According to a report by the Outdoor Foundation, Americans log 598 million nights a year under the stars. At an average of $40 in expenses and fees per night, that’s $24 billion spent on campsites alone. Add in all the related costs—gear, transportation, food—and the Outdoor Industry Association figures the industry generates closer to $167 billion annually.
But former investment banker Michael D’Agostino, who grew up camping on a farm in Litchfield, Conn., still calls the industry a broken business.
The tipping point came a few summers ago, when D’Agostino found himself on vacation “directly across from a campsite of 40 people at a Wiccan convention: robes and UFO spotters and streaking and all.” It wasn’t what he’d imagined as a quiet weekend with his wife—counting stars, listening to crickets, bellies full from prime steaks grilled over a man-made fire. “We definitely took them up on some mead,” he said of the Wiccans, “but we had to keep the dog in the tent—she was going bonkers—and it was kind of like camping in Times Square.”
The experience led him to create Tentrr, a free iPhone app that takes the guesswork out of camping. It lets users find and instantly book fully private campsites in vetted, bucolic settings, all within a few hours’ drive of major cities. The sites themselves are all custom-designed by D’Agostino and follow a standardized footprint: They consist of hand-sewn canvas expedition tents from Colorado, set on an elevated deck with Adirondack chairs. You’re also guaranteed to find Brazilian wood picnic tables and sun showers strewn around the campsites, as well as portable camping toilets, fire pits, cookware, and grills. As for the sleeping arrangements? Air mattresses with featherbed toppers, not sleeping bags, are the name of the game.
Tentrr beta-launched last summer with just 50 campsites in New York state, while D’Agostino figured out how to get liability insurers on board with his slice of the sharing economy. Despite the soft opening, the app has already logged $4 million in funding and 1,500 bookings—40 percent of them by people who’d never gone camping before.
In the days leading up to Memorial Day, Tentrr will move past its beta phase with a newly expanded collection of roughly 150 campsites spread across the U.S. Northeast. By July 4 an additional 100 sites will gradually come online, not including a 50-site expansion into the Pacific Northwest. Next year, D’Agostino plans to tackle the “San Francisco-Yosemite corridor, the American Southwest, and counterclockwise around the perimeter of the U.S., all within a few hours of major metropolitan cities, until all of the country’s top-50 hubs are served.” His ultimate vision, however, is global.