00:00 Chris Ronan: Hello, everybody, welcome to Inside Geocaching HQ. This is our podcast from Seattle. I’m Chris Ronan. My Geocaching username is Rock Chalk. Thank you for downloading this episode. On this show, I am talking with Annie Love. She is the business development manager here at Geocaching HQ. Annie has been a lackey for more than 10 years, so she is one of the longest-serving employees, and she has done a lot of very interesting stuff during that time, which means we had plenty to talk about. So, here is me chatting with Annie Love.
00:58 CR: When you came to work here, were you familiar with Geocaching?
01:00 Annie Love: Yeah. My dad got me into Geocaching back in 2004. On my college graduation day, I said, “Hey, let’s go out geocaching.”
01:07 CR: He hid your diploma somewhere and you had to go find it, right?
01:10 AL: Exactly, had to work twice as hard for that diploma. [chuckle] Yeah. So, I went out with my family to the Bruneau Sand Dunes in Southern Idaho. And we found a couple of geocaches out there, and I really had a great time with that, but I didn’t have a GPS. And shortly after that, I moved to Seattle, and when I was out… Sorry. When I was out hiking a lot, I started to think, “Oh, maybe a GPS would be good for safety if I’m out in the woods and get lost and need to find my car.” And so I asked my dad if he would get me a GPS for my birthday, and he ended up doing that. So, in October, I created my account and logged my first official geocache. Probably found a little over 100 geocaches when I started working at Geocaching HQ, or Groundspeak at the time.
01:54 CR: And when you came to work here at Groundspeak, what was your first job? I know you’ve done a lot of things over the years, but what was the first thing that brought you here?
02:02 AL: It was funny. Before I came in for my interview, Bryan, one of the founders, said, “Hey, we don’t have a job, but do you wanna come in for an interview?” And I said, “Okay, sure.” [chuckle] So, I didn’t know what to expect. He knew my background based off of my resume and I’d been working in the hotel industry. So, they really needed some extra support with the community team. Or it wasn’t really a team at the time, but basically just emails that came in, anyone who would come visit the headquarters, which would typically be on Fridays at 2:00 PM, and just answering phones, and just general inquiries from the public. So, I started with that, and then slowly took on some other roles as time allowed, and then it just morphed from there into where I am today.
02:47 CR: I think a lot of people know you from your work with trackables. When did that start? How long had you been here before you started doing that?
02:55 AL: It was probably about a year and a half after I started here that Bryan was getting busier and busier, and he was the one handling all tracking code orders before that. So, he said, “Hey, do you wanna maybe take on this new project?” And so he kind of helped me through the learning stages, and then I officially took it over, and I’ve been doing it ever since. So, 10 years running now.
03:18 CR: We had Nate Irish and Bryan on a recent episode here of the podcast, and they were talking about the early days with the stamper machine.
03:27 AL: Oh, yeah, yeah, that was before my time.
03:28 CR: That was before your time, so things have become a little bit more…
03:31 AL: They got easier.
03:32 CR: Things have become a little bit more technologically advanced by the time you arrived with the trackables.
03:38 AL: Yeah. Most of my job is just digital, that makes it easy, sit at a computer, and I can process code orders.
03:43 CR: And over time, let’s just talk about just some of the stuff that you’ve done. Your trackables, and now a lot of the stuff with partnerships. You can run it down for us.
03:53 AL: Yeah, sure. After I got a good hold on the trackables program, Nate Irish, who had been working with our Shop Geocaching distributors before that, said, “Hey, Annie, do you wanna take over this project, too? You’re already working with some of these partners anyway.” ‘Cause there’s a crossover between the trackables world and the Shop Geocaching distributor world. And so I said, “Yeah, sure, I’ll do that.” And so basically took over that program, and I think it was shortly after I started handling those partners that my future boss, Tom, who’s now one of the vice presidents of the company, started working here and really developing our Shop Geocaching program. And so previously it was run by an outside company that Bryan, Jeremy, and Elias used to work at, and so we brought things in-house mostly, and created a Shop Geocaching department. From there, I’ve just developed a really good working relationship with distributors all over the world, and that program has just grown and grown over time. So, just as people start to realize a need for their region, they’ll contact us and say, “Hey, I wanna be a distributor for Shop Geocaching, sell travel bugs, and all the official products.” And so then I’ll work with them to get those businesses started.
05:11 CR: But with something like trackables, for instance, you must have people come up to you at events and things like that, and have questions about trackables and ideas they might have for how can… What are some of the common things that people come and ask you about?
05:24 AL: People ask me all the time, “What’s the process of creating your own?” That’s a very typical question, which I help people through all the time. We’ve gotten an online store now that makes it a lot easier to learn the process for creating your own trackables, and it has all the guidelines written out. You just submit your design, and if it’s approved by us, then you’ll get your codes automatically. It’s kind of an easier process now.
