TengoInternet Founder Helps Fuel Wi-Fi Craze
In 2002, some RV park owners thought TengoInternet founder Eric Stumberg was crazy. He wanted to install wireless Internet hot spots in their parks, where retirees and families have traditionally gone to get away from it all.
At the time, Stumberg says five parks in the country offered Wi-Fi, according to a report on Bizjournals.com.
"It was a very hard sell at the time," he said. "Most of the owners were independent operators. They weren't technically savvy themselves, and they viewed Wi-Fi as a technology versus an amenity. A lot of them were concerned about its obsolescence."
Since then, public Wi-Fi and RV usage have grown, along with TengoInternet. The Austin, Texas, company serves more than 300 RV parks and campgrounds, and raked in $2.4 million in revenue in 2007. Stumberg says he succeeded where others failed by targeting the right customers – RV park and campground owners instead of their guests – and offering them a package of services, from installation to support.
Stumberg, previously a product marketing manager for Dell Inc.'s TrueMobile wireless division, came up with the idea for TengoInternet during a 2001 trip to Mexico. He ventured into the country without a cell phone. He stayed connected through Internet cafes.
The experience revealed a service he wanted to provide to other travelers. He found a company name in the Spanish phrase tengo Internet, meaning "I have Internet."
After starting the company in January 2002, Stumberg tried selling WiFi services to hotels and cafes, and discovered that he could not provide value to independent coffeehouses that were already providing free Web access.
He then started looking at other hospitality segments with captive customers. His quest ended with RV parks, campgrounds and truck stops. He focused on RV park and campground owners because the industries were more fragmented and easier to access than the largely corporate truck-stop industry.
Stumberg closed his first year with a pilot program at one park, Austin's Lone Star RV Park, and $1,800 in revenue.
As Stumberg expanded the service, he found success in acting as a business-to-business service provider, selling the service directly to facility owners rather than charging their guests directly. On top of installation, TengoInternet provides services such as tech support and network management.
"Our goal was to help these campgrounds use WiFi to help their business," Stumberg says. "And the second thing is, we were a services company. A lot of people were selling hardware or they would just sell installation, but we really decided we were going to provide all the services."
TengoInternet has also benefited from growth in public Wi-Fi. About 19% of online consumers used public Wi-Fi in 2007, according to Jupiter Research's 2007 U.S. Public WiFi Consumer Survey.