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Business Rx: Web site needs advice on how much info should be free

The entrepreneur

Brooke Salkoff, a former television correspondent from McLean, is solving a problem many parents face: the searching and scheduling of camps for their kids.

“I’ve had moms tell me they’d rather have a root canal than go through the camp search process,” Salkoff explained.

She created CampEasy, a search-and-decision engine that offers comprehensive camp session information and a free tool that lets parents search and plan for multiple kids at the same time.

“I’ve made it more like shopping. And in the $25 billion camp market, that’s an opportunity,” she said.

The pitch

Salkoff

“I came up with CampEasy in May 2011 after spending eight years trying to coordinate summer camps for my kids. It was my annual torture ritual. Until now, there hasn’t been a one-stop shop for parents and camps online.

“Camps have faced an equal and opposite challenge of finding new campers and getting visibility during the very moments parents are selecting camps online. CampEasy gives them this visibility at the level of their choosing, and also allows camps to purchase search trend data about who is looking for which camps, and when, and where, so camps can design their programs and make marketing decisions based on analytics showing what parents want.

“We launched CampEasy in early January. Since then, our user base of both parents and camps has grown exponentially.

“The camp market is one of the last remaining multibillion dollar markets that has lacked a platform connecting buyers and sellers. CampEasy fills that void. Not only do we have a first-mover advantage over our competitors, our camp database is already the largest and growing. This makes us the most useful camp search platform to parents.

“Our current problem is that at some point providing camp session information goes from being free on CampEasy, to being the ‘extra’ information that a camp pays to present to parents. At a time when Internet users expect a considerable amount of information for free, it is a challenge for us to balance parents’ expectation of free information against our need to incentivize camps to market their sessions. If we serve parents all the information they want, camps have zero incentive to buy into heightened visibility on CampEasy. If we serve parents too little information, we will render ourselves useless to the very audience that we are mobilizing for the benefit of camps. So far our strategy has been to deliver the minimum, but critical, camp session information for free. When camps subscribe, we offer them the ability to provide additional information — as well as pictures, specific descriptions, links — that allows them to more meaningfully promote their camp on our site. What are some of the most important considerations in deciding what to offer for free and what to charge for?”

The advice

Jason Shrensky, Angel in Residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Think of CampEasy like a residential real estate listing service. No one searching for a home would begin searching on a database that they thought didn’t list every house for sale. Once a prospective homebuyer trusts that a listing database is complete, she then often prioritizes which houses to visit/consider based on a detailed listing of features, photos and maps.

“I think CampEasy should accumulate and ‘market for free’ just enough information about camps to validate to parents that CampEasy is the most comprehensive camp database for the relevant geographical region. Parents should feel like they can use CampEasy and not be missing out on an important camp opportunity for their children.

“Once that trust exists, parents then face the challenge of separating the wheat from the chaff because there are so many options. It is at that point that the attractiveness and completeness of the camp listing will make a difference in the parents’ purchasing decision. That’s what you need to charge camps for: the ability to distinguish themselves. CampEasy’s marketing packages should contain different combinations of photos galleries, testimonials, prioritized listings, etc. Simply follow the lead of the residential real estate listing services.”

© The Washington Post Company