By Katy Spence
Navigating Montana’s patchwork of public and private lands is no easy feat for a hunter in pursuit of his or her game. onXmaps, Inc. (onX) founder and avid bowhunter Eric Siegfried knew this all too well. When he moved to Missoula in 2007, he looked around at the Bitterroot Valley, eager to explore but unsure where to start.
“Where can I go?” Siegfried thought.
At the time, property boundaries were nearly impossible to discern in the field without careful and tedious preparation, even with the best GPS units. 26-year-old Siegfried, a Montana State University engineering graduate, wasn’t thinking about creating a product that could disrupt backcountry navigation when he founded onX in 2009; if anything, he was looking for ways to help fellow outdoors enthusiasts and hunters.
More than 10 years later, onX closed a $20.3 million funding round led by Summit Partners, an international growth equity firm out of Menlo Park, California.
onX just built a new building at their Brooks Street location in Missoula and is growing its team in Bozeman as well. Nearly 70 employees now work within the two offices. Over the next several years, onX plans to hire more than two dozen people. Siegfried said the investment will help onX continue empowering successful outdoor experiences.
“This investment enables us to take our solutions and our team to the next level,” Siegfried said. “Whether our customers are hunting big game, looking for the best spot to camp, fishing new water, or walking land ownership boundaries, onX has them covered – now and in the future.”
The onX deal is the largest growth equity investment in a mobile and consumer-focused business in Montana’s history. Jason Mittelstaedt, Founding Partner at Yellowstone Growth Partners (YGP) and onX Board Member, has worked with Siegfried for almost three years and said he believes the company is just getting started.
“A growth equity financing of this caliber, by a Montana company, is testament to onX’s vision
and resolve to build best-in-class products for customers,” Mittelstaedt said.
Mittelstaedt and his YGP co-founders, Susan Carstensen and David Vap, worked with Summit Partners during their time at RightNow Technologies and helped bring onX to Summit’s attention. Greg Goldfarb, Summit Partners Managing Director and onX board member, said onX represents a unique combination of culture, product-market fit, ambition, and demonstrated success that made it an exciting opportunity for investment.
“In many ways, the onX story represents the quintessential entrepreneurial journey,” Goldfarb said. “Eric founded onX to address a major gap in the outdoor recreation market and bootstrapped the business to an impressive scale.”
So how did Siegfried bootstrap a multi-million dollar business in just 10 years in the wilds of Montana? By focusing maniacally on the customer and creating a quality product with an exceptional team, Siegfried said.
It started with a product that allowed a GPS unit to display property boundary maps while a user was t in the field. Hunters and backcountry explorers could, and still can, purchase the Hunt GPS Chip to overlay statewide property boundaries and landowner names, hunting districts, roads, trails, and access points right onto a GPS device display. With these detailed, pocket-sized digital maps, anyone can navigate the backcountry with confidence.
But Siegfried could see how the market was growing and expanded onX’s attention to include mobile apps just in time for the smartphone boom.
“We have been blessed with the gift of great timing and are very thankful for it,” Siegfried said.
Few people know that the GPS in your smartphone works all the time, even if you don’t have cell phone coverage. onX’s innovative Hunt app allows users to download maps and save them. When they go off the grid, onX Hunt allows them to see where they are in relation to property boundaries on the saved maps.
Today, onX has hundreds of thousands of members, and more than a million people use the free version of the app regularly Siegfried said that’s a testament to the company’s intense focus on making customers happy.
Siegfried worked as a hunting guide for years, leading people through the backcountry to hunt or simply view wildlife. As he guided them through Montana’s wilderness, Siegfried said their reactions to seeing the rugged backcountry were his favorite part. As he reflects now, Siegfried said that’s where onX really began.
“Starting onX was just an expansion of that love for showing people and guiding people in the outdoors,” Siegfried said. “The onXHunt app is basically a pocket guide to help people know where to go and to help them execute while in the field.”
