When you’ve grown to be the largest lecture agency in the world who represents prime ministers, presidents and secretaries of state, you have to understand that this value of work womes from a turning point in life that defines who you are. Author of “What Made Me Who I Am” Bernie Swain used to work in a closet before he got to represent 3 of the last 4 presidents of the United States. He shares that with Washington Speakers Bureau, your speech should aim to make a difference and make people go in a direction of change. AirBnB has proven that there are people who would choose to rent rather than own. Co-founder and CEO of Boataffair Adrian Walker applied this idea to renting boats. He and his wife thought they liked sharing the boating experience but a lot of people don’t own one because of money and maintenance factors. He now helps people enjoy a fantastic day in the water and he earns extra income on the side.
We have Bernie Swain and Adrian Walker here. They’re such different shows with both of them here, but they’re both very successful Founders of companies, which are very different. Bernie Swain is the Founder and Chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau and Adrian Walker is the Co-Founder and CEO of Boataffair. They both have such unique and interesting stories that it’s going to be fascinating to talk to both of them.
Listen to the podcast here
Speaking To Inspire Change with Bernie Swain
I am here with Bernie Swain, who is the Founder and Chairman of the Washington Speakers Bureau and is today’s foremost authority on the lecture industry. Over the past 35 years, Bernie has represented three of the last four US Presidents, the last four Prime Ministers of Great Britain, five Secretaries of State, and countless world and American leaders. He has also represented numerous business executives, public figures, media leaders, and sports legends. He’s the author of What Made Me Who I Am, which is his latest book. I’m very interested in talking to you, Bernie. Welcome.
Thank you, Diane. I’m looking forward to this.
I’ve met a lot of great speakers. This is the best part about doing this show, I get to meet the most interesting people from Hall of Fame speakers to people that are parts of different speaker bureaus. I don’t know a lot about the Washington Speakers Bureau, so I want to start there. I understand that you found it and you’re the Chairman of it, but how is that different from any other speakers’ bureau? Is it just in Washington? Can you tell me more about that?
I’ll give you a little background on how we started because it’s important for people to understand about entrepreneurism and the value of working together and the value of turning points in your life, which greatly affected me. The Washington Speakers Bureau happens to be the largest lecture agency in the world. We are twice as large as the next lecture agency. We started in 1980 and by 1991, we were the largest lecture agency in the world. We represent speakers from all over the world. Normally not only Prime Ministers or Presidents or Secretaries of State but all kinds of great leaders. These leaders speak everywhere. We do weekly programs in China, Korea, and all parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe, South America, and Africa. While we’re called the Washington Speakers Bureau, it was a name we decided on because we started in Washington DC.
I had seen that you were global and I was curious about that because of the name, I wasn’t sure. You had a lot of great people who you’ve worked with, but in your book, you also include a lot of people with whom you’ve worked. Tell me a little bit about what made you interested in starting the Speakers Bureau?
I want to give you a good perspective because it’s important for people to know my background, especially when people are starting and feeling somewhat disadvantaged by not having a good education or the opportunities that they think they need to succeed in life. No one in my family ever attended college before. My mother and her family were farmers and grew up in Central Virginia who lived off the land. My father, with five sisters and a brother and his mother and assorted relatives, lived in just a two-room house in the poorest of mining towns in West Virginia. No one in my family ever attended college before I did. I would have never attended college except for a teacher that I had. He was the athletic director at the school and also a football coach. He encouraged me to go to college and I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to emulate his life. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be an athletic director, involved in athletics to some extent, and I started on a seventeen-year career in college athletics and public education. I was just about to be selected as the Athletic Director of George Washington University when I was 36 years old when I read an article about another lecturer agency, which at the time, was the largest lecture agency in the world.
