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Ep. 326: How This Entrepreneur Created A Successful Business Helping Outdoor Enthusiasts with Sarah Smith

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In this episode, I speak with Sarah Smith, founder of The Dyrt, the most comprehensive camping resource with over 9 million user-generated reviews, photos, and tips for every RV site, cabin, glamping, and tent camping location in the U.S. 

 

Sarah was also recognized by Inc. Magazine on their 2022 Female Founders 100 list of the top women entrepreneurs.

 

Listen on to find out how Sarah created a dedicated outdoor lovers community.


Listen Below:

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Transcription:

Debbie:
Hey everyone thank you so much for being here I’m really excited to speak with my guest today I’m here with Sarah hi Sarah how are you? Thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us,

Sarah:
Hi Debbie I’m good. Thanks for thanks for having me on today.

Debbie:
a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?

Sarah:
Yeah, well um I my name is Sarah and I’m I’m the founder of a camping app and website called the dirt. Um, which enables people to find the best camping all throughout the country. Um, and through that there is there are some great ways that you can live an offbeat life while you’re you’re actually out camping um and you don’t have to be tied down necessarily to a certain location as long as you have that flexibility in your work life.

Debbie:
It’s such a great concept and I love this app that you have because my husband and I are avid campers and I’m like oh this is such a great app to have and it can’t be really difficult to find places to camp that’s safe. That’s nice. It has all you know, certain amenities that you have especially digital nomads because I’ve gone to campsites before where they didn’t have internet or it was really hard to get so like yes we need we need that accessibility. Especially if you’re trying to be in nature and also work at the same time.

Sarah:
Um, yeah, totally, totally and you know what you just described. That’s kind of originally why, why my husband and I founded this company ten years ago it was because we loved to camp and we were so frustrated with the experience of trying to figure out where to go camping beforehand. Um.

There were at that time you know, just some government websites and it just didn’t give you a really good feel for what the camping was going to be like once you got there and ten years ago we weren’t working at campsites like we are now but we still wanted to really have a better idea what the camping was going to be like for ah for other reasons so you know fast forward 10 years and we now have this top ranked camping app 10000000 reviews and photos of over 50000 campgrounds all throughout the us and this this really engaged community who will. Tell you? oh this camprown is great and they’ll write it in their review and you know let us know that they have great wi-fi you know? so. Really excited that we are able to build this community that can help other campers get out there and camp more whether it’s for recreation or work or a little bit of both.

Debbie:
And that’s really incredible that you were able to do that now. How did you get from seeing this issue for yourself personally you and your husband saw this to making this into a business because for a lot of people that would have just been a headache that they were dealing with and they’re like oh well I guess. It is what it is what made this so important for you guys to actually make a business and like millions of you know reviews to to this incredible app that you have.

Sarah:
Yeah, I, you know where that is the hardest thing for people to do I think so many people out there have good ideas and they are like you know I think someday I should do this or I should do that and I’m like and that’s that was me. Like why doesn’t someone build an app for camping like yelp but trip advisor for camping why doesn’t that exist and I just kept saying it over and over and over and you know I’ve always been kind of a risk taker in my life so it wasn’t a huge leap for me to be like well let’s let’s try it. Let’s just go do it and see what we can do. So You know it’s not like we had money to do all this or invest in any of this so we did a really simple beta site on a wordpress site platform that only costs not not very much money so we could test the concept and we would also go to campgrounds and we would interview people.

Um, so we you know we did very low cost kind of minimal viable product testing to make sure that this was something that other people saw as an issue and wanted to solve um and then once we got to that point we started to like raise money from investors so that we could. Begin building a team and hire people. Um, but I do think for a lot of people out there who might have like an entrepreneurship bug that first step of being of saying you know I I should do this to actually taking the first step into doing something. Is the most intimidating part of the whole journey.

Debbie:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely and it’s so crazy how all of these things can lead to something more for you and you’ve been doing this for over ten years now did you have any. Experience in creating and building a website even creating apps I mean this because this is a huge undertaking.

