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Today you’re going to hear the story of Justin Hales and Camplify.

Camplify is Australia’s largest caravan and RV peer to peer sharing community and is expanding internationally. The company has made leaps and bounds since when it started back in 2014. With over 3500 listings on the site, growing at 500% year on year, with annual revenue of 12 million and forecasted of 16-18 million next year serving over 1500 customers per month, Camplify shows no sign of slowing down.

We’ll get into all that, for now, let’s go back to day one where Justin and Camplify’s story begins.

Transcript

Music

Justin:

It’s just a lot of energy, just so much opportunity. You could just feel it. So I just thrived on that. I just love doing work. I love just the feeling of building something and a new opportunity that could really be something big, so yeah, I just loved it.

More

Adam:

Hi, I’m Adam Spencer and welcome to day one, the show that goes back to the very beginning, to share the story of some of Australia’s most incredible regional startups and entrepreneurs.  Just a quick heads up about today’s episode. The interview was recorded in the field with Justin and the background sound might be slightly distracting in some areas. I apologise in advance, however, I felt that the conversation was simply too good to not publish this interview. I will endeavour to avoid this happening in the future and I hope you can enjoy the episode anyway.

Today you’re going to hear the story of Justin Hales and Camplify.

Justin:

I’m Justin, CEO and founder of Camplify. Camplify is a little bit like Airbnb but for caravans, motorhomes, camper trailers.

Adam:

…Today, Camplify is Australia’s largest caravan and RV peer to peer sharing community and is expanding internationally. The company has made leaps and bounds since when it started back in 2014. With over 3500 listings on the site, growing at 500% year on year, with annual revenue of 12 million and forecasted of 16-18m next year serving over 1500 customers per month, Camplify shows no sign of slowing down. We’ll get into all that, for now, let’s go back to day one where Justin and Camplify’s story begins…

Justin:

This was at the start of 2014, so I was 34. 33. And so through that period where we had a couple of mates who we’d have a coffee regularly, we’d talk about different startup ideas. We had 10 ideas that we thought were really good, and then my wife and I were sort of walking around the neighbourhood, around Newcastle, and she said to me, I’ve never been away in a caravan. I’d love to go away and try it for a holiday, and I went that’s a good idea. I’ve been away in caravans stacks of times. My parents had a caravan when I was a kid. All my family had caravans. We used to do it every holiday.

Justin:

So I thought well, why don’t I see if I can hire one and we’ll go away on a holiday? So then I went and Googled caravan hire and couldn’t find anything at all. There are all those little companies that weren’t doing it very well. And then every day we’d go for a walk so we’re walking around, telling my wife I can’t find anything. There’s nothing available.

Justin:

But we’re walking past all these caravans sitting on the side of the road, and I said wouldn’t it be great if there was Airbnb but for caravans? She said that’s a good idea. Maybe it is a good idea. So I went and did a bit of research, couldn’t find anything that existed like that and then Trent pinged me another email and said if you’ve got a startup idea and you want to put it forward, let me know….

Adam:

The Trent, who Justin is talking about, is an already successful entrepreneur in his own right who had already started and built a successful company who then went on to start a startup accelerator program called Slingshot.

A startup accelerator is a program that comprises more or less of three parts, education, mentorship and fostering connections with the ultimate goal of getting the business pitch worthy and culminating in a pitch night or pitch event where the founding team pitch their idea to a room full of investors.

Justin:                     

I don’t think we would have even started Camplify if it wasn’t for the fact that Slingshot was looking for ideas because like I said, we had 10 different ideas that we were looking at and Camplify was just one of them.

Adam:

Justin and 3 other mates decided to apply for slingshot together, one of whom was his brother in Law. Along the way though, two of the dropped out. The program was intensive, but towards the end, after going through the program you have the opportunity to pitch your company to investors.

Justin:

The period of going from the idea to being in front of a room full of people to pitch the idea was like three months. To get into the room to pitch, you’ve got to put a pitch doc together, you’ve got to put together a document that says what is the company, what are you trying to do, how do you describe it?

Adam:

As you might imagine, Justin had never done anything like this before.

Justin:

No, never done one. I Googled what a pitch doc was, so I had no idea what it was.

Justin:

It was definitely nerve-wracking. You get told you’re gonna pitch and it’s on in three days and it’ll be this location in Sydney at this time.

Justin:

I really honestly had no expectations. I was just like I just go with it and see what happens.