There was an article in Fortune Magazine that talked about how the head of that agency went into the Gerald Ford White House and signed Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and others to represent after they left office. In the end of the Fortune article, Henry Kissinger is complaining about the high commission rates that this agency wants to charge and says, “Why don’t I simply sign with one of your competitors?” The head of the agency’s response was, “I have no competitors.” I took the magazine home and I happened to leave it on the coffee table at home. Several days later when I came home, my wife said, “Have you read this article? He has no competitors.” She sat me down and she said, “You come home and you complain about the bureaucracy of university life and I don’t think you’re ever going to be happy unless you can do something on your own.” Over a period of weeks, she pushed and prodded me and convinced me to quit my dream job and walk away and start a lecture agency with absolutely no plan and no experience.
How did you do it?
We had no money, so we put a second mortgage on our home. We had $75,000 of mortgages on an $80,000 house at above 12% interest rate. We had no money to get an office. We couldn’t allocate the small amount of money that that second mortgage gave us, so a friend of mine offered to rent us his stationery closet. His name was Chuck Hagel. Chuck and I were friends early in life and Chuck would later become the Secretary of Defense for Barack Obama. I’ll give you an idea of what it’s like to start work in Chuck’s stationery closet. If we ever had to leave the closet for any reason, we would have to often sit and wait for one of Chuck’s meetings to be over because you had to walk from our closet through Chuck’s office just to get out of the building.
It worked out well though. What happened at that point?
To give you an idea of what it’s like to start a lecture agency when you have no experience, we would simply sit in the closet and we would think of famous names. We would write them letters and we would get letters back from attorneys saying, “Don’t write my client, this famous speaker or this famous person because they’re already represented by somebody and we’ll sue you because you’re enticing them to leave an existing contract.” The thing you have to realize is back in 1980, there was no internet. For the very first time sitting in that closet, we discovered that there was competition for this agency, that the claim of no competition was nothing more than a strategic boast and there were dozens of lecture agencies in the United States, many up and down the East Coast of the United States, so at the time, most of the famous people that we were thinking of were already represented.
We sat in that closet for a full year and nothing had changed. We didn’t represent anyone. The only thing that changed was we were about out of money. Another couple of months pass and I get a call from a guy named Steve Bell. He was the anchorman for a new television show that started in 1975 called Good Morning America on ABC. I had briefly met Steve when I was at the university. I let him use the swimming pool and Steve had been under a written contract with another agency. The contract had expired and they had not produced for him, so somehow Steve discovered that I had left the university and we’d started this lecture agency. He called me on the phone and invited me over. I went over to his office and we talked for awhile. I asked Steve if we could represent him, he agreed and we shook hands. On the drive back to the closet, I remember thinking that I hadn’t signed him to one of those written contract, so when I get back to the closet, I tried to justify it to my wife by saying, “What good would it do to sign and get a piece of paper if he’s going to be unhappy?”
That mistake on my part turned out to be a defining moment because Steve then went and told his friends, other Washington journalists, that if you don’t want to sign a written contract with a big agency, then you can go with these new little guys in town, shake their hand and walk out on them anytime you want. That turned out to be a defining moment for us because we then signed on handshakes are number of Washington journalists that we would’ve never had the opportunity to represent if it hadn’t been for that mistake on my part. Over a period of 30, almost 40 years now, we have never represented a speaker including Presidents of the United States and prime ministers of countries and presidents of other countries on anything but a handshake.
It’s a good thing you had the meeting at his place instead of yours. That helped a little but bringing him back to the closet.
I’m sure my wife would’ve corrected me at the moment by saying, “We’re going to write a contract for you and sign it.” It shows that you can turn adversity into something positive and sometimes it works out when you make an honest mistake.
You’ve represented which three of the last four US Presidents?
We represented both George Bush, the father, and George Bush. We also represented Ronald Reagan.
Those are some pretty big names. When you represent them, what exactly did you do for them?
We are their exclusive agent. We get them speaking engagements. We actively look for events for them to speak at and you match the speaker you’re getting for an event to that event to make sure that for a President of the United States speaking somewhere, he may be speaking to the decision makers for example, or if we were sending out somebody like a sports personality, then maybe we’re matching them with a recognition event or an inspirational or motivational event. That’s what we do. Our job is to find them speaking engagements and to get them where they need to go. We have travel offices in our offices and they’re responsible for either traveling with the person or getting them from one place to another place and during the background on these events. When you represent well-known speakers like the President of the United States or a Prime Minister, you need to be very careful about who they speak to. We do a lot of research and background information to make sure that the audience is the right audience for them to speak to.
