Mike Devlin's maiden voyage

Mike Devlin hasn’t reeled in the big one yet. At this early stage in his career, the 2014 graduate of the University of South Carolina’s finance program is still angling for an advantage in the business world. But he’s got his hook in the water — and his eye on some pretty big fish.

Devlin is the man behind LureBoats, a brand new startup designed to help recreational fishermen charter saltwater fishing expeditions with professional sea captains.

“The best way to describe ourselves is as a sort of OpenTable or an Airbnb of fishing charters,” says Devlin, name-dropping two multimillion-dollar online booking agencies.

According to Devlin, customers visiting lureboats.com can do more than simply charter a boat for a specific date. They can customize their expedition according to location, type of boat and a host of other variables.

“What type of fishing do you want to do?” he asks. “Is it light tackle? Is it fly fishing? Is it trolling? What type of fish does this captain go for? Is it tuna? Is it striped bass? You can decide all of that, then reserve the booking online and make a secure deposit via credit card.”

Based in Devlin’s native Boston — the New Englander came to Carolina, he says, because he wanted to broaden his horizons by going to a big school in a different part of the country — his new company currently arranges charter expeditions off the coast of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut.

But Devlin got the idea, he says, after his father and uncle got back from a trip to Florida. When they returned, he says, their fishing stories weren’t about “the one that got away.” They were about a fishing expedition that almost wasn’t.

“They described how hard it was to book a charter, not knowing who the captain was, being unsure about the security of the financial transaction,” Devlin explains. “A lot of these guys only take cash. They want a deposit, so you give them a check, but you’re thinking, ‘Am I ever going to see this check again? Am I actually going to be able to go on this trip?’ ”

He’s not disparaging the captains. In fact, while compiling a database of the roughly 650 professional charter boat captains operating on the Massachusetts coast he has gotten to know many of them personally and has educated himself on the unique challenges of their industry.

“These guys talk about how hard it is for them to run a small business,” Devlin says. “They’re out on the water twice a day sometimes, and on top of that, they don’t necessarily have a business background. Some of them do — they come from all walks of life — but even for those guys, just to do the marketing on top of everything else is a lot.”

It’s a classic case of challenge presenting opportunity, according to Devlin, who teamed up with his older brother Jeff, a graduate of Dartmouth University’s M.B.A. program, to launch their new endeavor earlier this year.

“We went to these captains and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you let us do the marketing side of the business for you? You guys can focus on what you’re good at, which is helping people get out on the water and fish.’ ”

The team began booking trips almost immediately and has clients lined up into October, when the New England recreational fishing season starts to wane. After that, Devlin says, the goal is to raise additional capital to hire more employees and expand his territory.

“The season is short here in New England, so this season is more of a proof-of-concept phase,” says Devlin, who could eventually see the company reaching further down the coast.

“I absolutely loved my time down at USC, and I’ll certainly be back for football games and other shenanigans. And if I can raise a decent amount of money, I’d like to expand down South, just to keep pushing this business.”

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