We are delighted to host the second Creative Disruptor conversation that showcases internet businesses that are challenging their industries. Raising our glass (and slightly bastardising) the Austrian economist Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction, this is a place to celebrate online innovation.
Last month we chatted to Gary Turner, the UK MD of Xero and heard how a Kiwi company is transforming accounting through cloud connectivity and beautiful design. They have recently expanded to the US on the back of a large investment from Peter Thiel. We ripped through several topics including innovation, why the smartphone isn’t really a phone, why Xero has banned ‘customer service’ and the joys of accounting not being like root canal treatment anymore! If you haven’t already, check it out.
Today we sat down with a clever chap from Yachtsie – Steve Raw – who moved from the safe havens of strategy consulting into the exotic oceans of yachting to fix a big problem using the same tools that have been successfully applied to other parts of the tourism industry. As the maxim goes: a ship is safe in a harbour, but that is not what ships were built for. Alas – too much philosophising! Let’s get on with our chat.
Frederic: What is Yachtsie?
Steve: Yachtsie is an online platform that lets customers search, compare and book yacht charters (AKA boat rentals – lots of industry jargon here I’m afraid!) in a few clicks.
Frederic: Where did the idea come about?
Steve: I’ve sailed all my life but only started going on charter holidays with friends in my 20s – it’s a great way to holiday with mates. I was always amazed at how difficult the research and booking process was in comparison to flights or hotels. Yachtsie was started to solve this problem.
Frederic: Why would Schumpeter care? I.e. what is Y creating? What is it aiming to replace? Where is the inefficiency?
Steve: Sailing is a hugely popular leisure activity, particularly here in the UK where Olympic success has raised the sport’s profile in recent years. There are more than 1,700 sailing schools training people up to get out on the water. Many take up sailing in pursuit of the blue-water sailing dream: renting a boat somewhere sunny and escaping from the world for a week. Several million people from all across the globe enjoy a yacht charter holiday each year.
When it comes to actually booking one of these holidays it’s really hard work. There are thousands of small suppliers to choose between and the information available online is poor. Holiday research and booking usually involves a chain of phone calls and emails. The experience would feel familiar to anyone who booked a hotel room in the 1990s: It’s time consuming and very easy to overpay or end up with disappointing boat.
Yachtsie brings the booking experience up to date by making it quick, easy and transparent. Our technology integrates with the fleet management systems used by charter operators, allowing it to aggregate real-time data on over 2,000 boats across the globe. Customers can use Yachtsie to quickly search, compare and book yachts in a few clicks.
Frederic: Which other digital businesses in other industries would you say you’re similar to (i.e. Hassle.com, AirBnB?)
Steve: Yachtsie is most similar to aggregators in the holiday accommodation industry, such as Expedia and HomeAway. We’re solving the same customer and supplier challenge but with different inventory.
It’s worth noting that we’re a bit different to AirBnB in that all our boats are run by professional operators rather than individuals. Many of the challenges that peer-to-peer accommodation players are facing around liability, insurance and regulation are even more complex with yachting; primarily because it’s much easier to damage a boat and much easier to hurt yourself whilst using it versus a house. We think there’s huge potential for a peer-to-peer model in yachting but see this as an opportunity for the future. The challenge right now is to improve the booking experience with professionally run boats.
Frederic: It sounds like you’re developing a platform which would enable you the potential to branch into other areas of Yachting, i.e. Insurance, Entertainment. Google isn’t just about search anymore but has developed a platform. Would you say the same for Y?
Steve: We think the next stage for Yachtsie is to make yacht charters more accessible to non-sailors.
We speak to lots of people would like to rent a boat but don’t know where to start. We can make it possible for this community to get out on the water by providing access to rated skippers, recommended itineraries and the relevant insurance. That’s where we’ll focus our attention next.
Frederic: What are your backgrounds? You’ve joined from more traditional industries … why have you dived head first into the internet space?
Steve: I’m an Engineer by training and also spent a few years advising corporations as strategy consultant before starting Yachtsie.
Many of the questions faced by big business and startups are the same: Where is our market going? How do we win customers? What differentiates our product? Where do we invest our time and money?
What’s different in a tech startup is pace. A corporate might spend months answering these questions and longer still turning insights into action. In a startup you need to move far quicker or you’ll get left behind by the market. That’s a huge challenge but also makes it really exciting.
Thankfully I’m backed by a really good team at Yachtsie. The crew is six strong today and are from a real mix of backgrounds, including strategy, marketing, design and development. They’re also passionate about the project and knowledgeable about sailing, which is very helpful in an industry full of specialist knowledge and jargon (Google “baggywrinkle” and you’ll see what I mean).
Frederic: Which digital brands do you aspire to?
Steve: We run an online marketplace and so naturally there are a few other online marketplaces that we love. Our current favourite is peopleperhour which brings together skilled freelance workers with clients in an easy to use, efficient marketplace. Brilliant stuff for a startup (or any business) that occasionally needs a skilled pair of extra hands.
Beyond the marketplaces, we’re fans of companies that have changed aspects of our lives and whose products we use regularly. These are obvious ones but here goes:
Apple (for smartphones and tablets), Spotify (for brilliant music streaming), Strava (for gamifying exercise), Uber(for convenient cabs), Airbnb (for opening up a new world of travel) and Citymapper (for making every London journey that bit quicker).
Frederic: Are they any quotes that you run your business by?
Steve: “Yachtsie makes chartering a yacht as as easy as booking a flight, car or hotel.”
If you fancy a holiday on water, check out Yachtsie now! In a few clicks, you could be setting sail!