I deal with so many speakers and speaking engagements and I speak. I’m curious how much a US President charges to speak? Is it any different once they retire?
They don’t do any speaking unless they are retired. Anybody in government, whether it’d be a Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense or President of the United States, they always speak after they’ve left office. That includes congressmen and senators because they’re not allowed to go out and speak unless they’ve left office.
Is there a going rate for a president or they all charge something different?
They all charge something different and a lot of it depends on travel. If we’re going to China, and the travel is so long, then you charge money more than if you’re doing it within an hour’s drive or an hour’s flight, for example. It all varies on how much you charge for an event, but you’re consistent in that event, so that if we do one event an hour away from their location and charge a certain fee, that fee is charged for every organization under those same circumstances.
You have these famous prominent speakers, you do public figures, media leaders and sports legends. How do you determine who’s good enough to meet the standards that you have for your organization?
You have to hear them speak beforehand. If we’re representing Ronald Reagan, we have to hear Ronald Reagan speak, whether it’d be on the news or something, but if people come to us and we represented people like Mary Lou Retton or Carrie Bradshaw or Lou Holtz who was at Notre Dame, or we represented Alex Haley, the great journalist and author, or great business people, you have to hear them speak. If a lot of people in the audience are looking to go out and speak, today it is driven by the ability to create a video and have that video available for speaker bureaus to view because not only do they make that decision on either seeing you speak in person or most likely looking at the video, when they send you out to other organizations, they need that video because rarely does a corporation or a trade association or any organization agree to take you unless they have a good compliment and understanding that you’re going to be a good speaker. Sometimes it is necessary to share with them the video that we have of somebody speaking. That may not necessarily apply to a President or Secretary of State because they’re getting those people for certain reasons, but it does apply to a lot of the speakers we represent and a lot of the speakers that other agencies represent as well.
I’ve seen some great videos that people had and some people have amazing platforms, some people have amazing messages. Do you have a certain type of speech that draws you to someone? Do you like the more energetic one that’s getting people up and getting them motivated? Do you have a variety of things that you like from business speakers that are more educating?
The most important thing is to have a speech that makes a difference, that changes a life, or sends you in a different direction. It doesn’t make any difference what the topic is. Do you reach the audience that you’re speaking to? That is incredibly important because it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re talking about economics or politics or you’re talking about overcoming adversity. On the other hand, you still need to affect the people that are in the audience for them to understand what you’re trying to say and that information you’re giving them will make a difference in their lives.
What percentage of people who contacted you have you turn away? I’m sure you get a lot of people responding to you.
You do, unfortunately. You end up sometimes turning away people that you don’t want to turn away. There are a number of agencies like ours throughout the United States and it’s an American industry, those agencies can’t overtake the number of people that they represent because they have to do a good job for the people they do represent. If you take too many people and you make yourself spread too thin in the ability that you have to do something, then you end up not doing a good job for the people that you already have. You have to be very careful about how many people you represent and whether you can do a good job for them. Sometimes that’s dictated by the sheer fact that you have a certain number of speakers and you don’t have the capacity to do more. Sometimes they may come to you with a topic you’ve never had before and while you have a lot of speakers and you’re constantly busy, having somebody who can speak on a different topic a is a great advantage.
Have you ever had to let speakers go because it wasn’t working out?
Yeah, occasionally. I don’t know what it was about the ability to shake somebody’s hand and represent them that made a difference for us because we have had a number of people say to us, “I only do stuff if it’s in the written contract,” and my opposition from that first experience with Steve Bell was that your handshake establishes an atmosphere and environment of trust that’s important for you and the people that you represent and also important for the employees that you have in the company. That environment of trust for us and that’s shaking your hands is important and it has brought us a lot of people that have the attitude that, “I’m going to work hard for you because you put your trust in me,” and in return, we work hard for them because they’ve put their trust in us.
You’ve had all these people put their trust in you and that led to your writing your latest book, What Made Me Who I Am. Can you give a little synopsis of what the book is? It’s very unique. I found it interesting. I read your book.
