Why I’m Launching a Startup From My RV
Three years ago I was working for a start up in Austin selling software. I took the job because I wanted to dip my toe into the start up community. Everyone and their mom was launching a start up and since I’d just graduated from college, it was the only route that really interested in me.
I wanted to build something from the ground up. I wanted to be my own boss, solve a real problem, and interact with real people.
What I found in the start up community was almost the opposite of my original vision.
There was no freedom. Most of the founders I interacted with on a daily basis weren’t their own boss, they answered to numerous investors. As a software salesman, I rarely interacted with end customers of our product. I spent most of my day behind a computer screen, blasting out emails and drafting up RFP’s (request for pricing). And honestly, most of the companies I was around weren’t solving real world problems. They were creating what I like to call “luxury vehicle companies.” While the products were nice to have, nobody really needed them.
And before I go any further, I just want to say this was my own personal experience.
This experience in the start up community tainted my vision for building a company. I had been reading all these books about entrepreneurship in college about guys like Elon Musk and Richard Branson, who had this vision for building an epic company and then went and did it. They were their own boss, fought against various odds and obstacles and ultimately, succeeded.
But the types of start ups I was around didn’t suit that vision. We were a start up, yet had this ridiculously nice office and it didn’t feel like we were fighting for anything. I wanted to go through all the hard stuff and crap that makes a startup meaningful.
So in leu of sticking around for any longer than I had to, I quit.
At a loss for what to do next, my wife and I schemed up a fifty state adventure for our honeymoon, bought an old RV off Craigslist with our savings, and hit the road.
Along the way, I came up with a documentary project called Hourly America where I worked an hourly wage job in all 50 states.While this wasn’t “building my own company”, it gave me a chance to explore other businesses across America.
Hourly America also gave me an opportunity to learn about customer service and delivering value from businesses all over America.
Working at a hut-style restaurant in Maine called Bob’s Clam Hut I discovered a small business who not only served damn good clams, but taught me how to provide an exceptional experience to the patrons who had driven across state lines to eat their seafood (read about my experience here). In Florida at a scooter shop, I discovered what it looked like to provide “the ultimate customer experience” when I witnessed 15 employees gather around a customer and sing into a microphone, hand them a signed balloon, and snap selfies in front of the recently purchased scooter.
These types of meaningful in-person interactions with customers reaffirmed why I valued actually seeing my customers vs. sitting behind a computer screen and emailing them.
As far as lifestyle goes, the RV life offered us an insurmountable amount of freedom. And after our first year on the road came to a close, we decided to keep traveling. We built up our video freelance skills and started working with clients all over the country while visiting beautiful national parks and exploring America in our RV.
A photo of Alyssa sipping her coffee and watching the sun rise over the Teton Mountains earlier this summer.
Then, something unexpected happened a few months ago. I decided to launch a startup with a couple other full-time RVers called CampgroundBooking.com. It wasn’t something I had intended on doing in 2016, but the problem and opportunity was just too significant to pass up.
The Problem We’re Solving
Currently, less than 30% of the 23,000 public and private campgrounds across North America accept online reservations via their website (according to a thorough study done by KOA in 2015). As a result, it’s ridiculously difficult to find and book RV parks and campgrounds online. If you are able to book online at all, the user experience is often terrible (i.e going through multiple screens, asking for unnecessary and confusing information). Most of the software systems who manage these reservation systems are outdated and clunky to work with, both from a campground owner and camper perspective.
Since we’ve traveled to all 50 states and spent close to 1,000 nights in campgrounds, we understand this problem more than most. It was an issue close to my heart and something I desperately wanted to help solve, if for no other reason than to save myself time researching and calling campgrounds.
The only question was, do we launch this start up and continue traveling full-time in our RV?
Wouldn’t we be at a disadvantage, being so disconnected from the start up community? Would a competing company in Austin or the Bay Area be at an advantage because of proximity to investors, mentors, accelerators, and reliable wifi? Could we pull this off with a 100% remote team?
These were questions I’ve struggled with this year. While only time will tell if we’ll be successful or not, we decided to go for it anyway.
Here are the reasons why:
- Traveling in an RV forces me to interact with our customers on a daily basis.
Our current customers are RV parks and campground owners. Since we’ve built out a campground management software for them to manage their park and accept online reservations, I can constantly pitch park owners while they are checking us into our site. During this time, I’m also asking them what software they are using to manage their campground and if they are accepting online reservations. This gives me a pulse of our competition in this space and how many campgrounds are using any given software.
RV park owners often give me valuable feedback about what kind of features they’d like to see in our system. Instead of having to cold call or email RV park owners and try to get them on a join.me, I’m able to chat with them in person almost every day.
2. The problem we’re trying to solve is constantly staring in my face.
Every time I have to call an RV park to make a reservation, it frustrates me. Not because I mind making phone calls, but because it’s 2016 and I shouldn’t have to tell someone my credit card number over the phone just to make a reservation.
Also, if Alyssa and I are driving the RV into a new town and it’s getting late, I have no website or app that will tell me which campgrounds have availability or not. Often times, if it’s after hours we have to just show up and hope the campground isn’t full.
Understandably, this drives me a bit mad and pushes me even more to solve this problem.
3. It gives me access to others in my industry who can provide early feedback and help us get started.
Because we’ve kept an active blog in our industry with around 40k monthly readers, write for companies like Winnebago, and I host a podcast called The RV Entrepreneur, we’ve been able to get a lot of early feedback from campers and other relevant companies in our space.
Since we are active community members who post regularly in online groups and provide content to this industry, we aren’t considered “outsiders” who are trying to solve a problem we don’t understand.
4. We love the lifestyle and the ability to work from anywhere.
All of the reasons why I wanted to start my own company (i.e freedom, solving a problem, interacting w/ customers) I didn’t find while working for a startup in Austin. However, I did find them while driving an old RV across America.
We have freedom in the ability to pack up our home and work from anywhere we want.
We are solving a huge problem in the RV industry.
We are able to interact with our customers on a day-to-day basis and not sit behind a screen all day.
While building a company from an RV hasn’t yet become the norm (and likely never will), it actually isn’t all that weird anymore. In my new book, The RV Entrepreneur, I’ve interviewed 30+ entrepreneurs who are building apps, Etsy shops, outdoor photography businesses and tech companies, all while traveling full-time in their RV. It’s a unique and slightly weird/awesome movement that’s happening.
For the people who enjoy the freedom, we no longer have to choose between travel and building a company — we can do both.