How 29-Year-Old CEO Alyssa Ravasio Is Changing American Camping
Article Published by: forbes
Alyssa Ravasio’s obsession with the outdoors started when she was kid.
The founder and CEO of Hipcamp remembers from an early age finding solace in the wild. One of her favorite activities was catching lizards and snakes.
“I was never the most popular kid,” says Ravasio. “When I went camping, I had these moments when I realized I liked myself.”
Although she didn’t know it then, her business was born.
Mapping public land in America
Founded in 2013, Hipcamp’s mission was simple: get more people outside.
Hipcamp’s first iteration was born out of a camping snafu in Big Sur. Ravasio realized there was a nearby surf break, but had left her board back in San Francisco. She wished she had known about the waves beforehand. She thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a website that featured this kind of information?”
And so she attended Dev Bootcamp to learn how to code. She then built a basic database of campsites in California, mining information like if you should pack bug spray or if there is a great vista for sunrises. Eventually, she met and partnered with her cofounder Eric Bach and they expanded, mapping all the public lands in the United States. In 2014, they received $2 million in seed funding and a good dose of early publicity.
Connecting private landowners with millennial citydwellers
And then, they realized that despite all their data points there was another kind of inventory that HipCamp was leaving out: private land.
They’d noticed that top national parks near urban areas filled up fast on the weekends. There was also lots of overcrowded sites leading to noisy nights.
According to HipCamp, 60% of the United States is privately owned. They figured if they could pair private landowners with campers, they would open up huge swathes of the country for sustainable recreation that could in turn help fund the conservation of open land.
The first private campground booking in September 2015 “changed my life,” remembers Ravasio. Less than 24 hours after the launch of their new product, she cried when she saw hundreds of posts by farmers, vintners and ranchers listing and marketing the properties. She knew that they had created something important.
Now the company boasts over 285,000 sites across America. With lists like swimming holes in the Bay Area or best camping around Portland or New York City, the website both offers inventory and sparks imagination. You can book an open site, an RV or even a yurt. Their database also allows for searches such as camping under $50 or pet-friendly accommodations.
Being a woman CEO
Until very recently, Ravasio never thought of being a woman entrepreneur as something that was different. She says, “ I was raised to be anything I wanted to be.”
However, the outdoor industry is very male dominated. Early on at an outdoor retailer conference, Ravasio remembers thinking, “What’s going on here? It’s all bros and their puffies.”
But she decided not to let the lack of female representation bother her. Instead, she surrounds herself with people who believe that women are just as qualified as men. Ravasio says, “I work with really good investors, for whom [being a woman] wasn’t a variable.”
Now she’ll walk around conferences with male employees and whenever someone automatically assumes that the man is the boss, she takes it as an “interesting data point” about their company.
Looking at the technology industry, Ravasio does see a lack of diversity which she finds frustrating. Pointing out that less than 3% of venture capital or VC funding goes to women, she says that it is an even bigger issue when it comes to women of color.
“There’s certainly a problem here, just because I haven’t experienced it as much doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem,” says Ravasio “There is a big problem.”
Making happy employees
Given her personal commitment to getting more people to enjoy the great outdoors, Ravasio prioritizes getting her employees into nature as well. She says, “We’re building a brand based on how important we think this is.”
In order to incentive this, the company gives every employee $1,000 in Hipcash every year to use for lodging. If anyone uses all of it, they get a bonus. They also keep a chart in the office to see who has been camping the most.
Catering to phenological events
Since their pivot in 2015, Hipcamp has also expanded their business to cater to nature-based events. In addition to opening up sites in the path of the total solar eclipse last summer, they now coordinate with landowners to host camping in sight of meteor showers or butterfly migrations. In April, they mapped campsites with the least light pollution so that users could celebrate National Astronomy Month.
Ravasio says, “Our core belief is that people who are connected and aligned with nature are better, happier humans.”
About Jaime Bonetti Zeller
Jaime Bonetti Zeller is an investment professional and entrepreneur with businesses in multiple industries. He is president of Servicios Consulares Eurodom, the local partner in the Caribbean region for VFS Global, a leader global outsourcing and technology services specialist for diplomatic missions and governments worldwide. Jaime Bonetti Zeller also started the company Sofratesa de Panama inc., an organization in the engineering services industry located in Panama City.