Now you, too, can buy a campground!

One sign of a market top is when people with no relevant experience start hitting up strangers for money to fund a new venture—and getting it. Another is when that sales pitch is so arcane it requires pages of explanatory text just to describe its underlying premise. Yet another is when the goal of all that fundraising transforms a quotidian quest into an epic venture, as with the announcement issued Jan. 23 on the PRNewswire to let RVers know they could become part of a “member-led community unlike any other.”

Meet Travis John, self-described passionate RVer and founder of something called CampersDAO, which in his words is “focused on buying and operating the best RV parks in the world.” That’s right, the world. This ambitious undertaking will create “a global community of camping enthusiasts by merging blockchain technology with the great outdoors,” which presumably has been waiting for just such a moment. And the marriage of these two great forces will be consummated just as soon as CampersDAO attracts up to 10,000 investors willing to pump in a minimum of roughly $500 as Trailblazers or $1,000 as Pioneers, for a projected total investment of $8 million or so.

Oh, but there are a few wrinkles. This is not a stock offering. John is not offering secured bonds—or, for that matter, any kind of security at all. Membership in “the world’s first Web3 camping community” will be gained through purchase of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, priced in Ethereum at the time of minting. Put another way, CampersDAO—the DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization—“uses the latest blockchain technology and an innovative business model to turn a membership into an NFT asset.” So if you’re looking to pile up some NFT assets, this may be just the play for you. Want to own a campground? Maybe not so much.

Let’s start this exercise in skepticism with the maestro himself, an Orlando, FL-based self-described entrepreneur whose various hustles—according to his LinkedIn account— include NewFutureRealty and NewFuture Digital, neither of which has any discernible online presence despite Travis John’s claims of having “experience building Web2 product and service businesses.” John also claims to be affiliated with Charleston, SC-based Healthycell, where he says he is “head of the tech stack, growth strategies and partnerships for a new patent-pending dietary supplement line using MICROGEL technology.” Healthycell actually does exist, although good luck trying to find out who owns it, and it actually does market Microgel products. Whether those products do much for you, on the other hand, is an unknown, as Healthycell scrupulously acknowledges that its Microgel statements “have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

On to all that geek-talk about Web 3.0, NFTs and DAOs, all of which also exist and none of which you’ll be able to explain to your grandfather—although John gives it a shot, burning up hundreds of perfectly good words in the attempt. But strip away all the techno-babble, and what it comes down to is that a DAO is governed by its owners, who are all the people who purchased its NFTs. One NFT, one vote—but vote for what? That depends, as John himself concedes, noting that “the degree of decentralization in a DAO can vary, with some being more decentralized than others,” depending on “the protocol it is built on, the importance of the protocol to the overall crypto ecosystem, regulatory factors, and the maturity of the organization.”

As for how that applies to John’s project, or what kind of protocol it will have, he hasn’t said yet. Maybe that will be made known by Earth Day, April 22, when John is planning CampersDAO’s official launch.

Assuming the sale is fully subscribed (it should be noted that John has yet to say what will happen to the sold NFTs if it isn’t), it’s doubtful there will be enough money to buy even one of “the best RV parks in the world,” much less a promised “network.” Eight percent of the NFT sale is scheduled to go to the NFT launch and a third of the balance will be used for operating costs, with the remaining $4.8 million to be held in reserve “to cover operational costs, RV park purchases and future growth.” Exactly what “operating costs” will necessitate spending several million dollars remains unspecified. And while $4.8 million will suffice to buy a decent campground, it won’t come even close to touching a world-class RV park—assuming that some of that money isn’t diverted to cover even more of those pesky “operating costs.”

As sketchy as all that sounds, though, it’s not without precedent. In fact, John seems to have gotten his brainstorm (as signaled by one of his LinkedIn “likes”) from a similar DAO launched just about a year ago, albeit in that case on behalf of the golfing world. LinksDAO raised nearly $11 million for the purpose “of purchasing a network of global golf courses while designing parallel experiences in the Metaverse”—a truly baffling aside that I’m not making up—as well as “building the world’s greatest golf community.” Founder Mike Dudas planned, at that time, to acquire LinkDAO’s first course by mid-2022 and open it for play by the end of the year.

To date, however, LinksDAO is little more than a buyer’s club for golf enthusiasts looking for discounts on clothing and gear. Indeed, as one DAO observer told a Forbes writer last February, such arrangements amount to little more than a “group chat with a bank account.” As for actually buying a golf course, LinksDAO acknowledged that additional funds will have to be raised. Moreover, it should be noted that owners of LinksDAO NFTs won’t automatically gain membership in any golf course that might be acquired—that will require a separate fee.

For all that, the LinksDAO’s NFTs were all snatched up within 24 hours of being dropped, suggesting at least one reason for Travis John’s enthusiasm. There’s every reason to think CampersDAO should be DOA, but that’s expecting too much from people who undoubtedly will clamor to join a member-led community unlike any other—which it will be.

As they say in Rome, caveat emptor.

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Campground buyers piling on

As the 2021 camping season winds down, the one message coming through loud and clear from investors is that campgrounds and RV parks are hot, hot, hot!

A couple of weeks ago, for example, campground owner, real estate investor and RV park promoter Heather Blankenship hosted an online webinar for people thinking about getting into the game–and a reported 1,500 callers Zoomed in to learn about “aggressive asset accumulation.” Blankenship claims to be running a $30 million real estate portfolio, but as she told her callers, she’s willing to teach you the tricks of her trade for just $997–a $4,500 value that includes eight hours of content on a series of CD discs.

What Blankenship did not tell her Zoom participants was that the $997 “ready to learn” package is only the first of three that she offers. The “ready to buy” option, priced at $2,999, adds access to her RV Park and Campgrounds Investor Mastermind Program, as well as “group calls with Heather.” And the all-inclusive $6,000 “ready to scale” program promises a “transformative three-month journey” that includes three one-on-one coaching calls with Heather, “direct access” to Heather and “preferred deal analysis and coaching.”

No telling how many of the 1,500 Zoom participants wrote checks to Blankenship, but as she was making her sales pitch, the chat feature was busy with networking entrepreneurs exchanging contact information.

Similarly high levels of interest were evident last week at the annual convention of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, held in Raleigh, North Carolina. Nominally a four-day event, the convention usually kicks off with a much more targeted program the first day–and this year that meant a nine-hour “Prospective Owners Workshop.” “We’ll cover everything you’ll need to know to get started in the outdoor hospitality industry,” the program promised, adding, “Getting off on the right foot is easy!”

Approximately 60 eager participants attended, according to one of them, with the majority apparently more intent on building their own campgrounds rather than buying an existing one. Although ARVC conventions typically attract those who already own campgrounds, as well as a sizeable contingent of vendors, this year’s event had so many non-owners testing the waters that several “old-timers” commented on how many unfamiliar faces they were seeing.

Commented one long-time RV park owner, “I was at a table where there were nine of us, and when I said I owned a campground, everyone turned to me and said, ‘You own a campground?’ It turned out six of them were either buying or building campgrounds, and they all wanted to know about my experiences.”

All of which seems awfully frothy, but we’ll have to see how long it takes for the bubbles to burst.

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