David Ramsay, a veteran of Trading, Client Service, and Recruiting, left Bridgewater in 2015, inspired to start his own fund. He jokes that he went from the biggest hedge fund in the world to the smallest. As a few hundred dollars a month in revenue trickled in, David gave up his New York apartment and bought a van to attenuate the cost of overhead.
Living out of the camper, he refined the philosophy that is now his company's mantra, "Everything you need and nothing you don't." Soon, he was renting out a fleet of vans and before long, went into business with an old friend. Dave & Matt Vans launched in 2019 in Colorado, offering pared down campers that transformed the normally $100,000+ vehicles into something more accessible to an everyday customer.
Determined not to play to the competition – mostly ski bums or buddies working out of garage – David set a Bridgewater-inspired high bar for the company. "We have a threshold that would fly in the hedge fund world…in an industry where our competitors are nowhere near that level," he says. That means picking the right business model and positioning, recruiting and hiring great people, building facilities to match the capacity they wanted to reach in the next few years, and setting their sights on competing with heavy-hitters like Winnebago and Airstream.
The strategy led to enormous success. The startup raked in awards and rave reviews, including Outside Magazine's "Best Bang for the Buck Van We've Ever Tested." The company is now the second largest privately owned camper van manufacturer in the country. They earned $2 million in revenue the first year, and $6 million in the second.
Just as business was revving up, the pandemic hit, driving demand through the roof at the same time that parts, chips, and the vehicles themselves disappeared from the market. "It's like the hottest summer ever, and then we're out of ice cream," David recalls. David moved fast, stockpiling parts and inventory, and scrounging for vans in dealerships. Where he couldn't build vans, he invested in new facilities and increased manufacturing capacity. David's hustle is paying off. When he plays out the results of his investment in infrastructure over the past few years, he projects $50 million in revenue in 2023.
David attributes his success to a commitment to thoughtful conversations, best outcomes, and an egoless tackling of problems that he learned during his time at Bridgewater. The systems, hiring practices, and strategic positioning that have propelled the company's rapid growth, he says, "aren't random. That's us taking a Bridgewater approach."
David is taking more than a page from Bridgewater; he's taking the whole book. When he reached out, the firm sent him copies of Ray's Principles. Now, the book is essential reading for David's staff and they work to infuse the tools into the culture.
With a firm foundation, strong business model, and powerful momentum, David is looking at the road ahead. His dream for the van industry is that it expands from enabling a lifestyle to enabling entrepreneurship. The cost model of #vanlife, without rent and utilities bills, could give would-be entrepreneurs a longer runway to make their dreams a reality. To David, this vision is the future of the industry. After all, his time in the van is what allowed him to get his business up and running in the first place.