I have always wanted to rent an RV and travel around with my home in my car. I even had a brief stint as an owner of a homemade campervan. But in the end I discovered that I’m not really a drive-to-my-vacation kind of person. At least not from home. And when I researched renting campers in other cities or countries I found the cost too high. This makes peer-to-peer camper rentals particularly interesting to me.
I recently interviewed Justin Hales (CEO) and Dave Eddy (CMO) of Camplify, a sharing economy camper rental company in Australia. They have an impressive growth rate and a customer satisfaction focused approach to the business. And they’re expanding to other countries in 2017.
ShareTraveler: What inspired you to create Camplify?
Justin Hales: My wife and I were walking around a couple Christmas’ ago in the neighborhood and she said to me it’d be great to go away at christmas on a caravan holiday. We just couldn’t find anything that was available for us to hire because in the peek season they were already booked. Just in my neighborhood there are 40 or 50 vans that just sit there 99% of the year. It dawned on me that I should be able to use something from my neighborhood and put some money in someone’s pocket when they weren’t using their particular vehicle. From there we went into a business accelerator program through NRMA (which is like AAA in the U.S.). They were looking for new products and services they could offer to their customers related to vehicles.
We’re in an interesting position at the moment with camping and caravaning in Australia. Everyone in their mid 30s-40s grew up doing this as a kid as a holiday and now they’re interested in doing it with their kids. But so many people live in small suburban lots so there’s no way for them to store their caravan. So we’re able to offer these people, who want that experience, to not have to solve that problem and invest to get all the equipment and accessories.
ST: Did NRMA fund you initially?
Justin: We got seed A from them. It was $30,000 to start us off. From there, at the end of the 12 week program, we raised another $650k. Mainly from private investors and some VC funding.
ST: Will you go for more funding?
Justin: We just closed a round a few weeks ago. We raised just over $2M. That will be put into customer experience and expansion.
ST: How many campervans do you currently have listed?
Dave: Around 1,200 and we’re growing steeply by about 200 per month at the moment. 80% of these are caravans, the rest are a mixture of campervans, camper trailers and motorhomes.
ST: How do you handle insurance so that caravan owners can feel comfortable letting strangers use their vehicle?
Dave: Most importantly our system is as safe and secure as possible. We provide a per-day insurance product to cover the hirer and the owner while the RV is out on hire. (This is a first-of-its-kind insurance solution). Thanks to our partnership with the NRMA, we’re also the only provider to offer free roadside assistance Australia-wide in case of a breakdown or accident.
ST: I’ve found a handful of peer to peer campervan rental companies in various countries, what will it take for Camplify or any of them to succeed?
Dave: We believe the key to succeeding in a peer-to-peer business is to focus on the user experience for both sides of the marketplace (Hirers and RV Owners). Look at Airbnb, for example. This is what they do really well. In our case, we identified early on that for our end customers (hirers) to have a great experience with Camplify, we needed to make sure the RV owners were engaged and giving great customer service.
Justin: The key difference is that we built this product with the members of NRMA in mind so we were able to focus on what customers want and build out a product that protects them. We have our own insurance product. We have a huge member evaluation portfolio. But the key is that our distribution is enormous. We’re adding new listings each month at a rapid rate compared to other RV sharing sites in the market. It’s a competitive marketplace so people are always adjusting their prices so there is something available to everybody.
Dave: It has been key and a focus for us getting the listings and the right type of owners on board. We didn’t just want anyone with a caravan to list on our site. We realized very quickly there was a certain type of person that we wanted to recruit. Those caravan owners are kind of like our customer service team and they are the ones delivering the experience. We’ve been really focused on making sure that we’re giving the owner the tools and resources and education to give great service to the hirer or holiday maker. In the early stages it was a bit of a grind to be selective about who we brought on board and we’re now seeing that paying off.
Justin: We never want to be an organization that someone has a holiday through and it really sucks. We want them to go away from their holiday and think they want to do it again. If we need to get involved to make sure people are looked after we do that regularly.
ST: How often do you need to get involved?
Justin: it’s pretty rare, it’s maybe one or two hires a month. That’s a really low percentage. But every now and then we might have something like an owner has something go wrong with their van and that means for the next hire that comes along the van is not available anymore so we need to find an alternative for the hirer. Or something goes wrong while it’s on the road and we have to jump in and provide some sort of change to the booking.
ST: Do you know how many people have had to invoke the insurance?
Justin: We’ve only had maybe 6 or 7 claims in the last 18 months. In the grand scheme of things they were really small things, like somebody reversed an RV back and didn’t notice a pole. No malicious damage, just mistakes by people. And we were able to get those fixed really quickly and get people back on the road.
Dave: When someone hires or rents something off another person there’s this heightened level of responsibility and trust there so they’re much less likely to treat the vehicle with disrespect than hiring from a big faceless company. The renters are really motivated to make sure they look after the van and the owners are really motivated to make sure the renter has a great holiday because of the review system in place. That was a revelation for us because it’s potentially more secure than the traditional alternative of hiring.
Justin: I’ve got a good example for you. Just yesterday we had an owner who dropped off his camper for someone to use and when it was being set up the guy’s son was so excited he ran inside the camper and jumped on one of the beds and it broke a piece. The hirer got in touch with the manufacturer, drove there and picked up the piece, rang the owner and told him what happened and that he already got the new piece and was happy to fit it. Everything was fixed within about 20 minutes of it actually happening.
ST: Have you had any bad reviews?
Justin: Yes we have, it’s very rare but happens every now and again. We had a customer who didn’t feel like what was offered by the owner was exactly what was available when he got there. He provided the feedback that he thought it was not up to the standard. Because of that we’ve subsequently agreed with the owner that that van would be taken off the site and we refunded the hirer his fees.
We don’t touch any of the reviews or take any reviews down. There is a process you can go through if you don’t agree with a review but to date we haven’t touched any of them because the reviews have good descriptions and they haven’t asked us for any money so it’s just their opinion.
ST: Where do you hope to expand to outside of Australia?
Justin: We’re launching in Europe pretty soon, definitely in 2017. We’re just working out which country. We know the european market is a great market. There are other good markets like Canada, the United States and Asia.