When Urban Outdoors founder Kay Rodriguez moved to Chicago in 2019 following a brief stint of international adventuring, she was eager to check out the city’s outdoor recreation scene.
But consulting several area natives yielded no information about the city’s trails, hikes or related activities. So she did the research herself, eventually creating a WordPress site featuring guides to her favorite hikes in the Windy City.
“Within three months, I had a handful of guides to the Chicago area and we had about 15,000 people coming to the website every month,” Rodriguez told Technical.ly. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh — well if Chicago wants this information, then my guess would be that everyone everywhere wants it,'”
Rodriguez, who comes from a management consulting and corporate strategy background in both tech and media, quickly expanded the blog to include DC and Houston, Texas, where she had previously lived. Urban Outdoors grew even further when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, compelling her to quit her job and work on the company full-time.
Fast-forward a few years, and Rodriguez has turned the company, which she relocated to DC, into a burgeoning site with 150,000 to 200,000 visitors each month and 27,000 email subscribers. Many of these readers began reaching out to ask about groups to join and other resources to not only get outside but find others to go with them. This led to her creating Outerly, a soon-to-be-launched web and mobile app to help foster connections among outdoor enthusiasts.
“People really, really want to talk about this and they’re really passionate about it, and they do have problems and pain points and things that they like to see changed in their cities and in their own personal lives,” Rodriguez said. “But the resources are so slim that they haven’t been able to do that.”
Outerly is currently in beta mode, and Rodriguez hopes to launch the web app in the next month or two before debuting the mobile app soon after. The web app is currently built on a WordPress stack with a customized frontend. She eventually hopes to develop a shared database for the web and mobile app with React Native for each of the frontends.
With Outerly, users can search for information on local trails through reviews from folks who have already completed them. They can filter by difficulty, length, time and distance from DC, as well as search for upcoming events associated with individual trails. There will also be a premium feature for users to request to attend an activity on a certain date — and find others to go with them. Alternatively, upon searching a trail, they can see if any of their Outerly-using friends have marked it as interested and plan an activity together.
Urban Outdoors (which Rodriguez plans to keep separate from Outerly once it launches) recently won the early stage category of DC Startup Week’s pitch competition and has received a $65,000 SAFE investment. In the coming months, she hopes to open a $2 million seed round to help with launching and scaling the app, which will include building full-stack versions of the web and mobile platforms and entering new target markets where Urban Outdoors already has a large audience.
“People are always looking for friends. They’re always looking for things to do and as a result, there are always things going on which make [DC] such an exciting place to live and be,” Rodriguez said. “What drew us to DC, and what we think DC can benefit from with us, is that DC people want to go meet other people, and they also want to know where they can get outside.”
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