• Youcamp refers to itself as the 'Airbnb of the outdoors'. (Supplied)
There's Airbnb, Uber, Airtasker - now Youcamp is the latest addition to the 'sharing-economy'. But this was no deliberate attempt at hitting the tech jackpot - in fact the founders consider themselves accidental entrepreneurs.
By
11 Jun - 5:35 PM 

Sitting around their campfire one day along the New South Wales South coast, James Woodford and Prue Bartlett had an idea.

"We thought to ourselves, it’s crazy, we look around and all our neighbours have got this empty land and we've got this empty land. And yet there's people stuck in campgrounds, crammed in like sardines and we thought, 'wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a way to bring travellers and landowners together?'"

That thought bubble would eventually push the pair to leave their careers - James as a journalist, and Prue as a park ranger - to work full-time on what is now Youcamp. But first they needed money.

"We sold a small part of our property and that gave us some cash, and we thought to ourselves let’s take a bit of a risk."

They set up a website. At first, it functioned more like a notice board, where landowners would post their availability, and campers could contact them directly.

But the model wasn't working.

"What we found was campers would contact hosts and they wouldn't show up. Or hosts wouldn't reply to emails. And it was just driving us nuts," James explains.

“We tried to have a system where hosts paid an annual subscription, but the problem with that was you might have one host making three or four bookings, making $30, and another making tens of thousands of dollars worth of bookings, and there just wasn’t equity. “

 What they needed was a model where the payments and bookings could actually be taken online.

But launching the business had already involved a steep learning curve. They knew they needed outside expertise to take it further.

"Neither of us have a business background. In fact I'd never even been to a meeting!" James laughs. "I never went by an agenda, I didn't know [business] jargon, I can't use a spreadsheet."

"We've had to be really structured in our approach," Prue says. "We've set clear targets, we've developed a well articulated business plan."

They managed to get Super Retail Group on board as an investor in 2015. The Queensland-based company, which owns a number of outdoor leisure businesses including Rebel and Amart Sports, purchased a 51 per cent share of Youcamp for an undisclosed figure.

In July 2016, Youcamp relaunched its website.

"Whether it’s a campsite or motel room you still want an answer right away, so we’ve built a live booking engine that sits at the heart of Youcamp. So we literally are the Airbnb of camping,” Prue says.

Youcamp 2.0

With the new business model, Youcamp now takes a ten per cent cut of each booking, which is paid for by the guest. They also charge landholders a two per cent administration fee on each transaction.

In the past few months, Prue says they've had over 5000 bookings and inquiries, equaling $200,000 in booking revenue.

And landowners like Roger Fagan, himself a former business owner, are benefiting.

 

“If I decided to start [renting to campers] afresh, I’m 74, I’m retired - I’d have to prepare brochures. My god, I’d have to go onto Facebook - I don't want to do that!” he jokes. “Then I’d have to promote, go to shows. Youcamp do all this for me.”

Perfect pairing

James and Prue credit their success to their strong relationship. The pair were previously married, but have since divorced. They remain friends and business partners.

"We've always been really good friends and worked together really well," James says. "It's definitely one of the more unusual things about our business. [But] we just make a fantastic business team."

"I wouldn't actually pick a better business partner," Prue adds. "It's a testament to both our characters that we've been able to pull it off."

Youcamp's main challenge now is grappling with insurance and regulatory issues, which differ from state to state, council to council.

"We really want to see it regulated. We think it’s important that there are rules - we don’t want to see people caught in bushfires or swept away in floods,” James says. "So our biggest issue is trying to get some sort of national framework or state framework."

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