Sarah:
Yeah, no I I had absolutely no experience I actually worked in international education for 20 years before this so worked with study abroad programs lived overseas for 10 years um, so in that way I’m I’m kind of like I said a risk taker I’m willing to like just throw myself into you know I lived in a fishing village in Japan for 3 years and when I arrived I knew no japanese so I’m like I’m willing to put myself in scenarios where I don’t have all the answers and I have to figure things out. So, happy.

Debbie:
Um, oh wow.

Sarah:
In that way doing ah a startup doing the dirt wasn’t that um that much of a stretch and you just you learn what you need to along the way and you surround yourself with other people who are doing things like this and um, then you hire people who know the the tech. Part of the things that you don’t know so that’s that’s kind of how it worked.

Debbie:
So for somebody like you, Sarah, who’s definitely a risk taker where you know not many things phases you? What was the hardest part of of this journey for you. What was something that maybe made you almost give up in in this journey.

Sarah:
Ah, that’s such a great question. Um, well I am doing this with my husband So I founded it. Ah originally and then a couple years in um, he quit his job to join me full time and you know we you can imagine.

A married couple I’m sure you meet many of them who you build a business together. It can be, it can be really challenging but we actually have found that we work really well together because we have such different skill sets.

But we did do a 20 in 2021 we spent six months in our we have a nineteen foot um Camper Van like ah you know a small sprinter van we spent six months living and working out of that that van and that was that could have broken a lot of people but we loved it. It was. Such an adventure to get out there and um and see the country and urban.

Debbie:
Well they say um throughout the pandemic if you’re in a relationship with somebody, it’s either going to you know make you or break you because you’re either going to get a divorce breakup or it’s major relationship strong.

Sarah:
Um, so imagine that same thing but in a nineteen foot van and working full time. Yeah.

Debbie:
Ah, well, that’s fun. Well you know I’m glad that is straight in your your marriage in a lot of ways right?

Sarah:
Yeah, but honestly I think the part, the hardest part was the beginning where you know I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about the imposter syndrome before but like people would be like what what are you doing? You’re building an app for camp. They’re like what do you know about building apps? What do you know about camping? Other than you love to do it, you know and and you get I got that a lot in the beginning and it’s just like I don’t know but I’m going to figure it out and I’m going to hire people who can help um so getting over that imposter syndrome I think is something that almost all of us face at some point if we’re doing something like this and you have to just you just have to move on from that because it’s so common.

Debbie:
And you’re always going to get people who are you know the you know the naysayers and they’re not going to believe you so in in a lot of ways you know it doesn’t really matter until you take action and things are starting to happen. Ah, because. It’s great for and I think in in a lot of ways. It’s true because there’s a lot of people that say they’re going to do something but there’s only a small amount of people that actually get things done or even try right.

Um, and yeah. Um, because there’s so much fear that goes into it but also a lot of work that goes into it as well.

Sarah:
Yeah I mean, Debbie, I remember when the first ever stranger, wasn’t a family friend wasn’t a friend. Um. A Family member did a review on The Dyrt and I came screaming downstairs to Kevin, I’m like we’ve got a stranger you know we have someone we don’t know who did a review on our platform that we built out of scratch you know and now we have like 10000000 when I go to The Dyrt now and I see, yeah, well, this amazing content in this thriving community like ten years ago and we got that first ever review I never I mean I dreamt that it would be like this but I never could. Imagine that it would be what it is now and then the top ringed camping app is just amazing to me and it’s you know sometimes I just get goosebumps when I stop to think about this community that’s been built around camping.

Debbie:
The focus, and you’re never going to forget. The first time you know the the first review and I love that like it’s a stranger. It’s not somebody. We know? ah.

Sarah:
Um, yeah.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Debbie:
So your transition to this obviously was not an easy one. So Can you take us through that like how did you go from making this into idea into a full time business for yourself because obviously that’s that’s a lot. Right there in the middle.

Sarah:
Yeah, well you you know you you get a lot of help from people along the way and like I said the first couple years when I was really just proving the idea and moving pretty slowly. Um, yeah I did that beta site just a simple site and then. In 15 I got I got accepted into ah um, an accelerator for start for startup specifically in the outdoor industry in Telluride, Colorado so I left my husband and me doggie and went to Telluride which wasn’t too much of a hardship.

Debbie:
Um, yeah. Fifth anything.

