A new tech start-up is going global with local guiding operations.
There’s no Yelp or Angie’s List for charter fishing captains or surf instructors. And that’s exactly what James Hamilton was thinking when he founded GuideHire, an online network that connects outdoor enthusiasts with experts in their field, in the field. Whether catching a wave at Cisco, landing a striper off Great Point, or discovering secret trails in the Moors, having a knowledgeable guide by your side can make all the difference. Yet hiring the right person to lead you on these memorable Nantucket adventures can be as elusive as finding an honest mechanic.
“There are tons of opportunities to experience the island hands-on — that’s where we come into play,” the twenty-six-year-old says while rigging his fly-fishing rod on Jetties Beach. “The guides, outfitters and instructors that we work with are extremely knowledgeable and can connect you with the island’s environment in profound ways.”
Taking a page out of online booking agencies like Open Table, Hamilton and his partners MacGill Davis and longtime Nantucket summer resident Alex Shukis created a digital network devoted exclusively to guides and outfitters. People log on to their site, type in the desired location and activity, and GuideHire connects them with the best guides in the region. When a booking is made, GuideHire makes a small percentage. The company quickly caught the right attention. Within a month of launching, GuideHire was dubbed by Outside Magazine as Uber for accessing the outdoors.
“Your first instinct when looking for a guide is a Google search, but with today’s paid online advertising, it’s hard to tell who is actually great at what they do,” Hamilton says. “That’s the problem we’re trying to fix. The idea is that the cream of the crop will rise to the top based on its own merit through our review system.” Here on Nantucket, GuideHire represents Sankaty Head Charters, Next Level Watersports, ACK Surf School, Topspin Fishing, Bill Fisher Outfitters, District Surfboards, and local captains Matt Reinemo, Sam Herrick, and Hal Herrick.
The Outdoor Recreation Sector is the third largest in consumer spending, netting $646 billion a year. Of that, more than $1 billion is spent exclusively on guides. In other words, there’s plenty of room for GuideHire to grow. Beyond Nantucket, outposts have already sprung up in Charleston, South Carolina, the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. “Generally speaking, we focus on a northeastern clientele,” says Hamilton. “So the majority of our three-hundred-plus guides and outfitters are in this region.”
GuideHire is following the start-up model created by many a Silicon Valley scion in which social networks and phone apps are sold off in multi-billion dollar paydays. Thus, one might wonder if these three budding outdoor entrepreneurs are only building their dream job to kill the company and cash in? “Whenever a company is enabled by technology, people tend to think that the end goal is an acquisition,” says Hamilton. “Our end goal is to help get more people outside and keep doing it for as long as we can.” So the next time you want to head out in the great outdoors, you might just want to log in to GuideHire first.