BirdFellow Takes Flight
May 29, 2013
On a summer day in 2007, Bjorn Hinrichs B.A. ’94 and his 3-year-old son, Sawyer, were exploring the front yard of their Lake Oswego, Oregon, home—digging in the dirt, turning over rocks, and inspecting bugs. A noisy bird with a red head and fluffy red chest flew in and landed. Sawyer was captivated—and curious.
“Is it a nice bird?” he asked his dad. “Where does it sleep? What does it eat? Where is its mommy?”
On the hunt for answers, Hinrichs typed the words small red bird Oregon into a computer search engine. Up popped Web links for flowers, pottery, and artistic handicrafts. No birds.
“Six years ago, Google wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today,” says Hinrichs.
An exhaustive search led him to Sawyer’s bird—a house finch—and an “aha moment.”
“I realized I couldn’t be the only parent trying to interpret the natural world,” says Hinrichs.
“With my background in Web development, I created a plan for BirdFellow—a Web-based social field guide, where expert birders, novices, and everyone in between can interact and share information. We’ve democratized the birding experience.”
Before establishing himself as a Web-experience wizard, Hinrichs headed to Los Angeles after college to write a screenplay. Money was tight and he had debts to pay, so he taught himself marketable skills— desktop publishing, Web design, and sales.
I realized I couldn’t be the only parent trying to interpret the natural worldBjorn Hinrichs B.A.’94
For a few years, he ran his own website development firm. Then he accepted a role at Organic.com, a leading Web design agency in San Francisco. While there, he worked on Hewlett Packard’s e-commerce engine and Sony’s PlayStation 2 website launch. “I was also creative lead on Nike.com during its infancy,” he says. Hinrichs left to manage the user experience for Xerox.com, the 13th-oldest URL in existence.
Today he consults for Cisco Systems—his current day job that pays the bills while he develops the BirdFellow brand.
Confidence, passion, and serendipity have always played a role in Hinrichs’ evolving ventures. At a coffee shop in downtown Lake Oswego, he worked on the BirdFellow site from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. every morning. There he befriended children’s book author Graham Salisbury, who became the site’s angel investor. Soon after, he met birder extraordinaire Dave Irons on a Princess cruise off the coast of Oregon. Eight of the state’s top birders were aboard. “Dave’s skills were almost magical,” says Hinrichs. “He could spot and identify seabirds flying over waves 200 yards off the ship. I asked him to join us at BirdFellow.”
To get the site up and running, Hinrichs and his team needed content about birds. They approached top publishers in New York, offering a tidy sum to license the content of top birding guides. “But none of them wanted to work with us,” says Hinrichs. “Instead, we wrote original descriptions for every bird that’s been spotted in North America— close to a thousand.”
As he continues to build the BirdFellow brand, Hinrichs is diversifying the site’s revenue stream. He plans to grow advertising, giving users the option to turn off ads by paying a fee. He also wants to sell branded gear and apparel as well as regional digital field guides.
“My goal is to make BirdFellow the top birding brand—globally,” says Hinrichs.
While on that path, he’s also committed to a healthy work-life balance. He’s training for the 50-mile Mount Hood Pacific Crest Trail Ultramarathon this summer in Lake Timothy, Oregon. He and his wife, Kerry, frequently take their sons Sawyer, 9, and Daschel, 7, birding and exploring in the Columbia River Gorge and the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge.
“I see myself as a creative problem solver,” he says. “But the heart of who I am is a husband and a father. I want our boys to grow up to be happy and productive men—with a love for birds and the natural world.”
—by Pattie Pace