Inside Geocaching HQ transcript (episode 47): 20 years of geocaching with HQ co-founders Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth

(link to podcast)

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0:00:14.4 Chris Ronan: Hello everybody, this is Inside Geocaching HQ from Seattle. I am Chris Ronan, Rock Chalk is my Geocaching user name. Thank you for downloading our podcast. This episode is a good one, I so enjoyed the conversation that you are about to hear with Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth, who along with Elias Alvord are the co-founders of Geocaching HQ. Bryan is HQ’s President, Jeremy is the Senior Vice President, and the guy who launched geocaching.com. This year, of course, is the 20th anniversary of Geocaching, it was a challenging year to say the least for everyone, but we hope that you might get a smile from listening to these two guys share some fun stories from the past 20 years and look ahead to the future of our great game. So here they are, Jeremy Irish, and Bryan Roth.

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0:01:14.0 CR: Alright. Well, this is very exciting. This is the first time we’ve had Bryan and Jeremy on the HQ podcast. And of course, the reason the 20th anniversary of Geocaching this year, which unfortunately, as we all know, the year has been messy, and some of the celebrations that we had hoped for have not happened, but we’re hoping that they will happen in the future. But still it is an opportunity to look back at what has happened over these past 20 years and to think about what will come in the future, and so I appreciate both of you guys doing this. Jeremy, you and I have talked before on the podcast just about how you launched the website and then just in very general terms about how you got together with working at the same company like you did with Bryan and Elias. But I’m just one thing I’ve kind of wondered about over time is, why did you reach out to them specifically?

0:02:08.1 Jeremy Irish: Well, at the time, the three of us were working really closely together at Savvy Shopper, and I got to know Elias and Bryan really well. I started out as their client, or they were my client or the company I was working for. So I just had a really strong relationship with the two of them. And I think a lot of businesses that get started, it really comes down to knowing and trusting the people that you start the company with, and that’s how they become successful, because they pick up on the places where you don’t have that capability. So it was like, I realized at that time that Elias had a really strong networking background, a really smart person I could bounce technical questions and ideas and stuff like that with, and he had the technical chops to be able to put together a system that would even support geocaching. ‘Cause the first time I was running the site, it was in my spare bedroom in Bellevue, so with very low bandwidth. And I was like, “How do I take this site that was just slashdotted and put it on a better computer and get that out on to the internet, so it won’t break?”

0:03:17.8 JI: And that’s some stuff that I just had no idea how to do. And then on Bryan’s side, he was done, he had the legal chops, which is awesome, the operations chops, things that I really didn’t understand, or just things that weren’t in my wheelhouse of experience, he was able to take on that stuff. And I’m also not necessarily a people person, and Bryan definitely is. So there was that social part of it too, that really enamored me to have Bryan join up and start this company, which really was initially just running a hobby site, so there wasn’t really a lot of strategery going on to figure out how we’re gonna run a company, and you know what this thing is going to be. There was no business plan put together for the company, it was really just, “Hey, I’m kind of scared. This is getting a little bit bigger than I expected it to be, and I really need help. And you guys are awesome, so would you like to join? I know it’s kind of a dumb idea, that’s kind of what people are thinking.” And they’re like, “What is this silly idea? This won’t… ” I’m like, “I don’t even know it’s not really about making money, it’s just about creating something fun. Would you like to be involved in with this?”

0:04:33.7 JI: And initially it was a smaller project and there was a lot of light touches that would happen while I was programming the site, but as the company and as the game started getting bigger and bigger, you could see those challenges coming out at us and to have those two strong partners involved in it really rounded us out and made it so I honestly continued doing it because it’s a lot of work when you’re working on this hobby site and the excitement that you get from people going out and finding geocaches and getting active in it, and then that community being built, there’s a lot of excitement around it, but there’s also a lot of low points where you’re just like, “Why am I doing this? I’m spending all my weekends working on this and my evenings, and I also have to do another job.” And I know that there’s a lot of great feeling around the game itself, but it takes a toll on your social life and your personal life, and to have two partners who are saying like, “Hey, it’s worth it. How can I help?”

0:05:39.1 JI: And them pitching in and working through it made it what it is today. So I always joke like, I wanna quit every so often, and then Bryan and Elias will talk me off the ledge. Not so much today, but in the early days, there’s a lot of moments where you’re just like, “I’m done.” And they’re like,” No, no, no, just chill, it’s just like a bad day.” So that’s kind of why it started that way, and I think I’ve learned over time that companies that are very successful have more than two partners, and I think that really has to do with tie-breaking, there’s always… If there’s two people that are not connecting on a topic or something, there’s always a tie-breaker, there’s always a Switzerland that can come in and help that conversation and turn that conversation to a positive way.

0:06:28.0 CR: I don’t know what the exact stats are, but I can’t imagine that a whole lot of partnerships last 20 or more years for a variety of reasons, just the business maybe doesn’t go the right way, but then also personalities not meshing together the way that you would like. How has it worked with you guys to keep this going for this long and to still have this strong partnership after such a long amount of time?

0:06:52.5 Bryan Roth: From my perspective, I think that it’s sort of fluctuated over the years. There were times where the three of us wouldn’t exactly get along on a specific topic, but there was always this underlying sense of mutual respect. Like I’ve always said when Jeremy approached me, when Jeremy and Elias approached me and asked me to join, help them start this company to support a hobby, I just remember it wasn’t so much about what we were going to be doing, I was just excited to work with the two of them because I knew who they were, we were already friends, we had worked together for a while, I knew what some of their strengths were, and personality-wise, we already clicked, and so it felt like this opportunity to start something cool with friends. And as Jeremy mentioned, it didn’t feel like there was a whole lot of potential. It was like, “Oh, here’s this hobby, it’s after recreation and technology, two things that we’re all kind of passionate about, and we’re friends, and between the three of us, we can each do different things, so we could probably do the basics to get this thing up and running. Like what do you say?” And I was like, “Oh cool, I’m gonna get to work with my friends and I have this little side project and we’ll see what it becomes.” Here we are 20 years later.

0:08:08.9 BR: And a question like, “How did we make it?” I think foundationally, the fact that we were friends, the fact that we had respect for each other and everybody sort of brought a different set of talents to the company and to into the partnership, really went a long way. And so two things that I would say is, one, if it was, if the question that we faced related to a topic where there were some expertise, I think that we were really good about deferring to the resident expert on that topic. And the second thing is, I always knew that if Jeremy and Elias agreed on something and I found myself at odds with that, I really needed to reconsider my opinion because I had a lot of faith in what the two of them thought and how they looked at things. And so we could always have good conversations where I was able to bring like, “Hey, here’s how I’m thinking about it.” And if they would say, “Well, here’s another way to think about it, and by the way, we’re both aligned on this.” Or, “Here’s three different ways to think about it.” There was always this sense of, “Well, let’s try and figure it out together,” as opposed to, “Well, you have to do it this way because I said so.” That was never really the thing.

0:09:22.3 BR: And so one of the other things is, especially in the early days when we were all working for the same company, that company Savvy Shopper went out of business, then we all went to work for a promotional marketing company, which was Sunrise, but we would meet in the mornings pretty frequently at 6:00 AM before work, and we would go out wakeboarding or water skiing or whatever the three of us. And so we would start the day by playing together and we would water ski or wake board for a little while, and then we’d just sit and float in the boat and just kinda talk about like, “Hey, what’s going on today? What are the challenges? How are things going?” I think it allowed us to really build a strong relationship in the early days based on friendship and business that has allowed us to kind of navigate both the common and rough waters that we’ve seen over the years.

0:10:16.7 JI: Yeah, I think we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t seen a lot of adversity in the company either. We always have had a back-up plan in the early days, so it was more like all the interesting things that came at us were a less big challenging like doom and gloom kind of things, and more just really super weird problems.

0:10:38.5 BR: Opportunities.