Adam:

Justin did go with it and not only did they put together a pitch doc, but they secured investment for the newly formed Camplify.

Justin:

I think the money popped into our account maybe August or September 2015 roughly.

Justin:

As soon as we realized the opportunity Slingshot had put in front of us, we were like we can actually really make something out of this and we always went into it thinking, well, I don’t think Australia is a big enough market for us, but if we can make it work here and make it work really well, there’s no reason we can’t take it the rest of the way.

Adam:

At this point Justin and the small team, including a new addition, their marketing guy, Dave Eddy…

Dave:

…Had been through the slingshot program, secured investment, but now the real work needed to begin. They needed to understand their customer better, and what better way to do that than speaking directly to their potential customer?

Justin:

Yeah, so we started out talking to just people in the street and just telling them what the idea was and asking them what their opinion was basically. And what we quickly found out, there were lots of people who said oh yeah, I’d love to hire one but not many people we came across who actually owned one.

Justin:

So we were probably asking a couple hundred but we’d find that, like I said, not many people actually owned one of these things so we were like we’ve got to go and find the people that own them. So the first thing we did to try and find them was we looked up where all the caravan shows were and there was one coming up in Newcastle, so we said let’s go to the Newcastle caravan show.

Justin:

So we thought, okay, we’ll see whether we can get a booth there but number one, it was it was like two grand and number two, they were like are you a member of the association? We were like, no. They said well, there are no spots left for you. It’s booked up six months in advance. So okay, well, we can’t do that.

Justin:

So then we thought well, there are people gonna be there anyway. Why don’t we just go and stand outside the caravan show and ask people as they go in. So we did that. We went to the door of the show, we got one of the guy’s sister and all their friends, gave them a clipboard each and said this is what you got to ask people as they’re walking past to enter into the show.

Adam:

Did security come and kick you out?

Justin:

Security came and kicked us out, yep.

Adam:

Oh, really?

Justin:

So they said let it be within 15 meters of the entrance so we went 16 meters away and asked people there.

Dave:

Trying to get across what we did, especially because our marketing, our pull up banners and stuff were not very effective at getting that message across. We just got lots of negativity and lots of people going “pftt I’d never do that, it’s ridiculous, it will never work”. But then we had a handful of people that went “Wow, yeah I’ll check this out. This is cool, I get AirBnB. I get making money, I get that my caravan sits on the front lawn for most of the year doing nothing and my wife or husband’s pissed of at me because I made the decision to buy it and now we never use it. And so, it was really encouraging. That first show was really encouraging and we knew we were on to something. It helped us understand our customer a bit more and understand how to get that critical part right of building stock in terms of getting people to list their vans and engage on the platform.

Adam:

Before Justin, Dave and the team had decided to go to the caravan expo, they had tried just asking people on the street, the challenge that presented was that so many of the people to who they were speaking to just weren’t interested at all or didn’t actually have a caravan, so the Caravan Expo was the solution to that problem, now that they were at the expo it was a case of asking the right questions…

Dave:

Questions? Uhm the first question have you heard of Airbnb and if they said yes we knew they’d kind of get it. And the second question was…

Justin:

…do you own any type of RV, caravan, camper trailer, whatever? So if they said no, we would say why are you here today? Have you ever been in one? What is the perfect one for you? If there was one available in your local area for a reasonable price, would you hire one to go on a trip and just score all their data. And then if they said yes, absolutely, we were like we’re starting this company, would you like to give us your details and we’ll contact you when it’s up and running?

Justin:

Then the owners, the ones that said yes, I do own one, we said how often do you use it? We’d ask them how much they spend on maintenance a year and then we said would you consider ever hiring out to somebody to make a bit of money when you’re not using it? So we were just trying to get what the trigger points were, what are those hot buttons that people would actually say yes or no, what were their concerns, why wouldn’t they do it? Just so we could understand the customer a bit more.

Adam:

So now, Justin and the team are at the point where they understand their customer a bit more and they’ve built their MVP, an MVP or minimum viable product is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, to get the product to market to start getting that all-important feedback from customers and in the case of Camplify minimum was definitely the operative word.

Justin:

Yeah, so we built our first, it wasn’t even an MVP, right? It was rubbish. But it was all built on WordPress and different kinds of back end forms and all this kind of stuff and we made customers who were signing up to hire go through and answer 50 questions before they could even see the available stock.

Justin:

So you couldn’t even see anything whether it was available to hire or not before you went through this whole process, and we still got thousands of customers signed up and they went, these guys have got something here.

