084: Camplify – the Airbnb of Caravan Hire and the RV Share Economy (w/ Justin Hales)
Justin Hales is the CEO and Founder of Camplify, the Airbnb of caravan hire & RV sharing community. Camplify is Australia’s largest caravan hire and RV peer-to-peer sharing community, connecting owners with holidaymakers across the country sharing all types of caravans, campervans, motorhomes and camper trailers to enjoy a getaway in. Camplify gives RV owners the opportunity to earn extra income – anywhere between $280 and $2100 per week – while they aren’t using it themselves. As for their hiring members, they get to experience the joy of camping without having to purchase their own RV.
During the interview, Justin shared how in 2 years the Camplify platform has grown from just a small fleet of rentals to over 2,500 placing the company at the top of the fleet market in its niche of renting out caravans and RVs, an amazing effort in such a short space of time.
The genesis of the idea
Sounds a bit cliche but it all started with a seemingly small conversation with Justin and his wife talking about how cool it would be to go on a caravan holiday. Their conversation was triggered while the couple was walking their dog over and noticed a parked caravan in their neighborhood. Having spent his childhood in caravans this was an exciting prospect and so Justin looked for a place where they could hire a caravan for a holiday but found it quite difficult to find a single provider that he could go to and hire from. As a result Justin found a gap in the market and created a space that was like an Airbnb that got all the hundreds of caravans that sit around in people’s driveways doing nothing most of the year and create a sharing economy market place for owners and holidaymakers to share.
Working on the idea
Justin found a startup incubator program that was looking for innovators and applied to be considered for the program, which included some basic idea testing, putting up a ‘crudely built’ website and a power-point deck.
After a stringent review of 500 applicants, Justin progressed into the final 40 that made it to the “Pitch Day”.
Following a successful outing at Pitch Day Justin was offered a spot in the 12 week startup accelerator program.
This was an intensive accelerator program on how to set up and scale a startup which became the backbone of launching the Camplify business following that 12 weeks
Justin’s key take ways from the 12 Weeks accelerator program
Understood the customer more
Tested more variables
Learned about different marketing strategies
Learned how to build good products that had a great market fit, using lean methodology
Started building a brand and acquiring customers
Leaned on the network in the program to raise capital for Camplify which was well received and helped fund the initial Camplify launch
The initial market most people would lean towards in the caravan and RV space was the grey nomad market (grey nomad (plural grey nomads) (Australia) A retired person who travels independently and for an extended period within their own country, particularly in a caravan or motor home – wiktionary
But through testing Justin found that while the grey nomads was not going to be their target market to consume their services, they were going to their target partners as RV owners sharing their RVs on the Camplify marketplace
From detailed testing and building customer personas, the ideal customer that emerged was families who were not prepared to outlay $60,000 for an RV but still wanted to holiday in one from time to time, and this was found to a buoyant and growing market
The No Money Survey – Just Sweets (…Lollies/Candy)
2nd week in the accelerator program Justin and team stood outside a Camping and RV show with no money for a booth and basically offered attendees a lolly pop in exchange for them answering a few survey questions
Questions included age, RV ownership, type of RV they own, last question was would you ever hire it out to someone else if you own one
Including testing the price point at which they got interested in hiring out their RV
Funnily enough Justin shares that they eventually got kicked off the premises as they didn’t have the money to pay and set up a formal booth or table inside the event!
Then they looked collating and segmenting the data to identify who the customer is, how do you locate them, how do you market to them as cheaply as possible and convert them into a customer
The Most Challenging Aspect of the Launch
Building the platform was difficult, took longer than expected and cost more but it wasn’t the biggest challenge
Biggest challenge was getting access to those customers and have them trust Camplify as the people that will be able to deliver that long awaited solution for this space and part of it was making sure they had the right team in place. Two team members dropped off and one remained and they built the team from there
Getting Over the Customer Access Hurdle
First thing was to find an amazing digital marketer who is now their Chief Marketing Officer, who helped Camplify find how to get to their ideal customer
Facebook was the best route to their ideal customer, so they invested heavily in Facebook marketing which led to the initial ground swell in lead acquisition and onto the Camplify platform for nurturing and engagement
They targeted both suppliers of RVs and holidaymakers, but that hardest of the two markets was getting the RV owners on board and alleviating their concerns that their RVs would be looked after and not trashed
Similar issues Airbnb home owners had to grapple with at the begining
Finding that First Customer
A lot of Facebook marketing and content marketing
Justin then exhibited at a Caravan and RV Expo where they met a lot of people who recognised the brand from the Camplify Facebook campaigns
They would get a lead and stay in contact with them individually and nurture the lead, assuring them of a perfect customer who would hire their RV, and when this person was found Camplify would get in touch with the owner and help them gain confidence in the brand through a personal relationship
Majority of the Facebook work was focused on content marketing around the topics people were searching for on RV hiring and sharing – they looked on old school forums and Facebook groups where people in their niche had questions and discussions that they could target solutions for, which led to building over 2,500 custom audiences on Facebook
The Camplify team then created high quality articles and videos around the questions being asked on topics of interest for their business, thereafter monitored the forums and directed people to the Camplify site to consume this content in answer to their related questions
Once on the website Camplify would capture their email address through an optin or Facebook pixel them and re-target more marketing to them
This led to the first 20 RVs on book and that led to the first few sales which Justin monitored for feedback closely
>> Tip: This strategy still works today as long as you provide quality content that is answering people’s questions and not just click baiting them so that you capture their details <<
Building Case Studies
After the first couple of customers, Camplify really focused on building a solid feedback loop both from owners and consumers, to understand the experience and improve the service on both ends of their market place
Next step was to build out case studies showcasing owners who had hired out their RVs, detailing their experience and the financial upside of being a partner on the platform
These case studies were used to market the business further
Capital Investment & Growth
Initial investment was $30,000 which helped get the platform started
A capital raising of $650,000 soon followed which sustained the next 18 months of the business
Justin went full time in the business in 2015
Over $300,000 paid out in Sept’17 in commissions to RV owner partners on the Camplify platform with 20% growth month on month
Launched into the UK market in 2017 with only 2 resources required for that initial market entry
Other things discussed on the podcast
You don’t have to be the only one in your market place or niche in order to succeed and why this is a good thing
Dealing with customer insecurity and providing insurance for their RV
Story of an initially skeptical owner, who started with 1 RV and now has a full fleet of 14 RVs that he hires out full time, doing $80,000 a month in income during a peak month
Financial benefit comparison on investing in an RV to share out on Camplify Vs Uber as an owner
The inner workings of the Camplify platform to find and hire out an RV
Investing in mentors and finding people who will also invest money into your business as well as working with a peer group
Exit options and strategies
Best two books
The Lean Startup – How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses is a book by Eric Ries describing his proposed lean startup strategy for startup companies
Running Lean – Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, book by Ash Maurya
To be remembered for being able to influence other people to find a way to do this kind of thing for themselves, run their own business that helps others and makes a difference in their lives and that of others.