Andrew Warner: Hey there, freedom fighters. my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. This entrepreneur has a brilliant idea. Check this out. you want to go camping and I do, Alyssa, I love camping. The thing that I love about camping is I get away from all the routine stuff. I’m not on my phone as much, even though I bring my phone with me and often there’s wifi, but I spend more time with my kids. We’re by the fire. We’re making smoke, even making a fire is an activity that connects us.
We’re all sleeping in the same tent. The pain of camping is. It’s hard to get a campground, you have to book months in advance, and then these Type A personalities have alerts and spreadsheets and no exaggeration, they’re really on it, and I know it because I’m married to one. And she has done this, and we sometimes compete for campgrounds, and we get the campground at a state or national park, and the problem that I found is, I’m basically in a parking lot, which is the weirdest thing.
They’re just a bunch of dudes with their giant trucks that they call RVs and they’re all parked around me, which good, enjoy yourself, but I came to escape all that. Anyway, Melissa Ravazio discovered an, or created an alternative called HipCamp. The idea is that anyone who has land can just put it up on her platform on HipCamp, and we can go and book a night there.
And what I love about it is, I can go and book a night with like little notice. I could probably go and do that within a few hours. And then once I get there, I might be on someone’s farm and I might be the only person on the farm, and I just get my camp spot and I go camping. Or maybe I end up with something that’s super cool like a dome, and I’ve done this a bunch of times.
I love the idea because it’s like a marketplace model that just keeps growing. I wanted to have her on here for so long to find out how she did it. To see if maybe there’s an opportunity for some of us here to just go get some land and turn it into a campground. How does that work? and then what other ideas could work with this model?
And we could do that thanks to my sponsor, this phenomenal company called Gusto that I’ve used to help pay my people and so many others have too, but we’ll talk about them later. Alyssa, first of all, Give me a sense of how big this is, how big is hip camp?
Alyssa: Yeah, well, thank you for having me, Andrea. Excited for the conversation. Um, HipCamp hit a very exciting milestone just a few months ago. we supported our 10th million night outside. so that is 10 million nights of people spending the evening under the stars. and that’s our core metric we use to measure, all of our core objectives.
Andrew Warner: What about like on any given night, average night, how many people are using you or how many bookings are there?
Alyssa: well, usage is more clustered often on weekends, I guess is the first thing I’d say, but let’s see, I can do some, I’ll do some quick math for you here. definitely thousands getting closer to tens of thousands on big weekends. so yeah, a lot of people on any given night. Yeah.
Andrew Warner: let me start with that. That thing that I said earlier, when I lived in San Francisco, couldn’t find a campground. So I said, you know what, let me go and buy a few acres and just go and let people put their tents on it. And I realized that if you’re in San Francisco, you can get maybe a one bedroom apartment for 1.
5 million. But if you go just an hour and a half away from San Francisco down south where I think it’s more beautiful in South Bay You could get it for four hundred thousand dollars So I looked and I got and you can get a couple of acres maybe more than that and I thought maybe I do That my issue was I kept running into all these restrictions around the San Francisco Bay Area, you know Can’t build this can’t do that.
And I said, okay, I’m just gonna move to Texas, which is where I am But if I wanted to do this Where’s a good spot to buy land? How did economics work around this?
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s a really good question. It’s something people do ask us. I’ll just start by saying in general, we are really focused on partnering. with landowners who are like, active community members who invest in their local community. we actually specifically don’t have a great.
Intentional strategy around, like, encouraging land purchase for, generating revenue. We’re more focused on people who’ve had that land for a while, and are looking for ways to close the gap on the rising cost of land stewardship, property taxes, stuff like that. So I’ll start by saying that.
That’s really what we focus on as a company. that said, in general, the areas where we do see. opportunities for people who are interested in stewarding land and taking care of land to have. a viable business model here that could work for them, even if they don’t already own the land or haven’t, had it in the family for generations, as is so often the case, the best areas are probably around national parks.
so if you think about our business, there’s really two core ways people love to go camping. One is just around where they live in general. People want that to be within a couple hours. and the problem with that, as you might imagine, is if you’re looking a couple hours. From let’s say San Francisco and somewhere with, 100 acres, that’s a multi million dollar property.
So it’s probably going to be tough to buy that. And then just through camping alone, have that make sense as an investment. what we’ve seen is if you go more to national parks, which is the other core use case, people like to travel, they go to these big parks, these big destinations, there often are areas where, some, Opportunity might be there around, taking on some land and being a good spirit of that.
If you are going to do that, again, we really encourage people to be active in your community, participate. These rural communities really need people there to be part of making the place work.
Andrew Warner: Why do you care? Why not say, I want more people out. If Andrew is entrepreneurial, instead of buying another website and then investing in that, let him buy land and help more people get access to it. And maybe Andrew is going to come up with a creative idea for connecting three domes together and having some unique experience.
Like, right. Why not encourage that?
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s such a great question. We’re getting so quickly right into the heart of like our philosophy and a lot of what I’ve learned. So we’re talking about two different realities. One is the digital reality where abundance is the name of the game. And literally once we’re in the world of bits, like abundance, there’s infinite, like my creation doesn’t impact your creation.
we can just create together when we move to land. there is a finite amount of land. One of my favorite sayings about land is they aren’t making any more of it. And so it’s just different and I think different rules apply and something that I’ve really taken to heart. I actually live in a pretty small rural community myself and the incredible explosion of short term rentals has put a lot of pressure on our housing stock which is fairly limited here.
