Travel app Sēkr earns $2.25 million to bring campsite inventory into the digital age – TechCrunch
Consumers spent over $8.5 billion in 2020 on camping reservations in the United States, but the camping industry itself is not yet fully digitized. Today, reserving a spot at some campgrounds, both public and private, may require a phone call. And the reservation itself is still often recorded using old-fashioned systems like pen and paper. A startup called Sēkr, which offers a mobile app for outdoor enthusiasts and campers, wants to change that.
However, the start-up did not immediately decide to become an Airbnb for campsites.
In 2017, Sēkr co-founders Breanne Acio (CEO) and Jess Shisler (COO) were simply looking for a better way to scout new campsites. The two had traveled independently with their partners in their motorhomes, having adopted the so-called “van life” lifestyle. But they soon realized it was difficult to find safe places to camp, as well as people to connect with on the road. Additionally, they both wanted an easier way to locate campgrounds with the specific services they needed, whether it was showers, restrooms, overnight parking for vans, access to water or free Wi-Fi.
“Travel planning is the number one problem for anyone going outdoors,” says Acio. And it’s especially difficult for campers, she notes. “Just like in the 90s, if you wanted to book a hotel or travel somewhere, you had to call the hotels individually. There is no online website or availability. Today’s camping is similar.
“We were using 15 different apps, most of which were inaccurate because they were databases based on or taken from old government websites or old databases,” she says.
Some of those challenges here weren’t just annoyances; they complicated the reality of living and working on the road. At the time, Shisler had a job in public relations and Acio, who later ran an RV conversion business, was a professor at San Diego State University. They couldn’t completely disconnect from the network without even a cell signal to stay connected.
After meeting through social media, where they had become micro-influencers in the van life space, the co-founders decided to create a mobile app for people in the same position. The founders wanted to provide campers and other members of the van living community with a way to come together and share their individual knowledge and experiences at various campsites and other locations. In March 2018, they launched the first version of this app, then called The Vanlife App. In addition to providing a centralized community for fellow campers and “van lifers,” the app also offered a social component. Users could connect with other travelers who wanted to participate in outdoor activities together, such as rock climbing or skiing, as well as write reviews about specific places.
“Even if you have your partner, [traveling] feels very lonely,” notes Acio. “Being able to find a community – a community [where people] share the same ideas and like the same things and are similar to you – is a really powerful thing,” she says.
But the original version of the app was too niche. Although there are approximately 5 million people in the United States who travel in their self-converted or manufactured motor homes, or other smaller vehicles, the founders realized that this narrow focus excluded people engaged in d other styles of travel and camping. The name change to Sēkr allowed them to cater to the wider market of anyone who wants to go camping, even if it’s just a once-a-year family trip.
In the Sēkr app, you can search for campsites across the United States, filter them by amenities and services, save favorites, and network with others through social features. Its lists are created using public government data repositories and other databases, which are then augmented with crowdsourced information. Sēkr’s team of ambassadors will explore locations, verify information and take photos to share with the community, just like app members.
Now, the company is working to add more bookable inventory directly to Sēkr by digitizing and aggregating campgrounds and campsites, ranging from private lots to campgrounds. However, this work is only in its infancy.
Currently, there are around 200 properties that can be booked from Sēkr’s app, ranging from those where you can park in someone’s driveway for free to high-end glamping sites. To generate revenue, Sēkr takes a 5% fee from customers and 5% from owners to facilitate transactions. The company also plans to partner with others to bring more bookable inventory to the app over time.
Currently, Sēkr is seeing an average of over 10,000 user sessions per week – a traction start that has attracted investors.
The San Diego-based startup closed $2.25 million in seed funding led by Storyteller Overland, along with Backstage Capital, Techstars, Ad Astra Ventures, Crescent Ridge Ventures, and GoFundMe co-founder Andy Ballester. The funds will be used to expand Sēkr’s bookable inventory and community initiatives, which also include its coalition called Project Respect Outdoors, which aims to unite women and minorities to take scalable action to evolve the outdoor industry. towards a more inclusive space.
“The camping industry is one of the only hospitality sectors to have successfully adopted technology, and Sēkr seized the opportunity to digitize campsite inventory at scale, transforming the outdoor planning process from ‘a frustrating loop of hours of fruitless Google searches into something consumers can do on their own,’ Jeffrey Hunter, CEO of Storyteller Overland and lead investor in the round, said in a statement. them in the hospitality and vacation rental industries, we believe the Sēkr team is uniquely positioned to have the greatest influence and impact on the outdoor travel planning experience for the nearly three quarters of Americans who participate in outdoor travel each year,” he added.