing also have strong traction. Fishbrain, a social media app for fishers, has logged more than 14 million caught fish in its 12-year history.

For Meaux, he knows how large this could become and despite the progress they’ve made so far, he thinks there is still so much of the market to capture and more capabilities to build into Guidetech.

“I like to say that we’ve had some success, but we’re not yet successful,” Meaux said. “And that’s something I learned from my dad along the way. In his companies, even after exit, they still had work that was to be done.”

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