They invested in people and expanded around the world. Thanks to its investors, in four years, the Bratislava-based company has reached the apex of the global market in the boat rental segment.
You might expect to find marines from the shores of the Mediterranean behind a reservation system for renting yachts and boats. However, the company, which ranks among the five largest boat rental platforms in the world and the three strongest in Europe, was established by land dwellers from Central Europe, namely a duo from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Enthusiasm for yachting and employment experience from the Booking.com reservation system led Pavel Pribiš and Jana Escher to create the Boataround reservation portal. When they started in 2016, the pair had a few thousand Euros in “capital.” They signed the first contract for 17 boats at a Croatian seaside resort. Within a year, they were offering 4,000 boats for rental. Boataround currently has the largest catalogue on the market, with boats contracted directly from owners and charter companies. For that reason, it offers verified yacht reviews from real customers, has the best prices on the market, and provides services to customers seven days a week in local languages. The company employs 35 people at its headquarters in Bratislava and others at its foreign offices. However, the company’s rapid development would not be possible without its investors.
Entry of investors into the company
The entrepreneurs learned about Crowdberry from acquaintances. Both the team and the business plan were unique in Slovakia, and at the beginning of 2017 they gained their first investor. “I think it was the right choice for us. It is difficult to implement business ideas without capital. In our case, we succeeded in getting truly high-quality investors and people who supported us and advised us on key decisions,” explains Jana Escher, cofounder of the company.
Pavel Pribiš considers crowdinvesting to be one of the most appropriate options for reaching investors and raising capital to start a company. Most traditional sources of venture capital are still not available for smaller companies, and banks largely do not support startups. According to Pribiš, private investment capital has an advantage in that the investor helps a company and supports the team. A bank is an institution; an investor is a team player and, of course, a potential customer and ambassador of the brand!
Boataround succeeded in raising €1.15 million through the Crowdberry platform in two investment rounds. “The investor assesses the team, its achievements, and the business plan and is interested in the founders and the numbers. The story has to be credible; you’ll have a hard time finding someone to finance monkey business in Slovakia. Slovak investors perceive the level of risk much more sensitively than investors abroad do,” Pavel Pribiš asserts. According to Pribiš, the company attracted investors thanks to its outstanding team, modern technologies, and high-quality products for customers. Clients pay Boataround hundreds of Euros less than the competition for the same boat. “We invested primarily in people. Today we have offices not only in Bratislava, but also in Split and Athens. We have expanded into the world, and today Boataround has customers in more than 60 countries,” says Jana Escher. “I’m pleased to see that high-quality people work for us and that the company is growing globally. Getting high-quality investors was crucial for us. A project with global potential needs financing; otherwise you can’t keep up with the competition. And in the online environment, it is mostly true that whoever gains the lion’s share of the market first will win,” she emphasizes.
The company further strengthened its position on the boat rental market at the beginning of 2020, when it received a significant investment from the Miton venture-capital fund. “Slovakia is a small market, and companies like Boataround.com have to start expanding abroad relatively early. This is a key thing for us, as well as a tremendous advantage. The competition in, for example, the United States often deals only with the domestic market and fails to succeed abroad. Miton’s investment will help us to continue growing, especially in western markets,” says Pavel Pribiš.
Travel and the coronavirus
The coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on all countries’ economies, and the travel industry ranks among the sectors that have been most affected by restrictions on the movement of people. Many entrepreneurs are closing down their companies. “We are keeping a very close eye on the situation and trying to gather information and grow despite the fact that it has been somewhat more challenging this year,” says Jana Escher, who also states that the yachting community is very strong, as people take yachting as a hobby. In comparison with a standard vacation at a hotel resort, the level of safety on a boat is high. Yachters are outdoors, at sea, and build their own immunity. “We tried to adapt as quickly as possible. We opened up many new and safe destinations, and we have introduced online check-in and the possibility of canceling reservations at no charge in the event of travel restrictions at the border. It was a relatively creative period,” Escher adds with a smile.
Experience from recent months has shown that companies operating online are having the highest rate of success in this situation. Many companies that are focused on boat rental services are struggling with the effects of the crisis. Nautal’s owners recently sold the company to its major competitor, Click & Boat. And more changes can be expected. According to Pavel Pribiš, boat rental is a billion-Euro industry that is still very fragmented. “As in other segments of the travel industry, we anticipate further consolidation of the market, which began last year. We will strive to have the strongest cards possible for Boataround,” Pribiš adds.
What is Pavel Pribiš’s view on doing business today, and what would he recommend to people who are considering entrepreneurship? “Starting a business was the best decision for me personally. Every day I learn things that would otherwise be out of reach. If someone has a good idea, they should definitely try it and stand on their own two feet. In today’s globalized world, another Bolt or Wolt could arise, even in Slovakia. There is no need to panic at difficult moments, which are simply a part of doing business. You can come out of everything stronger, learn something new, and find another opportunity,” the company’s director concludes.
The article was written for an investment and business series of the economic daily paper Hospodárske noviny – https://hnonline.sk/hn-special/2208969-v-prenajme-lodi-su-svetovi