In less than a year, a startup started by three LSU students that bills itself as “Airbnb for Sportsmen” has attracted $1.8 million in funding and won $218,000 in an international design competition. business for students.
Mallards Bay is an online marketplace that connects hunters and anglers with guides and charter boat captains. Customers can book trips with verified providers and pay online. Outdoor businesses can promote their services and get paid instantly.
Logan Meaux, co-founder and CEO, said the site helps athletes and outdoor businesses save time and money. Instead of multiple calls, haggling over prices, and waiting for deposit checks to arrive, it’s all done through a website. “They just book like you would with Airbnb,” he said.
Mallard Bay’s roots go back three years ago when Meaux planned a duck hunting trip to Oklahoma with his father, Chris Meaux. Chris Meaux is the founder of online delivery service ASAP (formerly Waitr).
Instead of spending three days on a father-son guided hunt, 24-year-old Logan Meaux ended up hanging out with 13 other hunters and not firing a single shot. “It was a really bad experience to get up there and waste thousands of dollars on it,” Meaux said. “I realized there was no resource like Airbnb for guided hunting, fishing trips.”
Logan Meaux and co-founder Wyatt Mallett set out to create a website that could serve as a trusted go-between for outdoor enthusiasts and businesses. Meaux and Mallett’s work experience with Waitr helped; they were two of the first employees, first delivery drivers at 16, then managers at 17.
“We talked to restaurants, to customers, but we also had to make sure our drivers were still working,” Mallett, 23, said. “It was a lot to learn and I’m glad we had that experience.”
The experience working with Waitr has taught them that change is constant and the key for a business is to stay focused on the big picture, Logan Meaux said.
Chris Meaux serves as a mentor for Mallard Bay, with experience launching a technology startup and growing the business. He provided financial support and introduced the founders to early investors. But of the $1.8 million funding round that recently ended, $1.1 million came from new investors.
One of the factors that helped attract new funding for the company was Mallard Bay’s performance in an international student startup competition held at Rice University in the spring. The company took home $218,000 in cash and prizes, ranking fourth out of 42 entrants in terms of money raised.
“It gave us exposure to a lot of Texas investors,” said Joel Moreau, 22, another co-founder. “It was kind of a proud moment to come in with this LSU chase startup against MIT, Harvard, the top universities in the country.”
Tam Nguyen is the fourth co-founder. Nguyen is the only co-founder with no ties to LSU: he earned a degree in computer science from the University of Mississippi.
Mallard Bay launched in November, with 12 outdoor businesses. Now over 230 outdoor businesses in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and South Africa are listed on the website.
The company is on track to handle $2.5 million in gross bookings in its first year and has grown from five to 10 employees.
Toby Brohlin, owner/operator of Cadillac Creek Outfitter, has been working with Mallard Bay for six months. He said the site has streamlined bookings for the Amarillo, Texas-based company that offers guided waterfowl hunting trips.
It used to be that when someone called Brohlin about a hunting trip, he said he had to go away to put his name on a calendar, send an invoice, stay with the client until he had paid a deposit and then hoped it would show up on the day they booked.
Now the potential customer goes to Mallard Bay, clicks on a link for Cadillac Creek, and enters the days they want to hunt. Brohlin just has to approve the date. All payments are handled through the site and are distributed to people going on hunting trips, so there’s no organizer left to hold the bag for friends who are behind on payment.
“I’m not tech savvy, so if I can use this site, anyone can use it,” Brohlin said. “I wish I had done it sooner. It’s unclear how many cases I missed.
Mallard Bay plans to use the money raised to further improve its services.
Two Mallard Bay mobile apps are expected to launch in the coming months. One will allow outfitters to manage their reservations and payments, the other will allow athletes to book trips.
The end goal is to make Mallard Bay the outdoor business platform from which to run its operations: managing payroll, tracking income and expenses, and selling additional services at the point of sale, such as bird cleaning.
“A lot of these providers that we talk to are pen and paper operations, so double bookings are happening, a lot of payments are being missed,” Mallett said.
By consolidating all operations into a single platform, it will provide stability for outdoor activities, which are usually cash operations.
“It will help providers really account for things that they might not expect, whether it’s from the IRS,” Logan Meaux said. “Protect them and really make their lives easier.”
There is potential to potentially move Mallard Bay to other activities, such as booking canoes or treks and assisting operators with booking lodges when hunting season is not in progress.
“We realize this is a very scalable product that could potentially be used by raft guides and all of these different things,” Moreau said. “But at this point we’re really focused on this niche and fragmented market of hunting and fishing.”