Dave Ramsay ’09 and Matt Felser ’09 embrace VanLife

Robert Nielsen

Dave Ramsay ’09 and Matt Felser ’09 made the choice to live out of vans — and they are loving it. Two years ago, Felser was teaching Spanish, and Ramsay was managing a hedge fund. Now, they are the owners of Dave and Matt Vans, a company that outfits vans with all the comforts of home and promotes their lifestyle: VanLife, which The New Yorker defines as “a renewed interest in the American road trip, a culture of hippie-inflected outdoorsiness and a life free from the tyranny of a nine-to-five office job.”

Felser and Ramsay followed different paths immediately after graduating in 2009, spending several years apart before meeting again years later and starting their own business. 

Felser followed a path driven by wanderlust after leaving the College. “After graduating, I had the perfect opportunity to not pursue a job, because there weren’t any, so I packed my car and drove west,” he said.

After a few years of making ends meet working in ski patrol, Felser began teaching Spanish at Vail Mountain School, a private school in Vail, Colorado. He spent summers leading outdoor education programs, a passion he discovered when he worked for Overland as a student at the College. 

Felser said his connection to VanLife “stemmed from my summers traveling around… being pretty mobile and free during those [free] two-and-a-half-month summers of teacher life.” 

“I was looking for different ways to adventure, … and I ended up with vans being the answer,” he said. In the spring of 2018, with the help of some friends, Felser built his own live-in van — the first Dave and Matt van.

Ramsay embarked on a more conventional path after graduation. He “took the typical finance route that a lot of people were taking around that time,” he said. After working as a trader in New York City his first year, he worked for two hedge funds before spinning off his own fund in 2016. 

At his own fund, Ramsay decided to break out of what he called “the finance mold” and bought a mobile home. The summer of 2016, Ramsay found himself in his hometown, Minneapolis. He rented out his RV, hoping to find takers for a few odd weekends. He was shocked to find tenants willing to rent his van for four months straight. From then on, Ramsay decided to develop a rental fleet of live-in vans. 

In February 2018, Ramsay and Felser’s divergent paths crossed at an invitational game of golf for alums of the College. The two, who had both played on the golf team during their time as students, started talking about VanLife, and Felser’s project of modifying his own van intrigued Ramsay. Ramsay said Felser’s van modifications were “half [the price] of the vans I was buying to rent out.”

Ramsay moved to Vail to help Felser construct the first van. After finishing the van, the pair sold it and modified a second. And then the third. People began to come to them, asking for help outfitting their own vans. Soon enough, they had their own small business: Dave and Matt Vans.

The goal of Ramsay and Felser’s business is, as Ramsay said, “to, as affordably as possible, get people on the road enjoying the VanLife.” For $18,500, Dave and Matt Vans will outfit a Ram Promaster with solar panels, waterproof flooring, a sink and other necessities. Their slogan is “Our vans have everything that you need and nothing that you don’t.”

While the duo has invested in garage space in Gypsum, Colorado, they both continue to enjoy living VanLife. They have found that following the same lifestyle as their customers allows them to “build a van that is actually in tune with how people are truly going to be using it,” Ramsay said. He said they deeply value their “on the ground contact with [their] clients.” 

Ramsay and Felser said they both enjoy VanLife for personal reasons as well. “It has enabled me to take risks that I’ve never been able to take before,” said Ramsay. “It allows you to open yourself up to every opportunity… To me, every day is a fun adventure… It keeps my brain engaged — it keeps me sharp. I don’t get into this monotonous circle of complacency.”

Felser said he likes VanLife because it allows him to be “ready for an adventure at any moment.” “[My friends] know I’m ready to go,” he said. “I’ve gone on some really unique local trips in the past few months that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go on.”