0:10:38.7 JI: Yeah, they became opportunities, but when the National Park Service found a geocache on the property and they’re telling us they banned it in all national parks, we were like, “Okay, well, here’s a challenge, but it’s a surmountable challenge.” It’s not like none of the particular challenges were like the doom and gloom type of challenges, and they’re always interesting. So I think we always had an interesting problem to address. And for me, that makes me happy for some reason. I like, I used to have a fire bucket, for example, on my desk for a long time with pens and stuff, ’cause I was always feeling like that we were doing fire drills. And there was a moment where I decided to retire that fire can, because I felt like we were at the point now where we were beyond doing the fire drills, but sometimes I’d still miss the fire drill, they just kept you on your toes.

0:11:34.4 BR: I think a number of the challenges that we had in the early days, like the one Jeremy described with the national parks, really related to the fact that here was this totally new hobby and people didn’t know what to make of it. So when it came to the national parks, they’re like, “Oh, people are leaving things in the park over a period of 24 hours, that’s against our rules, we need to shut it down.” And in a similar sense, when we first went to get business insurance, for the most part nobody would insure us because they said, “We don’t understand what you’re doing, what kind of liability does this present, etcetera.” And we’d explain to them, “Here’s all the work that we’ve done to present the company in the right way,” but it took sort of a very special partnership with an insurance agent that we met who went out and did a really good job of kind of explaining what it was that we were doing so that we could actually get our first policy.

0:12:31.4 BR: But we dealt with that along the way in different forms, and I think it’s interesting to be here 20 years later when if something happens in a park, we’ll often hear from somebody, and they’ll say, “Oh, we know what geocaching is. It looks like this person didn’t follow your guidelines, and the cache looks like something dangerous. Can you please do a better job of explaining to people that, what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate?” Versus where it was 15, 18 years ago, where it’s like, “Hey, we had to close off the street because somebody placed a cache that looked inappropriate, and we’re gonna have to shut you guys down.” And I was like, “Wait a second. That’s not exactly what’s happening.” So I think there were a variety of things like that over the years that we had to deal with fires. I remember that fire bucket. It’s funny. As you mentioned that it’s something I haven’t thought about in years, but I do remember.

0:13:28.5 CR: Isn’t it amazing too, given that early adversity with the national park system, but now there’s a Find Your Park’s Geo Tour with geocaches at national parks all over the US.

0:13:40.8 JI: Oh, yeah, I went geocaching at Rockwood Park in Oregon outside… Oh, I think it’s outside Portland. And it was just really cool to be able to go on this hike and seeing geocaches that were placed by the local parks, and in a relationship with the local geocachers to do to cache and trash out of them at that park. So it’s like all these little decisions that we made in the early days to try to make this game family-friendly and open and available and not secret, that was really important to us to have that vision, and that created a lot of challenges in that we had to work with a lot of different parks and a lot of landowners and stuff like that. So we took the hard route and really the long-term vision of it as opposed to making it some secret society game that’s violating a lot of rules and laws to play the game. And I think as a result of that, we see the results of that effort. Parks that encourage geocaches, they even place their own and they host the geocachers. And as a result, those caches are better maintained, they’re in better places, and they’re just more enjoyable overall.

0:14:56.0 CR: Along those lines, hindsight being 20/20 now you can… Sometimes business owners can look back and say, “Here are moments where we made a very important decision. Maybe we didn’t know it at the time, but in retrospect, this was really important.” You’ve mentioned a couple of things just there, but are there other things that come to mind for either of you where you look back and you realize either for the game or for the business, this was a fork in the road, or this was a very important thing where in retrospect, that was a really good decision that we made that led us down a better path?

0:15:33.1 JI: Well, I’ll say the accidental one was the reviewers, the volunteers that are involved with geocaching. Initially, the reason why I asked the first volunteer to help was because I was just overwhelmed with reviewing geocaches. I didn’t really have any forethought as to what volunteering for geocaching would look like. Today, now there’s a community of volunteers around the world that review caches. They know their local laws. They give a lot of good positive scrutiny to the geocaches that are placed. And at the time, we could have gone in a direction where we reviewed them all internally or created some kind of rule system or an AI algorithm or something like that, that decides whether or not these are okay or rely on the community to report them. Deciding to have folks and trusting them with the ability to go in and edit any geocache, that was a big deal, and entrusting in the community that you’ve never actually met in real life to be active in that. I think that was a big one. As a result, now we have this community of volunteers around the world that make this geocaching game better.

0:16:48.1 BR: I think another example would be, in the early days, we started to see people who were suggesting either in the forms or elsewhere, like, “Hey, when you go out geocaching, bring a trash bag and pick up the cans along the way.” And when we heard that, we said, Oh, wow, this is a really good idea.” And so many of the good ideas have come from the community, of course, and paying attention to what they’re doing. But we said, “How can we come up with a program to encourage this?” And the beginning of Cache In and Trash Out and having an international Cache In Trash Out Day, those were early decisions that just felt like, “Oh, this makes sense. Sure, if we encourage people to pick up trash while they’re geocaching, then we’ll have a positive impact on the game board and the world.” And if you consider now so many years later, with thousands of Cache In Trash Out events and people going out and just making this part of their geocaching routine, the environmental impact that this global community has had as a result of us sort of just adopting something that we thought was cool because the community was doing it, that’s like the pebble in the pond kind of thing, where it’s seemingly insignificant, but over time has become really significant. And now it’s something that the community celebrates. There’s a couple of times a year where we’re encouraging events. And it’s just one of those smaller ideas that has become really impactful in a positive way.

0:18:20.8 CR: Well, on the flip side of things, in 20 years, a few mistakes will be made here and there. Jeremy, you always had the “make better mistakes tomorrow” mantra. I think there was even a sign in your office to that effect. I don’t know how specific you wanna get, but are there things where you look back and you think, “Wow, I cannot believe we did that.”

0:18:41.0 JI: Well, I’d say personally, I get bored easily. When new releases come out, I’m ready for the next one. So even before anybody sees like a new feature or something like that, I’m ready to go and do something else. Personally, I spend time focusing on other location-based game ideas, but we would spend some resources on that and it just wouldn’t pan out because geocaching just had such a gravitational pull to the company, and there are so many things that we can do to make it better that it just kept pulling me back to geocaching. So I think that was part of it, like I get distracted. I can get distracted easily. I have a T-shirt that says squirrel on it, ’cause it’s like the movie Up with the dog. It’s like, “Squirrel!” So I’m always looking on to something else, so my distractions can sometimes have the better of me. That’s one part of it. There are geocaching types in the past that we tried out and they just didn’t work because they would kind of overtake the website. I think a lot of times those mistakes would lead to other ideas within the game that would be positive.

0:19:45.9 JI: So for example, I love Wherigo, and I would say Wherigo is one of those things that never really took off, but it’s on this runway where it never has to. People can continue to use Wherigo, but Wherigo was something that I had grand visions of that didn’t quite come to pass. And a lot of it was the difficulty of making these cartridges and games and stuff like that, but what it’s led to is the Adventures Project, which is kind of a low-fly version of Wherigo, where it’s more about the content than it is about the feature set. And I think as we continue to build for Adventures, it gets more Wherigo-like. So I think it was like a vision that was way ahead of its time. It still has potential today, which excites me. And the idea of using other types of technology to get people outside is always something that is back of mind for me, and that’s the thing that I think geocaching does a great job of, is using tech, which normally brings you inside and encourages you to go outdoors and find something physical.

0:20:49.6 BR: Yeah, I think to be fair, if we look back, there’s a lot of things that could be characterized as mistakes, but it could also be characterized as learning opportunities. There’s no 20-year-old company that hasn’t made mistakes, and I think that we’ve had our fair share of decisions that we made with the information that we had on hand, that when more information was gathered, we realized, “Oh, that wasn’t the best path.” And so we’ve shut down some projects. We’ve built some things that we actually didn’t even bring to market, but all in all, we’ve learned from those. And I think that it really helps to inform how we act today. It’s like the phrase, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.” We kind of stand on the shoulders of those decisions that we’ve made in the past, right or wrong, and even some of the right ones turned out to subsequently be not an ideal situation or add additional complexities that we weren’t necessarily prepared to deal with.