And so I just think when you zoom out and you look at 10 years from now potentially unexpected impacts that HIPCAMP could have. It would, it wouldn’t be great. one would be if we had, accidentally driven up the price of land, in a lot of these rural communities.
Andrew Warner: trying to get a sense of what kind of entrepreneur you are. I thought this whole hip part was just, let’s make it cool so more people do it. It seems like the hip part of hip camp might be more hippie. Like you seem to have a strong social mission, right?
Alyssa: It’s both. It’s both. So I’m a big, it’s nuanced. We’re really getting into the nuance here. So if we take a step back before hip camp, or even the beginning of hip camp, which I’m sure we’ll get into, originally the site was actually totally focused on public campgrounds. That was the only type of supply we had on the site.
And this was a really challenging, period for the company. One, because it was like just me and a laptop. I just learned how to code. So like moving the button across the screen was like a multi day struggle. But also because any time I found let’s say a beautiful campground that wasn’t actually already booked up, and I put it, in an email or on the homepage, people would, send me hate mail.
Take that down! That’s the last campground that doesn’t get booked out six months in advance by Type A people and their spreadsheets, etc. and now we’ve got bots, which makes that even more intense. And so I think there’s a lot of, fear and scarcity around there not being enough. And as a result, an outdoors culture that often isn’t as inclusive or welcoming as I think would be ideal.
I am firmly in the camp that getting more people outside is the answer to this. Our mission is get more people outside. I believe when people get outside and the science proves this, they get to have incredible health benefits, wellness benefits. I also think getting people outside is the key first step to them developing any kind of.
Interest, in taking better care of our ecosystem. So like, we’re all for getting more people outside. and there’s already so many places to do that, that aren’t known to people that aren’t frequently visited everyone loves to go to Yosemite, but like Yosemite doesn’t just pop out of nowhere.
there’s incredible land all around Yosemite, where you can go visit as well. So we are really excited to just better distribute, people and really share. The abundance of outdoor recreation with lots of different rural communities.
Andrew Warner: I’m too. So if you saw my eyes move over to the right, it’s because there’s a buck, a male deer just right here. This is November, which is their time to mate. He has been chasing these does, I guess is what you call female deer all over the property here. And to me, that makes it so much more interesting to sit and work here.
And then when he’s gone and he just moved out of my eyesight, I’m looking at a bunch of trees. I’m looking at land. It makes me feel More relaxed and at the same time gives me more options to work. So I could take my laptop and I got a bunch of picnic tables, around here, a bunch of tables around outside and I could sit in different environments and work.
to me, that’s the part that feels more exciting about what you’re doing at hip camp. You’re opening that up to more people. And yes, it is great to take your family and go sit there. But I imagine even further down the road, people saying. I want to take my laptop and go and work somewhere else. Or I want to have an offsite or bring three people who I work with instead of working at a co working facility, which you are doing and no problem with that to say, let’s just go sit at these giant picnic tables and work and have some space to go walk around when we talk, and that.
Your attitude helps me understand why when I went into the Facebook group and I tried to talk to people, the Facebook group you have for your, property owners to see where should I buy? How do I do this? I got nice responses, polite responses, but it wasn’t the, the kind of thing that you see from Airbnb owners who are like, let’s talk about how to maximize sales, how to then buy another property and so on.
You don’t want that at all.
Alyssa: Yeah, I think, again, it’s nuanced. So one, on the work from nature and just people benefiting generally from having more of a connection to the, natural world. It’s actually a fun word there. It’s called phonology. It’s like the natural rhythms and cadence in nature, the mating cycles, the migration cycles.
When’s the super bloom? When are the monarchs going to fly through? That stuff’s amazing. And having people more connected to that has, again, scientifically proven huge benefits to your health, to your wellness, to your mental state, everything. But also just, I think, honestly, spiritual impacts of like being more connected to this incredible planet we live on and Not feeling maybe so like alone, or isolated.
So I couldn’t agree more with it. Like connecting more people with that is key. So in general, hip camp is connecting people who are from a city to rural people, again, tens of thousands of times a night. I learned a lot through this process. And what I would say in general is for rural communities to work.
You need people who are really invested in that community, and take care of each other, and know each other, and know your neighbor’s names. And so, I think for people who are interested in having that kind of connection to a real place, this is a great opportunity to make that more accessible to you.
Yeah, but I think the whole idea that land is just like a commodity we should buy and trade and arbitrage I reject that notion entirely that’s so much more than that and I know there is a price we can put on it through a real estate market, but to me, that so fails to capture the true meaning and value of land.
it’s something we can’t totally perfectly quantify. And I think that’s probably what you felt in the Facebook group. so our, our most important core value as a company is leave it better. And this is something I heard from our hosts again and again where, yeah, they want to pay their bills.
Yeah, they want to make enough money to take a trip or a vacation now and then. but at the end of the day, their goal is to leave this land better than they found it. That’s what they’re doing. And I think for most people who are really connected to the land and spend a lot of time working the land or out on the land, it’s a pretty common sentiment.
Andrew Warner: I get that. And in some ways I feel like you’re coming at this with a hippie vision that’s bigger for you than money. But in other ways, it makes sense. It’s almost like Brian Chesky was being interviewed by Kara Swisher at one of her conferences and she likened him to Uber and, Airbnb to Uber, and he fought back and she said, no, no, that you’re just doing this for marketing, being nice.
And he said. Actually, we’re inviting people to stay in each other’s homes. If we take an aggressive approach like Uber does, we ruin the whole vibe that people are coming for. And you’re taking this to the next level. You’re saying, we’re inviting people to land. If we start to make this into a business, it won’t be land anymore.
