It’s no secret that the sharing economy has been on the rise in recent years. There’s Uber and Lyft, disrupting the ride-hailing industry, Zipcar transforming the car sharing process and Airbnb connecting home and apartment owners with interested renters. Yet as the sharing economy has matured from a marginal movement into a substantial force, the boating industry has yet to get on board.
For Boatbound founder Aaron Hall, that gap was mind-boggling. Hall, who has launched and sold a number of startups—including wedding marketplace Weddzilla—realized this opportunity when he was trying to rent a boat to take out on Lake Ray Robert with his family in Texas during the summer of 2012. But the marina had an extremely limited inventory of boats, and all of them were booked. Meanwhile, Hall noticed there there were hundreds of unused boats docked nearby. Why, he wondered, was there no peer-to-peer rental platform to tap into the excess supply sitting around at marinas?
Hall returned to Palo Alto set on figuring out a solution, and for the next six months, he and his team worked with the Boat Owners Association of The United States (better known as BoatU.S.) to survey their members on the idea for an on-demand boat rental marketplace. They also began talking to thousands of boat owners at marinas across America. What they discovered is that in fact, the average boat owner uses their boat only about 14 days a year and that collectively, boat owners spend over $10 billion in storage and maintenance fees annually.
The rental platform they imaged would have dual-sided benefits: It could help boating enthusiasts find an easy way of enjoying their hobby without the cost of ownership, and allow owners to simultaneously make money when they’re not using their boats instead of losing it.
Armed with a lot of interest, they began building Boatbound—as well as the first insurance program of its kind to ensure a safe experience for all users. Headquartered in San Francisco with an office in Miami, Boatbound officially launched in San Francisco in 2013, and by the fall had expanded to Florida. By 2014, the platform was available to boaters across the U.S. And unsurprisingly, Hall says Boatbound has been seeing significant summer demand in Boston and Cape Cod.
So, how does Boatbound work? Anyone can search for boats at any time, and filter their results based on the features that will best fit their desired activity, whether fishing, sailing or watersports. All they all they have to to book a boat is complete a renter verification process at the time of their account creation.
It’s free to use the service for renting, and also free to sign up and list your boat. Every rental includes up to $3 million in liability and hull insurance protection, as well as on-water support (for all non-commercially insured boats)—and takes 35 percent of the listing price to cover those costs. Additionally, the owners maintain full control over aspects like the daily rental rate, availability and the booking approval process.
As with any peer-to-peer platform, trust is a critical component. To this point, Boatbound acquired Internet privacy company Safe Shepherd in April of this year, bringing on its founders for expertise in security. For added reassurance and transparency, the boat owner and the renter can review each other after each rental.
This helps both parties to better vet each other, while encouraging owners to go above and beyond and renters to return the boats in optimal condition. Currently, all renters and owners to verify their profiles in a variety of ways—including a U.S. driver’s license, cell phone verification, and verification of criminal/driving backgrounds. A boat older than 10 years must pass a safety inspection or have a recent survey to be approved for listing on Boatbound.
Catching up with demand
Currently, there are nearly 10,000 boats listed on the site across the U.S. at any given time. To date, the company has seen roughly $18 million in booking inquiries to date.
The startup has raised $4 million in funding to fuel its expansion—with Boston-based tech investment firm Accomplice participated in the $1 million seed round back in June 2013. And now, Hall says Boatbound is getting ready to close another $1.5 million round, as well as working on raising a much larger round next spring.
“There are so many renters looking for boats,” explained Hall. “Now the challenge is meeting that demand.”
So, as Boatbound seeks to strengthen its supply, the startup is focusing on staffing up. Already, it’s grown immensely: Whereas they started with just three employees, they’re now at 17—more than five times the original team. This fall, the startup plans to add more engineers, and into next year, will be bringing on regional fleet managers to head up local markets. The hope, Hall says, is to have at least 25 team members by next summer. He also emphasized that Boatbound is hoping to host more events in the near future to get the word out. Meanwhile, they’ve been working on forging more and more relationships with local marinas and captains.
“We really want to get more captains on board,” says Hall. “Because in the end, that’s what will allow more people to sit back, relax and the enjoy boating experience.”
All photos provided by Boatbound.