Startup Beginnings

Written by: 
Erin Cristales

Alum works nights, weekends to launch CampReward.com

Ryan Douglas
Ryan Douglas ('04)

During the day, Ryan Douglas ('04) serves as vice president of operations at OpenKey, a Plano-based tech startup that provides keyless entry to hotel rooms via smart phone. Since it launched in 2014, OpenKey has steadily grown, partnering with hotels and resorts worldwide and even landing on Dallas Culture Map's list of the six startups to watch in Dallas.

At night, Douglas takes the lessons he learns at OpenKey -- from sales data to marketing strategies to technology implementation -- and applies them to his own startup, CampReward.com, a website that lets guests book campgrounds and RV parks online and earn points as they travel. Douglas says CampReward.com is the "Expedia of campgrounds" -- and he should know. Prior to his role at OpenKey, the UNT recreation alumnus served as a regional area manager for Expedia.com.

"While I was at Expedia, I learned that one of those sub industries they hadn't really touched was RV parks and campgrounds," Douglas says. "One, because they're tough to enter, and two, because it's a very different business model. It was one of those 'blue oceans' -- a practically untouched space."

Through LinkedIn, Douglas connected with Illinois-based Mark Duris -- who also founded Tazza Coffee -- and discovered he wasn't alone in his desire to break into the market. Together, they set out to determine if RV parks and campgrounds would be open to the idea.

"We started talking to a few RV parks to see if that was something they would be interested in, and it just quickly started to grow," Douglas says. "We found it was something a lot of people were interested in, but they were hesitant because some online travel agencies had tried to do it, and they would get locked into these long-term contracts. We decided we needed to make it something they could easily get in and out of, just so they could dip their toes in the water."

The two went the friends-and-family route for funding and launched CampReward.com in December 2014. Both have full-time jobs, so they spend their nights and weekends fine-tuning CampReward.com and calling campgrounds to convince them to partner.

"We're bringing on new RV parks and campgrounds all the time," Douglas says. "The business hasn't grown as fast as I want it to, but that's been more on us. It grows when we're focused on it. When we have to take a pause to focus on the other things that we're doing, that's when it slows down."

As a $5 billion industry, Douglas knows campgrounds won't stay untouched by online travel agencies forever. Moving forward, he and Duris are determined to make CampReward.com the premier booking site for outdoor adventurers. But that doesn't mean they feel the need to rush.

"Something we ask ourselves every day is: 'What are we doing and how can we do it better?'" Douglas says. "We're OK growing slowly. I know a lot of startups want to quickly build their business into a huge organization so they can be bought out fast and move on to the next project. That's not what we want to do. We want this company to be our legacy."

Read feature story on Putting the Tech in Texas.

Emily Roden ('01) uses Denton-based Stoke Coworking -- a space where UNT alums and staff provide mentoring to aspiring entrepreneurs -- as a meeting place for ReadyRosie. Read more about how the Denton startup community is making the most of Stoke at northtexan.unt.edu/tech-startups#extras.

View an interactive timeline of UNT alums, including Sutaria, who have founded tech startups over the past decade at northtexan.unt.edu/tech-startups-timeline.

As an undergrad, Jessie Stauffer ('15) found inspiration at UNT's Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Read more about plans for the revamped center.

Nicole Mossman ('13) presented at this year's Techstars Startup Week, along with other UNT alums and current and former faculty members. Read their expert takes on the DFW startup scene and their specific industries.

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