0:21:50.8 BR: By and large, Jeremy talks about it, squirrel, and sort of the propensity to be excited about different things, I don’t think it could fairly be characterized as a mistake or a disadvantage. In fact, that’s how we come up with a lot of the great ideas, and you have to make mistakes in order to learn, in order to progress. And so I look back and I think if we’re being fair with ourselves, there hasn’t been one really big mistake that we’re like, “Oh man, we never should have done that.” There have been things that we’ve done where it’s like, “Alright, well, we probably shouldn’t have spent that money on that project, but we needed to try to sort of learn what we needed to learn from that project.” And so given where we are today and the opportunities that we have ahead of us as a company and again in the community, it’s been this sort of organic development of as a group, as a founders group with Jeremy, Elias and myself, and then as a company, it’s really just trying to continually move the game, company and community forward by making the best possible decisions that are aligned with our values, which are getting people off of their couches, getting them outside, giving them fun things to do.

0:23:08.4 BR: And I think as long as we look at the opportunities through the lens of a solid set of values and what we’re trying to accomplish, the odds are, we’re still aiming in the right path. We’re not gonna track directly on where we’re supposed to be. We’re tacking back and forth and learning the lessons along the way. And I think we’re fortunate in the fact that we haven’t made a “big mistake” that has drastically affected the community or the game or the company. And hopefully we can keep tacking in the right direction and not get too far off course. But to be fair, having Jeremy and Elias involved, having a really good senior leadership team and all of the lackeys at HQ, I think everybody understands what’s at stake. And so there’s so much thought and care that goes into the decision-making and trying to get things right that I don’t think we really expose ourselves to a lot of risk of making a massive mistake. Not that it’s impossible, but we’re really doing our best to make sure that it’s highly improbable.

0:24:16.5 JI: I’ll give you a good funny mistake though. In the early days, we decided to do an anniversary calendar, and we spent… We got a design firm, and we did these amazing photos for the 12 months. We even did one which took all the different photos that were on the geocaching site and made a geocaching logo as with the smaller images.

0:24:39.8 BR: Like a photo mosaic.

0:24:40.5 JI: Like a mosaic, yeah, but it was all really tiny images with the right color, so it would make it look like the geocaching logo, and we… I think we had 20,000 calendars or something. It was a ridiculous amount of calendars, and we could not get rid of these calendars. We had so many of them, and at the time, buying that many calendars was a big financial deal. So I don’t know. We probably still have calendars around today, but we were starting to give them away with… When people would buy something on the shop site, we would just throw a couple of calendars in the box just to get rid of them ’cause those things are time-limited. [chuckle] So they could be collectors items now, but they were like a lot of time. We also had antenna balls. We had those forever, and then people started manufacturing vehicles without antennas. So yeah, we have a ton of those, but they’re cute.

0:25:31.5 BR: I have one of those calendars left that was saved by my mother-in-law, and she’s like, “Oh, do you still need this?” I’m like, “I haven’t seen one of these in 10 years or whatever.” And then those antenna balls were really cool. There were the signal heads, but yeah, then cars without antennas. Thankfully small mistakes or whatever you wanna call them.

0:25:52.5 JI: Yeah, I’d say signal was probably my favorite, not mistake, success. It was just just a funny idea that now we have mascot costumes in multiple countries now to travel around when we have events.

0:26:06.1 CR: And I think probably on our last conversation, you and I, Jeremy, talked about signal, or maybe we didn’t. I’d have to go back and look, but maybe just briefly, since you mentioned it, for people that might not be familiar how Signal came to be.

0:26:22.8 JI: We tried to find a mascot for the game, and we wanted to find a mascot that… Usually when you create a mascot, it’s kind of the product with a face. So we didn’t wanna do a GPS device ’cause I realized that at some point… Even then, we knew that GPS technology would be like a clock, so it would be in everything. So you wouldn’t really be buying a GPS. You would just have a device that has GPS functionality in it. We came up with the idea of using a frog because it’s kind of… It’s nation-wide. It’s international, so there’s frogs everywhere around the world. It means nature, and then we stuck a antenna on its head to represent the technology side. So Signal basically knows where he is and where he can go, but he doesn’t really understand the technology. So we always… We had rules like he doesn’t talk, he only points. He doesn’t use a device, he’ll gesture at a GPS device, but he won’t use the GPS device ’cause he has a GPS, just silly things like that. We created these arbitrary rules that I think are still followed today.

0:27:30.1 CR: I was gonna say, I learned a few new things just now. [chuckle]

0:27:33.7 BR: And now we go to international mega events, and there’s full groups of Signals dressed in all different costumes. And people have them attached to their backpacks and trackables, and it’s really phenomenal what… That small decision in the early days has become this kind of sub-culture within the global community. It’s both fascinating and just super cool.

0:28:00.6 JI: Yeah, the character itself was based on an initial T-shirt design that one of our first hires, Coco, designed for us. Originally, Signal was just a head with an antenna. I was gonna use it in another… Talk about squirrel projects, but I was gonna use it in another project that showed you presence. So I hired somebody in Eastern Europe to design little icons, and it was just a little frog head with an antenna on it. And then she took the antenna head and turned it into Signal, which then turned into the character. And then she was the designer for the Signal character for quite a while before the company took it on.

0:28:41.5 BR: In the first image of Signal’s head, we had on… I think there were two lunch boxes, and they used to be worn in Elias’s basement where we had our first office. I wonder if he still has it.

0:28:56.4 JI: It was a product called Ground Control that never really went anywhere, but that’s where the original Signal came from. That was gonna be the icon for it.

0:29:04.9 CR: Oh, there needs to be a Signal lunch box, I think. I see a new product for the shop. I wonder if you guys could talk about how the company and especially the founders have tried to balance the needs of the company and the game and the community. Bryan, you and I have talked in the past, I think, on the podcast about Geocaching HQ as a company, and it needs to be profitable in order to do the things that it wants to do for the game and for the community. But gosh, there’s I’m sure a million decisions that you all have had to make over the course of 20 years to try to balance those needs. And I’m wondering what your philosophy has been, the three of you, and if that philosophy has evolved over the years that you’ve worked together.

0:29:52.2 BR: I mean, it feels like we always started out with… When Jeremy built the first version of the website, the game was in existence in a slightly different form, the great American GPS Stash hunt. And so I think we’ve always approached it like, we don’t own the game of geocaching, just like nobody owns the game of baseball or football. Instead, we get to participate in this global community. We have a specific role. The community volunteers have a specific role. Cache hiders, moderators, cache finders, coin manufacturers, vendors, everybody sort of participates in different ways, and we’ve always felt like we earned the right to be the global headquarters for the game through dedicated service to the community, by giving the community the right features, by showing respect for the game, by not trying to take advantage of it and really just by contributing. And so we’ve always felt like it is in the interest of the global community and the game to have a company that has resources to go and build enhancements on the game and provide support and provide teams that could be responsive to questions from new users or landowners or law enforcement.

0:31:11.9 BR: And so we always knew that we had to generate revenue, and in the really early days, the three of us were working for free. We weren’t getting paid anything for a number of years while we were doing this. And I remember there was a time where Jeremy came to us, and he’s like, “Look, I’m spending all my nights and weekends on this project. We either need to try and sell it to somebody or we need to try and find a way to make money so that I don’t have to do this other job and so that I can focus on this exclusively.” And that was really… We had to go beyond just T-shirts, and that was when we came up with the concept of a premium membership, charter membership in the early day, which was, “Hey, community. Here’s what we’re trying to do. If you can help support us, well, then we’re gonna give you access to advanced features and functionality, none of which are actually built yet, but we’re going to build them. And it’s going to enable us to continue to support the game and enhance the game.”

0:32:09.5 BR: And that sort of bargain between us and the community has lasted now for 20 years where there are people around the world who choose to pay us $30 a year or €30 a year, and we take that money and we’ve got 85 employees in the Seattle area, engineers and community engagement and marketing and finance and all that, a company whose primary goal is to support the community that effectively supports us, and I think that that’s something that’s been consistent for all of these years. And it seems to have worked out. It’s worked out well for us as a company. I think the ability to do this as a job is a dream job. I can’t imagine doing anything that’s more fun and more exciting than supporting this global community and trying to get people outside, because we know that being in nature is good for people. It’s good for the world. So we feel like we’re doing this good mission. It is our occupation, so this is something that helps me pay for food and pay for my home and things like that, and so on a personal level it works, on a company level it works. And I think that the global community gets the benefit of all of the work that we’re doing to try and make for a better game and a stronger community and just support everybody out there and getting outside and having a better life.

