The next time you visit the zoo, Ron Borkowicz of Appleton hopes you’ll turn it into a safari.
A three-time teacher of the year, Borkowicz is in the process of launching Photo Fun Safaris, an app that helps make going to the zoo an entertaining and educational experience.
“This started as my retirement project after I retired from teaching,” he said. “I wanted to create an activity that got Americans away from the TV and video games and go outside to do something physical like walking.”
He says he got the initial idea for the app’s format when he thought back to his childhood hobby of collecting coins, and the realization that people love to collect things. They also love friendly competition, so point values were added.
“Photo Fun Safaris creates apps that contain a series of unique scavenger hunts, called safaris, designed for zoos through the world,” Borkowicz said. “These safaris are age-appropriate, with separate categories for children, teens and adults. There are different levels of difficulty for each age group, starting out easy and progressively getting more challenging.”
As a user explores a zoo, points are awarded based on that increasing level of difficulty. Users take photos of animals in designated situations and upload them in the app’s album. While doing so, they can check out a fun facts section to learn more about the animals being photographed. The initial response has been excellent, and he feels confident that the years of planning are paying off.
He did what he had done when starting his other businesses and contacted mentors at Green Bay SCORE for feedback. He also has worked with advisers at the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center.
“One of the most important things I learned while operating earlier companies pertains to obtaining assistance with business issues,” Borkowicz said. “It was just by chance that, over 20 years ago, I noticed an article in the newspaper that explained how an organization called SCORE assists entrepreneurs and startup businesses. I called the phone number provided, and that was the start of many conversations with SCORE representatives.”
In starting this new business, he incorporated input, worked on a business plan and developed a step-by-step plan. He emphasizes the need to “plan, plan and plan again.” He suggests writing everything down in detail and using a calendar for organization.
His steps included actions such as researching to find similar products, making sure there was a market for this type of app, interviewing decision-makers from zoos throughout America to see how the safaris could benefit the zoos and doing surveys. The research convinced him that there was a market.
“My research resulted in selecting zoos and zoo visitors as my target population. There are over 2,000 zoos in North America and prepandemic attendance for these zoos averaged over 170 million visitors per year,” Borkowicz said.
In addition, when doing a competitive analysis he discovered that there were dozens of apps for scavenger hunts, but only one that pertained to zoos. That app was very limited in reach and costly to use. With that information, he was inspired to go forward.
“My niche is that the Photo Fun Safaris include features not included in any combination by other app scavenger hunts,” he said. “That is a major difference. Also, it is designed specifically for zoos and the required animal pictures are unlike any scavenger hunt to date in any format, app or paper.”
Although he has started other businesses, app development was new and he spent two years interviewing app developers prior to designing the features. He created the design phase of the app himself and then showed the design to various app developers before selecting the one he felt was best for his goals.
“The only significant surprises came at the start of this venture. I never imagined that the app development would be so expensive,” he said.
The app went public a few weeks ago on Google and Apple, and Borkowicz is now focused on marketing. His role is broad, but he employs help in the technical and legal areas. He’s considering seeking a partner, and plans to hire someone to help with marketing.
“This is the one area that gives me concern more than any other,” he said. “Although I feel confident for basic marketing via social media, I would prefer to have an experienced agent fulfill this role. I did not start this business as a retirement hobby. I intend to expand these safaris worldwide within three years.”
Locally, he’s working with the NEW Zoo in Suamico on a cross-promotion effort. He has had other zoos test the Intro Safari, and says the reaction has been great. By November, he plans to implement feedback from user surveys into app upgrades, and hire a marketing firm or agent. By April, he intends to have 12 app upgrades, and by May, to have zoos throughout North America beginning to promote the app. He relates the process to teaching.
“I really enjoy the creative aspects,” Borkowicz said. “I also enjoy researching the information for the Animal Fun Facts section for each safari. Coming up with information that is entertaining as well as educational is like teaching again.”
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.