Like many innovators, Eric Siegfriend initially developed the prototype for onXmaps’ technology in order to fulfill a personal need, and quickly realized there was significant market demand for his product.
“Missoula has been incredibly supportive as a community and really adopted our product. That support is ultimately what allowed us to employ thirty people.”
- Rob Hart Vice-President onXmaps
Of all the elements that make up a successful hunt, perhaps nothing is more important than knowing the animal in sight is on legal ground to be harvested; otherwise the consequences could be confiscation and a fine. Growing up in eastern Montana, Eric continually struggled with navigating the sea of private and public property while out hunting. Knowing there had to be a better way to determine property boundaries while out in the field, he spent many long nights gathering data from as many sources as he could to develop the detailed maps he needed while out hunting. Years later, that dedication to having the best knowledge at his fingertips while out in the field resulted in onXmaps (formerly known as Hunting GPS Maps).
After Eric earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Montana State University in 2008 he moved to Missoula to be with his wife who was hired by the Forest Service. In order to become more familiar with his new surroundings, Eric began exploring the area with maps and soon began thinking about ways he could digitize the information that interested him. By 2009 he posted his prototype online for other people to explore. The reception from the hunting community was overwhelmingly positive. Later that year, Eric started selling his digital land ownership map of Montana under the company name Hunting GPS Maps.
In order to improve ease-of-use for hunters in the field, Eric evaluated the current market for handheld GPS units and determined that Garmin (http://www.garmin.com/en-US ) offered the best platform for his product. He quickly adapted his program to work with Garmin technology, allowing hunters to determine their exact location coordinates in real-time, wherever they are.
The early product was a hit, and in 2010 Eric was able to hire his first employee - current Vice President Rob Hart. As Rob recalls, those early days were defined by long hours of research and careful curation of land ownership data sets:
“We sell confidence and convenience, so there’s a meticulous curation process on our end. Each map represents thousands of hours of research in about fifteen data sets so our customers know they’re working with the best of all the data available.”
Over the next five years Hunting GPS Maps’ product evolved significantly in terms of functionality, and in January 2014, the company transitioned to the name onXmaps. As their website explains, “the idea behind onXmaps is that our products allow you to find your "X" whether it's a new hiking destination, an unknown hunting spot, or a sweet fishing hole.” Today onXmaps offers highly detailed, highly accurate maps for 45 states available in the original Garmin platform, or through their custom smartphone app developed for iOS and Android. They’ve also developed their own, proprietary online mapping system and are continually looking at ways to innovate their product line.
Today, onXmaps employs nearly 30 people at their headquarters in Missoula, from software developers and marketing team members, to in-house customer service reps and salespeople. In 2012, the company bought a parcel on Brooks Street with the help of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and expanded their building from 2,000 to 6,500 square feet to accommodate their growing team. As Rob notes, they’ll likely need to expand again in the not too distant future - in April 2014, they were awarded a hiring grant from regional economic development organization BREDD that will allow them to expand their team by up to 40 people over the next few years. They’ve also received valuable R&D assistance and market identification guidance from another local economic development group, the Missoula Economic Partnership.
As Rob notes, onXmaps headquarters location in Missoula has proven to be ideal for reasons far beyond proximity to great hunting terrain:
“The University of Montana has a great GIS certification program so we always have a really rich talent pool to hire from…and Missoula has been incredibly supportive as a community and really adopted our product. That support is ultimately what allowed us to employ thirty people.”
While onXmaps is reaching a global market and considering expanding their product line to include maps of Canada, Europe, and South Africa, this innovative company is proud to choose Montana as home base for their operations.