Because many people retreat outdoors to escape gadgets and apps, Siegfried said his team works hard to ensure the Hunt GPS Chip and onX Hunt app are tools to enhance a user’s location experience, not detract from it.
“We want you to experience the outdoors, and we’ll keep you informed through ways that don’t affect your experience,” Siegfried said. “Like, instead of having to look on your phone to see where a property boundary is, your watch might buzz when you near a private property boundary.”
Siegfried said his team knows intimately the benefits of using onX’s products because most of them are outdoors enthusiasts, too. The walls of onX’s headquarters feature mounts of elk, mountain goats, antelope and other trophies brought home by Siegfried and other employees.
Product Manager Andrew Burrington said he enjoys extreme outdoor activities, like white water rafting, snowmobiling, and mountain biking. onX gives him the opportunity to work with similar-minded people in a fast industry that is providing solutions for an eager customer base.
“Archers go out, and they need their bow and they need the Hunt app just as bad,” Burrington said. “There’s that much value to it, and they’ve helped make our GPS product better.”
Engineering Director Jeff Lutzenberger is leading the onX engineering team in Bozeman. With experience in the cloud and mobile spaces, Lutzenberger said he’s excited to be working for a growing company and help build a division from the ground up.
“Almost every day, I meet someone who says, ‘Oh onX. I love what you guys are doing,’” Lutzenberger said. “It’s really rewarding, and it’s pretty special. The product and the company have so much authenticity.”
The next phase of growth is crucial for onX, Lutzenberger said, with a specific focus on creating a company culture centered on customer satisfaction and employee well-being.
“We’re looking for kind, thoughtful, intelligent, creative people,” Lutzenberger said. “We attract passionate people that care about their health and the outdoors. It’s this holistic sort of personality you can attract in a beautiful place like Montana.”
Billings native Jourdan Lipp is a Mobile Software Developer at onX’s main office in Missoula. After graduating from Montana State University with a Computer Science degree in 2014, he got a job with onX working on the Hunt app.
Lipp has been with onX for three years and said he’s seen the company grow from a dozen employees to more than 70. He himself went from working in a basement to working in the company’s brand new building in Missoula.
Lipp said the team at onX is exceptional because they have an exceptional leader who cares so much about helping both customers and employees.
“The one reason I’ve always loved working for this company is I loved working for Eric,” Lipp said. “His passion and how much he cares for the employees has driven me to put in the extra time. I’ll work more than 40 hours to make sure I’m delivering something that he’s proud of as well. He’s a great guy to work for.”
Lipp said having a personal relationship with his CEO makes his job at onX more than a job. He also likes working on a useful product.
“I get a lot of satisfaction working on a product that I use every day,” Lipp said. “It’s really cool that I can write something and then take it outside and see how it works. We do a lot of fun testing.”
With employees who are so passionate about outdoor activities, it makes sense that the onX is committed to supporting causes aligned with their values. Siegfried said the company gives employees two days off to volunteer in the community, and the company itself has focused on giving to organizations like Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Foundation, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“Anything related to access or public lands, we’re all about that,” Siegfried said. “We can really have a meaningful impact by giving ourselves that focus. I’m excited about giving back to access-related causes, and I’m excited to expand on that in the coming years.”
In light of his company’s expeditious growth, Siegfried said he couldn’t have done it without the inspiration he got from his hometown of Miles City, a community of about 8,500 people in Eastern Montana known as a center for rodeo horse and livestock trading.
“I think Miles City inspired me,” Siegfried said. “I think Montana inspired me to do this. Being able to be in a rural setting and connect with the outdoors in an intimate way was inspirational. Having all these outdoor recreation opportunities within 15 minutes of where I work and where I went to school– that inspired me.”
And he doesn’t have to look around and wonder where he can go anymore, when the technology to guide him can fit in his pocket.
“There’s no excuse for being lost in the woods anymore,” Siegfried said.
About the Author: Katy Spence is Staff Writer and Digital Content Specialist for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and she’s just finishing up the Environmental Journalism Master’s Program at the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an association of more than 320 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information visit MTHighTech.org.