Campsited makes a strong pitch for the digital future of camping

7 Jan 20191.38k Views

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Finán O’Donoghue, co-founder and CEO. Image: Campsited

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Our Start-up of the Week is a one-stop shop for booking camping experiences in Europe.

“By 2020, people will spend 1bn nights annually on campsites around the world,” said Campsited co-founder and CEO Finán O’Donoghue.

“Today, there is no online marketplace to easily book every campsite around the world. This is the problem Campsited is solving. Just like Booking.com did for hotels.”

The genesis of Campsited came when O’Donoghue took his wife and younger son on a camping trip and came to the realisation that his hectic work life was getting in the way of his relationship with his son.

This spark of an idea has resulted in a booking site for camping experiences that allows people to choose from 2,000 campsites and more than 8,000 mobile homes and pitches in 17 countries across Europe.

The market

“People will spend over €10bn each year booking campsites,” O’Donoghue explained. “The wider outdoor tourism market is worth €234bn annually.

“Campsited will tap into this by allowing people book their entire camping and outdoor holiday in one place.

“It’s also estimated that by 2020, around 50pc of all travel will be booked online. This represents an annual market opportunity of €122bn for the business.”

The founders

Man in blue jumper with coffee under awning of a tent in campsite.

Finán O’Donoghue, co-founder and CEO. Image: Campsited

O’Donoghue grew up in Killarney, Co Kerry. “I spent all of my time there exploring the outdoors around the town and hiking the hills and mountains … I was first introduced to camping by my father at the age of six or seven, when we camped at the foot of Tomies Mountain, near the Gap of Dunloe.

“My father also had a business in the town selling computers and later installing networks. Legend has it he was the first man in town with a BBC Micro by Acorn Computers, if anyone remembers those! I worked with him during all of my holidays so I suppose it’s no surprise that I went on to work in technology. I’ve been around it all my life.”

O’Donoghue spent the past 18 years working in technology and user experience, including working on multimillion-euro enterprise IT and online projects for companies such as Vodafone, KBC Bank and Liberty Insurance.

“Prior to starting Campsited, I worked with a leading user experience agency, where I helped grow revenues from €2m to €4m in under two-and-a-half years.”

O’Donoghue first met his co-founder and COO, James Gormley, almost 20 years ago in Vodafone.

“In the intervening years, James has spent it all in operations management, also delivering complex, multimillion-euro projects for companies like The Now Factory, Vodafone, HSBC and IBM. Before joining Campsited, James was based in Singapore for nine years. While there, he built and led service operations in Asia Pacific for Arantech and The Now Factory.”

The technology

The Campsited technology is a two-sided marketplace, which O’Donoghue says can easily host every campsite globally right now, from small campsites with pitches, right up to five-star camping resorts in France with pitches, safari tents, chalets and lots of other accommodation types.

Campsites first create their listing profile, including details about the site, photos, facilities, pricing and availability. Then, the profile is published and the campsite is immediately bookable. “Campsited also facilitates payment for the holiday and we’ve architected it so that we can easily add additional outdoor-related products in the future.

“Campsited’s ultimate goal is to become the go-to brand globally for people to plan and book their camping and outdoor holiday.

Elevator pitch

Campsited has raised €1.3m in venture funding to date. It also raised a further €284,000 in a recent oversubscribed crowdfunding campaign on Sparkcrowdfunding.com.

“In 2018, we increased the number of bookable campsites on the platform by almost 1,000pc across 13 new countries. We’re on track to grow bookings by 600pc this year, and plan to repeat this growth annually up to and including 2021.

“This will generate revenue in 2021 on up to €30m. The demand is out there. We’re just making it easier for people to fulfil that demand.”

Mapping the landscape

O’Donoghue said that every early-stage company has lots of stories about things not working out the way you envision them.

“I think the biggest challenge for us to date has been building the supply side of the marketplace. We started off direct onboarding, which turned out to be slow and time-consuming. We’ve since changed our approach to do something that was always in the plan. We’re now integrated with B2B [business-to-business] campsite booking systems, which enable us to grow bookable supply on the platform really quickly. With this challenge addressed, we can now focus more so on driving significant demand, bookings and revenues.”

O’Donoghue’s advice to fellow founders? “Once begun, you’re half done. I heard that when starting out and and it made a lot of sense.

“The hardest part is often making the start. However, before doing that I would advise people to ask themselves the following – or, even better, ask their potential customers:

  • Will the business solve a real problem?
  • If it does, is it something people will be willing to pay for?
  • If they are willing to pay for it, will it be enough to sustain the business?
  • Are there enough people with this problem to make it worth solving?

“Then I’d advise them to think about the commitment required to start and build the business. This is important because every aspect of life changes when you start a business. You see less of the people who are important to you because you are so busy all the time.

“There are long periods of having no money, at all! Your social life gets a bit of a hammering. The list goes on. You need to be sure that despite all of these things and the multitude of other challenges, that you can keep driving forward. When you do and things start to come good, it’s very rewarding.”

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John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist who served as editor of Siliconrepublic.com for 17 years.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com