When they’re in their canoes or kayaks, Brian Van Drie ’99 and Brent Vredevoogd ’99 don’t relish waves. But when, in 1998, they saw two big waves rising in the nation’s marketplace, the pair headed straight for them. Those waves — a surge of interest in paddle sports and the growth of the Internet — have carried Van Drie and Vredevoogd into their new roles as owners of a thriving small business.
Business majors with an interest in computers, the two friends were already starting up and trying out small Internet businesses by their junior year. One they described as “a virtual outdoor show” for hunters and fishermen; at its edges the site offered a few opportunities for canoe and kayak outfitters. A great idea, Vredevoogd and Van Drie thought, but one they couldn’t seem to sell to providers of hunting and fishing services.
Then one day Vredevoogd was visiting family friends and saw pictures of their canoe trip to northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters. Though his canoeing experience was limited to easy day trips, Vredevoogd knew he wanted to try a more rigorous excursion. He called the outfitter recommended by his friends and offered to build him a Web site in exchange for a Boundary Waters trip for himself and three friends.
At the end of the trip Vredevoogd was not only hooked on canoeing but was also buzzing with the business possibilities he saw. He immediately called Van Drie, and in August 1998 Paddling.net was launched.
“I noticed there was no clearinghouse on the Web for canoeing and kayaking information, even though the sport was growing quickly,” Vredevoogd said, “and paddle sport enthusiasts were much more Internet savvy than the hunters and fishermen we’d been dealing with.”
The Web site took off, but Vredevoogd and Van Drie still had to take day jobs when they graduated. They worked nights and weekends building the site and selling advertisers on it. “That was the hardest time,” Van Drie remembered. “Because we didn’t want to borrow money, we had to wait until the site could carry us, and it wasn’t happening soon enough!”
It did happen, though, in February 2001, and both say they haven’t looked back. They haven’t had time. The growth of high-speed Internet access has pushed the waves they’ve been riding. Paddling.net averages a million hits a day, and 50,000 subscribers now get the organization’s newsletter.
Visitors to the site can scan or post classified ads, read other paddlers’ reviews of boats and gear, and peruse articles on everything from “the X rescue” to campsite cuisine. There are also travelogues from the pair’s trips to locations as far flung as the Galapagos Islands.
Besides that perk, there’s the benefit of being able to work from home. From his, Vredevoogd does almost all the site’s technical work, while Van Drie, from his, does the sales and marketing tasks. They talk three or four times a day and have a weekly three-hour brainstorming lunch.
“When we first quit our jobs, we wondered what we’d do when the backlog of work was done,” Vredevoogd said. “We thought maybe we’d take ‘paddling Fridays,’ afternoons on the water to hone our skills and stay in touch with the industry.”
“But we can’t seem to get there,” Van Drie added. “Things just keep growing.”
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