Travel app Sēkr earns $2.25M for bringing campsite inventory into the digital age – Techdoxx

Deepak Gupta February 9, 2022
Updated 2022/02/09 at 7:12 PM

Consumers spent over $8.5 billion in 2020 in US camping reservations, but the camping industry itself has yet to be fully digitized. Today, booking space at some campgrounds, public and private, may require a phone call. And the reserve itself is still often recorded using old systems like pen and paper. A startup called Sekrwhich offers a mobile app for outdoor enthusiasts and campers, wants to change that.

However, the early-stage startup did not immediately set out to become an Airbnb for camping.

In 2017, the co-founders of Sēkr, Breanne Acio (CEO) and Jess Shisler (COO), were just looking for a better way to explore new campsites. The two traveled independently with their partners in their campervans, having embraced the so-called “van life” Lifestyle. But they soon realized that it was difficult to find safe places to camp, as well as people to connect with while on the road. In addition, they both wanted a simpler way to locate campgrounds with the specific services they needed – be it showers, toilets, overnight parking for vans, access to water or free Wi-Fi.

“Trip planning is the number one problem for anyone going outdoors,” explains Acio. And it’s particularly 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.” Camping today is similar.

“We were using 15 different applications – most of which were inaccurate because they are databases based on or taken from old government websites or old databases,” she says.

Some of those challenges here weren’t just annoyances; complicated the reality of living and working on the road. At the time, Shisler had a job in public relations, and Acio, who later went on to run a trailer converting company, was a professor at San Diego State University. They couldn’t completely go off the grid without even a cell signal to stay connected.

Image credits: Sēkr / Sēkr founding founders Bre and Jess

After meeting on social media, where they became micro-influencers in the van’s living space, the co-founders decided to build a mobile app for people in the same position. The founders wanted to provide a way for campers and other members of the van community to come together and share their individual knowledge and experiences about various campgrounds and other locations. In March 2018, they released the first version of this app, then called The Vanlife App. In addition to providing a centralized community for other campers and “van lifers”, the app also offered a social component. Users can connect with other travelers who want to participate in outdoor activities together, such as climbing or skiing, as well as writing reviews about specific places.

“Even if you have your partner, [traveling] it gets very lonely”, observes Acio. “Being able to find community — community [where people] are like-minded and like the same things and are similar to you – it’s a really powerful thing,” she says.

But the original version of the app was very niche. While there are an estimated 5 million people in the US who are traveling in their self-converted or manufactured camper vans, or other smaller vehicles, the founders realized that this narrow focus was leaving out people involved in other styles of travel and camping. . The name change to Sēkr has allowed them to address the broader market of those who want to go camping – even if it’s just an annual family trip.

In the Sēkr app, you can search for campgrounds across the US, filter them by amenities and services, save favorites, and interact with others through social features. Their listings are created through public government data repositories and other databases, which are enhanced with crowdsourced information. Sēkr’s team of ambassadors will scout locations, verify information and take photos to share with the community as well as app members.

Image credits: Sekr

The company is now working to add more bookable inventory directly to Sēkr by scanning and aggregating campgrounds and campgrounds, from private plots to campgrounds. This work is still in the early stages, however.

Right now, there are around 200 properties that can be booked on the Sēkr app, from those where you can park in someone’s garage for free to high-end glamping sites. To generate revenue, Sēkr charges a 5% fee from guests and a 5% fee from owners to facilitate transactions. The company also plans to partner with other companies to bring more bookable inventory to the app over time.

Currently, Sēkr sees an average of over 10,000 user sessions per week – a bit of early traction that has attracted investors.

Image credits: Sekr

The San Diego-based startup closed with $2.25 million in seed funding led by Storyteller Overland, along with Backstage Capital, Techstars, Ad Astra Ventures, Crescent Ridge Ventures and Andy Ballester, co-founder of GoFundMe. The funds will be used to increase Sēkr’s reserveable inventory and its community initiatives, which also include its coalition called Respect Outdoor Project, which aims to unite women and minorities to take scalable action to transform the outdoor industry into a more inclusive space.

“The camping industry is one of the only hospitality verticals yet to successfully adopt the technology, and Sēkr took the opportunity to digitize campsite inventory at scale, transforming the outdoor planning process from a frustrating cycle of hours of unsuccessful Google searches into something consumers can do for themselves,” Jeffrey Hunter, CEO of Storyteller Overland and the round’s lead investor, said in a statement. “As the leaders before them in the hotel and vacation rental verticals, we believe the Sēkr team is uniquely positioned to have the greatest influence and impact on the outdoor travel planning experience for nearly three-quarters of Americans who participate. of outdoor travel annually,” he added.

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