0:33:37.6 JI: Yeah, I think a strong company makes for a strong game. And without getting revenue, we can’t hire employees and compete with companies and hire developers if we didn’t have the money to do that. You look at it, if this was a non-profit, I think you’d see a lot less features, a lot less effort in the business. That’s just how I think it would end up for profit. Like the NFL, if you were to look at them, for football, it’d be a different kind of football game. I remember at the beginning of geocaching, when I was… Before I came up with like, “Hey, we need to make money on this because I’m spending all of my personal time working on it, and it’s kind of taking over my whole life. I need help, and the only way to do that is to hire,” I looked at ways to raise money, and one was a donation concept. So at the time you could click a button and donate money to the site, nothing like there are today. But nobody would click on it. I think everybody thought that everybody else was supporting the game. And there needed to be a way to make that happen.

0:34:42.2 JI: And a membership made the most sense. Advertising didn’t. We learned even today with the recent… What’s the documentary that came out? Social Climber?

0:34:54.7 S?: Social Climber, yeah.

0:34:56.5 JI: They talk about if you’re trying to support the experience on advertising, then your content that you’re selling is your customers. And I didn’t really think that that would be the best for the game to try to motivate us to sell our customers to other people. It made more sense to say, “This is an adventure we’re all involved in. So there should be an Adventures Club of people that are supporting it. As that membership increases, then the funds increase, and that’ll allow us to create more and more functionalities.” So as more people play and the game gets more complicated, there are complicated solutions to complicated problems, and you need to have funds to do that. You need to have a strong company that can exist and can continue to exist to support that growing population of geocachers. Initially it was just like, “Oh my goodness, we need money because I can’t do this anymore on my own, we need to hire people or get to a reasonable lifestyle.”

0:35:58.8 JI: To now, we have a strong business that’s self-healing, that have people in the company that love the game that are paid adequately. And considering that we haven’t been greedy as business owners, put that money back into the company and build that business and that’s what we did for a very long time. We didn’t even change our salary for the longest time until basically our accountant said, “You have to because you need to be taxed more.” [chuckle] “Really? Okay, well, I guess we need to start paying ourselves more.” But we wanted to take that and put it back into the company and hire people. And for the longest time, we had people at the company that were paid much higher than we were because we wanted to have the top talent to be able to make the right features and content to make this game better.

0:36:45.8 CR: I wonder if you guys could share any of your favorite memories of your time with the community over the last 20 years. I was thinking, Jeremy, you said earlier on that you don’t consider yourself a people person, and yet you have attended so many mega events and probably maybe become more of it, or challenged yourself to be more of a people person over the years. And then Bryan, I’ve seen you at all of the events that we’ve attended together over the years, and clearly you love that aspect of it. But for both of you, could you talk about that part of your role at HQ? Because I don’t imagine it was something that you could have imagined when this whole thing first started, that you would have these opportunities to engage with people from all over the world through your job.

0:37:33.0 BR: I’ll say that I think Jeremy has become much more of a people person over the years as a result of geocaching, whether he feels sort of forced into it or has come to embrace it. But you’re right, for me, it’s really one of the coolest aspects of not just the job, but being a part of the community. And I think anybody who is a part of the geocaching community who has attended an event and interacted with other community members comes to realize just how special the people are. The game is the game, but when you combine it with this global community of sort of welcoming, friendly people who wanna talk to you, who wanna share their hobby with you, whether you’re brand new or whether you’re truly engaged, you kinda realize how special it is. So for me, I love to go to events.

0:38:25.9 BR: I love to get to talk to people and find out, how did they learn about the game? What do they take from the game? What do they enjoy about it? What do they wanna see from us? What kind of ideas do they have? But just, we’ve built so many friendships over the years that not just us from HQ building friendships, but look around at the geocachers. This group has become sort of worldly and interconnected. A geocacher in New York can have friends in Spain and Switzerland and France and Germany, and it’s not just like colleagues but true friends where we care about each other. And these days when we can’t see each other, we’re interacting on social media and asking, “How’s your family? What are you doing? Have you found any cool caches?” And so it’s truly created this community from what was just about nothing to begin with. And it’s not just any community, it’s a special community because it crosses political, social, religious, it crosses all those lines and brings everybody together specifically in the spirit of this game, and I think it’s an honor for us to be a part of it.

0:39:36.4 BR: Some of my favorite memories would be everything from the first event that we had at our Ninth and Lenora office, where we got some geocaching cookies, and we invited the local community and people came in. And it was kind of our first non-elitist basement office, and we had, I don’t know, 40 or 50 geocachers just stop by and we got to meet them and like, “Hey, here’s our little HQ.” And I think there were eight or nine of us in the whole company, all the way up to… I know Jeremy and I attended the Prague Giga where they launched the European Maze exhibit, and there were thousands and thousands of people there. And just to look around and see all these people smiling and getting out and interacting and playing, it was really special to see this is what… Not just us, but the whole community has co-created over so many years. Those things for me helped me to understand just the importance of what not only we’ve done, but the community has done, and what has been created that brings so much benefit to so many people all over the world.

0:40:44.9 JI: Now that you’ve heard from the extrovert, [laughter] we’ll talk about the introvert. Originally, I just built it and then we started the company. I built it in a bedroom, so I was not interacting with anybody. And I always expected the game to be something where you would just sort of see people in the logs, and you’d start seeing those local logs and maybe exchanging emails and stuff like that. So I never really thought that at the beginning that there would be events, and there would be communities that would come together in real space and do these events. So two things I like about it. One is, as an introvert, it’s really hard to strike up a conversation, but the conversation has already been started when you go to a geocaching event, so it’s pretty easy to have a conversation. The other side of that is when you go to an event with 1,000 people, even 100 people, and they all wanna talk to you, it’s really hard. It’s kind of like, if you’ve ever been married, you go to a wedding, or you’re part of that wedding, it’s kind of a whirlwind of discussions and you kind of at the end of the day, you’re exhausted because you get to talk with so many people, and it’s not a negative or a positive thing, it’s just how it is.

0:41:57.1 JI: And you have lots of positive conversations and great experiences doing that, but it can be pretty tiring to go through there, especially for an introvert it’s a draining experience. But I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to go and meet with all of these people, and it’s a reassuring and heartwarming thing to see all these people that play the game and appreciate it. And I don’t… I have the humility to understand that I’m not the direct reason why, ’cause it’s so many people involved with geocaching that makes this thing work. There’s the people that place the geocaches and the creative geocaches I could never do, to the type of people that maintain these geocaches, and the people that volunteer to review geocaches, and then the people that build all the software for it. There’s all these people that make this game work. What I prefer actually is to be anonymous in going to a geocaching event. I think the first 15 minutes to 30 minutes when I go to a geocaching event, I don’t say anything. I just kinda walk around.

0:42:57.4 JI: I go and sign up, but then at some point I put my name down or somebody asks where I’m from or something, and then the cat’s out of the bag and it becomes a different experience. But I’ve had the best experiences, especially individual experiences with geocachers around the world. And I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to have the opportunity to be able to travel to these events and then meet people from different cultures and backgrounds, and be able to see places I’ve never experienced before. Just some highlights, I went to Copenhagen, one of my first trips, and met with a retired police officer detective that drove me around the city and showed me all the interesting spots. I’ve been to Germany multiple times, going to different lost places.

0:43:40.8 JI: I’ve been in old, abandoned World War II tunnels with geocachers, and they all know the best places to go. So I feel like I’ve gotten a highlight reel of geocaching around the world. Geocaches in Finland that are electronic, and there’s so many electronics geocachers, like one where you open it and the Christmas tree lights turn on on an entire tree, things like that, that just blow my mind. And the fact that I get the opportunity to be the person that gets taken on some of those trips is so rewarding. I can deal with giving out tags at a Geocaching event to 1,000 people. That’s totally worth it to me, but I do like the individual experiences that I have with individual people, and those are the ones I experience one-on-one or with small groups.

