Photo: Outdoorsy Co-Founders Jennifer Young and Jeff Cavins with their Airstream
Just a few years ago, Jeff Cavins was pitching to the venture capital circuit what he thought was a “multi-billion dollar market hidden right in front of our eyes.” He was laughed out of a few dozen board rooms, but he and his partner Jen Young didn’t give up. They knew their idea was solid, as they had just sold everything they owned and moved into an RV full-time to confirm it. Like Uber and AirBnB, there was serious demand for peer-to-peer RV Rentals.
Cavins & Young interviewed 1,200 people while touring America in their Airstream, through which they discovered pent-up demand to travel in a different way by people who couldn’t afford — or didn’t want to deal with the hassle of — owning an RV. Maybe they couldn’t have foreseen most hotel, airline, and international travel on hold in 2020, but COVID-19 really just pressed the fast forward button on what they knew to be true: people wanted to rent RVs and owners would be eager to a bit of extra cash their homes-on-wheels when not in use.
Five years after launching, the duo runs a company that will tick over $1 billion in sales this month, a leader in the RV industry. Cavins credits the success to solving a major problem for both renters and listers — insurance. Insurance laws vary state-by-state, and commercial insurance that can cross state lines is difficult, especially for rental RVs. Outdoorsy runs its own insurance company, led by people with a wealth of experience in the insurance industry. The company builds trust by paying out claims quickly when there’s a problem, and avoiding the nickle-and-dime fiasco partnering with a third party might cause.
The pandemic had the company concerned for its very existence early on, but fortunes changed pretty quickly when RV travel became one of the only viable ways to alleviate the mass cabin fever we all have been experiencing. Outdoorsy “pros,” a cohort of people who own their own small fleets of RVs to list on the site, earned big in 2020, many into the millions. Listers on Outdoorsy’s biggest competitor, RVShare, are doing pretty darn well, too. Half covered the entirety of their RV loan payments in 2020.
As much hay that’s been made over the boom in RV sales last year, RV manufacturers were hampered by massive supply and component backlogs that have yet to be resolved. 2020 was only the 4th best year for RV sales. Many of the new RVers that were on the road last year were renting, and this year doesn’t look to be slowing down. Cavins has been asked relentlessly by his investors and media about what might happen when traditional travel returns eventually. Cavins & Young went back on the road for two months in 2020 to do another listening tour, finding a renewed fervor for RV travel, beyond cabin fever. People are driven by an explosion in remote work and the ability to trek miles away from civilization. Cavins believes that once you give people a taste of something different, they don’t want to go back. But what’s more, the types of experiences that built his business early on — events like outdoor concert festivals and Burning Man — are yet to return. Once they do, it’s a whole new revenue stream again.
You can check out our full interview with Jeff Cavins on this week’s episode of the RV Miles Podcast, available in audio form on Apple Podcasts or any podcast app, as well as in video form on YouTube: