Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2003Kellogg School of Management
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Alumni Profile: Ari Ackerman ’99

Camping out under the T1 lines
Ari Ackerman ’99 has figured out a high-tech way to pursue his low-tech passion

by Rebecca Lindell

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 adulthood.

Ackerman is the founder and CEO of, 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 too much.” 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 paper.

“ 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. The company has been featured on CNN, CBS, NBC and other media outlets.

The seed for 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 way.

He found a willing audience among camp directors, most of whom were interested in the Internet but had little inclination 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 the start.”

He hasn’t stopped there. 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 that first inspired his venture.

“ That’s the only negative about this business,” he jokes. “I’m not outside playing ball in the summer anymore.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University