0:44:29.6 CR: When you think about the future, maybe the next 20 years of geocaching, both the game and the company, what comes to mind for both of you?

0:44:41.7 BR: If we look back 20 years ago and you had asked us that question, I don’t think that we could have predicted where we are today and sort of what has been built and the impact and the ecosystem, and basically what the community has come to represent and the game has come to represent. I think, likewise, 20 years from now is a really, really long time. And so coming up with any sort of specifics, Jeremy might have some really creative ideas, but for me, it comes down to really almost like big kind of principles. As a company, I don’t think that our mission will change. I think inspiring and enabling adventure, exploration, and community, I think is really core to who we are as a company and what we’re trying to do, as well as who we are collectively as a community. I think that we can expect technology to continue changing as it always does, and as a company we’re not planning to stand still. We are planning to take advantage of new technology as it comes, and when it makes sense to do so, to extend and enhance the game of geocaching and what it means to people around the world. And I think the third thing is, we recognize that geocaching is good for people, to the extent that we can keep focused on getting people outside and inspiring them to do it in new and different ways, I think that’s what you could expect to see 20 years from now in some form, but the specifics I’ll… I can’t begin to speculate, but maybe Jeremy’s got some ideas.

0:46:19.9 JI: Well, the goal of the company is to have an adventure at every location, so it’s one of those lofty goals that you can continue to strive for til the end of time. You might not necessarily have an adventure at every location, so you’ll always have something to look forward to. Also, just considering that when we started the company, I was 28. Now I’m gonna be 48, so I don’t know if I’m 68 years old, what that’s gonna look like. But I think the important thing is we’ve set the company in the direction and we’ve been very serious about not changing that direction. Now our goal is to get people to go outside using technology, create adventure. We want people to move more today than ever. People are on their phones and they’re into their social media and the Oculus now and other VR applications where people are putting on and closing off the world and creating these other adventures in these alternate realities. And although I do actually enjoy it personally, to be able to do that kind of escapism, it’s not what humans are meant to do all the time, so as much as I like the book Ready Player One and the movie, I don’t really wanna get into this VR environment where we all live in single wide trailers stacked on top of each other.

0:47:41.1 JI: That’s what I want to continue to strive for, is see what kind of technologies are out there that’s available that we can use as a part of our tool chest to allow people to create engaging outdoor adventures and get people moving and active in the real world. And what we’ve seen with this pandemic is that it is healthy to get outside. As it’s been getting colder and people are starting to move indoors, we’re now seeing that the pandemic… People are getting sicker. That just shows how important the outside is and how encouraging people to be active and outdoors, it just makes for a better life. I just remember that first time I went geocaching and I had moved out to the Pacific Northwest, and I was basically on a mountain that had been completely cut down by timber. And all the timber was gone, so it was mostly stumps, and I would not have seen that environment and kind of have a more appreciation for the outdoors by seeing that and being exposed to that. And I think that’ll continue to be an issue moving forward, is making sure that we have a healthy world. And by doing that, we need to experience that world and not have our heads down in our phones and not have VR helmet on and escape that reality and appreciate what’s outside, ’cause there’s nothing that can substitute a walk in the woods.

0:49:01.4 BR: Yeah, I’ll credit Jeremy with the phrase, but we want people to be exposed. We wanna enable people and inspire them to be exposed to actual reality as opposed to virtual reality.

0:49:15.8 JI: IRL, in real life.

[music]

0:49:19.2 BR: How about that? Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth, two of the co-founders of Geocaching HQ. I look forward to picking up our conversation in person at the 20th anniversary celebration. Do you have something that you would like to have us cover on the podcast in the new year? Send an email. Podcast@geocaching.com is the address. We always appreciate when you share your ideas, and we wanna wish you all the very best in 2021. I know I speak for all of my fellow HQ lackeys when I say we deeply appreciate your support this year. It is truly wonderful to see how Geocaching has played such an uplifting role in so many of our lives, especially during these past several months. Have a safe new year from me and everyone at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

Episode 47: 20 years of geocaching with HQ co-founders Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth

Besides being the 20th anniversary of geocaching, 2020 also marks 20 years of the partnership between Geocaching HQ’s three co-founders. In this Inside HQ podcast, Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth share stories from HQ’s early days, talk about what makes the game and community so special, and look ahead to the future.

You can listen to the episode via this page, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you use an aggregator to subscribe to podcasts, you can access the RSS feed here.

A full transcript is available here.

Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast
Episode 47: 20 years of geocaching with HQ co-founders Jeremy Irish and Bryan Roth
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Inside Geocaching HQ Podcast Transcript (Episode 3): Geocaching® app & retirement of Classic app

Ben and Bryan
Ben and Bryan

[music]

CHRIS RONAN: Hello, everybody. This is Inside Geocaching HQ, the podcast. Welcome to it. I’m Chris Ronan, the PR manager here at HQ. I’m your host for the podcast. We’ve got what I think is a very interesting show today. We are talking about the retirement of the Geocaching Classic app, and the continuing advancement of the free Geocaching® app. But before we get to that, be sure to watch the geocaching blog this week, where we will announce the community’s decision on the future of the Mission 9: Tunnel of Light APE cache. So depending on when you listen to this podcast, the news may already be out, or you may need to anxiously anticipate it for just a little bit longer. Also on the blog, we’ve got details about the recently announced Dönerstag souvenir. Attend a geocaching event on April 13th of this year, and you will earn the Dönerstag souvenir, so put that on your calendar.

Okay, on to the business at hand. The Geocaching Classic app will be retired March 23, 2017. That is less than two weeks from now. Many of you have asked questions about the app retirement. We have tried to answer as many of those questions as we can on the blog, but we thought it would be nice to chat about it here on the podcast. So today we have Bryan Roth, Geocaching HQ’s president and one of its co-founders, and we have Ben Hewitt, HQ’s product manager for mobile apps. I’m asking them the questions that you, the community, has been asking about the retirement of the Classic app.

Bryan, obviously, has a wealth of knowledge about the geocaching apps, since he has been here since the beginning. Ben is not only intimately involved with the apps, since he works with the mobile team, but he’s also a very dedicated cacher. He has more than 10,000 finds with his wife, Jayme, who also works here at Geocaching HQ. So, here we go.

[music]

CR: Okay, so we’re talking about the geocaching apps. Plural, right now, but soon will not be. We have the Classic app that will be retiring on March the 23rd, and then going forward, we will have just the Geocaching® app, which formerly known as the intro app, and the free app, however you want to call it. But before we get into talking about what happens on March 23rd, I thought it would be interesting, Bryan, since you’re the elder statesman in the room… I don’t know how you feel about that term, but we’ll use it.

BRYAN ROTH: I’m not sure how I feel about the elder part.

CR: Well, you’re a statesman, I guess, then.

BR: Alright, I’ll take statesman.

CR: Since you’re the statesman in the room, and you were around back when the currently Classic app, as we call it, was introduced back in 2008. It’s been almost nine years ago now, right?

BR: Wow, it has been nine years. That’s true. Well, back in 2007, when Apple came out with the original iPhone, we were really focused on the website, focused on building the Geocaching community, and trying to provide the right guidance to ultimately have it continue to grow. And people said to us, “Oh, are you gonna make an iPhone app?” And I don’t think anybody at the time, aside from maybe Steve Jobs, knew just how powerful the iPhone and smartphone platforms would become, and at the time we said, “This is not something we wanna focus on now. Let’s keep focusing on the website and supporting geocachers who were using their Garmins and Magellans and DeLormes and Lowrances, etc.”

And at one point, we noticed that there was a gentleman named Brian McLaughlin who was out in Oregon, I believe, and he had built a basic geocaching app that was… It was scraping the website, and he wrote to us, and he asked for permission, and he said, “Hey, I’ve got this app. I wonder if you guys would be willing to help support it.” We didn’t have an API at the time, but we looked at it and we said, “Oh, this is interesting.” People who own these iPhones, which were relatively few and far between at the time, they could go geocaching with the iPhone. And it was a relatively rudimentary app, and we said… Internally, we said, “Wow, this is kind of interesting.” We weren’t really planning on doing it anytime soon, but maybe we should talk about working with Brian more directly.

