BERLIN, New York (AP) – The idea came to Michael D’Agostino as he was driving past a beautiful farm and imagined what it would be like to camp there.
“It was a lightning-bolt moment,” said D’Agostino, who left his job in finance three years ago to launch the startup Tentrr, which matches landowners looking for extra cash with vacationers yearning for solitude under the stars. Think of it as Airbnb for the great outdoors.
Since it began, Tentrr has spread from a smattering of campsites in New York’s Catskill Mountains to nearly 500 sites across the Northeast. Backed by USD15 million in venture capital, the New York City-based company is aiming to expand across the country, with sites opening soon in southern California.
Here’s how it works: A farmer or other landowner with a secluded and scenic spot that would make a lovely campsite pays Tentrr USD1,500 to outfit the camp with a white safari tent and other gear and list it online. The landowner receives 80 per cent of bookings, which cost upward of USD100 per night.
“We get about 60 inquiries a day from people who want to have campsites on their property. We’re building them as fast as we can,” said D’Agostino. “But before we accept a site, we send a scout with a 20-point checklist.”
The site must be accessible and spacious, generally about 12 acres. It must be quiet, private and steeped in natural beauty, whether fragrant forest, mountain vista, waterfall or placid pond.
“We look for a ‘wow’ factor where you’re going to be overwhelmed by the place,” said D’Agostino, who lives in Manhattan and has a Tentrr site near his upstate weekend home 177 kilometres north in rural Bovina.
Many of the camp hosts are farmers eager to derive another source of income without investing a lot of money or having the hassle of running a bed-and-breakfast.
“We had been thinking of maybe building tiny homes to rent,” said David Derstine, who runs a 81-hectare organic farm with his wife, Leila, in rural Berlin, New York. “We got a flyer in the mail from Tentrr. They had an awesome platform where they provide the entire reservation system, liability insurance and infrastructure and you’re just letting people use your land.”
Derstine, 35, said he figures he can earn USD4,000 to USD6,000 in a season from his Tentrr campsite on a wooded hilltop overlooking the Taconic Mountains.