By Kimball Livingston Posted March 24, 2014
“Because you can only talk to so many crazy brides”
So there was Aaron Hall outside Dallas, at Lake Ray Roberts, one of those manmade lakes that mix fishing, skiing, sailing and the like in a not-quite-flat, rolling countryside interspersed with farms and freeways and clumps of forest and bees and junebugs and honeysuckle. That is to say, its own kind or paradise. And Aaron Hall was trying to rent a boat because this corner of paradise on this summer day was “Texas-hot and Texas-humid.”
“The marina had a few clunkers,” Hall relates, “and even those were rented out.”
So there was Aaron Hall making a picnic of it, shoreside, with the parental units and bro and bro’s twins. Anyone who was serious about bass fishing had been off the lake for hours. Now the wake boarders were roaring and hooting. The lake level was low, so there was plenty of room along the bank, but did we mention that the day was Texas-hot and Texas-humid? Sitting on the bank going nowhere just wasn’t the same as being out there on a boat. And right over yonder, in the marina, hundreds of boats sat, ignored by their owners on a fine summer day, likewise going nowhere. Why should it be so?
“I leaned over toward my dad and I told him, ‘There ought to be something like Airbnb for boats.’
Airbnb being the peer-to-peer online service that lists over 500,000 residential rentals, from modest private rooms to castles.
“I’m someone who uses Airbnb a lot,” Hall says. “Right there on the beach, I started googling, and the more I searched for a service for boats, the less I found. When I came home to San Francisco, I brought that thought with me.”
Boatbound.co would naturally be founded in San Francisco, where Airbnb and so many other technology companies are based and where peer-to-peer took off immediately with ride services such as Uber and Lyft. “In San Francisco, it’s hard to miss P2P, so I took the idea to my business partner, Matt Johnston. He said, ‘I love it. Let’s take it to the team.’
“And they liked it. Our business was in the wedding space, but we weren’t necessarily committed to that. We were five guys and a girl, and we’re all outdoorsy types, and, frankly, you can only talk to so many crazy brides.”
Over the next six months, the team partnered with the boat owners association, Boat US, to survey the receptivity of their membership. The response was positive, and why not? According to the data they collected, most boats are used only 14 days a year while together dragging down billions of dollars a year in storage and maintenance fees.
As long as their boats are in good hands, most owners would be more than happy to let someone offset part of the cost. But “good hands” is a sticking point.
“The number one thing was that nobody was going to put a boat out for rent unless there was insurance protection,” Hall relates. “We discovered that four or five companies had already taken a shot at this, but when they couldn’t solve the insurance problem, they folded. In a different life, I ran an HR insurance consulting company, and that positioned me to make the insurance side work.” The short course on making it work is that every Boatbound rental is covered by $1 million in insurance, with towing coverage by Boat US.
In February, 2014, Boatbound announced a partnership with the American Sailing Association providing two-way benefits on learning, certification, and resources. Boatbound qualifies renters by experience, but certifications clarify and streamline the qualification process while removing subjectivity. Over the next two years, the company plans to build a captains service so that an owner unwilling to put his boat out to rental without a licensed skipper will have a bank of captains to choose from, and anyone, skilled or not, can go boating under the care and guidance of a competent captain. That can be a great way to learn from a professional, or to try something completely new.
If you can charter the 288-foot Maltese Falcon at €350,000 per week (THAT is the Falcon) you have people who can tee that up. For the rest of us, here’s where a service like Boatbound comes in.
Hall says, “We’re not really about boat rentals. We’re about helping people get money out of the boat they already own. We’re about getting more people into boats. We’re about having an experience on the water, and we’re giving Everyday Joe a way to get out there. Or maybe there’s a particular kind of boat you’ve always wanted to try. Or what’s in a charter fleet just isn’t what you’re looking for.” Or there is no charter fleet, as such. That would be a lot of places where boats are popular.
As Hall describes it, the company is making an effort to grow carefully, not letting its marketing get ahead of its ability to deliver: “There’s no rush to have thousands of listed boats. This is about delivering hundreds of good experiences to good people, and turning owners and renters into advocates for the brand. We’ve seen marinas where one person lists a boat, and it works, and pretty soon there’s another boat on the same the dock that is listed. And then there’s another.”
Boatbound officially launched nationwide in June, 2013, but that was a soft launch, with a small number of boats and an intentional focus just on San Francisco Bay, looking for the proof of the pudding, evidence that this wouldn’t turn into a game of bumper boats, evidence that the business model was viable. “We were testing small-scale,” Hall says, “but we got press coverage, and we blew right past our goals for the season.” Viable? Apparently. The soft launch turned into a fast rollout and accelerated fundraising to scale up. Boat owners in nearly seventy countries have entered their boats for listings, but that is beyond capacity for now. The company is focusing upon developing selected markets. The good news for consumers is that those selected markets are, logically, a handful of places where lots of people want to get out on the water.
Dan Knox sails his Islander 36, Luna Sea, where Boatbound first went beta, San Francisco Bay. He was wanting to upgrade his racer-cruiser experience and had it in mind to sell Luna Sea and go to a different fleet when “Boatbound called me.”
Knox bought the pitch and signed up, but the first time his boat went out on rental, he admits, it was a little like sending a daughter out on a first date. He recalls, listening to the pitch, “I was thinking, if I can cover slip expenses, maybe I can keep Luna Sea and I won’t be an idiot for having two boats.” Three months on, “I’ve had 14 charters, and they cover a big chunk of my expenses. That’s why I’m a Boatbound guy.”
Cruzin.com also offers peer-to-peer boat rentals. It too promises $1 million in insurance and towing through Boat US, and it too went live in June, 2013. And Cruzin.com too was founded in San Francisco, though it now lists its headquarters as Dania Beach, Florida. Its partners include the giant marina facilities operator Westrec.
Jaclyn Baumgarten, Cruzin co-founder and CEO, has described the company this way: “The internet platform allows Cruzin to reach a wide audience while keeping the experience personal. Boat owners and renters get the opportunity to engage and get comfortable with each other prior to meeting at the boat for the handoff. Cruzin is building a community of boaters even before they get out on the water.”
But the point, of course, is to get those boats out there.
This article was syndicated from BLUE PLANET TIMES