As the host of the Welcome to Day One podcast, I’m privileged to speak to some of the most interesting business minds from across regional Australia.
One in particular who stood out was Justin Hales, CEO and founder of Camplify. Justin grew an idea into an international business with a multi-million-dollar turnover in just a few short years.
However, it wasn’t always an easy journey and Justin was very candid with some tips for others considering setting up – or in the early days – of a business.
What is Camplify?
Camplify is a startup from Newcastle that Justin describes as being ‘like Airbnb but for caravans, motor homes, camper trailers’
Founded in 2014, Camplify now has more than 3500 listings on the site, has expanded into the European market and is expecting a turnover of $16-18m in 2020.
Success comes in many forms
Business success rarely comes at the first try. Camplify was by no means Justin’s first attempt at starting a business. He created his first business as a teenager and, in the fifteen or so years leading up to Camplify, he’d been involved in plenty of small enterprises.
And while Camplify may seem like the most successful on paper, Justin feels that he wouldn’t have been able to build it to the level he has without the other experiences.
He said, “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need experience. You need wins and losses along the way so you can actually learn and be in the right position at the right time and then opportunity comes along the way. At some point, there will be the right idea at the right time with the right opportunity, and if you’re not ready to take that, then that’s when you will miss that.”
“So just trying things all the time and seeing how they work, you build experience and you build skills and knowledge and all that kind of stuff so that you are actually ready to do that.”
Ten ideas are better than one
Although the idea for Camplify came from the blue, Justin had long been open to the idea of starting something new. As he was constantly on the lookout for a new venture and always analysing options, it was rare that an idea passed him by. When he thought about the possibility of an Airbnb for RVs, he was in the right mindset to know that he could turn the idea into reality.
He said, “Through that period 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.”
“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. “
“So then I went and Googled caravan hire and couldn’t find anything at all. There’s 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.”
“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?”
Fresh eyes and fresh ideas
You may think that industry experience is vital when trying to launch a new service, but that wasn’t the case for Camplify. Sometimes, big opportunities are easier to see through the eyes of a customer.
No one in Justin’s team had any experience in the RV world, but they each brought transferable skills from elsewhere – like marketing or sales experience – that they could use to push the business forward.
This outsider mentality proved particularly true when Justin tried to get industry buy-in to Camplify in an early round of funding.
He said, “The RV industry in Australia is not exactly cutting edge. It’s very traditional. So quite a few people were like ‘No, that thing’s never gonna work so good luck but you guys are just a flash in the pan and I’m not interested’.”
“A lot of people in the RV industry have been in it for generations so they’ve seen their parents do things a certain way. They’re doing things a certain way. Nothing’s changed. This is really the first big change in the RV industry for a while.”
“It helped us that we weren’t in the industry because we had no preconceived ideas. We had nothing to say why wouldn’t this work. I think that helped us.”
Dealing with the tough times
No successful entrepreneur ever said it was easy, but a lot of business founders are surprised when the going gets tough.
Knowing that there will be times when things don’t seem to be going right are all part of the journey and being prepared for those moments can make it a lot easier to get through them.
Justin said, “There’s lots of startup companies and founders who talk about the highs and lows and they are literally day to day, it just seems to happen that you have the lowest lows one day and the highest highs the next day. It just constantly happens.”
“I think there’s a couple of things you need. I think having a really good network of people around you is really important.”
“I think having people you can bounce stuff off that believe in you as well and you can talk through it and they give you a bit of a pep talk and get off to the next thing, and you’ve just got to believe that you’re doing the right thing, really.”
Find out more about Camplify’s story by subscribing to the Welcome to Day One podcast here.
Adam Spencer is the host of Welcome to Day One. The podcast for regional startups and entrepreneurs. Welcome to Day One shares the origin stories of Australian founders and the companies they built. Let’s go back to day one, where the story begins…