And shortcut to a few months later, and we basically said to Brian, “Look, we would like to buy what you have built so far, to give us a head start, on delivering something to the geocaching community.” And as part of the agreement, some of you old-timers may remember that in the early days of the Classic app, in the help screen, we always had a special thanks to Brian McLaughlin for giving us the opportunity to really roll out an initial iPhone app. That was in 2008, and we built on that original code base for many years after that, and we did a lot of refactoring, and rebuilt the app time and again. But the early days of that app was actually not built by us, and it was built by a geocacher who was an external, one of the early mobile app developers.

CR: And then, many years later, came what was originally known as the intro app, and is now, going forward, going to be the Geocaching® app, which is built on different technology, correct? And at the time, when it first started… I think this is important too. At the time it had a different goal than the Classic app had. And it’s been built up over the course of years and now it’s a much different app than it used to be. But I think it’s important for a lot of people who don’t realize, it’s a different technology than the Classic app is.

BR: Absolutely, and that was part of the impetus for creating the free app. Historically what we found was that because that original code base had been developed and added to, and some refactoring over time, it got to the point that our mobile engineering team was really concerned about making any changes to that Classic app because the code was… It was such that it was difficult to do. And things took two or three times as long as they would had that app been built in the modern day code base. And of course the code base had changed over time, the technologies had changed over time. That was one challenge.

The second challenge was that we realized having a $10 app created a significant barrier for new users. They would come to the app store, they would go get their iPhone, they would say, “Oh, I’m a geocacher. I wonder if there’s something… If there’s an app for geocaching.” And they would go and they would say, “Oh, it’s $10.” Well, most people were paying a dollar for an app or $2 or $3, and $10 felt like a lot of money. And so a lot of people just wouldn’t download the application. They didn’t wanna pay for it. And so we felt like we were missing out on an opportunity to educated new geocachers and to bring them into the game at no cost. And ideally get them to become geocachers. Get them to enjoy the game so that they would realize that, “Okay.” A premium membership was a natural addition to the way they played.

It wasn’t a tremendous amount of money, and they would help to support the site, help to support the ongoing development and ultimately unlock all of the features we were providing on the web and in this intro app. So we set about building an intro app using new technology and putting the Classic app, not on hold, because we would do fixes from time to time. But the primary focus of our engineering team became building this new intro app as a free-mium way to get people into the mobile app, get them to learn about geocaching and then get them to become actual players.

BEN HEWITT: In terms of thinking about the technology that supports the Classic app, like Bryan said, the app itself has become really dated and the code base of the app is really tough for us to maintain. But keep in mind too that when you’re looking at that app, when you’re using that app, you’re just seeing a tip of the iceberg of what it takes to support that app. In addition to the app itself getting harder and harder to maintain, the API that supports that app is the same, the services that support that API, all the way down to our data. In a lot of ways we’ve had to make upgrades from the ground up and supporting that app is not just keeping that app itself out in the wild, but keeping all the systems that support it up and running in addition to supporting it when questions come in.

CR: And so sometime around a year ago, officially, it was announced that going forward, at some point, the Classic app would be retired. And the free app would become the app going forward. Some people have wondered why was the decision made to move forward with the free app rather than the Classic app? I think you’ve already answered it, but maybe just reiterate it a little bit. There is a lot more potential for the free app going forward than there ever would have been for the Classic.

BR: Sure, there were actually a number of reasons. And I mentioned maybe one or two earlier. But another one of the reasons… There are a couple of reasons. So one of the complaints that we were getting over time was premium members, the folks that were paying to support the website were basically saying to us, “Hey, I’m paying $30 a year,” which incidentally has been the price since we launched premium membership 14 or 15 years ago. “Hey, I’m paying this $30 a year, and now I have to go pay for an additional app in order to play the game. That doesn’t seem fair.” And one of the things that we wanted to do, is we wanted to… If you’re a premium member, we really… Our goal is to make sure that you have the most accessible, most robust geocaching ecosystem at your fingertips. We want you to have access to all of the web-based functionalities. We wanna unlock all of the mobile functionalities.

Ultimately we’ve moved into an API program where we’re allowing third-party developers to build applications, services, websites royalty free so they don’t have to pay us, but the primary goal is for them to provide additional services to premium members. Another one of the challenges that we had, was the Classic app was a $10 one time purchase. And what we started to see, was somebody who would buy that Classic app for $10 when they had their iPhone 3; Well, when they were on their iPhone 7S or 7 Plus, they paid $10 nine years ago and there was really no incentive for them to continue to support the site on an ongoing basis. In the Classic app, basically almost everything was unlocked with the exception of pocket queries and what we said is that, as a business, as a company that’s employing 75 people full-time in Seattle, which is a challenging business market in a number of ways, we said, “Hey, our goal is, we wanna make geocaching accessible not just to ourselves and even our children, but to our children’s children and our grandchildren. How can this… I guess, our children’s children are our grandchildren.

[laughter]

BR: Maybe their grandchildren. So the question is how do we create a sustainable business model that will allow us to continue to support the game? This one time $10 fee unfortunately was not sustainable long-term. Not if we want to continue growing as a company, providing a better feature set, expanding the definition of what the game is, and what’s available to players worldwide. And so what we said is, if we can build an app on a new code base that would allow us to move beyond the challenges of this old code base, if we could make that application free so that new people could sign up and check it out and get a taste of what geocaching is, and then if we could also unlock all of the features of that application in conjunction with the premium membership which unlocks everything else that we provide, that felt like a really solid solution.

And what I’ll say at this point is we’re not done. We hear what the community is saying, we know that we have talked about retiring the Classic app and we will be retiring the Classic app full-time. We pulled it from the market a little over a year ago but it’s going to allow us to focus completely on these new applications and providing the best service not just to premium members but to all members, to people who are coming to geocaching for the first time. We wanna do a better job with education of new users. We wanna do a better job with the features and functionality in the app. And quite honestly we feel like $30 is a reasonable price to ask people, especially since it’s been the same price for so many years to help support the company, help support the website, and get access to all these features.

Now, we will be the first to admit that this is not perfect. We are not done. We have some challenges and there are things that people want that are not in this new app. We plan to either put them in the new app or enable this third-party ecosystem of API developers to provide those to the members who are really active geocachers. I guess it’s important to say that we’ve changed some things at Geocaching HQ, and our goal is to deliver the best products and services for geocachers worldwide. We’re not done. In many ways we feel like we’re just getting started and our expectation is that the changes that we make going forward are gonna be the changes that ultimately delight the users. We realize that everything that we do is… Anytime we make a change, there’s always gonna be people that are upset with us. Our goal is to make geocaching sustainable in the long-term while at the same time delivering the best products and services to the geocaching community and there are more great things to come on the horizon. And if you were here at Geocaching HQ, you would see a lot of people who are really excited for us to move forward.

CR: Okay, so March 23rd comes, what will happen? What will people who currently own the Classic app, what happens to them that day?

BH: That’s a great question and we know there’ve been a lot of questions in the community about that and we’ve been really mindful here at HQ of making sure that we get that right. The most important thing to know is that for anybody who’s out geocaching everyday, the Classic app won’t be a usable geocaching app for much longer after March 23rd. It will no longer communicate with our API. You won’t be able to run searches, you won’t be able to submit logs, any of that kind of stuff. So you’re really not gonna be able to go geocaching with it after March 23rd. That said, we know that a lot of people have a lot of data in the Classic app that’s really important to them. They’ve made offline lists over the years that are important to them. They’ve saved waypoints that are important to them. And this is one of the main reasons that we needed to move on from the Classic app is unfortunately, the Classic app doesn’t handle all that data in the best way. It’s all stored on your device. So we’re working actively to make sure, number one, that people will continue to be able to access that data on their device after March 23rd. And number two, we’re investigating ways to help people get that data off their device after March 23rd. So the upshot of all that is you won’t be able to use it to go geocaching but you should still be able to access it to get that data that you have in the Classic app and make sure you still have access to it.

