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Borrow A Boat: Inside the story of the Airbnb of yachting

4 January 2021By Borrow a Boat

It is already hard to imagine. Not long ago, if you wanted to sail a yacht that wasn’t yours, you needed to be on very good terms with the owner, or have a relationship with an expensive charter broker. In just four years, tech start-up Borrow A Boat has changed all that for ever.

Currently crowdfunding, the innovative British company introduced an entirely new way of connecting boats with charter guests via a mobile phone or laptop. Using its website or app, would-be charterers now have access to a world-leading list of more than 35,000 boats ranging from dayboats to superyachts. They are located in America, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean – extending to 65 countries in total.

It is not the only business in this space, but it is one of the most successful and defines the UK market. The key is founder Matt Ovenden’s personal love of boating, and his long experience as a serial entrepreneur. “When I launched Borrow A Boat in 2017, I was aiming to harness technology to get more people out on the water,” he explains. “Early on, we employed developers and engineers who were able to build algorithms that efficiently matched client criteria with the boats available on the market. At the same time, we honed our front-end offer to ensure that Borrow A Boat was simple and intuitive to use.”

Being a sailor himself, Ovenden knew what the core customer base wanted. But he has been very successful in understanding how to attract new customers into charter. In a market forecast to be worth $25bn by 2027, it is these non-traditional charter customers who hold the keys to growth. They are those who have always been put off by the complexity of yachting, or by the constraints of traditional seven-day charters.

Starting life as a simple peer-to-peer business, Borrow A Boat was quickly labelled the Airbnb of the yachting. But despite strong growth in this core activity, Ovenden and his young team realised that there was an opportunity in pivoting to include traditional charter suppliers as well. The business became a leading aggregator for the whole yacht charter sector, redoubling growth. So much so, in fact, that in 2019 it was headline sponsor of the UK’s premier yachting event, the Southampton Boat Show.

At the same moment, Ovenden entered the superyacht sector, under the Borrow A Boat Plus moniker. “It was a natural extension of the brand,” he says. “All the barriers to participation that we saw in the smaller boat market are just as evident with superyachts too. We know that owners and customers alike are frustrated by this, which is why we’ve seen such phenomenal growth with our premium business. We now list 2,000 luxury charters and superyachts worldwide.”

The team has weathered a difficult 2020 well and emerged with strong plans for future growth. After overfunding its last capital-raising round in the spring of 2020, Borrow A Boat is tapping the markets again – this time on the Seedrs platform. With venture capital backing, the business has raised £3.3m since its launch four years ago. It is now looking for an additional £250,000 to launch in a further 8 countries. Ovenden hopes that this will help make a global phenomenon from one of the UK’s most recognisable marine brands.

Borrow a Boat is currently crowdfunding. Click here for more information. 

Sponsored content created in collaboration with Borrow A Boat.