Think Airbnb for boats, and you have the basic concept of what Matt Ovenden’s business, Borrow A Boat, is all about. Ovenden launched the start-up in November 2016 to help boat owners get the most out of their investment, while affording boat enthusiasts the opportunity to dip their toes into the boating world without a full-fledged, capital-intense commitment. Ovenden speaks to GrowthBusiness about spotting a genuine opportunity for disruption at a time where most businesses tout themselves to be the Uber-of-X or the Airbnb-of-Y.
What does your business do?
Borrow A Boat is the UK’s first peer to peer site for anyone who wants to borrow a boat – whether that’s a £1 million-plus luxury yacht, a small dinghy or motor boat. We bring boat owners and boat enthusiasts together, increasing variety of boats, choice of location, and bringing more competitive prices, making chartering a boat easy and accessible for everyone. We help boat owners at the same time as they can list their boat when they’re not using it and receive an income, and are taking inspiration from the likes of Airbnb and creating a peer-to-peer sharing economy marketplace for boats.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Last year when exiting my last company I had been looking into buying a boat but became aware of how poorly it stacks up on paper to own a boat when you consider how much use of it you would realistically get. I was aware that 90 percent of yachts rarely leave the marina as they don’t often get used, yet at the same time boat ownership is prohibitively expensive. I could see one group of people hardly using their expensive assets, yet another group was put off by the high costs and effectively priced out of boating. Add to this that boat ownership in general worldwide is in decline, partly since the recession but also partly as the younger generations care less about ownership of things, many don’t own their phones these days, or often their cars, why would they want to own a boat, the least economical asset of all – but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to go boating! Joining the two groups up online via a peer-to-peer marketplace seemed like the natural solution.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Boating is a personal passion of my and something I’ve grown up with, so I had a basic knowledge of the industry as an enthusiast. When I initially had the idea for Borrow A Boat, I researched the concept and found one or two US and European companies who had made it work, but we could see lots of room for improvement in their execution. We then created a simple website as a minimum viable product to test the water (if you’ll excuse the pun!) in the market , so to speak, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from all corners of te industry, and boat owners and the public, which gave us the encouragement to move forward and seek further investment and take the company on to the next stage.
How did you raise funding, and why?
We entered a round of fundraising via Angels Den, predominantly due to the high web development costs involved in putting together the complex site we needed, and to give us a marketing budget to really take a run at the market. I put together a business plan and set of financials and away we went on Angels Den with a live raise. We ended up £22k over our target and still have investors who missed the deadline coming forward asking if they can invest in the business!
Describe your business model in brief.
We have created an online marketplace for boat charter, helping boat owners reduce the cost of ownership, whilst helping to make boat chartering more flexible and accessible and delivering more variety. We help two groups of people at the same time – the enthusiasts, and the boat owners.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
The biggest milestone was when we first went public with the business at the London Boat Show in January 2017. We took two bookings on the first two days, which was our first revenue. That was the moment it all become real!
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Do your research, check out the competition, and margins involved, but if you think you have something, then don’t waste any time and go straight for it. Make a business plan and run some numbers to check how many sales you need to make the business work. Keep a close eye on the bottom line throughout. Getting to market as early as possible is important to get a feel for the market response, even if you use a lower cost or temporary way of getting to market, like a Minimum Viable Product, once the concept is proven you can build a more long-term solution.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
As the leading global online marketplace for boat charter, with any kind of boat anywhere, and to be the household name and “go to” solution for boat charter. Ultimately our aim is to make boating more accessible to everyone, help the boat owners, and industry at the same – to open up boating to the masses.
If you weren’t an entrepreneur, you would be…
Probably an engineer, or a sailor, or in a band – I always used to carry my guitar with me everywhere I went, including galavanting across South America for 8 months and had a band in London for 5 years following that.
What is your philosophy on business or life, in a nutshell?
Create your own future. Think hard about what you’re passionate about and what you want, then plot to make it happen. Never stop dreaming, just make sure to turn the dreams into concrete plans.