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Co-Angler: It’s not just a fishing group

Passion for the outdoors

John Bledsoe was born and raised in the Missouri Ozarks. He’s always enjoyed the great outdoors – the peace of nature and disconnecting from everything. As a child, Bledsoe would tag along with his father to fish down at their pond. He was a little kid eager for the next big catch.

At just 8 years old, he caught a 5 pound bass even though he was repeatedly told that his rubber boots would startle the aquatic life. Then he was hooked.

After buying a boat and fishing alone, he reveled in the idea of sharing the experience. So in October of 2021, Bledsoe bought for a whopping $13 and ran from there.

Taking a turn for the better

When you experience a problem first-hand, you’re better equipped to think, “why hasn’t anyone tried to solve this yet?”  And that’s exactly how Bledsoe reeled in the groundbreaking decision to develop Co-Angler.

Co-Angler was designed to be a hub for fishing enthusiasts to connect, meet and ultimately plan fishing trips together. Users typically want to find friends to fish with, split costs and ensure each other’s safety. Today, the app is up and running with a total of 768 accounts created and 149 fishing trips planned.

The development of Co-Angler was no easy feat. It took lots of funding, planning, executing and most importantly, connections, to get it started.

The community that saw it through

Fishing was a hobby while Bledsoe worked as a chemist at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center for 13 years. And while problem-solving was definitely a big part of his life in the lab, he never knew exactly how much those skills would transfer when he decided to pursue Co-Angler full-time.

The challenge? Building an entire integrated user interface for his big idea. After a bit of research, Bledsoe knew that if he was going to put his all into this, he needed some sort of software development experience. Due to JVIC’s proximity to efactory, he knew exactly where to go first.

“All I had was an idea, but it was a good idea. So, I called and scheduled a consultation,” Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe was put in contact with Sandra Smart, technology and commercialization specialist, who presented him with the opportunity to join a feasibility study with Missouri State’s College of Business.  

“It was affordable and helped me formalize my thought process,” Bledsoe explained. The study helped him realize that there truly wasn’t an idea like his out there.

Testing the concept

In spring 2022, he decided to test out the waters. Bledsoe joined a Facebook group of local fishermen and made one post to see if it piqued interest.

“I said ‘Hey, I’m going fishing at this lake, this day, at this time. If someone pays me this amount of money, you can join me,’” Bledsoe explained.

The post received three comments. The to-be expected critic, a supporter of the idea and a marine veteran who jumped on the opportunity to fish with company.

With his new companion, Bledsoe spent 4 hours on the lake and caught 60 fish. Not only did they each get to share the experience with another fisherman, this one fishing trip solidified the potential of Bledsoe’s idea.

“After that happened, I thought, ‘I got to be careful, someone’s going to steal my idea.’”

But Co-Angler was not designed to be like any other Facebook group. To turn his vision into an actual app that would connect fishing enthusiasts, Bledsoe turned to our partners at Codefi. There he spent months learning the entirely new concept of coding in the Code Labs program.

Through Code Labs, Bledsoe found an incredible mentor in German Cruz, Code Labs instructor and future Co-Angler developer. For months, he took advantage of the instructor’s office hours.

“I even skipped the Super Bowl to meet with him on the weekends,” Bledsoe joked, a notably big Chiefs fan.

Bledsoe started with a landing page. With the help of Cruz, they started getting a prototype built.

“It was exciting to see it all come together,” he said.

Gaining recognition

Thanks to the connection Bledsoe was making in Code Labs, his name bubbled to the surface when some grant funding became available through Codefi.  Their team recognized the potential of Bledsoe’s work, and awarded him  $75,000 in grant funding. They also dedicated a small team of professionals to Co-Angler, including a designer, project manager and developer to accelerate the project.

The app soft-launched in November 2023. The timing was crucial to Bledsoe’s plan – figure out the bugs during the off-season, and hard launch the technology when fishing season amped up.

Bill Dance, the most recognized bass angler of all time, known for his Tennessee hat and fishing bloopers, helped cast Co-Angler an even wider net and introduced Bledsoe to the world of online influencing. A single post on the fishing icon’s social pages brought 27% growth to the company.

The road to success

Today Co-Angler continues to see great traction using social media. The company’s email subscription list and user base are each approaching 1,000. They have trips planned from coast to coast.

That’s because Bledsoe saw a need and fulfilled it. His advice to entrepreneurs looking to take a leap of faith: Share your success.

“Whether it’s business or employment, success relies on your ability to work with people. There’s always people that deserve credit for any individual success,” Bledsoe shared.

While Bledsoe can be seen as a solopreneur, it was the community who formed the foundation of the company.

“It’s cool what can happen when people believe in each other.”