Nowboat Is Trying to Become the Hotels.com of Boats
Booking boats is seriously terrible.
If you're not lucky enough to have your own with a captain willing to pull it into whatever marina you happen to be near, the world of boat charters is full of sketchy companies with terrible websites. Hong Kong-based startup Nowboat is attempting to change all that.
Founder Giovanni Alessi Anghini is the creative director of GAA Design, a firm that typically specializes in interior and product design. He was working with some IT companies in Hong Kong when he got the idea for Nowboat, which he calls a project in "business design." The site respects Google's Material Design principles, with white cards floating above the background and bright, well-marked buttons throughout. It makes booking a week on a yacht in Southeast Asia feel approachable and unpretentious and centralizes listings in a way that genuinely improves customer experience, even if the idea of booking a boat on the Internet isn't something particularly revolutionary.
I know what you're thinking: "Oh, so this is like Airbnb for boats!" Not really. While Airbnb's success has attracted full-time landlords and would-be hoteliers (like in Cuba, for instance), the service is aimed at letting individuals rent space to other individuals when they're not using it. Nowboat might have a similarly slick interface, but all of the listings are from professional tour operators and charter companies vetted for safety, eco-friendliness, and ethical treatment of workers. For various liability and insurance reasons, this model is basically a necessity. It's more like a Hotels.com of boats.
At launch, Nowboat offers more than 70 different listings that encompass a pretty broad profile of what someone might want to do on the water. You can paddleboard in Sardinia ($27/hour), take a seven-day kitesurfing workshop in the Dominican Republic ($1,800/person), or just hang out on a 56-foot Sunseeker in Thailand ($495/person). You can search by activity, location, or price, and I found it pretty easy to browse a variety of listings quickly. The business model couldn't be much simpler: Operators pay no fee to list their offerings; Nowboat handles the booking and takes a 10 percent cut.
The service is still very much in beta and only earlier this week booked its first big charter, a pair of yachts for a party in Hong Kong that ran a little over $20,000. Anghini says that long term, his ambitions are twofold: to grow the number of options customers have on Nowboat and to use the underlying technology to expand into other sorts of adventure activities like skiing, mountaineering, and more. There's even an Indiegogo campaign that's being used primarily not for funding but for getting the word out and encouraging users to try the service.
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