CR: And what features will people see between now and then, ’cause there’s been a lot of questions about that too and there are a couple of key things coming, right? Between now and March 23rd in the new, in the Geocaching® app.

BH: Absolutely. The number one that we hear from everybody is, “I need to do field notes like I had in the Classic app.” We’ve done a lot of research on this. We really wanted to get behind the motivations. We know that it was a big request from the community, but before we just repeated exactly what was in the Classic app, we wanted to make sure that we understood what people were trying to accomplish. We feel like we’ve got a lot of good information on that, both from what you all have told us in the forums, what you’ve told us on the blog, what you tell us on social media, and in addition to the research that we did one-on-one with a lot of different users. So basically what you’re gonna see, honestly in the next week, hopefully by the time you hear this, this will already be on your phone. We’re upgrading the field notes that you’ve known for years and loved, we’re now gonna be calling them drafts in the app and on the website.

Everything that you’ve liked about field notes will continue to work just as you’ve loved it. You’ll be able to start a log in the app and then finish it up on the website. But we’ve also made a lot of changes behind the scenes to make that much more robust. You’ll be able to finish your drafts in the app. You were never able to do that before with field notes in the Classic app. You’ll be able to… After a little more time, you’ll be able to add a favorite point or a photo to a draft, and you were never able to do that with field notes before. So we really listened to a lot of what was working about field notes and also listened to a lot of things that people said that they wished field notes would do more. And the new app will have all that goodness plus some more.

CR: Okay, and then so after March 23rd, obviously things don’t just stop. What is on the horizon? What are things that your team is focused on right now for the app after March 23rd?

BH: Sure. There’s a lot of next tier features that we know we haven’t done yet, too. People are interested in things like personal cache notes. People are interested in a photo gallery like the Classic app had. And we’re not necessarily gonna to recreate everything exactly like the Classic app did, but we’re absolutely listening to the things that the community is asking for. We also know that given the history of the free app, like you guys have already mentioned, it started its life as the intro app. And there’s some things about this app that we haven’t had a chance to revisit since its inception. It used to have a different purpose. It was for a smaller audience of people that was just getting to know geocaching.

And there are some ways that this app works that we’d like to revisit and broaden that audience. Make it work better for a broader group of people. We hear you when you say that, “Hey, I’m not a newbie and I don’t want this app to treat me like a newbie.” So we’re gonna be revisiting a lot of the core experience in the app, and trying to make sure that it works for people who are brand new to the game. That’s still incredibly important to us because we want to make great geocachers through this app, but we also want it to be a really solid everyday experience for a lot of geocachers.

CR: One question we hear a lot is, “How do you guys decide what you’re going to do next?” Or, “What the features are going to be?” Because there are so many different possibilities about what you could do, not just on the app, but on the website. I hear this question about all of our products so maybe talk a little bit about, how does your team decide, and how do you gather data and research, and how do you go about trying to figure out what’s gonna be next, and what’s gonna be next after that?

BH: As you might imagine that’s a big challenge. It’s a fun challenge and one that I am lucky to be working on everyday. We hear feedback from more places than you can possibly imagine. We meet geocachers in person all the time. Everybody at HQ does. We hear feedback from all of our coworkers about what they hear from geocachers. We run surveys. We do in person research and user testing. And all of these things stack up to a list of challenges basically. We’ve been trying to be very thoughtful in the last few years. Not necessarily about just implementing features, but about really understanding what’s the task you’re trying to accomplish as a geocacher? What’s holding you back from just getting out there and having fun and finding geocaches? In a perfect world, the app and the website shouldn’t be something that you have to think about. It should just be your tool that engages you and lets you get out and do the stuff you want to do.

So our goal is to understand what are the top problems that we can solve for geocachers. What are the things that they’re not able to do now? And how can we do that? Sometimes that just means bringing over features that already exist. Sometimes it’s a solved problem then we just need to implement something that already exists. And sometimes there’s good reason to revisit what we’ve done before and say, “Is that still the best way to solve this problem, or can we do something better?” And that’s the drafts feature that I just talked about, is a really good example of that. Where we tried to bring along a lot of the really good stuff that existed before, but also build something more useful and more robust than anything we’ve done in the past.

CR: Okay, so Bryan, in the Classic app, if you’re a basic member, you can see all caches of every DT as long as they’re not premium member only caches. So one of the big differences in the free app is that unless you have premium membership you can’t see caches that are above 1.5/1.5 DT, and so people have had questions about that in the community. And it’s a difficult subject. It’s a complicated subject, and I wonder if you could speak a little bit to how we got to where we are now and the fact that it’s always a conversation, and it’s always something that we are looking at as a company.

BR: Sure. I think if we go back to the beginning of how we got to a DT limitation. I think where we started was we had two challenges that we were trying to address. The first challenge is as a application that was focused on on-boarding new users. We had a concern about a new user going out and for their first cache trying a 3/3, or a 4/4, or worse, a 5/5, and having a really bad experience. So one of things that we wanted to do, was we wanted to create a model where their first experience would be a positive one. Ideally find a large cached container that’s easy to find, and it has trinkets and toys, and if they’re with kids everybody has a good time and then they say, “Oh, I’m interested. I like this. I wanna do more.” And a big concern was, well what if they find a 3/3, or worse yet, don’t find a 3/3, or a 2/2, and they have this bad experience and give up on geocaching because they feel like it’s out of their league, or just too hard, or too complicated. So we wanted to solve that. At the same time, the other challenge we had was, we needed to be able to generate revenue to pay for the operational costs of building the app, and keeping the lights on at the company, and things like that.

And so as I said earlier, we realize that $10 one time forever was not an ongoing sustainable model. We said, “Okay, we wanted to solve the premium membership, they should get a free app if you’re a premium member.” So we said, “Okay, what if we combine these two things,” and we say, “Okay, if you’re a new member or a basic member we’re gonna give you access to caches that we believe you’re more likely to find.” And then premium members are more likely engaged users who have played the game before they decide to spend $30 a year or whatever we charge a quarter or a month. So the thought was if we combine these two things maybe we can solve both of those problems at the same time. Now, I don’t think we’ve done a very good job with that. And I think that if you were to talk to the people who work here and our mobile application developers, I think we realized that by conflating those two challenges and coming up with the solution, we didn’t get where we needed to be.

We certainly solve some of it. We’re getting people to subscribe and become premium members and that allows us to hire more engineers and focus on building a better app, and a better website, and the better foundational technology that supports all of this. But at the same time we get people who are coming to the app, and they’re saying, “Oh, I’m in a neighborhood where all there is, is 2.5/2.5’s, and I can’t see any caches, and we’re having other people have an experience where they live in an area where everything’s relatively easy to find and they see everything. And so we haven’t done a good job of solving that challenge.

At the same time, we’ve pissed off a lot of people and they’re frustrated. And so for us as a company, we believe that we can do better. We have some initiatives here that will be directly looking at those problems and saying, “How can we do a better job?” This is not something that we’re gonna solve overnight, as easy as it sounds to like, “Hey, just open everything up.” It’s like, if we said “Alright, everything in the app is unlocked for all members.” Well, that’s great. We would make people pretty happy, but we might not have anybody helping to support the website. And then what happens to the company? That’s a challenge. So one of the luxuries that we have as a business is that we’re a bootstrap company. Jeremy, Elias, and I started this over 16 years ago. To date we have never taken any outside investment and that means that we don’t have somebody coming to us and saying, “Hey, you need to make more money. Charge everybody for geocaching.” Or, “Start raising your prices or do things like that.” We don’t have people that can tell us what to do.

And between the three of us, our interest is in creating a business that is sustainable, absolutely, because we believe that’s important to keep this game going. But it’s also more importantly, we wanna make geocaching awesome. We want people to be happy. We want more players having more fun getting outside. Our mission as a company is to inspire and enable discovery, exploration, and adventure. And in order to do that, we need to have employees here building features and functionality that are gonna help to get people outside. But we also want people who are happy enough about this game to go tell their friends, “Look at how cool this is. Let’s get outside.” So our goal is to take a really hard look at where that paywall is. What is it that we’re going to charge for? What is it that we’re going to make for free? And at the same time maintain another model that allows us to have this ecosystem of third party API developers who are able to create things that may be more appealing to certain type of users or users who want a very specific piece of functionality that we don’t plan on building in the near term. Those are all options.