Eventually, it will turn into cabins, which will turn into hotels, which will turn into some kind of factory town that’s just designed to capitalize on how close it is to Yosemite. And that ruins everything that we’re here to offer. I’m with you on this. Let me see how you built this business because I’ve gone back and I don’t really see in your background this sense of entrepreneurship.
you worked at American Express, the Department of State. I feel like there’s something there before hip camp, but I can’t fully understand who you were before. Who are you?
Alyssa: Yeah, we can go back. So I started my first company when I was nine. So I’ve always had this in my
Andrew Warner: What was the company?
Alyssa: Um, it was a film production company. I printed business cards. It was a big deal. My only two employees were my sisters and I paid them in mac and cheese because I was the only one old enough to use the stove.
um, but yeah, loved, loved film growing up. Also had lots of, various entrepreneurial endeavors. One of my favorite was. For events like July 4th, when there was a big parade in town, I would go to Costco and get one of those like giant tubs of red vines, but then sell them for a quarter each,
Andrew Warner: Wow. How old were you when you did that?
Alyssa: I don’t know, probably around nine or 10. I don’t know. Probably starting. I’ve always really loved the idea of Building a team, having a vision for like how, we could like do something cool together, whether that’s make a cool movie or, change the way something works, and then making that real.
So I would say that’s always been like a theme, for me. And then in, in college, I actually attended UCLA with the intention of studying film. managed to not get into that program at the end of the day, by… Pitching them on a kind of creative course of study where I could really focus on the internet and how the internet was going to impact specifically distribution of film.
And they were like, that is not what we do here. The interview went so badly. I was like defending China and piracy to a room of Hollywood execs. Like it was really went off the rails, believed and stand by everything I say, but wasn’t what they were looking for. And so I ended up creating a major. Mostly as a way to be able to graduate.
and I created this major around the internet because this is 2010. Um, Facebook was really building steam and I remember being in a class where a professor had said, the internet is the greatest leap in technology. Since language. And I remember thinking about that sentence and realizing, I believe that, I think that is actually true.
And if that’s true, and we’re at the earliest days of this technology starting to roll out through our society, I can’t imagine a better way to spend my life than trying my best to impact and influence how the internet is going to change the way our world works and so getting to create a major about that was a real joy.
And then, the state department was really fun, but it was again, in that same theme. How’s the internet in this case, impacting our democracy. and then for me, startups have just been a fun way
to like, use the internet, for good. And to create a world that I think will be, More fun. And in this case with hip camp, it’s particularly a world where going outside and camping can be spontaneous, can be simple, and in a world where we take better care of our lands, we’re like putting more money in the hands of people who are stewarding our lands.
Andrew Warner: Okay. So it was this idea that the internet is changing everything and you are hunting for change that you could be a part of. How did you realize this was a problem finding camping sites and creating this matchmaking service?
Alyssa: Funny story. I grew up camping, first of all, so I got to camp a bunch growing up. it was a huge part of who I am. Some of my very best memories growing up are like spending time with my sisters and crossing rivers and having these moments of like, wow, I’m so strong. I can’t believe I can do that.
So it’s just a huge part of who I am. but I never booked, right? My dad did all the bookings or like in college I started having, I like gravitated towards friends who would figure this stuff out and I just got to go. And so it was actually the first time, believe it or not, the first time that I was like, I’m gonna book a campsite.
And this was for my then boyfriend, now husband, who’s Australian, and he was starting to talk about going back to Australia, and I was like, I want to show him how beautiful California’s coast is, and so I’m gonna book a campsite, I’m gonna take him camping. and it was just through that process of trying to find a campsite, same realization, Oops, didn’t do this six months ago, guess I might be totally hosed.
eventually finding somewhere that didn’t take booking, as long as we drove up there at 6 a. m. in the morning, we could probably get a site, which we did, we got the last site at the campground, the car behind us. I always think about if we just stopped for five seconds, what would have happened?
but the campground we chose, I, I got there, it was gorgeous, and then I walked out to the ocean, and there was a perfect wave, and everyone had their surfboards, and I’d read it. Probably like a full hour of content about this campground from the state parks website to Yelp. No one had mentioned surfing.
I hadn’t brought my surfboard. I love to surf. I just had this moment of man, I tried so hard. This process was so difficult. I pushed through, but still I didn’t learn the most important thing about this campground, at least for me. it was actually just driving back the next day. I just had this moment of, this is a real problem.
I could solve it, and it’s worth solving because every time I go outside, I just feel so much better. So much clearer in what matters in my life, so much calmer, and I just wanted more people to be able to access that.
Andrew Warner: And so then how’d you realize that you could do this, that this was the solution,
Alyssa: I think the solution has evolved over the years. So the original idea was just organizing all of our existing campgrounds on a single map. So back then your public land had like national parks, state parks, county parks. Those were all different websites. And there was no unified data set across them. So the first thing I did was just build a unified data set, learned how to code, cobbled together like this very beautiful, simple first website.
One of my favorite things about it is when you actually did a search, the backend took me so long. That it took 10 seconds or something, so I actually had a gif of like a marshmallow over a fire and I was like, I’m cooking up a s’more for you or something to like make the wait time more fun, little surprise and delight moments.
and so that was really the first site was just like this public land, search engine, basically. And then the idea for, sending people to new places to private land really came about through some of what we talked about. earlier, which was, when I had this public land, early version of the site, I really think of that as our first chapter.
We did great work on like advocating for open data, changing a lot of the precedent and how data about our public lands works, but at the end of the day, kept getting this feedback of like, stop talking about this campground, man. This is like the last place I can actually get to. and our mission was get more people outside.
