Like many kids, Ari Ackerman ’99 returned home from
camp each summer wishing the cookouts, color wars and refrains
of “Kumbaya” never had to end.
Unlike most of his peers, however, Ackerman
has found a way to continue the camp experience well into
Ackerman is the founder and CEO of Bunk1.com,
a Web site that has brought the high-tech tools of the
Internet to bear
on that most rustic of enterprises: summer camp. In doing
so, Ackerman, 32, has performed the envied feat of building
a lucrative career out of a long-standing passion. And
like most people in his shoes, he couldn’t be happier.
I’m a summer-camp lifer, you could say,” says
Ackerman, who grew up amid the urban grit of New York City
but spent 11 bucolic summers at camp. “I loved being
outdoors and experiencing the camaraderie of the camp environment.
Every summer I looked forward to getting out of the city
and onto a playing field.
When I was a camper, I imagined one day I’d own my
own camp. But the fact is I love what I’m doing now
Bunk1.com offers parents a one-way window
into their child’s
world at camp through daily photo uploads and online newsletters.
It also enables parents to send e-mails that are printed
and delivered to their kids.
By design, campers don’t get the same access to technology.
They write back the old-fashioned way — with pen and
The kids can have the camp experience as we all remember
it — being outdoors and enjoying themselves with their
friends,” Ackerman says. “They’re not on
the computer answering instant messages and e-mail all day,
which is what they do all winter long. The integrity of the
camp experience is not disrupted.”
The formula seems to be working. Revenues
have doubled the past three years, and the company now
serves about 2,000
camps. Participating camps are located throughout the United
States, but some are as far away as Israel and Italy. Fifteen
full-time Bunk1 employees perform marketing, sales, Web
design, operations and tech support for the growing venture.
company has been featured on CNN, CBS, NBC and other media
The seed for Bunk1.com was planted more
than four years ago during Ackerman’s second year at Kellogg, when the
former Capitol Hill legislative director studied the camp
industry for business opportunities for a class project.
Following graduation, he deferred a job at Procter & Gamble,
jumped into his car and spent the next month driving from
Chicago to Los Angeles, visiting about 100 camps along the
He found a willing audience among camp directors,
most of whom were interested in the Internet but had little
to set up technological services themselves. “I asked
them, ‘If I do this, are you on board?’”
Many responded with an enthusiastic “yes,” Ackerman
recalls. “I had commitments from people right from
He hasn’t stopped there. Bunk1.com now includes tools
to help parents find the ideal camp for their child, match
aspiring counselors with job openings, and enable camp alumni
to reconnect with each other. Parents can also order care
packages and camp gear for their children.
Business has been so brisk that Ackerman
finds he must expand the company’s staff by about 10 each summer to field
the calls from parents and camp owners who rely on the site. “Bunk1
now services about 750,000 people, and there are times it
seems we hear from all of them,” he says.
The activity tends to leave Ackerman little
time for the sloppy Joes, water-skiing or other camp delights
inspired his venture.
That’s the only negative about this business,” he
jokes. “I’m not outside playing ball in the summer