Entrepreneurs sometimes see opportunity in places that are far from the hustle and bustle of city life: When spending time in San Francisco, Outdoorsy Co-founder and CEO Jeff Cavins spotted an unmet need for accommodations other than hotels or home shares in scenic destinations. And while he noticed that people loved camper vans and recreational vehicles (RV), there weren’t many places to rent them. At the time, Craigslist was the only real market for rentals.
Following a cross-country tour to see if other people saw that same need, Cavins encountered visitors from around the world who were exploring destinations like the Grand Canyon or the arches in Zion National Park. He came to realize that “there is a global multi-cultural phenomenon related to investing time in the outdoors,” Cavins told PYMNTS in an interview. People seeking to go into nature will often rent cars and stay in hotels, but those he met on his tour wanted something different: They wanted to experience the open roads of North America in RVs.
On the other side of the market, Cavins noted that there are more than 18 million registered RVs. Although these vehicles sit idle in garages, driveways, backyards and storage facilities 97 percent of the time, the owners find it challenging to rent them out because of business exclusion clauses that prohibit rentals. To solve that problem, Outdoorsy worked with an underwriter to essentially modify a long-haul trucking policy embedded in its software.
The Booking Experience
Cavins described the company’s booking experience as similar to the home sharing platform Airbnb: To find vehicles on the platform, users can type in their location and select their reservation dates. The site then loads a hybrid page that has listing details on the left and a map on the right. Once travelers find the listings they want to book, they are presented with pages that request information such as their drivers’ licenses and dates of birth. The company then pulls a report, and machine learning evaluates the potential renter’s record.
When it comes to reservations, Cavins said the company has many vehicles on the site that travelers can instantly book. Travelers can book roughly 33 percent of the company’s inventory instantly, but some owners require travelers to message them instead. The company encourages owners to activate instant booking for their listings. “It kind of ‘hotelifies’ our platform a bit,” Cavins said, adding that it also attracts more business.
Cavins also noted that people start to view his platform as a third dimension to the hotel industry – an entirely new lodging category – and also as an alternative to hotels and home shares. In fact, he pointed out that the average RV is only driven about 150 miles from the point where consumers exchange the keys. If a consumer lives in the Northeast U.S. and wants to make a trip to Key West, for example, Cavins said she is probably not going to drive the vehicle all the way to her final destination.
In such a case, the traveler might land in Miami and take a taxi to the RV owner, who will show the borrower how to use systems like the generator. “We require every owner to do a walk-through of the vehicle,” Cavins said. At that point, the borrower signs off via a digital form that they have done the walkthrough and know how to operate the vehicle. The owner then gives the borrower the keys and they are ready to go on vacation.
Cavins believes that the sharing economy will be at the forefront of how consumers experience assets. Millennials, for instance, aren’t interested in buying homes or cars. “They want everything on demand,” Cavins said. At some point, he noted, millennials will start having kids and buying homes and cars, but at this time in their lives, they like the sharing economy. And with services like Outdoorsy, it’s easy for younger consumers to borrow an RV for their next adventure into nature.