And so I remember this like existential angst of how can I get more people outside if. Like our public lands are, in a lot of times, already really overutilized. Um, private land, it was one of those moments where you’re like looking at a black and white drawing and you see a tiger and then suddenly you see the inverse and you see like an owl and you’re like, oh my gosh, it was like that.
It was like, whoa, what if we just sent people to all of the land around our public land, which is in the US over 60 percent of the land, in Texas where you are 95 percent of the land. and create a lot more places. so that was the core, like pivot or next step in our evolution that we made about, yeah, six years ago, a few years into starting the company.
Andrew Warner: When it was a search engine of public land, you’re talking about like a kayak, essentially, you’re listing what’s available out there. What was going to be the business model for it?
Alyssa: Funny story. I was looking back on it. So naive. I’m very optimistic person in general. So I just figured, Hey, if I can drive incremental bookings, new bookings to public land, if I can build a better tool that makes it simpler to camp, more people will get outside. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Someone will send me a buck for every booking, right?
Because it was just me. So I was like, look, if I can make like 50, 000 bookings, I actually think at the time my goal was like 30, 000. I was like, if I can make 30, 000, I can pay my rent at a good deal. So I could do it. I just need 30, 000 bookings, 1 booking. I can do it. do the math. I like had my whole plan.
And then I discovered that at the time there was this company called America, which is now called I think Aspera, they keep changing their name, which is generally a sign. but, at the time they had, I believe it was about 80 percent of the contracts with public land agencies to manage bookings. And so I called them and I was like, God, this website, I’m sending you guys all this traffic.
I know you make like 10 every booking. Can I have one of those dollars? And they were like, no, absolutely not. we’d actually like you to die. They actually explained what a monopoly was to me over the phone, which is one of my favorite. Early company moments. They were
saying, you can only book you.
Andrew Warner: From a point of pride.
Alyssa: Yeah, and from a point of like, don’t you understand why we won’t partner with you? they’re like, you can only book Yosemite through us. we would never want to share that. this is never going to happen. but that’s what kicked off our open data advocacy work through a group called access land.
We ended up. basically cold calling and rounding up support from everyone from Sierra Club, REI, Code for America, like incredible industry leading partners, and advocating for open data, including an API to be the new precedent on our federal and state lands. Which happened. So that was like the first few years of the company.
It was, I kind of joke sometimes that we raised venture money and then became like an open data advocacy group for a couple of years.
Andrew Warner: I want to ask about how you learned to develop and then continue with the story. But first, let me say my sponsors, Gusto. I got to tell you, I’m so proud, Alyssa, that they’re back because I love Gusto. And I’ve been feeling kind of blah about sponsors. A lot of them, yes, they’re willing to pay, but I’m not in love with it.
And I can’t talk about it to people outside of the podcast. I said, stop it. I’m just not going to do it. The thing that I love about Gusto is. It’s just solved so many problems for me. Every year I had this hunt for how do we get 1099s to the people who work with me? What did we pay them? What did, where’s the data?
It was, and that’s all I wanted to solve. And so I tried a competitor and it had all the features, but it was horrible design and horrible to use and had no customer service. I tried Gusto. I fell in love. I literally take screenshots of that message. It says that you paid someone to send to the person to go, Hey, you’re done.
You’re taken care of. it feels so good. You used to use them. What was your experience with them? And then I’ll ask you why you’re not using them anymore.
Alyssa: Yeah. we use Gusto for a long time. Big fan. I just remember it again, the design stands out to me. I remember it feeling like I’ll be honest, As a, entrepreneur with a lot of big problems, I just want paying people and healthcare to feel like solved and taken care of. And I did that myself for a long time, right?
So I was actually the person, logging into Gusto. and I just, I don’t know, I just remember it feeling like… And I do think something about the design gives you that sense of satisfaction. You’re like, I did it. It’s taken care of, which let me really focus on the bigger problems, like taking on these crazy monopolistic companies, terrorizing our public lands.
Andrew Warner: I have to admit, I hate to say that it’s the design, but the design is huge. It’s huge. It’s quick in and out. You get to do it. Everything looks beautiful and is exactly where you want it to be. I love them. If you haven’t used them, go check them out at gusto. com slash mixergy. They’ll let you try them for free.
This is a good time of year to use them because you want to start off 2024 properly, let’s be open and let’s say you’re not using them. Why not?
Alyssa: yeah, I think I was trying to remember, at some point I just think we like got, too big. and we talked to them about it. I remember being sad to move off of it. But I won’t name what we’re using now, but I preferred Gusto.
Andrew Warner: I was going to say
Alyssa: So I
would say if you’re
it, no, I
Andrew Warner: Okay. You’re too nice.
Alyssa: I’m not going to name it, but I would say if you’re, if you are of a size where Gusto can support you, I’m sure they’re the best choice because, just, just the easy ones.
It’s they know that entrepreneurs have enough stress and enough hassle. They just make this part of
it, like not
Andrew Warner: And that we don’t like these forms. Unlike QuickBooks, which I’ve used QuickBooks anyway. So I thought I’d use their service. I’ll say that. And then it was terrible. It’s just not a clean experience. Not easy to get to. Anyway, I’ve had several entrepreneurs say this. They use Gusto at first, and then at some point, maybe when they go public, maybe when their company is really big at that point, they switch away.
