Nora and her team are building the “Airbnb of camping” with Campertunity.
Davis Baer: What’s your background, and what are you working on?
I’m Nora Lozano, co-founder of Campertunity, an online peer-to-peer marketplace where landowners can list their land for campers to book. My background is in Engineering and Chemistry, and I am an outdoor enthusiast.
Campertunity is a solution to this yearly problem: there are far too many campers chasing far too few campsites. Campertunity gets people outside in a stress free way by allowing campers the option to avoid overcrowded government campgrounds, avoid expensive re-sale of campsites, and easily connect with nature by booking a campsite on private land.
Instead of booking a small plot months in advance in a government park, campers can now book even a last minute camping trip that can turn into an adventure. Campertunity has landowners who offer everything from meditation classes to horseback riding to bacon steaks for breakfast.
For landowners, Campertunity provides another option for them to sustain their land and earn an extra income. Campertunity is a platform that introduces campers from all over the world to a landowner’s backyard. Building community is a great outcome of the shared economy.
So, our users are landowners, also know as Hosts, and campers.
What motivated you to get started with your company?
Just like many other campers, when I’m in nature, I want to have a quiet, peaceful experience so I can enjoy the mental and health benefits that nature gives. It’s hard to do that in crowded campgrounds. I’ve camped on both government campgrounds and private campgrounds and noticed the difference, and I want others to feel that difference, too. After all, wilderness is a necessity.
I want to get people outside, and it shouldn’t have to be so hard, especially because Canada is vast and beautiful. We have a lot to offer to domestic and international campers, so it makes sense to open our backyards.
The shared economy is growing, where we share everything from our homes to our cars, so it only makes sense that camping enters the shared economy. Helping people earn an extra income helps to sustain land and grow our economy.
I evaluated the idea of Campertunity by having a sign up on our landing page prior to launch. I wanted to know what the interest was from both campers and landowners, and I had a great response with close to 300 people signing up within a month before we launched Campertunity. But, after launch, I realized that people signing up doesn’t necessarily mean a dedication to use a product, or in my case, listing land or booking a campsite.
What went into building the initial product?
Lots of time and money. Building a webpage is something that almost anyone can do these days, especially with so many do-it-yourself apps out there, but Campertunity is a complex marketplace website that took 6 months to build with a lot of backend work.
I had actually started the website a year earlier but the web developer I hired was not as proficient as I thought, which delayed Campertunity by a year. It wasn’t until I hired a new developer team that I finally started to move from idea to reality. It was a process where I outlined exactly what every page and every step must look like.
Because I outsourced the coding for Campertunity, it was expensive for me to build, with funding coming from our savings. My recommendation is that if you want to build a tech company, find a co-founder who knows how to code. Or, learn to code yourself.
Throughout the building of Campertunity, my main focus was to make it user friendly. In this sense, it helps to have a computer illiterate co-founder because if that person doesn’t understand how to use the website, then chances are, there are many others who don’t get it either.
How have you attracted users and grown your company?
Campertunity is less than a year old so growth is a continuous process.
Creating growth is my focus now and how to do it takes most of my time and creativity. And, to my surprise, growing is a much slower process than I had hoped.
Our methods of marketing vary. I spend some of my afternoons at farmer’s markets to introduce myself and Campertunity to potential Hosts. I also contact our current Hosts to say “Hello” and “Thank you,” and to also get their feedback on the website (either via phone or in person). I want to have a personal connection with our users, something that our competitors don’t have.
Being on social media a lot is annoying, especially for someone who likes to disconnect from the world by going into nature, but it’s a must. I’m always updating Facebook posts to show our newest listings and things that Campertunity is working on, as well as Instagram, Twitter, and soon LinkedIn. I used to do paid promotion but I find organic advertising to be more effective and resulting in roughly 5 users signing up per week.
I’m a little old fashioned, too, and use “snail mail” to reach landowners in rural areas, especially since they are otherwise hard to reach. Hand writing postcard flyers is exhausting but worth the personalized touch. If our mail system was more reliable then I would continue with the mail campaign but I’ve had much of my flyers return to me, to my dismay. For every 100 flyer delivered, I received 1 response from a landowner.
Our launch was in early Spring of 2018, which is great timing for the camping season. Even in the winter, the landing page had a sign up that gathered close to 250 users before launch. At our actual launch, Campertunity wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, as mentioned, with 3 landowners signing up and roughly 100 users. But, it didn’t take long to get those numbers up, and what helped with getting more users was the media.
I sent 224 media pitches and the response has been bigger than I thought it would be, with some media outlets initiating an approach to me for an interview. Campertunity has been featured in major news outlets, including TV, radio, magazine, and digital media. Once one media has your article, it snowballs into others picking up the story. That happened so many times that I still don’t know how many news agencies have reported on Campertunity. The media attention led to a spike in our users and followers on social media. In one weekend alone, I had roughly 30 users sign up after our radio interview.
My latest efforts are in search engine optimization (SEO) and content marketing. I wasn’t much of a writer before but now I’m finding myself blogging on a weekly basis. The results of our SEO efforts are too early to determine the effects.
My recommendation for growth would be to not spend money for marketing if you don’t have revenue. It’s surprising how much you can still promote your business without having to spend any money, primarily through organic social media advertising, for example joining Facebook groups associated with your product or service and promoting it, and SEO.
What are your goals for the future?
Campertunity was started for the purpose of getting people outside. When Campertunity solves the problem of too many campers and not enough campsites, then my goal has been met.
In terms of numbers, I want 2,000 listings in the next 5 years with over 5,000 users. Maybe my numbers are small but I am realistic and want to be honest with myself. I work as though I will gain double the number of listings but I keep my goals attainable.
I plan to accomplish these goals by continuing with the marketing strategies that I apply today. Most importantly, I know that mentors and opportunities will come my way to teach me new techniques, tips, and ways forward. And, I will pay attention to all of them.
The largest roadblock that may lie ahead are those days where I lack morale or feel down from not seeing any growth in the company. That’s what my co-founder is for, to help me get back on my feet and to keep motivated. That’s part of the reason why it’s better to have two co-founders instead of one. A bored, unmotivated entrepreneur is the most dangerous thing for any business and will surely lead to failure.
What’s your advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Top tips, in no particular order. Just pay attention to all of them:
- Make your startup your full time job. It is a lot of work (fun work) that needs your attention.
- Have a co-founder. Two heads are better than one (but don’t have more than 4 founders in your startup. More than 4 is a crowd).
- Learn to code (if you’re a Tech company). Or, have a co-founder who knows how to code.
- Find product market fit. Is your idea solving a problem? Are you making something that people want? Test it on the public before you waste your money and time making something that people don’t need.
- Listen to advice from other successful entrepreneurs. You think you know everything but you don’t.
- Talk to a lawyer and an accountant before you start your business so you can understand tax costs / benefits and any legalities. You don’t want these things to surprise you later.
- Time your launch. Timing is the key factor as to whether your business will do well or not.
One of my favourite sites for start up resources is Y Combinator. Listen to their podcasts and sign up for Start Up School and their batch program.
In British Columbia, we are fortunate to have Small Business BC, a centre that provides lectures, courses, and expert advice for small business owners. I would recommend finding the equivalent in your city or state.
Where can we go to learn more?