Over the over the years, I’ve had friends and neighbors and associates who have said to me “Those people you represent had opportunities that the rest of us simply don’t have.” That was the impression that so many people that I run into had of the work that I did. It was that these people had opportunities and I simply don’t have that an opportunity. What I found was it was the opposite, that most of these people came from very humble beginnings, and there was a turning point in their life. What I mean as a turning point is an opportunity that we have in life that if we pay attention to it, it can change us. That teacher that I had in high school, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, was a turning point. That moment in my life when my wife, Paula, convinced me to walk away from my dream job and I listened to her, that was a turning point.
Most of the people that I’ve represented I discovered have turning points in their lives and it can be somebody that comes into our life, it could be a tough moment in time, it can be an unexpected event. It may be something intangible such as expectations set by others or something that totally surprises us, but they all had turning points in their lives. If you pay attention to these turning points, then they can change your lives. They can make our lives better and we can exceed our expectations. I’ve always paid attention to these turning points once I discovered that most of the people I represent came from modest beginnings and that they experience turning points and that there was a great misconception out there that they were given some opportunities that the rest of us don’t have. I wanted to write about their stories to show that no matter who they are, that we all have the opportunities to succeed in life. We may not all be authors or presidents of the United States, but we all have the opportunity to exceed our expectations if we pay attention to these turning points. The book is 34 people. I’ve represented all of them exclusively and they’re all about the personal turning points in their lives and how their lives changed because of a moment in time or a person in their life.
I think that’s a great message. You bring up some of the stuff that I’m researching for my book on curiosity of what motivates us to go to the next step and how much of it do we have from birth. Were you always curious or did Paula make you curious?
It is a combination. I’ve always wanted to do well at whatever I did. If I had been a janitor, I would’ve been one of the best janitors there was because I wanted to do well at whatever I did. I give a lot of credit to Alex Haley who is the great author of Roots learning about turning points. One day in the late 1980s, Alex showed up at my office unannounced. He used to come to my office often and we would sit and talk for hours about a lot of things. On several occasions, he would repeat a phrase. He often said to me, “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning.” That phrase stuck with me. As the days and months passed, I began to understand what he was trying to say, that each life, the ones recounted in my book, and the millions that go uncelebrated, are defined by the experiences that have volumes to teach us. Each of these lives is a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge. It’s a library stuffed to the rafters. That’s why I wrote the book. It is to share a collection of these stories that have inspired me for many years and taught me something about life and the stories of an eclectic group of friends who are guided by their powerful influences and defining moments.
You have some amazing names in that book. You want to name a couple of people you’ve listed in that book? I thought it was pretty fascinating, the list of people.
Tony Blair is in the book and he was the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Tony Blair always wanted to be a musician in life. In fact, he ran away from home and hitchhiked to London and slept on a bench just to be a musician and a turning point in this life sending him in a totally different direction. Bob Woodward, the great journalist who wrote the book about Watergate, and he’s an investigative journalist, always looking for what’s behind the story. Not just what’s facing us, but what’s behind it. He learned to be a journalist as a janitor. Robert Reich, who is in California with you, who has spent a lifetime as an advocate for economic, equality, and justice in this world became that kind of a person because he is incredibly short. He’s 5’1” and because the people that protected him was tragically killed in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, that totally changed his life and sent him in a totally different direction.
There are 34 stories in the book and you will find each one of them different. You will see yourself in many of these stories. That’s the unique thing about the stories, it is that you can read that and you can look back at an early time in your life and say, “That made a difference for me or that was something I overlooked in life, or this is something at a moment in my life right now.” The book is especially good for young people starting out in life. More than any time in our history, we look at this period as a time when maybe our children aren’t going to do as well as we did and you worry about that. These stories can change you because you can find something in your life that you could hold on to. I could’ve easily missed that teacher and never gone to college and never had a career in athletics. I could have easily never married my wife. I could have never listened to my wife. How many times do we get criticism and we just don’t pay attention to it?
