This NYC Startup is the AirBnB of Sailing Off into the Sunset



It was only a matter of time before boating became part of the sharing economy. Now Sailo has made it an idea whose time has come.

Enough of this cruise around Manhattan and three-hour tour schwa. Sailo let’s you rent your own boat, your own captain. And if you’re a boat owner, why just let it sit there docked and doing nothing, in an Airbnb world?

Founders Adrian Gradinaru, Magda Marcu, and Delphine Braas (‘14BUS) explain how they’re talking an elitist past time and arranging for that sailing-off-into-the-sunset for the everyman.

Tell us about the product or service.

Sailo is the new peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace that connects renters, boat owners and licensed captains. Sailo offers both experienced and inexperienced boaters the opportunity to view and compare boats and captains based on date, location, price, size, and user experiences. By facilitating contact between boat owners, captains and renters, Sailo also offers the safest way for owners to monetize their boats and captains to engage with new customers.

Sailo was incorporated in March 2014 by a team of Stanford Engineering and Columbia Business graduates with the ultimate goal of making boat rentals easy, fun, and accessible to everyone.

The company is currently in beta with a small group of boat owners and captains, and is launching this month (August) in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The site is already available for boat owners and captains to list their boats and services.

How is Sailo different?

First of all, Sailo is the only free marketplace for captains – where licensed captains can list their services and renters can select the captains that they want. This allows us to set up instant booking confirmations (for last minute trips) as well as on-demand pickups and drop-offs.

Moreover, since our number one priority is customer experience, we are taking a localized approach to expansion to ensure that everyone has the most seamless experience possible. We have local teams: Sailo dedicated on-call captains and boats, in-person customer service, and we plan on offering additional services, such as cleaning and catering.

We are also offering people the opportunity to be part of a unique boating community that is oftentimes perceived as being elite and inaccessible. Which is why we host Sailo and marine related events and meet-ups.

What market are you attacking and how big is it?

The market is huge. There are 15 million privately owned boats in the US alone, which equates to about  $1 trillion in asset value and $10 billion in associated costs. Moreover, these boats sit unused 95% of the year! 88 million people go boating every year (that is 40% of the US adult population) of which 15 million rent.  All this adds up to more than $10 billion in total addressable market for boat rentals in the US.

The peer-to-peer boat rental marketplace is new, and very few competitors exist. Boatbound, Cruzin’ and Boatsetter launched in the last 18 months, but they’re mostly comprise of bareboats and are focused on experienced boaters, while Sailo is reaching inexperienced boaters.

What are the favorite boating destinations in this area?

The most popular boating destinations include Connecticut, the Hamptons, and of course, sunset sails on the Hudson with the Manhattan skyline.

What is the business model?

The boat owners and captains determine pricing, and we foresee an average of $100-$150 per person for a 4-6-person trip. The renter will search and choose a boat, then search for and book a captain and complete the transaction. Some boats may be associated with preferred captains.

Sailo takes a 35% fee, which includes the Sailo commercial insurance (covering up to $1M per trip), marketing and service fees.

What are the milestones that you plan to achieve within six months?

Sailo is launching this August in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and the Hamptons, before expanding to Florida and the Caribbean in the fall, and nationwide next spring and summer.

Tell us about your experience with the Columbia Startup Lab thus far and your decision to apply.

Given that two of the founders (Adrian Gradinaru and Delphine Braas) graduated from Columbia Business School this May 2014, and were extremely involved in the Columbia Entrepreneurship Community during their time there (Delphine was the president of the Columbia Entrepreneur’s Organization), we were extremely eager to  stay within the Columbia family. And we were right!

The Columbia Startup Lab has been instrumental in helping us bring our team together and start the business. We wanted an office space that would allow Sailo to join a community of brilliant entrepreneurs willing to help one another and grow fast. The lab has not only offered us a beautiful space to work, but also learning opportunities through guest speakers and workshops, access to the Columbia community and resources, visibility in the press and with investors, as well as a family.

We are so very grateful to the school for having made all this possible.

If you could be put in touch with one investor in the New York community who would it be and why?

First round capital, Lerer Ventures or DFJ Gotham. They invest in some amazing startups and have great networks and experience.

Why are you launching your business in New York?

Three of the four cofounders live in New York City, so it made the most sense to start where we were physically located. Moreover, New York State alone has over 900 marinas and a huge boating community, and that is not even including Connecticut and New Jersey! There are no easy ways to use boat rental options in the area, which made it the perfect place to test our business model and build traction.

We were also very excited about the New York Tech community and Silicon Alley, which have offered us so many opportunities to create relationships, get feedback, and build our networks. We want to keep the business based in New York as we believe that New York is the best place for a new business to build and grow.

We also all love New York – this is our home!

Where’s the best place to eat at 1am in New York? 

Veselka in East Village, it’s a classic, French Roast on the UWS, L’Express on Park Ave S is a decent place too…

About the author: AlleyWatch

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