Owners: Erik Boles, Brian McCarrie
Business started: March 2014
No. of employees: Three
Address: Epicentral Coworking, 409 N. Tejon St.
The arena of outdoor equipment can be overwhelming to navigate, especially as a rookie buyer of sporting goods.
While companies offer valuable web resources, and outdoor magazines produce seasonal buying guides, there has been little in the way of a vast, yet easily accessible, database of gear information.
Local web-based startup Gearmunk is attempting to fill that void for runners, bikers, climbers and others looking for no-nonsense, equipment-buying advice.
Self-described “serial entrepreneur” and Colorado Springs native Erik Boles cofounded the company with business partner Brian McCarrie, both of whom have experienced that gap first-hand.
“What we realized is that there doesn’t exist a platform that allows you to get really credible gear information and reviews and see the entire gamut of gear,” Boles said. “There is nothing across the board, and you don’t know how credible those reviewers are.”
Boles touts Gearmunk as the “world’s first gear review and education platform that is powered by credibility and loyalty.”
The saga began one night in Colorado Springs, as the two sat at Oscar’s Tejon Street, discussing their mutual love of the outdoors.
Boles and McCarrie agreed the best adventures could be ruined by not having adequate equipment. So, on a bar napkin, they began to devise a TripAdvisor-like web app featuring how-to guides, price notifications, product reviews — and Gearmunk was born.
“It is an educational platform and also a review platform that literally puts the best gear in front of you,” he said.
The pair of outdoorsmen developed the Gearmunk framework to include features that will enhance the shopping experience for both shoppers and vendors.
One such feature is a proprietary 21-point algorithm that scores each reviewer’s credibility using various data. Another is Gearmunk’s context engine, which matches products to users similar to the way a dating site operates.
“If you are a runner, but you’re 22 and single, showing you jogging strollers doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Boles said. “We show you the things that you like to see.”
When the app goes live in the next few weeks, it will be free to use and available on all mobile and web-based platforms. For companies, there will be a range of price points depending on desired features and levels of involvement.
Boles said that when developing the software with McCarrie, the design-savvy member of the duo, they intentionally tried to avoid gleaning inspiration from others. Most of Gearmunk’s features came from networking and determining what could help both the buyers and sellers, Boles said.
“If you look around to different industries to see what other companies are doing, you are eventually going to model yourself after them — and they already exist,” he said. “We’re trying to completely disrupt the marketplace with that. … Our inspiration really came from talking to customers and manufacturers and figuring out what they want.”
Gearmunk is Boles’ sixth startup — and after 20 years in the game, he’s confident about his chances.
Starting with a web design company while living in Oregon in the early ‘90s, he went on to start and sell two others before returning to Colorado Springs to work for Extreme Networks in 2000.
Seven years later, he had worked for other large corporations — including former Gazette owner Freedom Communications, where he met his wife — and decided that working for others wasn’t his thing.
Boles said that he has found his niche in entrepreneurialism despite his lack of a business degree.
“I think that you either have business acumen or you don’t, and I don’t think school teaches that,” he said, adding that he went to school for automotive technology and fire science. “I think the best teacher of business is to run one and have it fail.”
His next two projects didn’t take off due to competition with other services, but Boles said that he feels good about Gearmunk’s viability, especially due to its lack of competitors. He projects that the company will reach revenues of $30 million in its first three years.
“We’ve dissected that in about 25 different ways and think that is pretty realistic,” he said, adding that the staff will likely balloon to 10 or 15 the first year before growing to around 30 or 40 employees.
One aspect of Boles’ business model is what he refers to as the “give a s— factor.”
“All it really takes is giving a s—,” he said. “Too many companies these days overlook both their customers and their employees.”
Having done social strategy consulting for outdoor retailers such as Cabela’s and REI, Boles’ perspective on business is all about value: If you add value to your offerings, customers are more likely to come around and stay awhile. This concept also applies to manufacturers, according to Boles, who said Gearmunk “genuinely levels the playing field between the big players and the small players.”
While it can cost around $18,000 per year to advertise in a popular sporting magazine, Boles said Gearmunk’s highest price point is $749 a month (no contract).
At roughly $9,000 a year, that’s half what many companies spend on ads, which benefits small businesses and startups trying to boost exposure.
But in the end, Gearmunk is an app by outdoorsy people, for outdoorsy people. Boles said the company’s main goal is to be a tool for those who want to be active but aren’t sure where to start.
“There are so many people out there who are on the edge of getting off the couch and doing something,” he said. “We think we can help all of those people who want to get outdoors by doing this.”
The cofounders had funded the entire project themselves before completing a recent round of angel investing. Boles said the minimum goal for that round was $100,000, which they are well above, although they haven’t met the ideal $1 million.
“We’re pretty well-funded at this point,” he said.
The company is undergoing security testing and other technical trials before taking the app live around May 1. Boles said that 28,000 users have preregistered.
“Internet startup science tells you that if you can get just 20 percent of those people to actually go in and create accounts, you’re doing very, very well,” he said. “We obviously know that we won’t get all 28,000, but if we can get 20 percent, I’ll buy shots for everyone around town.”