A mobile housing alternative that is easily portable, tool-free, weatherproof, insulated and can be equipped with many extra features based on digital technology. Zsolt and Richárd Pahor started a new family business, with the Campsule sleeping pod being the end result.
The concept of Campsule caught our attention in the business show “Cápák között” (the Hungarian version of Shark Tank) aired on RTL Klub. We interviewed founders Zsolt and Richárd Pahor about working together, the start of the project and its current situation. Interview!
As it has already been told in the show Cápák között, Zsolt is very creative and has many ideas; he is a father with an entrepreneurial mindset. As a result, he has already launched several businesses, but Campsule is the first that you launched together, as father and son. What did you do before launching Campsule?
Zsolt Pahor:We have a family business focusing on manufacturing vehicle bodies. In addition to working as an executive director, I also function as a sales manager and designer in this company. If there is a strict deadline and it’s necessary, I help in the workshop, too, just like when we started the business 25 years ago.
Richárd Pahor: In the past seven years, I lived in Budapest, studied to become an electric engineer and worked in a lighting technology testing lab. Here I gained important experience about the processes preceding the placing of new products on the market. In the meantime, I was also engaged in photography, videography and website development. I decided to give up my previous life and move back home to Baja for good due to Campsule.
Zs.P.: Ricsi and I not only work together in Campsule, but he also helps me more and more in the other company, too, especially in terms of executive management and finances. What I love the most is development and designing. My ideas come and go, and many times appear straight out of nothing. I like to think of it (half seriously of course) in a manner that they are suggested by the universe. Then they either end up on paper or not, many times only a sketch is made of them, or perhaps a few words or sentences. I tend to polish and whittle these, most of the time only in my head. When I see the design in its entirety, I draw it. For me, this is relaxation and winding down after work. Of course I have my favorite fields: street food, building mobile and rapid homes as well as tourism. I have some ideas in terms of renewing the tourism of our town, Baja, too.
R.P.: This shows that dad needs to be “kept in line”: he overthinks almost everything, and is always a step ahead. Luckily, he listens to me. I, too, have many ideas, but I know that we have to focus on the current step and the one following it so that we get an economically profitable product at the end. We can’t run ahead, we have to schedule everything according to the business plan, with the available resources and assets in mind. This is why we divided the tasks between us like this.
How was the idea of Campsule born and when did you decide that you wanted it to become a mass product?
Zs.P.: The Campsule started off as a festival accommodation, this was the basic idea – I intended it to be a replacement for tents. We considered it important to make it weatherproof, safe, lockable as well as easy to assemble and transport. It’s shape has changed a lot compared to the first sketches: first, I imagined futuristic, stackable pods, but then practicability and functionality won.
R.P.: When we built the first spatial model (made of simpler materials at the time), the shape was given, and it has hardly changed since then. We took some image shots and run the idea by some platforms on the internet. It received a positive welcome, and we saw that we weren’t the only ones thinking it could become a good product. This is when we decided that we would create the first prototype, which you could see on television. This model was custom-built manually, and every part of it functioned already. We assembled and disassembled it many times: this is when the handles were added to it, because we realized that this is what makes the whole concept viable. We had to make some changes to fit mass production, but now we can say that the product is ready, and production has started already.
There has been a third member in your business from the very beginning, Dr. Károly Belényesy. How are the work processes divided between the members, and who does what within the company?
Zs.P.: Karcsi is a family member, too, he was the one to whom I showed my ideas and sketches after a graduation lunch. He pointed at the designs of Campsule and said: this will be good, let’s do this.
R.P.: The three of us form a good team. Everyone has their own tasks, but we discuss every step and we always decide together. Dad is responsible for designing and production. Karcsi is in charge of business development, business planning, and I am responsible for executive management, sales and advertising.
Zs.P.: I agree, we are a good team, we complement each other. Ricsi’s youthful momentum, knowledge about social media, Karcsi’s business experience gained in several development projects and my knowledge about production are all indispensable for success. Karcsi and I have already been executive directors in our own companies, this is why decided that Ricsi should be Campsule’s executive director. Looking back, this proved to be a good decision, even though many people didn’t understand why we trust a 25 years old unexperienced guy with this job.
R.P.: In the meantime, Campsule’s team further expanded: my fiancée, Kinga, and my brother, Ádám also joined us. Kinga works in the field of controlling, while Ádám works in production.
You got your first larger impetus in the framework of the Hiventures incubator program, and then you also managed to convince András Moldován in the Cápák között TV show to collaborate with you. What should we know about Campsule, how does it work and what other services and functions would you like to expand it with?
Zs.P.: It’s operation is fairly simple. It’s like a suitcase: when you fold it, the sides are folded between the bottom and the top, and the folded units can be transported by stacking them on top of each other. As the idea was elaborated and finally manifested physically, too, we realized that Campsule as a festival accommodation is only one of the countless possible uses. In the later development phases, we consciously shaped the product in a manner to allow it to be used for as many purposes as possible.
R.P.: The development of built-in electronics received a great emphasis, because locking and opening the door by a card or by a mobile phone through a code scanner in addition to the basic key solution is just the basic, default set. The real extra feature is provided by the possibility of remote monitoring: with the help of a built-in SIM card, we can get in contact with the Campsule, which can communicate with an additional 10 units. We can set and change the door codes and their validity period remotely. We would also like to offer an online, map-based booking service, too, allowing users to book and pay for Campsule on their phones, thus helping operators. This way, the accommodations installed in camping sites, on the courtyards of motels, near fishing lakes, bicycle and water tour routes will be available on a unified platform. We also work on solar panel energy supply, and the cooling and heating of the units, so that Campsule can be used all year long.
You primarily imagined the Campsule sleeping pod as a festival accommodation, so festivals including VOLT, Balaton Sound, Sziget or Everness already contacted you. Many events and festivals gathering large masses of people were cancelled due to the coronavirus. How did you respond to this situation? What other target group would you like to address?
R.P.: Our festival-related accommodation service is only part of our business model. Sales is primary. We didn’t get scared because we see that as a result of the epidemic, domestic tourism will get a more significant emphasis, and there will be a greater demand for cheaper and easily available accommodation options. Here I primarily think of water tour fans, hikers and cyclists.
Zs.P.: As a reassurance, we must highlight that the inside of Campsule is washable and can be sanitized, and by building in a corrector, we also created a possibility for sanitization with ozone. Our unit with high side walls is also in progress, with which we primarily aim to target the entities operating in commerce and industry.
R.P.: As a result of the sudden fame, many people are interested in our product. It’s kind of unbelievable, but we have several enquiries from England from companies who would like to expand their portable accommodation portfolio. Word has spread about our product in Romania, too: we received numerous enquires from entities wanting to sell and rent the product.
What is the current phase of your business and what’s the next step?
R.P.: We must make strategic decisions in terms of moving forward. We would like to go to the next step in the venture capital investment program of Hiventures to the Seed investment phase. We received positive feedback in the preliminary meetings, and we are already working on the business plans that are necessary for step.
Zs.P.: Due to the large interest in the project, we must reconsider our production schedule plans: we must involve new capacity in the mass production process, therefore we are currently negotiating with the potential suppliers.
R.P.: Our first units will be available at Lupa Camping, here we can also present the Campsule to those interested in a real environment. After the rules on lockdown were lifted, our suspended negotiations with potential buyers and users continued. Several organizers told us that they will hold the postponed festivals and events after August 15, and they will be counting on us by all means.
Zs.P.: We will have some hard work to do in the next period, but we are ready for it, and we’ll keep going: development, production, sales, and then development, production and sales again, and so on.