Geneva Long has elevated the travel experience for modern adventurers by reimagining the original aluminum travel trailer as today’s most advanced RV, the Bowlus. Geneva studied at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania where she first conceptualized her company of which she is founder and CEO and resides in Los Angeles, California. She was recently named to Forbes 30 Under 30.
Where did the idea for Bowlus come from?
My first connection to the Bowlus brand occurred roughly a decade ago when my family restored a vintage Bowlus Road Chief and took it on a 3,000-mile North American road trip. We stopped at Palm Springs’ Modernism Week in California and South by Southwest in Texas, and I was struck by the special reaction from everyone who saw the vintage Bowlus. Since I was studying business at the time, I was in an entrepreneurial mindset, and upon seeing people’s reactions, I thought: “Could this be a new company?” I started to get the idea that luxury land travel could be a new RV industry segment. From there, we prototyped the modern Bowlus, updating it to something that has a vintage look but with modern technology. It had never been done before in the RV industry.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I’m an early riser, so I’m up at 5 to 5:30. I like to review priorities for the day and emails. From there, it’s just working through things until about 6 PM. I think the secret to being productive is being clear on what you hope to accomplish each day.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Often I’ll see a concept or an idea in another industry and wonder how that might apply to our world. The idea may start to take shape with a CAD drawing. However, I truly enjoy the prototyping phase of a project. While all ideas don’t make it to fruition, the prototyping phase allows you to really understand how they interact with other design elements.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Sustainability. In the RV industry, it really isn’t something anyone talks about, which is truly unbelievable. We build a travel trailer to last and to be restored in 50 or 80 years. Of course, this makes the design process so much more demanding, but I sleep better at night knowing I am not filling a dumpsite.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One habit that makes me more productive is staying focused. I like to have daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal goals. I know it doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it makes the difference to being super productive. I also like to leave some time for thinking. It isn’t always production, but you simply never know when you can foster a creative idea.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Only take advice from those you respect. There is no shortage of advice coming at you when you are starting a business. While some of it may be exceptional for the most part, I’ve always found it too general to be useful, and it more often than not comes from someone well-meaning but usually coming from someone who really doesn’t understand your concept and idea. So use your time wisely and only seek counsel from those you believe will move your business forward. Although this seems obvious, it is amazing how others can influence your thinking.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The RV market will move towards smaller, lighter, more sustainable vehicles in parallel with the automotive industry’s move towards electrification. Historically, the US RV industry has been almost entirely focused on producing larger and larger RVs, with more and more features, for less money. The result is a market flooded with cheaply made RVs that are not intended to last more than a few years before being replaced; it’s analogous to the auto market in the 50s and 60s. I’ve always taken the contrarian view with Bowlus. Our travel trailers are made from the highest quality materials and are designed to be passed down to the next generation. Our detractors never thought there would be a market for a $150k bespoke RV that was ‘only’ 24 feet long, but our trajectory has demonstrated that we’re just ahead of the curve.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Eat your vegetables and look after yourself. When you are run ragged, you make poor decisions.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I’ve applied the lessons of eCommerce and digital sales to the practice of selling RVs. We don’t collect customer’s phone numbers and then call them 16 times until they block our number. Instead, we introduce each potential customer to the brand slowly over email and text messages. Then we provided customers the opportunity to visit with us and tour a Bowlus virtually over video chat – a practice that has become even more important during COVID.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Some of my biggest setbacks in this business have been related to hiring for key positions and delegating projects. As an entrepreneur, I often struggle to find employees who will consistently exceed my standards for their work. But on the flip side, I know the crushing feeling of having the weight of the business resting solely on my shoulders. Ultimately I’ve had to learn how to motivate people and become a better manager. As tempting as it is sometimes to just ‘do it myself’, I know the business can’t thrive in the long term with that approach.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There should be a monthly subscription (like Spotify) for books that works seamlessly on Kindle. Amazon seems to be attempting this with Kindle Unlimited, but the selection is very limited for new releases and popular titles. I’m not familiar with the publishing industry’s intricacies, but I don’t understand why there can’t be an all-inclusive service that pays publishers and authors based downloads and reads (again, similar to Spotify). As someone who likes to jump around from book to book on my Kindle, this is especially frustrating for me.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
A weighted blanket. I’ll admit that I thought the trend was a bit silly and overblown. But then I tried one, and it’s fantastic.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Airtable is a fantastic piece of software. We use it for so many applications in our business, and it is often a way for us to work our way through a problem. While there is great software for sales and customer service as a small business, you really can’t afford the time or the money for most of it. Airtable will give you the ability to manage your business fast and easily.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Dr. Jonah Berger. Dr. Berger is the expert on social influence, word of mouth, consumer decision making, product adoption, and abandonment. I also had the privilege of being Dr. Berger’s Research Assistant at the Wharton School.
What is your favorite quote?
I’m less of a quote person and more of a numbers person. They tell a lot about what is going on in your business.
- The secret to being productive is being clear on what you want to accomplish in each day. Set daily and weekly goals to stay focused and on task.
- Avoid well-intentioned advice from people who don’t understand your business and only seek counsel from people that you respect and will help your business move forward.
- It’s impossible to continuously scale a business as a one man show; therefore, you must identify the right employees to motivate and delegate key tasks to them to maintain both growth and a high standard of excellence.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.