Justin:

That’s right. I literally had people that were involved in Slingshot or other startups ring me and say I just tried to use your website. It is terrible. Why are you doing for? And I said because I want to see how dedicated people are to do it. They were like I don’t think it’s right. I’m like it probably isn’t but I think it’s right for right now and so we gave it a go and it’s proved something to us.

Justin:

I wasn’t sure what I was doing but I could see the results. I could see people signing up and giving me their information and yes, we had a huge drop off rate but we didn’t have many vans to hire either, so even if we made it really simple for people, there was nothing for them to hire, so it was fulfilling two things for us. It was allowing us to really see the interest in it and then the ones that were really keen, they actually converted because they were like I’ve gone through this whole process, I really want to book something now.

Adam:

Camplify at this time were turning over revenue, not a whole lot, but enough to prove they were onto something here, not only to their investors but to themselves too. But money was running out.

Justin:

Absolutely, you can see the money ticking away and marketplace businesses are notoriously expensive because you make a small commission on each transaction but you’ve got to build enough stock first before you can actually really start to receive some really good commission. So building stock is expensive and when it’s a new concept and a totally new thing in the market, then that takes time, and time takes money.

Adam:

Justin and the Camplify team knew they needed more of a runway to get their business to that tipping point where they had enough stock to satisfy a large enough user base to where those small commissions per transactions would really start to pay off. So what was Justin feeling at this point in time?

Justin:

Desperation. You’re looking at the bank account going well, we’ve got to do something soon like we’ve got to get someone across the line here. Otherwise, we’re going to have to go back and sack some staff. I’m going to have to do something, so I’ve got to make it work or I’ve got to go and tell my wife I don’t have any money to pay the next mortgage repayment. So that was definitely a big factor.

Adam:

So it was time to bring in more outside money, but not just any outside money. Justin was looking for something else too.

Justin:

We wanted someone to invest. We wanted someone to have some skin in the game, someone that could actually form a part of our company.

Justin:

So the key person we reached out to that said yes and really things started progressing from there was the CEO of Apollo Tourism and Leisure. So Apollo is the biggest rental fleet owner in Australia. They’re in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US, and I literally sent a message to the CEO of Apollo on LinkedIn and said I’d love to talk to you about what you guys are doing and what we’re doing and see if there’s any way we can work together?

Justin:

His name’s Luke Trouchet. He sent me a message back and said yeah, sure, let’s have a phone call. So we had a phone call and went through that we were building this business and what our objectives were for it and how much we were growing and I said that we were doing a capital raise and also that we really respected what they’ve built as a business, that they’ve built Australia’s biggest rental fleet from their backyard.

Justin:

So I said why don’t I fly to Brisbane and have a chat and he said yeah, righto, come on.

Justin:

Yeah, that’s right. So I went and met with Luke. It just so happened that they had a plan to list the company on the stock exchange. That was very much held under wraps at that stage.

Justin:

That was in about November 2016, but I went out for lunch with them and they said why should we invest in the business, and I just remember saying well, if Airbnb went to the Hilton at this stage of their business and said why don’t you invest in us, do you think they would have looked back and said that was a bad decision? And they said I think you’re right, I think we’re in. So that was it.

Justin:

We talked before about things just happening to align and it just so happened that they were intending to list on the stock exchange. They’d been talking to people that were going to invest when it was listed and people had been asking them questions about what do you think the peer to peer and sharing economy is going to do to your industry?

Justin:

So they had an answer to that when they invested in us, so that was the great experience for us and at the same time, Luke and Carly’s brother, their mom and dad started their business and they started it with their camp RV that they own, hiring it out on weekends. So it’s exactly what we did so it’s just a great fit.

Adam:

So, where are Justin and the team off to next on their Camper Van adventure? They have Europe in their sights and that’s a really ambitious move, the next logical step, but nonetheless ambitious, and for that, they need another capital raise.

Justin:

Third capital raise, yep. So we’re looking at the evolution of our businesses, what we need to do to build more customers in proc in Australia and how we can really service that market that’s really started to adopt us now and grow that a bit more. But then also looking at some more countries so we have an objective to really take on Europe and be certainly the biggest in that market.

Justin:

Europe’s a really interesting market because it really allows for our type of sharing experience. We try to look at why someone buys an RV. If you go and buy a motor home and spend $100,000 on it and you use it for four weeks of the year, what are you doing?

