From Vision to Venture: Startup Challenge Alum Vanly Bridges the Gap Between #VanLife and Reality

Watch the interview with Vanly’s Co-founder and CEO, Giulio Colleluori

We’ve all seen the #VanLife hashtag on Instagram. Attractive carefree couples, friends and individuals, living their best, minimalist lives near spectacular scenery, in beautifully decked-out Sprinter Vans.

But from searching for safe overnight parking to locating amenities such as water and wifi, the day-to-day reality of living on wheels has its challenges

Thanks to Vanly, there’s an app for that. According to founder Giulio Colleluori, Vanly’s mission is to bridge the gap between this idealized version of what’s referred to as “van life,” and reality.

“If today you go on Instagram or any social media, and you look for hashtag #VanLife, you’ll start seeing a bunch of very picturesque photos of people making it seem like it’s a dream lifestyle,” said Colleluori. “The reality of it, having experienced it myself and having friends that have experienced it, it’s different. We’d like to bridge that gap as much as we can, and make that idealized version of van life a reality.”

Vanly connects van dwellers with homeowners willing to share their parking space and amenities for a fee. Officially launched in August 2020, Vanly now serves users throughout the United States.

“Van life is a quickly growing movement, especially throughout the pandemic,” said Colleluori. “There are so many people that decided that they were going to start traveling in vans because they felt safer, as opposed to hotels. The whole industry has seen a huge spike.”

Living in a vehicle is nothing new, particularly for those unable to afford traditional housing. But the pandemic has pushed the lifestyle into the spotlight. 

From families unable to afford rent, to remote workers searching for a safer way to travel,the numbers of people living in  van life has skyrocketed over the past two years.  Outdoorsy, a rental van service saw a 4500% surge in rentals in 2020, and Mercedes reported a 22.5% increase in the same year. There are currently over 12.2 million instagram posts featuring the #VanLife hashtag.

Colleluori got the idea for Vanly while attending UC Santa Cruz.

“I was living in a house downtown, and had a few friends that were living in converted camper vans, since the housing market was so competitive. They were looking for safe, overnight parking. They ended up staying in our driveway for a while, but then we had more friends that kept needing something like that.”

In his last quarter of college, Colleluori participated in CruzHacks, a tech hackathon based in Santa Cruz.

“I was looking for an idea, asking my friends, and looking around. I’m like, ‘Wow, it would be probably pretty helpful if we could find a way to help UCSC students find safe overnight parking.’ That’s how we came up with the first version of Vanly, which was originally called Vroom.”

To jumpstart his idea, Colleluori applied to Startup Challenge 2019, and placed as a runner-up in the competition’s Social Venture Division, open to startups with a significant social mission.

According to Colleluori, Startup Challenge provided the structure and assistance to take Vanly to the marketplace.

“It was extremely helpful to get something that pushed us to formalize our numbers and our pitch deck,” he said. “[It] really got us to start thinking, “is this a sustainable business? Can we make this into a larger, actual company?’ The prize [money] was also helpful.”

Startup Challenge, a competitive startup acceleration competition open to startups in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, is currently accepting applications to participate in Venture, Social Venture, Mainstreet and Student divisions. Applications close March 7, 2020.

With over a thousand listings throughout the United States, Vanly continues to gain users and hosts interested in making the most of their space.

“It’s definitely a quickly growing movement, that’s been really exciting,” said Colleluori.  “It’s really an interesting industry to work in, and I personally really enjoy the Nomadic lifestyle. I feel like I’ve been traveling my whole life, and getting to work with people that are of the same mindset has been really interesting, and I’m excited for the future.”

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