The pandemic has been extremely painful for many. But as lockdowns lifted and people began resuming their outdoor hobbies, mobile-first businesses have seen growth accelerate as consumers turned to digital tools to improve their time outdoors.
The Dyrt, for example, is the top camping app on the Apple and Google Play App Stores. The app sits at the confluence of two trends: An increased interest in outdoor recreation and travel, and an explosion in consumer subscription software (CSS).
The Dyrt launched its premium offering in 2019, The Dyrt PRO, in time to take advantage of the rising number of Americans making the great outdoors part of their lifestyle. A year later, it had a new subscriber every two minutes paying for features like offline maps and detailed camping information.
CSS businesses at the forefront of outdoor activities have closed major deals in recent years such as hunting app OnX (Summit Partners), hiking app Alltrails (Spectrum Equity), Surfline (The Chernin Group) and mountain bike leader Pinkbike (Outside Media). Companies like Netflix and Spotify have trained consumers to pay monthly or annual fees for software that enhances their lives, creating a business model investors view as reliable and poised for growth.
I think of different outdoor activities almost like individual genres on Netflix. Dominating camping or surfing might be like capturing the streaming market for comedy or horror.
Fitness and the outdoor passion space is one of the most exciting CSS categories in a growing landscape that includes everything from family planning/management services to entertainment and education. I believe CSS is still in the early stages of its growth — perhaps where B2B SaaS was a decade ago.
So what sets apart the great CSS businesses from the good ones?
Passion equals profits on the CSS flywheel
The beauty of the CSS model is the complete alignment between the business and its customers. CSS companies don’t have to please advertisers, and they can design purely for their users.
This dynamic is particularly powerful for CSS companies in the outdoors space, which make your favorite outdoor activity better with performance analytics and enhanced information such as maps, reviews, air quality reports and fire warnings. Consumers are happy to spend money on the activities and hobbies they enjoy, and CSS companies are able to make pleasing those consumers their top priority.
The result is what I call the CSS flywheel, in which a quality CSS product attracts and retains loyal users. Those users contribute their data through posts, photos and reviews, which creates a better product that further attracts new users, and so on.
When companies get this flywheel right, it’s incredibly appealing to investors, because of the advantages of scale in CSS. Each niche will probably be dominated by one or two players, and a given niche can have tens of millions of consumers.