Small Business

Summer Camp Goes Online


Q: If a camp wanted to start something like this on its own, what sort of investment would be involved?A: It would be basically impossible to do what we do, economically and practically. I mean, they can build simple photo areas where parents can come and see pictures. But we have so many features that make us unique. First of all, we're password protected, so we're compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. And also, it's a safe environment for camps to show their pictures.

And we do all the customer-service things, in terms of questions that parents have.... Also, you can buy the pictures on T-shirts, mugs, and all kinds of fun stuff -- there's just all kind of things you can do with our photo gallery that a one-off site couldn't provide.

Bunk1 is at, like, 3.0 already. This is basically our fourth summer providing pictures and e-mails. So it's a pretty advanced system, and you'll see even more improvements soon. In the e-mails that parents send to their children this year, they can include pictures. That's kind of a fun little extra we've added.

Q: And it's a deliberate policy that the child has to reply to e-mails via snail mail?

A: Absolutely deliberate. I don't want to disrupt what I call the integrity of the camping experience. I don't want the kids sitting on computers writing back. I want them writing letters, and I want them out in the fields with their buddies, playing ball, and really experiencing what camp should be all about.

Q: Say I own a camp, am I paying you to be part of Bunk1?

A: In some cases, the parents pay, but that's not always the case. The camps have the choice whether to pay us directly or to allow the parents to pay a fee to log in, check out all the stuff, and send their e-mails.

Q: What do parents think?

A: We get probably about 330 to 400 e-mails a day -- 75% along the lines of "Thank you so much for keeping me in touch with my child." We have a search engine where you can find a camp for your child. We have a staffing service where counselors can find jobs, and where camp directors can find those counselors.

So yeah, we try to kind of maintain a great camp Web site throughout the year, like a one-stop Internet shop for all camping needs. The B2B market isn't as exciting as some of the other things we do, but it's important all the same. For example, we have an area where, if a camp owner wants to sell his camp, we can find prospective buyers. And we have companies that advertise to camp owners.

Q: And recruiting - if some kid wants a summer job as a counselor, he sends a resume to you?

A: What happens is, we have an online form that he or she fills out, and it's put in the Bunk One database for staffing services, and then camp owners pay a fee to log in and to see those resumes.

Q: Where are you looking to go from here?

A: Well, we're doing all kinds of different brand extensions. I started a Web site called CampAlumni.com that allows former campers to reunite, similar to what Classmates.com does.

A: What do kids think of your site?

Q: They absolutely love it. At the beginning, if I had any fears at all, it was the worry that kids wouldn't want their parents to see pictures and know what was going on away from home. But it turned out to be the exact opposite: I've never heard -- knock on wood -- a single complaint from a kid, or from a parent who said his kid looked unhappy in a picture. And bear in mind that we have between 15,000 and 20,000 pictures a day, sometime more.

I rent about 20 extra servers for the summer to host all the pictures that we have. You can imagine what goes on here over the summer -- complete insanity, which is great! Parents will log on not just every day, but four or five times a day. We're like Yahoo! during the summer -- and I'm not kidding

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