So for us what I can tell you is going forward we are absolutely taking a look at this. We don’t feel like it’s in the right place now. And we do have intentions of improving it, knowing that we’re doing that. Knowing that we are intending to make this more of a win-win for the community and this company is something that has a lot of people here at HQ really excited, myself included because we wanna do better. We know that we can make this game better. We know that we can make the geocaching platform that we provide and that we power through the API, we know that we can make it better. And so maybe you’re hearing this for the first time, but I’m telling you that in the coming months and in the coming years, this company is dedicated to making the best products and services, getting more people outside, and really delighting the global geocaching community. And that’s going to happen. We’ve been doing this for 16 and a half years. We have 75 full-time employees here who are dedicated to doing this work and to getting more people outside playing this game.

And the truth is, we’ve actually done a lot. And we’re really proud of what we’ve done. We have built a website that is robust. We have built multiple applications and services to support this game. And at the end of the day, we have got millions of people outside doing something fun. We have delivered adventure all over the world. We have helped to create a system that allows people to create, share, and play experiences and adventures around the world. And we’re actually really proud of that. And I think that it’s important to note that we’re proud of what we’ve done so far, but we know that we can do more and our goal is to do more and we’re going to do more.

BH: I completely echo what Bryan has said. I started this game as a player first. I’ve been playing since 2008. I used the first version of that Classic app and every version up till now and loved it to death. And I completely understand why it’s really hard for a lot of folks to say goodbye to a beloved old friend. That app has served us well for a long time. And like Bryan said, I wanna echo, that I feel really lucky and fortunate to be working on the successor to that app. To spend time thinking about how can we do it even better. How can we live up to what that app did so well for people, and how can we make it even better than it was before?

[music]

CR: So there you go, Hopefully you enjoyed and/or learned something from the discussion. Thanks to Bryan and Ben for taking the time. Check out the geocaching blog for much more about the Geocaching Classic app retirement, and new features in the free Geocaching® app. And what would you like to hear about on Inside Geocaching HQ? Send us an email: Podcast at geocaching dot com is the address. Drop us a line. We would love to hear from you, and we would love to know what you want to hear about in future episodes. Until we chat again, from me and from everybody here at Geocaching HQ, happy caching.

5 Comments

How a Geocaching.com Co-Founder Found Geo-Love

unnamedSome people find much more than just cache containers when they’re introduced to geocaching. Geocachers may discover parks they never knew existed, the hidden history of their community or even the sting of stepping in poison ivy. But some geocachers wander into something else. They’re lucky enough to find the person they’ll spend the rest of their lives with.

It happens. It happened to one of the founders of Geocaching.com. Bryan Roth attended a geocaching event fourteen years ago. Fellow founder Jeremy Irish encouraged Bryan to attend.

Bryan says, “This was the first of [88] total geocaching events that I’ve attended so far. Jeremy had suggested that I attend and I figured it’d be a great opportunity to meet some members of the local geocaching community. I really didn’t know what to expect but, of course, that day has changed my life forever.”

What happened next may have been one of the very first cases of geo-love.  The event’s name was innocent enough. It was called Washington Geocaching Potluck & Quilting Bee.

Event in 2001 where Bryan and Hydee met (Hydee far left of picture)

Bryan’s “will attend” log read, “I will be there (with chocolates).” Bryan says he wasn’t fishing for love with those chocolates, “Not at all.  At the time, I don’t think I was even looking for a date. I was only thinking about meeting geocachers and getting more involved with the local community.”

But Bryan says he soon met a geocacher named Hydee and her son Dylan. He remembers his first thought, “Yeah [my first thought was]—she looks like trouble.  I was right, of course.  ;)”

She later told Bryan the chocolates helped cement her intuitions that he was the right person for her. She loves chocolate.

Jon Stanley, Moun10Bike, hosted the event where Hydee and Bryan first met. Jon says, “That event is actually where I first met Bryan. I didn’t know that the spark had been lit at that time, but I soon found out. Hydee and her friend CameraThyme kept referring to “AFM,” which stood for “Action Figure Man.” After a while I discovered that this was their code name for Bryan. Then, all became clear!”

The Roth’s 10 Year Anniversary geocoin

Hydee’s friend CameraThyme also played a key role. Bryan says, “Thanks to CameraThyme for letting me know that Hydee was single.”

Bryan and Hydee were eventually married. They’ll be celebrating their 15th anniversary of meeting in November 2016.

Jon says Bryan and Hydee are lucky, geo-love can be a rare commodity, “I attend a fair amount of events, though, and while I’ve heard of people meeting through them, Bryan and Hydee are the only ones I personally can name who linked up as the result of an event!”

But you never know. Attend a geocaching event before September 2nd this year, and you might come away with more than just your Meet Your Road Trip Crew souvenir—you could meet your own Geo-Love.

Can’t get enough geocaching love? Check out these sweet videos from the 2014 Geocaching International Film Festival.

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Do you know any geocaching love stories?

 

 

11 Comments

Geocaching.com Co-Founder Celebrates Ten Years of Geo-Love

Bryan, Hydee, Nicolas and Dylan

Some people find much more than just cache containers when they’re introduced to geocaching. Geocachers may discover parks they never knew existed, the hidden history of their community or even the sting of stepping in poison ivy. But some geocachers wander into something else. They’re lucky enough to find the person they’ll marry.

It happens. It happened to one of the founders of Geocaching.com. Bryan Roth attended a geocaching event ten years ago today. Fellow founder Jeremy Irish encouraged Bryan to attend.

Bryan says, “This was the first of 41 total geocaching events that I’ve attended so far. Jeremy had suggested that I attend and I figured it’d be a great opportunity to meet some members of the local geocaching community. I really didn’t know what to expect but, of course, that day has changed my life forever.”

What happened next may have been one of first cases of geo-love.  The event’s name was innocent enough. It was called Washington Geocaching Potluck & Quilting Bee.

Event in 2001 where Bryan and Hydee met (Hydee far left of picture)

Bryan’s “will attend” log read, “I will be there (with chocolates).” Bryan says he wasn’t fishing for love with those chocolates, “Not at all.  At the time, I don’t think I was even looking for a date. I was only thinking about meeting geocachers and getting more involved with the local community.”

But Bryan says he soon met a geocacher named Hydee and her son Dylan. He remembers his first thought, “Yeah [my first thought was] – she looks like trouble.  I was right, of course.  ;)”

She later told Bryan the chocolates helped cement her intuitions that he was the right person for her. She loves chocolate.

Jon Stanley, Moun10Bike, hosted the event where Hydee and Bryan first met. Jon says, “That event is actually where I first met Bryan. I didn’t know that the spark had been lit at that time, but I soon found out. Hydee and her friend CameraThyme kept referring to “AFM,” which stood for “Action Figure Man.” After a while I discovered that this was their code name for Bryan. Then all became clear!”

The Roth's 10 Year Anniversary geocoin

Hydee’s friend CameraThyme also played a key role. Bryan says, “Thanks to CameraThyme for letting me know that Heidi was single.”

Bryan and Hydee would marry. Today they’re co -hosting a “10 Years Since They Met!” event in the Seattle area with Moun10Bike and Avroair. Nearly a hundred people are expected to attend.

Bryan says, “I feel so fortunate to have met Hydee and adopted Dylan. Our youngest son Nicholas is almost six and I can’t believe what a wonderful ten years it has been for all of us. A really cool aspect of it is that many of the people at the event ten years ago will be there today, so it’s really an anniversary for all of us. We’ve built some wonderful friendships along the way and we have geocaching to thank for it.”

Jon says Bryan and Hydee are lucky, geo-love can be a rare commodity, “I attend a fair amount of events, though, and while I’ve heard of people meeting through them, Bryan and Hydee are the only ones I personally can name who linked up as the result of an event, let alone stayed together happily for ten years!”

Still want more love? Watch this video about others who met through geocaching.

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