The Free Range Capital Raise: Commercial Fishing

Before walking the deck of the Bonzai, I had a very different idea of what commercial fishing was and was not. Yet at two hours past an Alaskan summer midnight, I found myself throwing down some nasty pole dancing moves around our net hook to the rasta beats of Buffalo Soldier while wild sockeye salmon wriggled and splashed into our gillnet. I was past the point of caring and had reached an exhaustion-induced, apathetic goofiness that only dance moves can cure. This was not what I expected.

A painting by Dick Smith, a pioneer of Bristol Bay fishing, of the Bonzai pulling up to a tender to offload its hold.

A painting by Dick Smith, a pioneer of Bristol Bay fishing, of the Bonzai pulling up to a tender to offload its hold.

I initially felt the pull up to Alaska because I had waaaay underestimated this business I had taken on: an outdoor startup, bootstrap style. I had chosen it for the high barriers of entry, low initial investment, and great margins. Yeah, no, definitely not. I chose it for the experience and the continual learning and self-growth it requires. But I figured I could design a line of packs, hire a team to help, and we’d be off to the races. Ain’t that just quaint. I pretty quickly realized I was going to need a lot more capital than the coins in my piggy bank to get this thing off the ground.

PICKING FISHH!!!

PICKING FISHH!!!

Cap'n Libby

Cap'n Libby

When I first talked to Justin Libby, a friend of my sisters and captain of the Bonzai, he planted the hook perfectly. “You’ll make a percentage of the total catch but don’t worry about that. If you want to come, come for the experience. The money is just a bonus.”  I bit and I’ve made my annual trip up to Bristol Bay for four seasons now. The rest is history.

Operating the said net hook/pole dancing apparatus.

Operating the said net hook/pole dancing apparatus.

Roddy and I sending off the brailers full of salmon to the tender (crabbing boats turned delivery boats for the salmon season).

Roddy and I sending off the brailers full of salmon to the tender (crabbing boats turned delivery boats for the salmon season).

It is not, in fact, always sunny.

It is not, in fact, always sunny.

Perfect time for a nap while running uphill to get the net back in the water.

Perfect time for a nap while running uphill to get the net back in the water.

Bonzai crew on the right, lots of fish on the left (and the Big Dipper crew).

Bonzai crew on the right, lots of fish on the left (and the Big Dipper crew).

A part of me wishes I could say I had made this whole Free Range project possible with great communication skills, or some clever intellect, and had raised a bunch of money from a loaded Bay area investor. A part of me wishes that were so. Instead, I’ll have to attribute it to optimism, persistence and pole dancing. And the other part of me is pretty ok with that.