I think that this book was fascinating. I hope a lot of people check out what you do because you’ve had such an amazing career and all the people you’ve met are so interesting. I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to know how they could even find out more about the book or how they can reach you. Can you just share that?
I have a website called BernieSwain.com. You can find me on Facebook. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter as well. All of those things, if somebody wants to be a speaker and they’re interested in how do I do that, you could go on my website and you’ll see articles that I’ve written about that and you’ll see a lot of the stories and information on the book.
Thank you, Bernie. This has been so interesting. I’m so glad you were able to join me.
I am too, and it’s been great. I’m very grateful for giving me the opportunity.
The Boating Experience with Adrian Walker
I am here with Adrian Walker, who’s the Co-Founder and CEO of Boataffair, which is a boutique boat-sharing platform headquartered in Switzerland. They are a tech startup located in the ecosystem of the sharing economy and it is their goal to enable boat owners to share their boat in a more transparent and safe manner while making boating more accessible for boat renters. Individuals no longer need to own a boat to have the authentic boating experience on a quality sailing or motor boat. This is a fascinating business and I’m very excited to have you here. Welcome, Adrian.
Thank you so much for the introduction. It’s lovely to be here.
You’re welcome. We can thank Marcel Kuhn Bamert for introducing us. He is an interesting man and I like to follow his work. He had good things to say about you and your business, so this is going to be fascinating. He also said you had a cool accent and I agree with that, too. You’re from London originally. I saw you have an MBA from the Imperial College in London. Where are you from?
I’m half Swiss and half British. My mother is from Switzerland and my father is from London. I was born and raised in Switzerland, so my entire childhood I spent in Switzerland. Then I moved to London at some points to get my MBA, so I’m half Swiss, half English.
I’m part English. My daughter’s dad is 100%, or close to that, Swiss. Their last name is Rothpletz, which means red house. I don’t even know.
We are all a bit of a mix and that’s a beautiful thing about it, isn’t it? We’re all connected.
I have talked to others from your area. I’m fascinated with what you do at Boataffair and your interest in starting this company. There’re so many different businesses that are more about sharing. People don’t own cars anymore and now you don’t have to own a boat, which I would like because having a boat was a lot of work, to store it and clean it and all that. I’m curious about what made you interested in starting this business.
You said it yourself. A lot of people don’t own boats but they’d love to use a boat. When you do own a boat, it’s a lot of money that goes into that. I am a boat owner. I’ve got a motor boat in the South of France, here in Europe. The problem we face, me and my wife, is we don’t use it enough, so we use it about ten times a year only. We totally realized that that asset, the boat, is totally underutilized, so we were sitting on the sundeck of that motorboat two years ago and we started talking how we never used the boat, how we do enjoy inviting people to the boat, and how we enjoy sharing the boat, if we only could share it more. We liked that and that prompted us to say, “Why don’t we start a boat-sharing company ourselves?” That’s how it all started, being a boat owner ourselves and realizing we don’t use the boat enough and we’d love to share, we’d love to meet people and that’s how it started.
When you say you meet people, do you share the boating experience or you meet them as they come to rent the boat and that type of thing?
It’s both. Before we started our startup, we would always invite other friends around to South of France and to share the boating experience, but we also started talking about making a bit of extra income on the side. We believe that everybody on this planet who has an asset, but it’s underutilized, you could run that asset out, be it a car, a flat, a boat. You can rent it out and there’s always going to be demand. There is always going to be somebody who wants to rent that asset because there’re so many people who don’t want to own anymore and they’d rather rent. It’s more flexible, so it’s both. We have shared the boat, but we have also rented it out to people last year with the help of our platform, Boataffair. We have people from England and Wales who’d come to the South of France for a holiday. They have rented out boat and that’s the good thing about sharing. If we can help a family or a group of friends to have a fantastic day on the water on our boat and if we can make a little bit of extra income on the side, that is a win-win situation. We believe that’s what the sharing economy is about.
It’s interesting because I haven’t had a chance to even try Airbnb and I did my first rental on their site for the summer, so I’m very curious to do that because it’s something that looks great. You get these pictures and I would think the industry would be similar to the housing and that type of industry where you have an asset, and why not do it that way? Were you concerned at all that people would trash your boats? How do you make sure that they keep them in good shape?