Sarah:
But for 6 months um, and you know my husband and co-founder he has done startups before and he’s been a part of this world in the past but I hadn’t and um, we did this accelerator where there were 5 other startups and we all. You know we got mentored on how to do a pitch to investors to start raising money. Um, ah learned how to make a business plan. You know. So if there’s one advice I give to people who want to do something like this is find a network of people that can help you who are going through the same sort of thing and.

I was really fortunate to get into this accelerator and spend six months being mentored by people. Um, and then once I finish that Kevin that’s when he quit his job and joined me um and we started raising money from investors and um, we’ve raised about $24000000 to date. Um, at the peak during I guess it was after 20 around Twenty Twenty you know we had up to I think 50 employees. Um for a while at full time employees and now we have I think we’re at 30 which is just a great size for where we are right now. Um.

But you know it just it’s 1 step at a time and you’re figure it out as you go and you’re like oh this is new who do ah who can I ask about how this works and you just you just keep going.

Debbie:
Yeah, and it’s incredible that you did this and it was all new to you but you weren’t afraid you were willing to try and I think that’s the most important thing is for you to just be willing to be open to new things. And not be afraid to fail or you know sometimes it’s it’s scary and humiliating or just you know there’s all sorts of feels when you’re trying something that you’ve never done before.

Sarah:
Um, any of them.

Yeah, and and you don’t know am I doing this right? I’d be doing it differently. But I mean all I know for sure is life is short and I don’t I don’t want to waste it. You know I want to be doing interesting things until I’m 90 or one hundred, you know? Yeah, my grandma lived to 105 so hopefully I can I can match that I know I know.

Debbie:
Or more, who knows now with with everything there. Wow, if only we’re we’re all so lucky. Um, so, going back to this because you said you talked to a lot of investors I’m just curious. Is it like Shark tank where you’re placed in front of a few people. How does that go or do you kind of network and you find one?

Sarah:
It’s it, sometimes it can be a little Shark Tank-y. I’ve been in, I’ve been – I’ve done pitch more like pitch competitions that have been a little more Shark Tank-y which are really for me petrifying. Um.

You know something, it’s normally and at this point of the stage. You know we’re currently doing ah a series c round which is we’ve done a lot of investment rounds now and so Kevin and I have it down pretty good but at the beginning you know you start to network and you.

Debbie:
Yeah.

Sarah:
Figure out who does you know at the beginning. It’s angel investment which is usually people individuals who do smaller investments like 25000 and or 50000 and you just you meet with someone and you do your pitch and they’re like. Love it or hate it and if they love it. You’re like okay, well do you know 3 other people you could introduce me to so I could go tell them about this. You know so you just build this like spider web and you just got to get the first one down so you can start creating your web. And as long as you can network with other other founders in whatever area you’re living in um and now digitally I’m sure there’s many different communities online that you could work in. Um, you just you just start to network and um, yeah, and. Eventually I mean it’s some point you start asking people start asking you if they can give you money and that’s always a fun place to be in. Yeah.

Sarah:
Ah, be like oh that’s nice thing because it’s like I don’t I don’t have to grovel for for money now people are coming to me because they believe in in my work and your your app and your business which is I’m sure it’s an incredible feeling for you.

It is mind blowing. You know I I say it all the time I think back to the early days and if you would have told me we were where we are now I would have never believed it. You know it’s it’s really It’s super fun to meet people when Kevin and I were um on the road for six months you know we worked we worked six months we went all the way down to key west and we would meet dirt users along the way. Um, and it was really fun to meet strangers and and have them show the excitement for the the product that that our community has built.

Debbie:
Yeah, that must feel so crazy when you meet people along the way that’s like oh my gosh I use your app like this is how I found this place.

Sarah:
Totally yeah and now like you know since the the um, the pandemic obviously a lot more people work remotely and about 25% of campers worked from a campsite. In both 2023 and 2022 and the number is pretty much staying the same even though more people are going back to the office so like working from a campsite is becoming ah much more common like what? what? Kevin and I did and um.

Debbie:
Um, yeah.

