About a month ago, we asked both the RV community and our followers for some help. We were heavily considering a new business venture, but wanted to get some feedback on it before we decided our next steps. I asked some of our RV-ing friends to share our blog post and solicit survey responses. We had so many people sharing and so many visitors to our website that day, I was completely floored. It still amazes me that anyone pays any attention to what I have to say, but that’s my own issues coming to the surface. Before we posted the survey, my goal was 10 responses.
How many did we get? 60!
Allow me to share some insights from the survey.
- It is extremely important for most people to be near their destination when vacationing
- 95% of our respondents said it’s very important to spend time outside when visiting a new area…I think we’ve found our people!
- 100% of our respondents enjoy visiting National Parks and National Monuments
- 90% (!) of our respondents would rather stay in an off-grid RV than in a hotel near a National Park
- Very few of our respondents actually own an RV. The majority either don’t have one, or have stayed in one but don’t own one.
- The most important amenities people want in an off grid RV, in order of importance
- Ability to charge/power devices
- Cell phone signal
- The least important? Bunk beds for kids
- 97% of respondents would like to stay off-grid anywhere between 2-7 days
- We got a lot of destination votes for Yellowstone, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Southern Utah, and Colorado
- Most common concerns people had with being in an off-grid RV:
- Being in a remote area and getting hurt or sick
- Wild animals
- Not understanding how the RV works (power, water, tanks, etc)
- Not knowing how to fix something on the RV if it breaks
- Screaming child in small space (whoever wrote this…welcome to our lives. And your concern is a valid one!)
Super interesting, right?! At least it was to us. Overall we were very encouraged by the survey results. People had concerns, but it was nothing we couldn’t figure out. RVers are the absolute BEST at figuring things out, so we were confident that we could figure it out as we go.
So, mid May 2018…we got the survey results in and started to get excited. I mentioned that we got 60 survey responses when my goal was 10. I took this as a major sign, GO Hannah and Tim, GO! You beat your goal 6 times over, this means you’re onto something!
We started a lot of Google Docs, planning everything from possible locations to run the business out of to a website outline to next steps with legal filing for the business.
We got on the phone with the SBA as well as economic development centers in Utah and Arizona to see if we could get a pulse on any of the local taxes and laws. We looked into getting a permit to use BLM land for business purposes – yes, you need a permit, and yes, you owe them a percentage of each sale.
We even went as far as to file for a virtual mailbox so we’d have an address for the business, which requires a form that you have to get notarized. We had an online notary do it, which was cool. It was all done via webcam. A very smart use of technology.
We gave it some thought and realized that the safest bet would be to rent out The Fox – we already know it inside and out, and we can live in an apartment and use The Fox for travel when it’s not rented out. We started to think about where we’d keep the fox in between rentals. After all, we’d need to dump it’s tanks, clean it out, etc in between customers – not really something you can do from a storage unit. We never really did find a complete solution to that problem, but we had many ideas.
So we’re chugging along, excited and making progress on our business idea. BUT… there’s always a but, right? So we kept traveling and we got to Denver. My cousin, Juliana, is heavily involved in the travel industry and has her own video production company. She lives in Denver, and invited me to a Travel Massive meetup that she was organizing. Travel Massive is basically a way for professionals in the travel industry to connect. I thought – sure, I’ll come. I’ll hang out with my cousin, I’ll meet Annabelle (an RVing + video editor friend), and have a beer. Little did I know that saying “Yes” to going to that event would change our course!
At the event, two men asked me to come sit down next to them and chat. On the spot, they asked me to give a pitch about my idea! Seemed like a strange request (at this time I didn’t realize they were Angel Investors/Advisors) but I told them about our boondocking RV idea. We spent about 20 minutes discussing it, and the first words they said were, “completely unsustainable”. Why? Here were a few of their reasons:
- This business is impossible to scale because it requires physical presence and labor at each step: driving the RVs to the locations, setting them up, tearing them down, cleaning up
- Is washing sheets, cleaning a dirty RV, and washing someone else’s poo down the drain a job you really want?
- Even if you hire someone to do this, the margins will be very thin
- Why doesn’t Cruise America (the largest RV rental company in the USA) offer this level of service? Answer: because it doesn’t make any financial sense
- This will never be more than a hobby business. You can make some money with it, but it will be hard earned and the vast majority of it will be driving these RVs around to various locations
- The whole point of an RV is to move to different locations. Why would I want to rent an RV if it only sits in one place?
They then promptly said “We hope we weren’t too harsh, but this is a reality check”. “I can take it,” I responded. And I meant that. What are the odds I’d randomly sit next to 2 investors? People network for hours just to get ONE meeting with an investor, and here I was, getting free unsolicited advice? And maybe their criticisms were harsh, but I could tell that they meant well and they were nice about it. Who would have thought that I’d get in depth conversations with two people who advise travel startups?! I was just there to see Juliana and Annabelle! I may not have liked what they said about my idea, but I couldn’t ignore this.
I came home and told Tim everything. He agreed that it was a lot to think about, but we decided to just not take any more action on the RV rental idea for awhile and just let these new thoughts sit with us and see how they felt.
That was a couple weeks ago now, and we both feel that maybe that event that I went to with my cousin was some sort of fate. Truth is, we want to share our love of boondocking, but not by hauling an RV to the middle of nowhere, then driving back, then going to get it, then cleaning the tanks and the inside, and repeat. I’m still convinced that we can and will find a way to share what we love so much – but it might be through a different medium than renting out RVs.
What a ride it’s been – going from being so excited, to getting a reality check, to deciding to leave that particular idea be for now.
To keep ourselves busy in the meantime, I’m teaching myself iOS development. I put up a blog where I’m going to be chronicling my learning – hannahsutor.com. I’m hoping that eventually I can freelance my skills, continuing to leave room in my life for spending time with my family and exploring new places via RVing and hiking.
Tim is starting some freelance software development in July. So things are moving along, just totally not in the direction we imagined they would when we put our business idea out there only a month ago.
I laid it all out there – now you know exactly what happened with our business idea. Until we can figure out a “bigger idea”, we will still be blogging and sharing our love of all things boondocking and exploring. Thanks for coming along with us!