05:48 CR: Maybe you talk about… Do people ever come up to you with ideas that just… There’s that age-old problem of trackables going missing and what people must ask you about that?
05:57 AL: Yes. I do get asked about missing trackables all the time, or just told that “Hey, I don’t buy as many, I don’t put as many out in the game because I fear that they’re gonna get lost or stolen.” Typically, it’s just that a new geocacher isn’t totally familiar with the process, they think, “Oh, I’m supposed to take something and leave something behind,” they don’t necessarily always know that one item is a trackable and wants to keep moving. That’s why one of the requirements that we have is that the trackable should say email@example.com, or something to give someone who finds that in a geocache the idea that, “Oh, I need to go do something more with this item.” That doesn’t always work, obviously.
06:38 AL: The other thing I tend to suggest to people is there’s a little printout sheet on a trackable page, you can always print that out, maybe laminate it, attach it with your trackable, put it in a plastic bag with your trackable. And that generally gives people the idea of what they’re supposed to do with that item, that it actually wants to keep traveling and move from cache to cache. And I think generally if you can label a trackable the way that it’s an educational moment for new geocachers, then it’s a good opportunity and a good way to make sure that the trackable will keep on moving. And, yeah, I get ideas of, “Hey, you should make… Do a trackable for this thing, do a trackable for that. You should have this on Shop Geocaching,” just all kinds of ideas and always great ideas from the community, so we’re always happy to hear them. Sometimes we need a little bit more development time to get stuff like that done, but I do what I can to fight the good fight for trackables.
07:37 CR: Sure. Are you into trackables as a player yourself?
07:39 AL: Yeah. I love moving trackables. It’s funny, I actually have a very large collection of trackables, but I’m not necessarily a collector, I would say. I don’t go spend every last dollar when I go to events and see all the beautiful geocoins. I’m very picky about which ones I’ll purchase and everything. But I love trading trackables, and I’ve been gifted quite a few over the years and really appreciate the collection that I have. I do like them. I tend to put trackables out a lot, so whenever I have, if I end up winning one of those promotional tags or just my personal trackables, I’ll put those out in geocaches. It’s fun to watch them move, and I’ve found I’ve been putting more just tags out rather than geocoins. And I’ve had a lot more success with those moving from cache to cache, so that’s always fun to watch.
08:31 CR: You mentioned Shop Geocaching. A while back, we had Mark from the shop that talked to us here on the podcast about the shop, and he was just talking about how they come up with some of their ideas for some of their products. Do you get to get involved with that? You’ve mentioned people bring you ideas, do you get to help brainstorm the various things that the shop will offer?
08:55 AL: Yeah. We have regular meetings usually three or four times a year to brainstorm product ideas, and so that’s where… If I’ve gotten ideas from the community, I’ll end up bringing those to that. We also have our Slack channel where we can share ideas immediately. As soon as I get them, I’ll send a link to, “Hey, maybe this would make a good cache container,” or, “Maybe this is a good tool of the trade,” or whatever. But, yeah, the brainstorming meetings are one of the most fun meetings I have, because I love coming up with ideas that geocachers will be delighted by. Anything to make the game easier, that’s what our goal is. And over the years, we’ve just developed a really nice arrangement of items from packs to jackets, hats, gloves, the tools of the trade, magnet tools, everything. There’s a pretty good collection of things to help you get started with geocaching.
09:49 CR: Another thing you’re involved with is logo stuff, right?
09:53 AL: Yeah.
09:54 CR: How does all of that work?
09:54 AL: Basically, with my work with all of our distributors, a lot of times they’ll want to create their own products, so they’ll wanna use the official geocaching logo or maybe the travel bug logo. Signal the Frog is very popular to be used. I work with anyone who wants to use those designs. If the item is trackable, we consider the license fee paid in the tracking code cost. That’s usually a direction I’ll tell people to go, is make your item trackable if you can. If it’s an item you’re gonna sell, it’s gonna be more popular if it is trackable. If it’s something that you just wanna put a logo on a T-shirt, then we do have a license program for that. And I’ll just work people through the process with approving the design and then helping them get set up with the royalty for that. Basically any of those questions, I’m the first person they talk to, and then if I have questions, I go to our legal counsels in office. [chuckle] So, it’d be like, “Bryan,” or, “Jennifer, what do I do here?”
10:55 CR: One thing that’s, I guess, newer compared to some of the stuff that we’ve talked about already, is your work with the API program. And we’ve talked about that a little bit on a past episode. We had Sean Boots on here, who’s from the engineering side of things here. For people that don’t understand, I always think it’s good to re-explain what the API program is. How do you explain it to people?
