Jonathan Newar, Co-Founder & CEO of Austin-based Captain Experiences, told us that he “wouldn’t wish launching a startup in a pandemic on my worst enemy”, but that hasn’t stopped his own startup from becoming a phenomenon.
What’s more, it’s a phenomenon that anyone can learn from. As with so many successful businesses, Jonathan was trying to solve a problem: the hassle of booking a fishing trip in the US. Now he’s CEO of the largest platform for booking fishing trips in the US, with plans to expand across all outdoor sports and geographies.
As part of our TakeOff series of interviews with startup founders, we asked Jonathan about how the idea came about, the problems they’ve come across and what advice he would give fellow potential entrepreneurs.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Our goal at Captain is to unlock the outdoors by making it quick and easy to book the trip of a lifetime every time. We do so through our “Search It, Book It, Live It” process — you can filter our trips at captainexperiences.com based on location, group size, target species, price and more, flip through current photos, and book real-time availability with quality, vetted guides.
Leading up to your trip, we email and text you a QR code, your guide scans your QR code, payment transfers automatically, and you’re all set to go fishing! No early morning ATM withdrawals to cross town with cash. Captain makes booking the best outdoor sports guides in the world quick and easy.
What made you launch a startup?
The idea for Captain came from when the company I was working for sold, I said, “Hey guys, we always talk about that fishing trip – let’s finally book it.” The response was, “Great job Jonathan, you just nominated yourself to book us all a fishing trip.”
From there, I googled “Galveston fishing charters” and the idea hit me. I thought, “If you can book an Airbnb or call an Uber, why can’t I do the same with fishing? Why am I spending days comparing charter prices, availability, boat specs, target species, etc, and calling guides?”
From there, I drove down to the docks in Galveston to meet with guides. To my surprise, they said, “We’d love to list on a site that made it easy for us to earn more trips and manage our calendars.”
I then drove the opposite way to Austin, TX, incorporated Captain Experiences, teamed up with my Co-Founder and our Head of Product, Attison Barnes, and launched Captain in March 2020.
What problem are you trying to solve?
At Captain, we are trying to solve the painful problem of finding quality fishing guides and make booking the trip of a lifetime quick and easy in order to unlock the outdoors. Our online platform ensures a seamless and trustworthy booking process for fishing trips. You can filter trips by location, group size, target species, and price, view current photos, and book with vetted guides in real-time. No more hassles with cash or phone tag with captains. We’ll send you a QR code via email and text, and your guide will scan it for automatic payment.
Can you talk us through your journey so far? What’s a major milestone you’ve reached?
We launched Captain in March of 2020 at the height of the pandemic, which was rough, to say the least.
We booked only four trips that month but the pandemic gave us downtime to further improve user experience. Adventurers used the time away from work to get outdoors, and we saw an explosion in interest throughout 2020-2021. From there, the 5-star reviews started coming in, and that’s when we knew we had something special with Captain.
That burst of interest led to a long-term, widespread increase in outdoor participation, and Captain continues to serve as an outstanding resource for unlocking the outdoors.
Captain has partnered with over 1,200 quality, vetted guides while amassing over 47,000 hours booked outdoors.
We’re most proud of the fact that after thousands of trips booked (we actually just booked our 7,000th trip), we’ve maintained an average review score of 4.9/5 stars.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and how did you overcome it?
Launching a consumer travel marketplace in March 2020 at the height of the global pandemic was a harrowing experience, to say the least. That being said, we consulted our guides and learned that we had to push forward — most of the guides we partner with are sole proprietorships, so they did not have payroll and were therefore excluded from PPP [the US payment protection program that gave loans during the pandemic]. They needed to run trips to stay in business so we worked with them to mask up, disinfect boats and gear, and run trips in a safe and sanitary manner.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone looking to launch their startup?
My advice to entrepreneurs is to stick with it and double your timelines. Nothing is as easy as it seems, and everything takes twice as long and twice as much effort as you think when jumping out of the gates.
Make sure you’re incredibly passionate about what you’re building because otherwise, the challenges along the way become incredibly daunting. If you’re passionate about what you’re building, the journey will be rewarding beyond belief and a ton of fun.
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