Fail Fast, They Say

Fail fast.

That, apparently, is a catchphrase among today’s tech entrepreneurs. It’s a philosophy that encourages them to create and try out new technology and find out quickly if it works, or if it’ll catch on. If it doesn’t take, cut your losses and move past that failure quickly. Pivot to the next thing. Fail fast.

One of my own recent failures came from an innovative outdoor program some of my friends from the local Pheasants Forever chapter and I have been trying to start for a few years now.

We called it Hook and Hunt University. The idea was to create a program designed to recruit a new generation of hunters and anglers by pairing the time and talents of local sportsmen with novice outdoorsmen and women in the community in ways that are, as our tagline read, "Fun. Social. Outdoors."

Our focus was on youth. We had previously launched (or helped launch) a number of other successful youth programs over the years including a summer target shooting program called Young Guns, several local trapshooting teams, as well as the wildly successful Outdoor Youth Jamboree which now attracts roughly 1,000 people to Big Hollow Recreation Area the second Saturday every May (mark your calendars!).

It was partially the popularity of those types of programs that inspired us to create Hook and Hunt University. We saw how many kids absolutely loved those annual programs but we also realized how few of them were able to maintain that outdoor connection once those events were over. With Hook and Hunt, our goal was to match youth up with mentors that would provide that follow up. In so doing, we thought we could create a few more hunters and anglers from the ranks of the young folks that were seriously enjoying these introductory events.

We were wrong.

Though the idea was solid, the logistics were nearly insurmountable. When we publicly launched the event three years ago, we actually had a pretty good response from potential mentors and volunteers. We found a few kids that wanted to participate. We got off to a great start.

Then the legal monster reared its ugly head.

Since we had intentionally designed Hook and Hunt University to be a standalone program, not owned by any one organization so as to be broadly inclusive for potential volunteers, the question was raised as to who was ultimately liable should there be an accident. We didn’t know how to answer that question and in the interest of not saddling our volunteers with potential liability concerns, we sidelined the program and spent the better part of a year attending meetings and having conference calls trying to sort those logistics out.

Eventually, we did. The Iowa DNR decided to adopt the program and in so doing, would provide volunteer and participant coverage for those involved, in return for some legalese-filled paperwork of course.

Excited to have that failure behind us, we launched version 2.0 a year and a half later only to have practically no one sign up. We had lost our momentum.

We regrouped and set about doing some behind-the-scenes recruitment rather than a formal launch of yet another version. We more or less quietly built a beta version to test out on a small group of folks. We scheduled monthly events such as shooting, canoeing, and fishing and marketed them to our participants via direct email.

Turns out, kids these days (and their parents) are quite busy. While I’d say some of our events were mildly successful, some of them were total busts. We even had one event that no one showed up to. Granted, it was canoeing in the middle of summer and it was like, literally, 100 degrees out. But still.

By the end of summer, we decided the program just wasn’t working out and we dropped it. Fail fast, right?

But the key to failure is to learn from it. And one of the things we learned is that the adults that either helped with or attended some of these events often said they wished such a program existed for them.

Light bulb!

So next month we launch our latest experimental program. We’re calling it Conservation Club. It’s for adults. Our target age is like 21 to 40, but we’re not picky. Anyone old enough to sign a legal waiver is welcome. Each month we have some new outdoorsy event scheduled. Some of them, like paddling on Big Hollow Lake, are public programs. Some of them, including a wild edibles hike, birding, fishing, and trapshooting, are Conservation Club member-exclusive. All of them are designed to be fun, outdoors, and informative.

Interested? Join us Sunday, May 6 at 2:00 PM at Parkside Brewing Company in Burlington for the kick-off event. For more information, find Iowa Conservation Club on Facebook.

This article was originally published in The Living Land column in The Hawk Eye newspaper.