Sarah:
You know we’re really proud that the dirt has started offering more specific tools like um, you know cell service map so you can see where you’re going to have cell service or not before you go camp there because that’s so important if you’re working remotely. Um, yeah, so just. Really excited that we’ve been able to like provide the sorts of tools that campers need as the way we all Camp changes.

Debbie:
Yeah, and I think that’s something that is not talked about enough. It’s like camping in terms of when you do want to start working remotely um and you want to be a digital Nomad I Know a lot of people like go overseas. And you know they want to live in different places but also camping is also very viable, especially if you want to do like Van life. That’s very popular. Um, but it’s an incredible way to do it and it’s more accessible and it’s also a lot more affordable in in a lot of ways.

Sarah:
Um, yeah.

Yeah, and lot of there are a lot of people out there doing it. You know they are they are out there camping full either Arvin full time with families without families. Um, and you know it’s, it’s.

Debbie:
Yes.

Sarah:
It’s pretty fun to see the freedom that this can allow people and you know it can be affordable. You know if you think of the more expensive our our v resorts and we stayed in a couple like 1 in key west that was like more expensive than ah, any hotel I’ve ever stayed at. But.

Debbie:
I think, just this.

Sarah:
One thing we’ve just launched on The Dyrt that really will help in this situation is our free. Um, it’s a free camping collection of places you can drive in so they’re not hiking spots. They’re car accessible sites where you can camp for free.

Um, so for example next week um Kevin and I are going down to Bend Oregon for Thanksgiving but we’re going to leave earlier and we’re going to go do disperse camping down in Sisters Oregon which is this great spot and there’s this free dispersed campaign area that we found on the dirt. And we are going to work there on Monday Tuesday and Wednesday and I know there’s good cell service I I know it’s going to meet my needs as I’m working from that site. So um, it’s really It’s really fun to be able to use my own product to to do things like that.

Debbie:
Yeah I know I was just going to say that I’m like it say say you’re able to use your your own app to to find things for yourself as well.

Sarah:
Um, yeah, it it is. It is super fun. But.

Debbie:
So now for you because you started this company and I know a lot of my um, my listeners are maybe interested in working with with a company like yours maybe an app or um, they’re really interested in technology and want to get into it and they’re just beginning. How would they be able to work with somebody like you Sarah or similar to your company because right now it’s a really tough so situation especially in in the tech field are there any information that you could give that would help them out.

Sarah:
Um, I would say you know for our company and I think this is probably true for a lot of startups. Um, when we are looking to hire people.

Probably the number one thing and so this is you know taken into account you’ve figured out where you want to apply and you’ve applied and you’ve got an interview but having said all that if you get to that point um like showing a willing to be flexible in the interview is like a deal breaker for for me.

Um, we always do founder interviews at the end of the interview process. So knowing that someone for example has lived abroad or studied abroad or done something in their life that shows some flexibility and and they can emphasize that in the interview has always been like a super important.

Thing for me because startups are hard and all of a sudden we’re run in full speed one direction and we’re like oh wait Halt. We have to run full speed this direction and so like being able to show that flexibility and having that sort of. Mindset I think is really important for any for working in a startup in general.

Debbie:
Now have you ever met somebody whether it was an interview or just someone that you met that you were like oh my gosh did they say something that once they said that you were just like okay I need to have this person in our team right away.

Sarah:
Yeah, yeah, and it’s it’s it is related to that flexibility part. You know, just be and and also there has to be a sense of humor there. You know you can’t take for for our company and I think this is true for.

You have to be willing to be flexible and and I kind of think about this is how I kind of think about it since my background was study abroad I’d be like would I want this person if I was leading a study abroad trip would I want this person on the trip. Are they going to be fun. Are they going to be flexible. Are they going to be willing to like explore. You know it’s are they curious. Those are all things that that I think are super important.

Debbie:
Um, and yeah, and and from what I can hear from you Sarah it’s more like can we get along as a team can we actually work with this person right? and there has to be some sort of a connection with that person because if you know they may have um.

Sarah:
Um, oh yeah.

Debbie:
All these skills. But if you can’t work with them then it’s kind of just you know lost in in a lot of ways.