11:15 AL: Okay. Basically, the API allows developers access to the data that we have on geocaching.com. And it might be a limited amount of data, but it’s something that they can create tools that are useful for the community to help play the game. Maybe it helps enhance your cache outing by planning tools, or maybe it’s just that you want to use a different app to go geocaching, so maybe like Cachly or Geooh Live. We’re more than happy for people to use any of our partner applications and just access that same data through a different channel. Sometimes they will create tools that are something that the community really wants that we just don’t have the time to get to, or maybe it’s just not the main focus that we want on our own tools that we create, and so Cachly, for example, has a nice little first to find button. So, you can be looking at the map and see if there’s any caches that haven’t been found yet, and for those first-to-find hounds, that’s gonna be a great tool for them to go use.
12:22 AL: And that was just something that we haven’t had time to implement in our own app. Yeah. So, I basically work with all the partners that create those applications or people who are interested in wanting to develop new ones. And our API program has been closed off for a few years, so the partners that have been in there have been in there for quite a while, and so they’ve had time to really develop things. But we are currently switching over to a new API program or a new API altogether, and with that, we wanna start slowly opening up our API program to new partners. So, I created a link where you can go get on our waitlist to… If you’re a developer and wanna create something based off of our API, then you can submit your name on the wait list. And if it’s something that we feel will be relevant to a big variety of geocachers, then it’s something we might consider.
13:13 CR: Yeah. You mentioned Cachly, there’s Geooh Live, there’s things like Project-GC, GSAK, and these are all authorized developers, right?
13:22 AL: Yep.
13:23 CR: And there is a place on the… Well, it’s in our help center or on the website where you can go and actually read more about it, and we’ll link that in the podcast notes.
13:31 AL: Yeah. We have a whole API page that has a little bit more information and links to some of the partners that we have. Yeah, it’s amazing what some of these partners have done. Like Project-GC, I use almost on a daily basis to decide what my next geocaching challenge is gonna be for myself or check however I’m doing on my Jasmer. I love the challenge checkers on there, just to see if I qualify for certain challenges. And GSAK, obviously, is great for doing power trails. It’s easy to log hundreds or thousands of caches all at once with the push of a button. Some of those tools, for the more experienced geocacher, we can’t live without those tools. And it’s just wonderful that we have a program that we can provide to developers to create tools like that, and I highly encourage you to check out all of our partner apps and see if one of those fits for you.
14:24 AL: Speaking of trackables, there’s TBScan, which is actually a really great one that you can just scan the tracking code on a trackable and discover it right away, and that just makes, when you go to an event where people have their books full of trackables, it’s a lot quicker to discover a lot of trackables that way.
14:41 CR: Yeah. I think there’s still a misconception out there with some people that somehow something like a Project-GC or a GSAK that it’s a competitor of geocaching.com, and therefore we… And you speak about it in hushed tones, and that’s certainly not the case. So, any time we can explain the process a little bit better, it’s helpful for everybody.
15:01 AL: Yeah. I’m part of lots of Facebook geocaching groups all over the world. Probably a couple of years ago, whenever I’d see posts about Cachly, it was like, “Ooh, can’t talk about this,” whatever. “Oh I like this app better than the HQ app,” or whatever. And it’s been nice because I think we’ve been more transparent lately about the fact that these are partner apps, these are people that are working with us, they’re using our API under a licensed agreement, we’re happy to support them, and we’ll do whatever we can to continue to support them. And if that’s your preferred app or your preferred tool for your caching, that’s great. We don’t have time to do everything, everything that we would want to do, and so that’s where… It’s really important for us to have these community partners that are able to create those tools.
15:48 CR: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that when people go to Shop Geocaching, they see all these beautiful photos, a lot of those are courtesy of you.
15:57 AL: Yeah, yeah. So, I’ve a long-time photographer hobby and, yeah, I just… Back probably in the… I always call it the Fifth Avenue office days, so that’s basically the first two years that I started at what was known as Groundspeak. At one point, Bryan was like, “Hey, you have a nice camera, don’t you?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” “Can you bring it in and take a picture of a T-shirt?” [chuckle] And so that became my career at HQ, being one of our official photographers. So, I have really developed my skill set over time of product photography. I had no clue what to do with it when I first started, and I’ve done some reading online and learned how to take pictures of shiny coins, which is not very easy. And basically typically any of the banner ads that you see on geocaching.com for Shop Geocaching, those are my photos and those are typically lackeys in the photos, so it’s kind of fun to take a little break from sitting at a desk and head outside and take some pictures with some of my fellow lackeys showing off new products.
16:58 CR: Yeah, we’re not hiring big name models here.
17:00 AL: No. I don’t know, Moun10Bike.