I get it. Go try them out for yourself and you’ll see why so many of us love Gusto. And if you want to try them for free, go to gusto. com slash Mixergy. You signed up for Dev Bootcamp, 12 week coding crash course. Why did you do that? Instead of saying, I’m an entrepreneur, I’m a creator, I’ll partner up and get a co founder or hire
Alyssa: Yeah, I, didn’t hire anyone who didn’t have any money. if I had money, I’m sure I would have done that, but I was like, living off rice and beans, trying to figure out how to make my 900 rent. So that was not an option. I did like, look, I’ve had ideas, That I’ve gotten to various stages of development for quite a few years at this point, and I had tried to partner up with different people over the years, I would say, something that I really struggled with, I’m trying to figure out how to say this in a, in a kind way, I had, in particular, two, distinct and really tough experiences where someone who I had made quite a bit of progress building a concept with, um, Then let me know they had some romantic interest.
And when I expressed that wasn’t mutual, and this was like… we were creating a cool product and that was fun, but not like that. they no longer wanted to work on the thing with me, which is like a very devastating experience to go through, especially as a young person. yeah, it makes you wonder, if your ideas are even any good and like, why were they really doing this?
Did they actually think anything was exciting? So I just got over that and was like, I’m just going to learn how to code by myself. And yeah, so that’s how I ended up in a bootcamp.
Andrew Warner: was coding for you? Was it a natural experience or did it feel like you’re forcing yourself to be someone you weren’t?
Alyssa: I expected it to be the latter. So I have always identified as like more of an artist than a creative. So I was like, okay, I’m going to like, eat my vegetables and learn how to program. I ended up loving it. Like I was actually towards the end of the bootcamp, I was like, should I just go be an engineer now?
this is really fun. and in particular, I just loved the feeling of, like it felt like surfing to me or yoga in that, you’re never going to master it. And so it’s just this practice where like every day you can get a little better, but you’re never like, I’m done. I know how to code now. and I love that.
There’s a real, satisfaction in that for me. But gratefully, I actually got some really good advice from Steve Huffman, who’s the founder of Reddit and, Hipmunk and probably other things now. I think he’s back to running Reddit though, which is cool.
And, and I kind of asked him, yeah, awesome.
He’s amazing. He’s one of those real… Leaders and just I think like I had these like guardian angels early on who just came in at the right moments and he was one of them because I asked him I was like, hey, I have this idea hip camp this company, but I also like love to code and I’m like, super broke.
And my dad’s like worried about me. should I just go get a job as an engineer? I hear those pay pretty well. And he was like, well, let’s talk about this idea for your company. He said, number one, does it solve a problem you have? And I said, yes. that’s how I had the idea. Like I had this problem.
It’s a real problem. Do other people have this problem? And at this point I’d done some talking with, remember my friends and my dad, all these people who booked camping for me over the years. And so I knew I was like, yes, everyone I talked to about this is like, don’t even get me started.
It’s terrible. So I was like, yes, other people have this problem. And then he said, okay. Would people pay you if you solved it for them? And I was like, even me, super broke, would have paid some money to like, have someone solve this for me back when I was trying to book that site. So I said, yeah, I think they would.
He said, go. Yes, yes, yes. Don’t look back. Even if you totally fail, you will learn something valuable about yourself, about the market. It’s absolutely worth it. And I was like, okay, sounds good. I went for it.
Andrew Warner: How’d you connect with him?
Alyssa: He was a speaker at Dev Bootcamp. We had amazing, like he came in for a week. We had Justin Kahn come in for a week.
We had all these Roy Bahat. We had like incredible people come in for talks and I had actually asked a bunch of them what I should do. And it was hilarious. Cause almost everyone else was like, it’s your life. I can’t possibly help you figure that out. But Steve was like, I have a framework for that.
And I just respected that so much.
Andrew Warner: And then did you stay in touch with him afterwards, or you’re just saying at the event you asked him, you did.
Alyssa: Yeah, no, we’ve stayed in touch a bit over the years. I mean, we’re, you know, both doing things, but I think we’ve hung out at least once or twice since then. Yeah.
Andrew Warner: And his hip camp, I thought also had a really fresh take on how to book travel. And, I was so disappointed when he gave up on that and moved back, but I understood it. I think he did an interview with Jason Calacanis where he explained that basically airlines don’t pay anything. It’s all about hotels, but really the beauty of his platform was that he took into account the agony of dealing with different flights and he was presenting you travel options based on.
An agony versus, agony and money, not just money and time. I think Lexis Ohanian told me that in an interview here. He goes, look, if you’re in DC, which is where I was, and you want to go to New York, it’s going to be better for you to take a train and most places will not tell you train, they’ll just give you the airlines.
anyway, that was disappointing, but he’s still a great guy and it’s impressive that you stayed in touch with him
Alyssa: Yeah. I miss HitMonk too. but yeah, the airline, I have another friend who had a really amazing startup in the airline space called HitList and it’s just, it is a tough space to build a startup.
Andrew Warner: because
Alyssa: Because it’s run by an oligarchy. Cause there’s a few players with a ton of power and, they dictate how it works right now.
Andrew Warner: right, right. Okay. And that’s essentially the situation that you found yourself in when you were just displaying, existing campgrounds. The shift to say we’re going to enable more people to create this as a pretty major one. Talk to me about how you figured that transition out.
Alyssa: Yeah. I’ve always viewed hip camp as something I’m like building in collaboration with our community. And so this very much kind of fit into that. It’s not like one day I just had this brilliant idea. It actually received. At least a handful of emails over the years from private landowners being like, I have places people might want to camp.
I’m right on the ocean in Big Sur. And I was always like, I don’t know, like maybe. Actually, one of my favorite stories is the very first booking. Cause at one point I was letting you book public parks and then I would get a text and then I would book it for you. So for a while, I was supporting bookings on public lands for free.
