In 2012, Boondockers Welcome co-founder and CTO Anna Maste joined forces with her mother, Marianne Edwards, to launch the go-to subscription service for RVers. For the cost of just one night in a campground, a Boondockers Welcome annual subscription connects RVers with hosts who allow free overnight parking on their private property.
But amidst a global health and economic crisis, it raises some questions: How has business shifted and how will Anna’s team weather the storm?
Using Their Platform to Give Back
While Anna reveals the RV industry took a substantial hit early on in response to travel restrictions, the community she and her team have built has taken center stage in the midst of the pandemic.
“A lot of our members are full time RVers. They don’t have a home or property even to go hunker down in. So I know for a lot of them we have been a real port in a storm, and some of our hosts have just gone so far and above,” Anna explains.
“Our entire system is based on this community of RVers who are willing to give to each other out of the kindness of their heart. Now it’s like, ‘Yeah, you can stay here for as long as you want. And here’s an outlet you can plug in, and here’s a water hose, you can fill up your tanks.’ And 90% of the time they do that without any expectation of anything in return,” Anna said.
“We have a policy where you’re supposed to compensate hosts for their costs, their out of pocket costs. But a lot of the time our hosts will say, ‘No. I won’t take your money.’ Especially in situations like this. And it never ceases to amaze me.”
With their loyal customer base doing their best to safely accommodate the RV community, the Boondockers Welcome team has also stepped up to land a hand (or an RV) to frontline workers in need.
“In April, we have partnered with RVs 4 MDs,” shares Anna. “Dozens of volunteers across the US help arrange RVs donated by individuals who aren’t using them and connect them with frontline workers who can use them for quarantining. Then we have hosts who are willing to let you park the borrowed RV on their land while you’re going to your job every day so that you can quarantine [safely].”
Preparing for Backlash When Altering Business
Of course, as a travel-focused business, the Boondockers Welcome crew had to issue quite a few statements in response to federal and state travel restrictions. However, Anna knew she needed to prepare for backlash.
“There’s a very wide range of political spectrum in our customer base. Right from the outset when we were talking about the pandemic and what we thought was coming, we really had to keep in mind, ‘Okay, we know that there are going to be people who are going to call this a hoax, who are going to essentially unsubscribe from our newsletter,’” Anna explains.
“And that did happen, right after our first push saying, ‘Hey, this is real and here’s what we think you should be doing.’ So we have to walk a fine line and sometimes we just have to expect that that’s going to happen.”
Aside from bracing for feedback from the company’s newsletter, Anna also knew she needed to step up for her hosts. While most guests pull into a host location and don’t have any contact whatsoever with the owner, she realized even this “social-distancing-approved” approach might make some of her hosts uncomfortable.
“We actually put out a post early on saying, ‘We don’t think you should be traveling for recreational purposes right now,’” explains Anna. “That was in response to quite a few hosts who were turning down people who were requesting recreational travel saying, ‘Oh, we just want to get out of town for the weekend.’ We didn’t want our hosts to be put in that awkward position where they had to feel guilty for saying no.”
Learning from Recent Events
As unemployment continues to plunge, Anna is part of a small group of small business owners that can look to her team with confidence.
“I feel like we’re very lucky to be in a position where I can, without any worry, tell my staff that, ‘Yes, you still have jobs and we’re just going to continue on doing what we’ve always been doing really. Nothing has really had to change,’” she shares.
Both Anna and her mother, along with a fully-remote support team member, have been working from home since the creation of Boondockers Welcome. But the CTO explains that for a short while, she considered venturing into an office space.
“I did have a student who was working for me and we did have an office for a little while. When this all hit the fan, he went back to his parents house, and I went back to my house, and luckily our office was just a monthly sublet,” Anna explains.
Was that office tempting?
“I think I played with the idea of settling down and having more permanent space,” she reveals. “But if this has taught me anything, it is that the desire to have an office to make myself seem legitimate is very mis-founded, that more and more companies are going to be fully remote, and so it just makes sense to keep doing that, which was always what we had done and always what I had expected us to do.”
In the face of uncertainty and ever-evolving times, Anna leads with one message:
“We’re going to stay a fully remote company. And we’ll be better for it.”
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