The agricultural sector, perhaps more so than others, experiences many hardships. People living in rural communities making a living from agriculture have to deal with many variables whether that be the unpredictable climate, fluctuating market conditions, financial pressure, social isolation, or reduced access to services.
Farming is a physically and psychologically demanding occupation, with studies showing that farming communities experience twice as many mental health problems than the average Australian community.
Melbourne entrepreneur Joep Pennartz experienced the trials and tribulations of farm life first hand, having worked on a dairy farm in the Netherlands. He saw the rising rates in depression due to farm life, caused by financial stress from decreasing farm income. An ageing farmer population meant farmers were leaving their land to relocate to more suburban areas.
“I knew how hard the life of a farmer could be and I just couldn’t stop thinking of ways how to change this,” said Pennartz.
“As these thoughts were going through my mind, I visited a little cabin with my girlfriend in Warburton. This little cabin in the woods only had one room and we just couldn’t stop talking about how perfect it was for a short holiday away from our busy lives. We started brainstorming ideas for our own ideal tiny holiday house.”
The tiny house movement is not a new concept and has been around since the late 90s, with one of the first companies in the space, the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, appearing out of California. The movement started from the need to downgrade and simplify life in a way that was more environmentally friendly.
“I had already read a lot about the Tiny House Movement, but actually staying in a little holiday cabin for a few days made me realise how functional and surprisingly satisfying having ‘less’ was,” said Pennartz.
Two experiences of living on a farm and holidaying in a ‘tiny’ house gave Pennartz the idea to combine the two, which formed the beginning of his startup Shacky. Shacky is now an online platform where farmers rent out tiny houses to visitors on their farm. The Melbourne startup provides a way for farmers to diversify their income while giving renters the experience of an otherwise inaccessible countryside.
“If a farmer would be able to rent out Tiny Houses on his farm, this would generate much needed alternative income. On the other hand, guests experience the tranquility of a Tiny House on a beautiful Australian farm,” explained Pennartz.
Shacky is also about connecting cities to rural areas. Pennartz acknowledged that many people living in cities feel an inability to connect with nature and landscapes that are abundant in the Australian countryside. On the other hand, people living and working in rural areas feel detached from the metropolises.
“I strongly believe that Shacky can provide an improvement of this connection as it bridges the two separated worlds together in a personal way,” he said.
The platform allows people to book a tiny house holiday and enables farmers to rent out these houses on their property. Guests use Shacky to search for their very own tiny house based on certain characteristics such as farm and location. Shacky enables users to book and pay directly online. The service also helps farmers to join the platform and market their tiny house. In return for this service Shacky receives a commission for every stay facilitated through the platform.
Shacky buys the tiny house and gives it to the farmers on a trial period where they can decide whether or not they want to stay with the service. During the period where Shacky owns the house the profit division is altered where Shacky pays a fee to the farmer for every booked night. Once the trial period is over farmers can buy the tiny house from Shacky.
Shacky buys the tiny houses from Studio Trucks in Victoria and will offer them to customers at the starting price of $13,500, which includes a solar panel, battery, antique lights that run on solar, loft bed, potbelly, couch, storage and roadworthy trailer. These houses are built on roadworthy trailers and can be legally transported over road.
The tiny houses are robust and fitted with corrugated iron, appearing rough on the outside, yet cosy and warm on the inside. Every farmer is free to choose their preferred style of house, from single living to couples.
Shacky launched its first crowdfunding campaign in February, with the funding to go towards setting up the online booking platform and enabling the startup to buy the first tiny house. The first house will be available for users to rent on the Tarndie farm, a sheep farm in regional Victoria. The crowdfunding campaign is looking to raise $25,000 and is a good way to gauge enthusiasm for the product.
With Shacky a mix of Airbnb and the established tiny house market, Pennartz said the startup is drawing on the growing wants of travellers to have lowkey, sustainable holidays rather than grandiose experiences.
“We are different because we specifically focus on a niche market. Our customers will be drawn to beautiful farm-landscapes and the relaxation that comes with having a couple of slow days in a tiny house,” he said.
In the coming months Pennartz will look to create a strong community of participating farmers who will become the cornerstone of Shacky. After the initial round of funding Shacky will look to expand at a higher rate and zero in on its target audience of travellers.
“Until now things have actually been thrilling. The main challenge at the moment is that I’m still looking for a keen web developer to create an amazing platform and smooth user experience with me. Being limited in our budget, we will use all the guerrilla marketing techniques we can think of to get people to know about Shacky,” Pennartz said.
“We’re also looking into other strategies, like using referrals as Airbnb did and growing our platform from our initial customer base.”
Image: Tom Dennis, participating farmer. Source: Supplied