Sarah:
It It is amazing. We have the culture at our company has just never been better than it is right now and we we do something called a biweekly campfire where every other week we get together as a staff meeting and we’re all virtual. You know we have people who work full time in their um rvs when they’re wherever um, but you know we we don’t We’re all remote workers now and during the campfire we did this? Um, we have someone different every week be the host and the person doing the host wanted us to do a. Like a gratitude thing at the beginning so everyone would just talk about what they’re grateful for and to hear people talk about how they’re grateful for being a part of this team and doing the work we’re doing it was just so special, you know, and and it’s so nice when you have a team that’s just like really clicking and you know everyone’s feeling good and enjoying the the work that they do and the people they’re working with.

Debbie:
Yeah, and it also makes it really like you mentioned Sarah like a really great atmosphere and you’re going to be able to enjoy and love what you do? um because I know.

Sarah:
Um, yeah.

Debbie:
There’s a lot of people out there. That’s really stressed out with their jobs and obviously that happens right? There’s going to be some stresses. But if you’re surrounded by a really supportive team and a community in your workspace then you can you can get through that you know you can get through a lot of things.

Sarah:
Well, Um, where I hate totally? Yep yeah.

Debbie:
So now that that you’ve been able to do this and it’s been ten years on has there been you know a really great lesson that you’ve learned throughout all of this or maybe something that you wished you would have done sooner.

Sarah:
You know I wish I would have spent less time worrying ah about being an imposter. You know it’s just like silly even though we all do it but it’s just like nobody knows everyone’s figuring this out and do the best you can.

Debbie:
Yeah, yeah.

Sarah:
Execute on the plan that you set forth when you came up with this idea you know and don’t worry so much about what people think because everyone’s going to have their opinions on what you could do differently or what you could do better and you know and that’s great. They can go do that. But. You know as the one doing it. You should just you know keep your course going and and and do the best you can.

Debbie:
Love that! Yeah and in a lot of ways. It’s like you can’t escape that in the beginning because we all have that impostor syndrome just not feeling you like like you’re good enough or maybe you know you’re surrounded by people who are your seniors. Um. And you see everything that they’ve done already and you’re looking at your beginning and you’re comparing it to like their middle or um, you know, even their end right? because there are some companies that are selling their and their work and they’ve done so much already. But that’s that’s how it is You have to start from the beginning.

Sarah:
Um, right.

You do and there there is nobody I respect more in this world than founders or like business owners or people who have started their own thing. You know, ah whether it’s a podcast or a website or whatever it is. Um, it. It takes courage to do it and so I’m um I feel like when I meet other founders those are kind of my kindred spirits. And yeah, it feels good.

Debbie:
Um, it’s like having battle scars and you talk about it.

Sarah:
But totally.

Debbie:
Love that. So let’s move forward to maybe 30 or forty years from now Sarah and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for.

Sarah:
Oh that’s such a great question, I would you know I would like to first of all with the dirt I would like it to be used all over the world and I would like if you are a camper in this world. You know about the dirt and it helps you. It helps you and your family get outside. It helps you enjoy your life more. It gives you lifetime memories with your family. Um, you know the fact that you know I don’t, I don’t have kids, I never wanted children, my husband and I never you know, went down that path. We have a beautiful dog. But, to know that this thing that we’ve built together will hopefully live on Beyond us and like make a difference in people’s lives is just really super rewarding and special to me.

Debbie:
Yeah, and it is your baby. It’s it’s what you’ve created. You know it’s ten years on and it’s helping people so that’s that’s a beautiful thing.

Sarah:
Yeah, yeah.

Debbie:
Well thank you so much Sarah for joining us today if our listeners want to learn more about you where can they find you.

Sarah:
Um, they can go to the dirt which is T H E D Y R T Dot Com um, or go to the app store either app store and just either put in “The Dyrt” or put in “camping”, where the top ranked camping apps, so it’ll come up. Um, and you can find out all the great things that The Dyrt has to offer for, for campers.

Debbie:
Perfect. Thank you so much, Sarah, we really appreciate you for being here.

Sarah:
Thank you, Debbie, I had a lot of fun chatting with you.


Listen to Sarah’s extended interview where she talks about how camping makes digital nomadism more accessible.

What you’ll find:

In this episode, Sarah tells us how camping can make digital nomadism more accessible.


Follow Sarah:


Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith

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