Uber for camping? This new app wants to help you get away

Image: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund

According to a report by the Outdoor Foundation, Americans log 598 million nights a yearunder the stars. At an average of $40 in expenses and fees per night, thats $24 billion spent on campsites alone. Add inall the related costsgear, transportation, foodand the Outdoor Industry Association figures the industrygenerates closer to $167 billion annually.

But former investment banker Michael DAgostino, who grew up camping on a farm in Litchfield, Conn., still calls the industry a broken business.

The tipping point came a few summers ago, when DAgostino found himself on vacation directly across from a campsite of 40 people at a Wiccan convention: robes and UFO spotters and streaking and all. It wasnt what hed imagined as a quiet weekend with his wifecounting stars, listening to crickets, bellies full from prime steaks grilled over a man-made fire. We definitely took them up on some mead, he said of the Wiccans, but we had to keep the dog in the tentshe was going bonkersand it was kind of like camping in Times Square.

Image: Tertius Bune for Tentrr

The experience led him to create Tentrr, a free iPhone app that takes the guesswork out of camping. It lets users find and instantly book fully private campsites in vetted, bucolic settings, all within a few hours drive of major cities. The sites themselves are all custom-designed by DAgostino and follow a standardized footprint: They consist of hand-sewn canvas expedition tents from Colorado, set on an elevated deck with Adirondack chairs. Youre also guaranteed to find Brazilian wood picnic tables and sun showers strewn around the campsites, as well as portable camping toilets, fire pits, cookware, and grills. As for the sleeping arrangements? Air mattresses with featherbed toppers, not sleeping bags, are the name of the game.

Scaling Up

Tentrr beta-launched last summer with just 50 campsites in New York state, while DAgostino figured out how to get liability insurers on board with his slice of the sharing economy. Despite the soft opening, the app has already logged $4 million in funding and 1,500 bookings40 percent of them by people whod never gonecamping before.

In the days leading up toMemorial Day, Tentrr will move pastits beta phase with a newly expanded collection of roughly 150 campsites spread across the U.S.Northeast. By July 4 an additional100 sites will gradually come online, not including a 50-site expansion into the Pacific Northwest. Next year, DAgostino plans to tackle the San Francisco-Yosemite corridor, the American Southwest, and counterclockwise around the perimeter of the U.S., all within a few hours of major metropolitan cities, until all of the countrys top-50 hubs are served. His ultimate vision, however, is global.

Image: Tertius Bune for Tentrr

The trick, said DAgostino, is shifting campers away from national or state parksand working instead with private landowners. Among his campsitekeepers are a set of fourth-generation dairy farmers, a contractor who runs a recording studio in his barn, and an unnamed actress with expansive property in New YorksHudson Valley. All have dozens, if not hundreds, of acres to sparemaking them perfect for Tentrrs semipermanent campsites. (The tents are heated by cylinder stoves through November; after the camping season ends,either the tent keepers or Tentrr employeesdismantle the sites and putthem into weatherproof storage.)

It sounds limited, but Tentrr is setting up 10 to 20 campsites per week, with tent keepers paying a one-time, $1,500 membership fee to join. (It covers the setup of their site, which itself is valued at $6,000.) Weve been spreading by word-of-mouth like wildfire, said DAgostino. We set up one camp, and one turns into 30. But hes wary of expandingtoo quickly and is limiting his companys growth to no more than 35 new campsites per weekan effort to ensure demand continually outpaces supply.

How It Makes Money

Including a 15 percent booking fee, the average eight-person Tentrr campsite costs $144a steal or a splurge, depending on how you look at it. That number is more than three times the industry average, but the tents require no setup, and some are even stocked with Frette linens.

A cut of the profit goes to the landownerslast year the average tent keeper made $6,000 from June to Thanksgiving. Add the cost of gas, groceries, and supplies, and DAgostino estimates that for every 100Tentrr sites, $1 million will be injected into the local economy.

Image: Tertius Bune for Tentrr

For those who arent keen on a weekend full of endless Kumbayas, Tentrr is also in the business of connecting campers with local activities. When selecting a campsite, for instance, userscan screen for locations that have access to wineries, swimming holes, horseback riding, or skeet shooting, among other pursuits. And soon the app will offer an application programming interface (API) to local vendors whod like to sell these types of services directly to Tentrrs adventurers.

Find Your Comfort Level

If you want to have a very posh weekend in the woods, you can do that, said DAgostino. Or if you want to fish for your dinner and cook it over a campfire, you can do that. Well give you the tools and the setting to do whatever will make you relax and recharge and reconnect. Perhaps thats why his app has drawn bookings from radically different types of travelers: honeymooners, billionaires-turned-Tentrr-investors, Brooklyn-based hipsters, and (least surprisingly) onetimeEagle Scouts.

Just dont call it glamping. My mother told me I should never use the word hate, but I hate the word glamping, DAgostino said. It implies a certain bourgeois quality where a butler shows up with a silver tray of croissants. Camping is supposed to be a rustic experience.

His version of luxury consists of having acres and acres of land all to yourselftruly breaking with your busy, urban existence. That doesnt just mean reconnecting with nature. For DAgostino, camping is wrapped up with a bit of self-discovery, too. We want you to go home to your city apartment with a real sense of accomplishment maybe even feeling a little like Bear Grylls.

This article originally published at Bloomberg here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/05/18/new-app-uber-for-camping/