And the very first one we ever facilitated, was actually at a state park, California State Park, and you know, so nervous. How did it go? I checked in with her the week after, and she ended up not being able to get in because the gate had closed at 10, which wasn’t in the reservation email that they had sent me, but she’d ended up.
Finding a rodeo down the road and they had invited her to just like camp on this Beautiful ranch for the weekend and attend the rodeo. You think that’s when I figured this out. It’s not It was just like one of those random stories that was like that’s weird And happened in the back of my mind. So, I think The decision to at least give it a try really happened as a result of multiple people over the course of a couple years suggesting this as an option combined with You know, really, like, it was interesting with this, Reserve America that had all these big, contracts and this open data when, we had this huge open data when we got the government to say, this is how things are going to work from here on.
but actually, hilariously, in that moment, Reserve America, who had all the contracts, decided that, Because the government made it clear this was required going forward, they could shut down any access now. and so we actually ended up in a really tough spot as a result of our advocacy work.
So the private land wasI don’t know, like our last, it was like the only option left. if we’re getting closed out of public land, let’s give this one a try. Yeah.
Andrew Warner: I’ve been watching the site evolve over the years. There was a period there where suddenly Airbnb said. Actually, people do want to be outside and maybe they don’t want to go to the bathroom outside, but they will take a big tent that includes a bathroom in it, which some do or, a cabin or something.
And I said, Oh no, this is going to be. The end of hip camp, because they’re just going to keep encroaching. And what I saw was instead, the site had developed to uniquely accommodate campers. For example, you can buy firewood, which is a pain to bring with you, especially since most places don’t want the bugs from your property on their property.
They want to keep the ecosystem. And then it became, there became an ability to search for, water and so on. what I’m getting at is. This evolution from a product that’s just a search engine to one that goes into giving the details of each property and searching. How did that come about?
It seemed like for a while you didn’t have it and then you suddenly added all that.
Alyssa: I think that, for our business, the core has always been, people with tents or people with RVs. Or vans, like that’s always been the majority of our business. the area that we do overlap with Airbnb and other sites like them is more of that like higher end glamping. the tray houses, the yurts, and like we love that stuff too.
We’re very welcoming and very inclusive of it. But when we, when we design our product, when we think about what to prioritize, we are always thinking about the frequent camper. who goes tent camping or RV camping, and what do they need? And so I think that customer is fundamentally someone for whom Airbnb is not.
Really, even in the consideration that it’s just a different use case, and we’re really focused on, yeah, prioritizing their needs and their design. So I’m not sure exactly the timing of what you’re referencing, but I do think in the last couple of years, we’ve really, honed in on that vision and made sure to prioritize,
What the person who actually goes camping a lot needs. The other thing I’ll say just as an interesting like current data trend where we’re noticing that I’m wrapping my head around and trying to think about and we have the benefit of being in, four different countries now. And I’m seeing this across countries as we’re.
entering, or as we’ve entered, like tougher times economically for a lot of people with inflation, with the incredible, incredibly devastating wars we’re seeing, glamping is less of a thing that people seem really interested in. And we’re trying to figure out if this is like a new thing or just a moment.
but tent camping, RV camping, stronger than ever. but some of these like higher ticket items, I think might, be a little bit tougher for people to justify or prioritize. So that’s something we’re just paying attention to.
Andrew Warner: And glamping would be one of these big domes that have a bathroom and you could see the sky while you’re in bed. All that stuff. That’s, people are not doing that.
Alyssa: I mean, people are still doing it to be clear. And there’s definitely many sites that are so amazing that, there’s no, no amount of contracted demand that could hurt them. But I just think in general, if we like rewind, two years ago or three years ago to the height of COVID, like that was all anybody wanted.
and I do think that’s shifted a bit compared to today, whereas I think, demand for time for RV camping is steadily growing. so that’s something we just think about as, both from a principles framework of making sure we’re building the product for, the frequent camper, but also, how do we invest our time and energy and making sure we’re paying attention to those trends.
Andrew Warner: I think the big issue for people is… That’s like the first thought. And I think your rule is if the property has more than five acres, they’re responsible for some kind of bathroom on premises. We’re talking about like a port a potty at least. Right. But
Alyssa: Bathrooms are required for all sites, actually, unless they’re only, some sites are only available for self contained camping, so they can only host RVs that have a bathroom. If that, if you’re hosting anybody else, you need to have a toilet, regardless of,
Andrew Warner: seems like a new rule. It used to be for five acres or less, no bathroom required. I’m pretty sure.
Our policies do update and evolve, pretty regularly, so that’s probably something that, Okay.
Alyssa: have gotten probably a bit stricter on if I had to guess over the years, if anything,
Andrew Warner: I’m guessing that it’s just not, um. That, that’s a hard thing to solve. And it feels like it needs to be solved. Some kind of system to make it not have a port a potty, which is big, ugly plastic thing that most people don’t feel comfortable with. I did an interview with someone who was doing, with the founder of Cabin.
Cabin is like a decentralized autonomous organization. This group of people collectively own land, and then they let people live in cabins or tent and so on. And I think it was, it was either him or the founder of Kift, which is also Let’s Buy Land Together. That turned me on to Juul, and they have this beautiful outdoor bathroom.
That seems like an important advancement in this space.
Alyssa: um, I could talk about this for a really long time. but just to, like, ground us in reality, we’re in a state, both, I guess, I’m in California, you’re in Texas, both states where while there’s been huge amounts of rain in concrete moments. There’s also been, like, a really long ongoing drought. I think the fact that we haven’t figured out, safe, healthy ways to manage human waste that don’t involve many gallons of fresh drinking water every time is, like, a nuts problem that does absolutely need a better solution.
