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  • Writer's pictureOctavi Uyà

Be your user and new pivot

Every Marketplace has two users; the supply and the demand, in our case the supply are the ship-owners who offer us their boats and the demand is the people who want to sail by renting a boat.

There are marketplaces that are very clear about who their customer is (the one they will defend and try to provide the most value), others try to balance the efforts between supply and demand, and finally, others start balancing because they need both sides, but they know that when they gain the strength they will lean towards one of the parties. It all depends on your industry, your business, and your vision.

To find out what it was like to charter a boat, I decided to put my sailboat on charter through Sal a Navegar. In the first charter, I already discovered more than a thousand market studies would have told me. First, I had to go through the ordeal of changing the boat's registration (moving it from list 7 to list 6 is an essential requirement), for which you also need to pass a technical inspection of boats and complete the insurance. Afterward, I had to "escape from work one morning to do a check-in that takes at least an hour and a half, then I suffered an enormous nervousness when the clients took my boat (what if they break it?) and finally at the checkout I learned that renting a boat requires dedication (indeed, they cracked the mainsail and I had to disassemble it and take it to a sailmaker to be sewn).

In another rental, a client with the title of a yacht captain (the highest title of recreational boating in Spain, which allows going around the world) rents the boat to go to Menorca and the day of checkout calls me and I ask him "Are you already in the port? To which he answers "No, there has been a little problem, I'm in Mallorca". I thought, well, there is no rental behind, there is no problem, and he can extend his rental without any problem... this was his track...

But he told me that the day before he was returning (without having looked at the weather report), he encountered a lot of waves, and halfway there he asked the maritime rescue to tug him. In other words, he had become afraid and that he would leave the boat right there. Luckily, my partner, Roger came with me to Mallorca by plane, to sail back to Port Ginesta.

I had discovered that renting a boat is not the same as renting a house; on a house, the check-in can be remote with an entry code and you will probably only break it if you have bad luck, on a boat things are more complex, people are less experienced and it can break down due to lack of knowledge, sudden change of weather conditions, etc.

This was also confirmed with the rest of the shipowners we were trying to get, the P2P or private boat charter model was not working as we had thought it would, and that we found out the hard way. We had no traction getting boats from individuals to get on the platform. People simply didn't want to rent their boat, those who were considering it, changing the boat's registration made them re-think it and, with a few honorable exceptions, the only one who was still interested was because they didn't have the money to maintain the boat and therefore it wasn't a boat we wanted to offer to our customers. In the Lean Startup post, I explained how we could have accelerated this learning process.

We were lost, if we couldn't be the Airbnb of boats, what would we be?

Along the way, we discovered that there was no big platform that grouped charter companies' boats worldwide and was well known, so the answer was in front of us... we would not be the Airbnb of boats, we would be the of boats! A Marketplace for boat rentals from charter companies. This pivot wasn't as wild as moving from a marketplace for favors to one for boats, but it had its implications. Your product would be easier to source and make it easier to grow internationally, but you would also have a less unique offering so the battle for boaters would be bloody.

1 Comment

Anna Noakes Schulze
Anna Noakes Schulze
Jun 29, 2021

This is a wonderful article that shows not only the challenges of creating a boat rental platform but also what the experience was like as a boat owner (supply side ). It was great that you learned by doing and realised that a pivot was in order. The way that you identify the risks involved in boat rental makes clear how carefully the risks need to be accounted for. You are right to say that this business is far more complicated than Airbnb!

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