Justin:

So in Europe, you don’t get to use it even perhaps that much because of the season so you don’t have the opportunity to use it so you can’t use it all year round like you can in Australia. You’ve actually got even a shorter window. So for us, it makes so much sense to be able to help people to actually justify spending that money and at the same token, people in Europe love camping, absolutely love it. But to be able to buy camping equipment and store it in little tiny European apartments and housing, just makes even less sense. So it’s just a perfect opportunity for us to marry those two markets together.

Adam:

So that’s where Justin and the team are up to right now, in late 2018. Around 4 years since Justin went on that walk with his wife and said “wouldn’t it be great if there was an AirBnB for caravans. just a few guys working in a basement, the typical startup story right, but this time in Newcastle NSW.

Dave:

It’s not anywhere as flashy as it sounds. And anyone who has listened to any startup podcast or talk or spoken to anyone who has done anything decent will tell you that 99% of it is not flashy.

I remember the whole story of starting from the bedroom.  We started from basement office owned by the uni across from Civic park in Newcastle. I don’t think it had air conditioning and I remember it was me, Tim, Kayla at the time, Josh, Justin. Just sitting down there in that dingy, smelly, basement with people walking past us to use the printer. It wasn’t even our own office. Had good internet. (laughs)

Dave:

Just thinking how are we going to get caravan owners to put their caravans, their $80,000 investments on our site. Just literally. It’s just been a hackaway at it since then and things have obviously got a lot more professional, structured and systemised and all that. But literally, none of us knew what camplify had to be. None of us knew our customer then. None of us knew, Justin had this vision of where he thought it could go and that’s all we had, at the time. And we’ve just sort of made it work and yeah it’s just been an unbelievably cool experience, it’s been really fun. And there has been heaps of days where we’ve yelled at each other. Heaps of times, arguments, disagreements. I’m sick of this kind of stuff. Heaps of days where you think what are we doing. Fortunately for us, it’s panned out.

Adam:

And it really has panned out for them, as I mentioned at the beginning of the episode Camplify is making leaps and bounds, but why?

Clearly, Justin had an excellent idea, but the theme throughout this episode has been I don’t know what I’m doing, let’s give it a shot and figure it out along the way. Which I love by the way and that message really resonates with me personally. From going into the Slingshot program with the thought of let’s give this a shot to then Googling what pitch deck was and how to make a good pitch, Asking random people on the street questions about caravans, then realising it’d be better to go to a place where there are a lot of people who have a caravan or want one then finally to find an investor who actually had a lot of experience in the industry they were in.

It’s been a journey of let’s give it a go, which I think is very Australian and that kind of attitude is something I think will serve the Australian Startup Ecosystem very well moving forward.

(Music)

Adam:

Next time on Welcome to Day One, Sahil Harriram from Elite Robotics, Sahil and his 2 co-founders Luke and Nathan are building autonomous robots that have human like instincts. This is going to be an incredible story.

Sahil:

We believe that in order for vehicles to have level five autonomy, they need to have this type of functionality within them. And that’s the core of the technology that we’re developing.

Adam:

Thanks for listening to Welcome to Day One, if you liked this episode please feel free to check out the shownotes for this episode at welcometodayone.com which has links to everything that was mentioned in today’s episode plus a way to leave a rating for the show wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you enjoy what we are doing we would both really appreciate if you would take a minute to leave a review and/or rating for the show as it really helps the show get in front of more people that might enjoy it too.

(Music)

Thank you so much for giving this episode of Welcome to Day One your attention, we really appreciate it. This episode was lovingly created by Adam Spencer and Andy Jones.

Interviews conducted by Adam Spencer. A big thank you to Justin Hales and Dave Eddy of Camplify for their time and willingness to be involved.

The script was written by Adam Spencer and Andy Jones. Music by Lee Rosevere, full attribution on our website welcometodayone.com

This episode was edited by Andy Jones. Thank you and see you next time.

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Credits

Show mixed and edited by Andy Jones, interviews conducted by Adam Spencer. Script collaborated on by Adam Spencer and Andy Jones.

A big thank you to Justin Hales and Dave Eddy from Camplify for their time and willingness to be involved.

Music Credits

Title: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Author: Lee Rosevere

Source: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Licence: CC BY 4.0

Title: Here’s the thing

Author: Lee Rosevere

Source: Here’s the thing

Licence: CC BY 4.0

Thanks for listening! Catch you next time.