So, couldn’t agree more that there’s some real opportunity there.
Andrew Warner: hundred percent. Even when you’re talking about, you’re saying, look, even indoors, we need a better solution, but it has to be something so elegant that a lady going to the opera would feel comfortable using that bathroom. And we’re just not there. And I think that would make people more comfortable about being outdoors.
That’s the big, scary situation.
Alyssa: Yes, the bathroom is, in general, one of the big things people care about. I will say we’ve been doing some really cool things with AI and bathrooms, believe it or not.
Andrew Warner: What’s a high bathroom solution? What do you got?
Alyssa: So, like you said, bathrooms are a really big thing for a lot of people, and we’ve always had really good structured data around is there… This type of bathroom. Is it a porta potty? Is it a flush toilet? Is it not like we’ve always had good structured data and then we’ve always had lots of photos, right?
We’ve always encouraged the community to add photos at reviews. But like, that’s a lot of work to sift through all the photos and all the reviews and like search for the word bathroom or whatever. And so we’ve recently in the last, really just the last couple of quarters been using AI to like, One, start categories in our photos.
So now we have a category for most places called bathroom. You can just click on bathroom and see all the photos of the bathroom. And then just yesterday we launched something I’m so excited about where we’re using AI to basically pull up snippets from our reviews because I mean we can talk a lot about AI.
We’re very excited about it. One of the reasons we’re very excited about it is because we have a ton. Of UGC. We have a ton of proprietary data and content that people have contributed to HipCamp over the years, which is a really amazing advantage to bring into the AI era. And so we’re actually using AI to pull up snippets, and so I was just looking at an example before we jumped on the call, where there was all this stuff about the bathroom.
And people were saying the bathroom was super clean, the bathroom, And so you, you’re gonna be able to click on a bathroom button and like, understand what’s going on now, instead of… Having to, do all this, manual research. AI in bathrooms. Hot take.
Andrew Warner: So I can see how that helps. I feel like as an entrepreneur though, I want to just keep pushing things forward. And so then I would think, is there a bathroom company we can partner with? Can we get the solution created and then push this out into the world? I’m trying to get a sense of how hip camp works.
That doesn’t seem like it’s part of your ethos, right?
Alyssa: It absolutely is. we’ve talked to many bathroom companies. We know the Juul Juul,
Andrew Warner: I think it’s called Jewel. I could be wrong.
Alyssa: like, love that, like, love some of that founding team. there’s incredible work here. What I would say in general about bathroom opportunities is this is not necessarily like a technical or business problem. This is a policy problem.
Andrew Warner: What do you mean?
Alyssa: regulations around this are incredibly, well defined and concrete.
And so to innovate in this space, you basically need to do policy advocacy. And I do think there’s a big opportunity there, to be clear. but I just, I think like in general, when we look at the entrepreneurial landscape, some of these areas that are really lagging behind, and you’re like, why? what’s going on here?
It’s generally because there’s policy and I’m a big believer that entrepreneurs should not be afraid of policy. We should get involved. We should talk to our elected officials. We should learn how the rules are set and how they’re changed and how they’re made and get in there. But I have noticed in general, most people are like, Government’s a problem.
Government takes taxes. I don’t want to deal with that. I’m an entrepreneur. And so I think this problem exists in that space that for people who are really committed to making a change, you’re going to have to think about policy. And yes, it’s different in every single state and that is crazy, but that’s where the real solution is going to happen, in my opinion.
Andrew Warner: The other thing then about growth is I’m surprised I don’t see hip camp out there promoting itself, listed on different search engines so that if I’m looking to go to a place on Expedia, I don’t see hip camp options. And I’m wondering what do you do for growth?
Alyssa: Yeah, we grow almost entirely through word of mouth and organic search. And that is a core part of our Growth strategy. We do want to, be there when people are looking for camping, but people don’t really look for camping on Expedia and sites like that. And don’t get me wrong, those sites would love our inventory.
They ask us for our inventory all the time. But at the end of the day, we know that. To really create a successful camping experience, you need to have a product in a community that’s focused on that. and so we focus on growing through, again, mostly word of mouth and SEO. And then over time, our goal is to become the place people come to first when you think about going camping.
You come to hip camp. and so that’s also an important part of the strategy.
Andrew Warner: But even like an REI partnership or something, it’s just this is not what you do. You’re saying We focus on word of mouth, good product, and SEO.
Alyssa: We love partnerships actually. So we have a very healthy multi year partnership with REI. if you’ve been in an REI store recently, you probably would have seen like at least some hip camp signage, or if you’re a member, you’ve hopefully gotten quite a few emails about us over the year. we do a really cool campaign with them every year where they like pre book spots for their members and then give them away and stuff.
So we actually, we love partnerships. We’ve got some amazing partners there. But, at the end of the day, I think to really reach people at scale, word of mouth, honestly, for us, that’s really where the name of the game is got to create a great experience. And then people will tell their friends, camping’s really social.
Some people love to talk about,
Andrew Warner: Alright, and if I want to do it, I’ve got five acres here in Austin. If I wanted to do it here, I don’t think it would make sense because there’s not much to do on the property. You need to have a place, right, where there is a national park, or a state park, or some access to water nearby so that the activity becomes an extension of the stay.
Alyssa: depends. there’s definitely hip camps where you stay. On property or go to an adjacent national park. There also are experiences for people where they’re on a road trip and what they need is just like a good, safe place to spend the night out under the stars. still in nature, but isn’t necessarily a place where they’re going to spend like.
