DULUTH -- If you love to camp, would like to work from home and maybe have some tech skills for building and running apps and websites, Sarah Smith is looking for you.
Smith is founder of The Dyrt, the nation’s top app for camping that now has someone visiting every second of every day on average — a projected 20 million visitors this year alone. It’s the most-used camping app in the U.S.
Smith, 52, grew up in Bemidji, attended St. Cloud State University and now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she and her husband, Kevin Long (a Roseau native) started The Dyrt. Kevin is the CEO.
“It started with us being really active campers and not being able to find good places to camp,” Smith said in a telephone interview from — where else? — a campground, this one at Lake Gaston, North Carolina. Birds were singing in the background.
“My husband and I left Portland in July and we’re still going,” Smith noted of their six-month work/fun trek living out of a small motorhome. “The pandemic really made us realize we don’t need to be in the office.”
In fact, no one needs to be in The Dyrt’s office anymore. The company is essentially all remote for any employees who want to work from home, or from a campground. The Dyrt now has 40 full-time employees and is adding 30 more this fall. Applicants from anywhere and everywhere, including Minnesota, are encouraged to apply.
The pandemic has fueled an unprecedented push of Americans getting outdoors, with campgrounds across the country full to overflowing. The number of people using The Dyrt, including many first-time campers, has skyrocketed, and Smith believes that growth will continue.
“The big obstacle to people starting to camp was not having the experience or the background. … Now that so many more people have that first experience, they are going to keep doing it,” said Smith, who notes she was lucky to have grown up in northern Minnesota with an outdoor family who went camping, fishing, exploring and picking berries.
Smith wants The Dyrt to be the go-to source for information for the 80 million Americans who camp — like the Yelp of camping, she said. ("The Dyrt" name comes, of course, from the slang to get the dirt or scoop or lowdown on a campground, any bad info along with the good.)
The idea was born in 2013 out of her own frustration in what information she could get on campgrounds online.
“We found that it was really hard to choose a campground online because we couldn't see what we were getting into,” Smith said.
By 2015, Smith was developing the company and Long quit his day job. Now, The Dyrt — of which the basic service is free to download and use — has some 4 million photos, reviews and reports by campers that show and tell people exactly what they are getting into, from state park and national park campgrounds, to backpacking sites, RV parks and resorts, as well as camping cabins, glamping sites and other options.
Many of the campers posting reviews and photos are regular visitors as part of The Dyrt community, Smith says, and the veterans become “Rangers,” “Guides” and “Legends” on the site. Employees are encouraged with bonuses to go camping and submit reports.
Nearly 40,000 campgrounds are already listed on the app, and two of the new job positions will help add even more.
“We’re looking for some tech people, mobile developers ... We’re looking for brand people, for marketing people. We are hiring email marketing managers ... It’s all across the board,” Smith noted of the new positions.
Amy Godwin, who started with The Dyrt as a camper submitting reports, has now worked her way up to manager of customer success for the company, dealing with questions, concerns and complaints from campers and campground managers. She’s doing the job from home in Nevis in north-central Minnesota.
“I started by entering a contest they were having and then just kept sending in reports and talking to them and keeping in contact,” Godwin said.
While The Dyrt started with a strict policy requiring employees to work at the Portland headquarters, the pandemic opened the manager’s eyes to the value of remote work, especially for an outdoor-themed company.
“Camping, first and foremost, is a requirement here. You have to have the passion for the outdoors to work for this company. But then also be able to do your job, of course,” Godwin said. “The best part is we have people doing this from all over … From their home in Nevis or a van on the road … I think that’s what makes The Dyrt work so well.”
Godwin now uses The Dyrt to market her glamping-style 1905 wooden caboose that she rents out.
There is no advertising mixed in with campground reviews, Dyrt users will note. Smith said ads detract from outdoor app and website experiences. Like many tech startups, the making-money part has tracked behind popularity. The Dyrt made a little revenue by taking a fee for campsite bookings made through the app. But the company didn’t start making serious revenue until late 2019, when it rolled out The Dyrt Pro.
For $36 a year, subscribers get the basic Dyrt services along with offline access (for when you are out of cellphone reach approaching that remote campsite) as well as trip-planning services, discounts at some campgrounds, online maps and more.
Nearly 500 people are now buying The Dyrt Pro every day, Smith said.
Smith said she sees growth for The Dyrt not just from more Americans camping, but future expansion in Canada, Europe and other places.
“We can become the camping app for everyone,” she said. “The world is the limit.”
The dirt on The Dyrt
- The basic Dyrt app is free to download on Apple iOS or Google Android. The Dyrt Pro costs $36 annually.
- To check out the 30 job positions now open at The Dyrt, go to the-dyrt.breezy.hr.
John Myers reports on the outdoors, environment and natural resources for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.