Interview with Alyssa Ravasio, CEO and Founder of Hipcamp
By Poornima Vijayashanker
Alyssa Ravasio loved the outdoors and was fed up with the outdated campsite reservation systems in California. She set out to fix the problem, and since she had a non-technical background, her first line of business was to learn how to code. She took classes at Dev Bootcamp, which enabled her to build a prototype while she was a scholarship student in my Lean Product Development Course. She launched the prototype for early product validation, continued iterating, and has since attracted attention from notable founders like Dave Morin. Read on for the story of how she got started, plus some tips for founders.
Hipcamp empowers people to discover, book, and share amazing campsites.
Poornima: “Hi Alyssa! Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with me today. It’s great to see how much Hipcamp has grown since you started working on it in my course a year ago. But before we dig into Hipcamp, let’s start off with your background. How did you get interested in tech?”
Alyssa: “I initially majored in film at UCLA. Then I saw this film that was all about how the Internet was going to change our world: our economies and how we socialize. I then decided to design my own major, and it was called Digital Democracy. I learned some HTML and CSS and had built static websites, but I didn’t learn how to code in college.”
Poornima: “What did you do after you graduated?”
Alyssa: “I did an internship with the State Department, then went to work at a startup called Revel Systems. They were building an iPad POS [point of sale] system.”
Poornima: “And what was your role at Revel?”
Alyssa: “I did sales, customer support, and product management. I’d talk to all the current and potential customers, then prioritize feedback. Then I realized that I wanted to learn how to program to bring my ideas to reality.”
Poornima: “What was your process for learning how to code?”
Alyssa: “I learned about DevBootcamp from a friend at a party. I just showed up when they were starting the next class. The people who were running it liked my moxie but told me I had to wait for the next class. So I did, and then I went through the program.”
Poornima: “What did you do after you graduated?”
Alyssa: “I asked myself, ‘Do I know enough to build out a prototype?’ And I got a scholarship to attend your Lean Product Development Course. Had that not happened, I probably would have just taken a job.”
Poornima: “Wow, that is wonderful to hear! But what really convinced you that it was the right time and idea?”
Alyssa: “I met Steve Huffman, the founder of Hipmunk and Reddit, around that time. Steve convinced me that I shouldn’t look back and just do it. So I began building the prototype during your course.”
Poornima: “And what happened after you launched the prototype?”
Alyssa: “I sent it out to 40 people. 1 person who responded said that he was looking to build a similar product. His name is Eric Bach, and he is now my co-founder.”
Poornima: “That’s awesome! Who was your first customer?”
Alyssa: “We got California State Park in Sonoma to use it.”
Poornima: “Great to see that you were able to validate the prototype with a customer.”
Alyssa: “Yeah, it was good to put it out there. Next, I experimented and found out that people would be willing to pay to book a campsite online. But I also realized that I needed a more robust site. So I ended up rebuilding it in Rails and launching it in February 2014.”
Poornima: “How have you been funding the development?”
Alyssa: “I had some personal savings and unemployment benefits.”
Poornima: “Kudos to you for staying scrappy for the past year! I know you’ve recently been talking to an angel investor. How did that come about?”
Alyssa: “Dave Morin, who is an angel investor, found my site and reached out to me.”
Poornima: “It does pay to put something out there! OK, I want to switch gears and talk specifically about how you came up with the idea for Hipcamp.”
Alyssa: “I’m a very outdoorsy person. I love nature. So back in 2013 I was looking for a campsite for New Year’s. I went online and had a horrible time. There were national versus state versus county parks, and it was all disorganized. I spent hours looking for a campsite. I finally found one. When I arrived at the campsite, I realized that it was on the beach, and I hadn’t brought my surfboard to enjoy it! That’s when I realized the system is really broken.”
Poornima: “You pursued an idea based on a passion you had for the outdoors! OK, any final takeaways for our readers who might be mulling over an idea or the decision to build a product?”
Alyssa: “The only thing that limits what you’re capable of is what you believe you can do. Learn how to code only if you want to code. But do not if you just want to build a company. In that case, it’s better to find others to build it for you. Finally, you should be obsessed with the problem, not your solution. You want to solve a problem and make an impact that leaves you feeling proud of yourself.”
Poornima: “Those are fantastic, Alyssa! Thanks again for taking the time to share your journey. I wish you and Hipcamp continued success.”
Just to recap, here’s what we learned from Alyssa Ravasio:
- Put your prototype out there. In Alyssa’s case, doing so led to getting her first customer and finding her co-founder.
- You can rebuild your prototype to be more robust. Alyssa rebuilt her prototype after she received feedback from her first customer and validated that people would pay to book a campsite.
- Learn to code if you want to know how to code, otherwise find someone to build a prototype for you. In Alyssa’s case, she really wanted to know how to code and was considering taking a job, but then decided to build a product based on an idea she had.
- Be obsessed with the problem rather than the solution. Remember, you idea is going to change, so you don’t want to get too stuck on your solution; instead, focus on making a positive impact.
Read how other founders funded their product development in How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products. The guide includes 6 more in-depth interviews with founders & early employees at startups like Shopify, Olark, MemCachier, Tindie, and more.