17:03 CR: Moun10Bike is a pretty demanding person, so I could see where…
17:06 AL: Yep. [laughter] That’s one of the fun things, like if you do go look through those ads, you know that’s someone that’s helping to make this game happen, so that’s kind of fun. I never have a shortage of models here at the office, everyone is typically willing and able to help me out with that.
17:24 CR: And I have to say, it’s not just products that you do this with, you’re called into… You’re asked, begged to help on any number of projects around the office.
17:35 AL: Yep, yep. I have taken many headshots, team photos, whatever, whatever comes up, ’cause I’m always happy to try new types of photography. It’s a personal passion of mine. Obviously, with the cell phone technology, most of the time I’m using just my cell phone to take pictures these days, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to use a real camera, put some thought into a photo, and get to use one of my… Apply another hobby to my job.
18:01 CR: When you were talking about partner stuff, an exciting project that you got a chance to work on recently that people are going to be hearing about, I imagine, around the community associated with GeoWoodstock, the GPS maze will be making an appearance in the United States.
18:16 AL: Yeah. We’ve been asked by some geocachers around the world, like, “Hey, what can we do to have the GPS maze?” It was originally something that was developed with a partnership of ours directly here in Seattle, and it just faded out over time. And the panels were never updated, and so we just made the choice to not continue sending that maze around, but the Czech Geocaching Association put together this beautiful maze that’s been at certain mega events over in Europe. And since then, we’ve had a few people asking, like, “Hey, how do we get the GPS maze to our event?” And essentially we’ve told them, “Well, if you have the budget and the time and the expertise, you could build one.” And so we’re really excited because GeoWoodstock this year will have the first GPS maze since, I believe, 2014 in the United States, and so it will be a good chance for people to get that icon again, and nice to have something back in the US. Geocachers have had to fly over to Europe if they wanted to get that icon. So, I imagine a few people will be doing some icon runs in Fort Worth in May. I’m really excited to see what the GeoWoodstock committee puts together in the maze. I’m hoping I can make it down for that event and check it out in person, too.
19:35 CR: Yeah. That’s one of my favorite memories, is going to the GPS maze when it was in Kentucky in 2014 at the Corvette Museum that had just had a sinkhole problem. And so it was amazing walking into this museum and beautiful Corvettes everywhere, and then there was this area you could see behind some yellow tape where they had marked that the sinkhole…
20:00 AL: You hope that sinkhole doesn’t get bigger while you’re there.
20:02 CR: Right. And then you could take a left to see the sinkhole or take a right to see the GPS maze and…
20:06 AL: Well, there you go.
20:08 CR: It was quite a day that still is stuck in my memory.
20:10 AL: Should have made an EarthCache out of that sinkhole.
20:12 CR: Oh, my gosh, right. As for your personal geocaching, it’s so great that you’ve been… I’ve had people ask me before, when you work at a place like this, would you just… And you’re around geocaching all the time, it’s such a fun game, but even so, if it’s your job all day, do you eventually get tired of… You just wanna go home and not… And do something else, but there are plenty of us here that that doesn’t apply to or crazy about it anyway, and you’re certainly one of those people.
20:42 AL: Yeah. I think I actually love geocaching a lot more now by working here. It was just kind of a fun thing that I added to hiking before, and that’s pretty much the only time I would go do it, or if I was discovering a new park in the City of Seattle or something. Since I’ve started working here, I’ve discovered going to events, meeting new friends all over the world, and through tools like Project-GC, some challenges, I’ve created personal goals for myself for geocaching. Like last year, I challenged myself to find 2018 geocaches in 2018. I kind of surpassed that. I think I found 2042. It’s definitely a passion of mine. I’ve been inspired by all the people that I talk to constantly who are telling me about, “Hey, there’s a school event in this location,” or, “We just placed this earth cache on this amazing geological figure or geological thing.” I don’t know, I just… All the inspiration every day, yes, my job is a desk job, but it really feels my passion for the game. This year, I’m hoping to get to 10,000 cache finds. The goals don’t end with it.
21:52 AL: I often plan my personal vacations around geocaching. I actually just got back from Copenhagen, where I spent three days geocaching, hanging out each night with different either local or other European geocachers, and just had a blast. It was a really great way to see the city. And then when I went out geocaching with the local cachers, they took me to some phenomenal geocaches. And just those kind of fun a-ha moments when you see an amazing cache, whether it’s in your backyard or in another country, it’s just really cool.
22:27 AL: That was Annie Love, Geocaching HQ’s business development manager. If you have an idea for us to cover on Inside Geocaching HQ, send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org is the address. Once again, that is email@example.com. I always appreciate your ideas and feedback about our podcast. And from me and everyone at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.