On the up · 4 August 2017

Borrow A Boat: The sharing economy platform that’s the Airbnb for boat hire

Borrow A Boat 2
Matt Ovenden: It’s never a perfect time to go out on a limb to start a business

Having successfully grown three businesses within the renewable energy sector, 37-year old Matt Ovenden, from Essex, was in early 2016 at the helm of an international eco-island business, and was planning to invest in a boat from the spoils of a lucrative inward investment deal.

He saw an opportunity to buy a dream boat and spend more time on the water with his family, but with the financial uncertainty that came with the vote to leave the EU, especially the sharp change in the exchange rate, there were knock on effects to his business and the investment deal was shelved.

It was at this point that Ovendens spotted a niche in the boat ownership marketplace. Since launching in November last year, Borrow A Boat already has more than 4,000 vessels available for charter on its site, with the aim of having more than 20,000 boats available by the end of 2017.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Matt Ovenden, founder of Borrow A Boat – a boat charter marketplace, and the UK’s first peer-to-peer boat charter company.  We let boat owners list their boats for private charter, Airbnb-style.

We list charter boats from small operators alongside privately owned boats to give the customer maximum choice.  We believe the sharing economy can bring more choice and variety of boats to the market, and drive better value as well, making chartering more accessible and helping boat owners at the same time.

(2) How long have you been around for?

I set the business up in mid-2016 and we began collecting boats.  We did a public launch in January 2017 at the London Boat Show, and have gone from strength to strength since then with new investors coming on board, a successful crowdfunding round, new website, and we will soon be listing close to 20,000 boats, which will be the most in Europe and one of the most in the world!

Luxury yachts and apartments at Southampton's Ocean Village marina(3) How do you make money?

We simply make a commission on the charter bookings. We’ve created the marketplace, and we bring together the demand and supply effectively, in an easily accessible format.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Well this is a UK-first, to go peer-to-peer in the world of boat charter.  Our lives are changing rapidly at the moment with tech-related businesses and solutions forecast to bring disruption to ever sector in the next five years.

The sharing economy is the biggest global trend in the tech world, and particularly so in the travel and leisure sector, companies like Uber and Airbnb are blazing a trail and the consumer is getting familiar with the sharing economy.

We believe the same kind of innovation can essentially be brought to boating, and help people go boating, and also help the industry as a whole which has been struggling with falling boat sales and ownership numbers and younger generations not getting in to boating as much as they used to as a result.

With the sharing economy and Borrow A Boat we can make boating smartphone and web friendly for generations Y and Z – the millenials.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started? 

It was key to get to market as fast as possible to test the offering, so we built an ultra lightweight MVP website to enable us to get going and start testing consumer reactions to the platform, so we could begin iteratively refining and tweaking what we were doing.

We just went for it, and got out there talking to boat owners, and charterers and marinas and the industry, and built a site to get going as quickly as we could.

(6) Did Brexit play a role in you launching your business? 

It did play a role as it disrupted my previous company, and changed my course.  I was completing an investment deal with an angel investor on my eco-island company that built off-grid renewables in the Caribbean, but when he lost money due to the sudden unexpected exchange rate plan post-Brexit, the deal had to change completely.

It lead to me deciding to exit and passing the business over to my partner.  And then, as I’d been thinking of buying a boat, I had boats in the forefront of my mind, and that’s how this idea came about for my next business.

(7) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

With Borrow A Boat it would have to be arranging a very early seed funding round, when the company was barely three months old, which lead to ten angel investors all coming on board.

I took part in a speed-pitching event to angels, and live pitched it at The Business Show in Excel, London, and was delighted that some of the angels really got behind it and wanted to come in even through it was early days for us.  The funding round ended up overfunded by over 50 per cent.

(8) What setbacks have you had along the way?

We haven’t had major setbacks as such, just challenges, more around timing, and having to be patient, for example we had to quieten down all of the marketing whilst we went into “design and build” mode for the new website, as we didn’t want to spend money driving people to the old website.  This was frustrating as time ticked on with no marketing and little market engagement, but it was necessary to put the time and effort into getting the product right.

(9) In five years’ time, I will be… Borrow A Boat 1

The go-to website and app for finding a boat to “borrow” (charter).  Any boat, anywhere in the world.  People will take the app on holiday to book boats for a day or two, or they will book group holidays with us, or boats near to where they live regularly for a boating hobby.

(10) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

If think you have an idea, and you have the opportunity to give it a go – just go for it.  There may seem to be challenges, and in some ways it’s never a perfect time to drop everything and go out on a limb to start a business.  But, if you have the opportunity, and a great idea, I really believe you should go out of your way to realise it and make the most of it, as they don’t come along often.

(11) Who are your business heroes and why?

I’ve always admired Richard Branson – I had the privilege to meet him several times and work with him in my last business, we even designed projects for his home on Necker Island in the Caribbean.  I was impressed that given his global stature he was quite unassuming and humble, and concerned with good causes like climate change and protecting the environment.

Why does this entrepreneur keeps a list of his business mistakes?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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