Four days, it might just be an overnight. so it totally, it totally depends. I think what our philosophy is the most important thing is to be honest, and upfront and set the right expectations. And if you are more of like a, there’s not a bunch to do here, but I’ve got a beautiful campsite, make that clear versus pretend like it’s something that’s not, that’s really the key to success.
Andrew Warner: The other ones that are interesting is where there’s just A farm or something, and you get to interact with the animals. We did one where we now have goats here on our property But before we did, goats were such a shockingly amazing thing to do with kids. And so we booked a place just where we can walk around with the goats.
And that was a fun experience too.
Alyssa: Yeah, about half of our hosts are farmers or ranchers or veterinaries. And what I would say about that is it does create some of that like on site fun activity built in, especially for families. it’s also been amazing to see some of the cultural change that’s come from that. So I remember reading, I used to read every single review people, left each other.
And I remember seeing so many people being like, I had no idea farmers were so smart. I was like, uh, okay. So like that respect and appreciation for like our farmers and ranchers, like to me they’re heroes. Like we would literally not exist without farmers, like we couldn’t survive without them. So it’s been cool to see some of the cultural awareness and the other way too, right?
Farmers and ranchers being like, I guess just because you live in the city doesn’t mean you’re a jerk. Like I’m like, good, good. We’re learning. This is good.
Andrew Warner: I find the thing that surprised me about them is that they have such taste. I wouldn’t have thought. I thought that, it would just be very much about efficiency, but they’ll create these beautiful experiences.
Alyssa: Oh yeah.
Andrew Warner: It seems like then to model ourselves on hip camp. It just goes back to what a lot of my interviews come back to, which is what’s the problem in the world that hasn’t been solved that’s bugging me?
Am I willing to pay for it? Do I know others who are willing to pay for it? Create a simple version of that. Be happy with when you said 30, 000, you meant 30, 000 a year you would have been happy with in the beginning of hip
camp? You were.
Alyssa: That was freedom, man. That’s all I needed.
Andrew Warner: I mean, although you’ve gotten much bigger, you’ve raised funding.
I asked you before the interview started, if you’re, cause I’m using the software that tells me what earphones and mic you’re using, and it says paper planes. And you told me about that. What was it? Do you mind telling the audience what the connection is?
Alyssa: Yes, absolutely. and I was trying to remember the exact type, but I got them at an event, with one of our venture partners, Marcy Ventures. Marcy Ventures is, a venture firm in which Jay Z is one of the founding partners. It’s named for the housing projects he grew up in, the Marcy Housing Projects.
I think it’s just the most badass thing ever to be like, I’m going to name my venture firm after the projects I grew up in. and yeah, Jay Z, that firm invested. In, our most recent funding round, one of them and, for me, I grew up as a huge fan of his lyrics. I actually think that so much of what he writes was like exactly what I needed to hear as an entrepreneur, especially I’ll be honest as a female entrepreneur who I think has like maybe some extra.
cultural, baggage to get over around, you can’t be an entrepreneur and, people please all the time. That just doesn’t work, for example, and so many of his lyrics around, being the blueprint and doing what he knows is right and not caring what other people think were really…
Impactful to. So it was very cool to meet him and get to share that with him. he was so smart, by the way, first of all, great energy, like laughing Monk energy. Incredible. Like putting everyone around him at ease because everyone’s holy shit, it’s Jay-Z right? And he’s it’s cool, we’re all people here.
and then secondly, he’s so smart. His first question was like, how do you get this supply? That sounds hard. And I’m like, oh, it’s , lemme tell you. yeah, that’s where we got the air pods from.
Andrew Warner: Let’s close it out with that. Tell me how you did that. How do you get supply?
Alyssa: Yeah, it’s really tough. there’s no magic bullet. We have what we call the land machine, which is basically a really integrated system of technology and people, to, one, figure out where we need supply, what type of supply we need, and then two, who might be a fit, who might we want to call, email, reach out to, because of the land they have or where they’re located, or maybe they’ve participated in like a webinar or seen a Facebook ad.
So, No silver bullet, I would say blood, sweat, tears. and just making sure we really also, I’d say one, one big thing we’ve learned, is especially when we’re trying to get people interested in this, it is so helpful to lead with the data and be like this many people are searching in your area, or this is the average earnings of other people like you in your area, that’s been a really big unlock for us.
Andrew Warner: All right. The website is hipcamp. com. There’s also the app and it’s much simpler than you think. If you’ve never tried camping, I’m not here to sell it. I don’t think you need to get more of my audience to come and join in, but I’ve got to tell you, if you’re listening to me and you haven’t tried it, it’s very intimidating, but it’s much simpler than you imagine.
Find a place that has like a fully working bathroom. So you eliminate one thing from you and is protected from animals. Cause that’s another thing that people worry about. Get yourself a really inexpensive tent. And I highly recommend a place where you can start a fire and then just go and sit by the fire with a few friends.
You’re going to love it. And if there’s something fun to do the next day, like go swimming or go, I don’t know, stand up paddle boarding. A lot of places will even rent you tubes for 20 bucks and you could do that with friends. And the whole experience is much different. It’s very intimidating. And then once you get past the intimidation, that very different is fun.
It’s eye opening. It just takes you out of your existing world and helps you try something different. I’m not like you. I didn’t grow up with, with camping. It wasn’t until I was much older that I did it. All right. Thank you so much for doing this. And I want to thank my sponsor Gusto. If you want to try this service that we’ve been using to pay people, go check out gusto.
com slash Mixergy. Alyssa. Thanks. Congratulations.
Alyssa: thank you for having me.