Sarah Smith, an avid camper and cofounder of The Dyrt, was frustrated by how hard it was to find details on a campsite before you booked. She wanted to know that, say, site 2 was next to a busy road, while site 7 was along a river.
She wondered why nobody seemed to be solving the problem. Then she had a thought that changed everything: “Why can’t I do it?” she says.
Four years later she launched The Dyrt to help nature lovers find and review campsites all over the country. Last year members planned more than 55 million miles of trips.
We caught up with Smith to chat about transitioning from education to technology, the importance of starting slow, and why it pays to learn on the fly.
Before creating The Dyrt, did you have any tech background?
None whatsoever! I was in education. My cofounder and husband has a background in tech and apps, but he didn’t come on board until I had already built something.
Were any of your skills from your career in education transferable?
I did have one skill from my 10 years of living abroad and helping students study abroad: adaptability. When I think of every job I’ve done for The Dyrt — from scribbling out wireframes to figuring out a payroll system to creating more strategic partnerships — it’s always about being flexible while keeping the end goal in mind.
How long did it take to bring The Dyrt into the world?
We did it pretty slowly at the beginning. I built a rudimentary beta version of the website in WordPress in 2014, and a better beta the next year. In 2015, we started raising money and hiring people. But our first app didn’t come out until March 2017. It took years for something I thought would take not that long.
What was the trickiest part?
It’s not hard to create a directory of campgrounds, but it is hard to create a platform that people want to contribute to. We did it by incentivizing people through contests: We choose the top reviewer from each region and work with brands to give prizes. But getting brands involved was challenging at first; we started talking to them before we had a website launched, so they had to believe in the dream.
What advice would you give to other aspiring developers?
Start small and iterate. I can’t say I knew that when I started — I couldn’t afford to do it any other way at the time. But I did have a hunch that I shouldn’t put my life savings into this until I had an idea that other people wanted this problem solved too.