We all are as worried about people trashing our boat. It’s not just people are worried on Airbnb about people trashing that flats. Let’s be honest about that. What we have built on our platform is a messenger function so people can talk to each other. If a potential boat renter will send a rental request to a boat owner, those two partners can communicate, they can talk to other, and a boat renter could even upload their ID, they can upload their license to show the boat owner, “I know how to drive a boat” if they rented their boat, so they can upload documents. All this creates a lot of trust. We know that the parties talked to each other. This is similar to Airbnb. We got the rating and review process on our platform. Every time you have a boat rental, the boat renter would leave a review for the boat owner and vice versa. With this rating and review system, we want to build this safe community where like-minded people come together and they can also talk to each other. This is all that so that we can build this community where people think alike, same values, they are looking for quality experience, and that’s why we built all that.
What advice would you give if somebody was thinking of starting? They have an asset like this and want to start a company. What things did you learn that you think you wish you had known before you started business?
I would have loved to talk to somebody who’s already been doing it for two to three years. I would love to ask questions like, “How did you go about the fear that you felt?” You’re nervous at the beginning, “How did you go about that?” I would advise those people that you have to ask yourself one crucial question, “Are you ready to go for it? Are you ready to make sacrifices for a few years?” Let’s be honest. You know about your own company. To be honest, I haven’t had a fancy holiday in three years because I know what it takes in terms of money. We’ve got our savings. It went to our company before we had our first funding round and we work every day. I don’t even remember the last day I took fully off, to be honest. You have to be ready and prepared to do all that. I will advise people to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Are you ready? Are you ready to commit?”
Secondly, and also very importantly, if you feel afraid or if you feel fear, ask yourself why exactly do you feel that fear. Is it because it’s produced by society and you’re afraid of what people might think of you? Is it for other reasons? I believe that a lot of people have an idea, they want to create a startup, they’ve talked about it for a long time, and often they don’t follow through. Having talked to many entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs, we have noticed and we feel that many people don’t start that venture because they are too afraid of what society might think, especially in Europe or Switzerland, it can be weird. You don’t commute anymore in the morning, you don’t work out in the evening, all of a sudden you can work out in the afternoon on your own gym. All those things, small things, they’re very weird, but you have to wrap your head around it. That would be my advice. Look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, “Why are you feeling what you’re feeling,” and try to get to the bottom of those feelings and then reach out and talk to people who have done it.
It’s interesting when you talked about working every day. I’ve had people say if they knew that they had to work every day and how much hard work it would be, they almost wouldn’t have done it. I was thinking the last vacation day that I had, a Saturday or Sunday or any day off, was in 2010. I flew into Basel, Switzerland. We did a river cruise on the Rhine River and I can remember thinking, “That’s the last time I took a vacation.” If somebody told me that you’re never going to have a day off for the next eight years, I don’t know if I would have done it but I’m glad I did.
I’m not sure. I agree with you. I think if somebody told you, “For the next ten years, you’re not going to have one day off,” that’s difficult. Let’s admit it. We’re all humans. On the other hand, I have to also say that my wife and I, we started the company together. We have never been happier because we know why we’re doing it. We’re doing it for ourselves. We can see the progress on a daily or weekly basis. We can see the output of what we’ve achieved. We can see the boat rentals, this year, the traction of the signups to our platform. We’ve seen the figures go up so dramatically in the last two months, which makes us happy. Every little traction makes me happy, every signup, every message on Facebook and Instagram makes us happy, and it reminds us of why we’re doing it. We’re as happy as can be.
You’ve got a lot of advantages. I was looking at some of your background. You can speak German, Spanish, and French. You’re so like my daughter. She speaks Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and a lot of different languages. It is amazing. I can barely speak English, so I’m always impressed by people who can do all that. That must help you when you get people from different countries there. How many boats do you have now? Is this a big company that you started? Is it several boats or is it just a couple smaller boats?
We started small two years ago. We went live with about 20 or 30 boats. I don’t remember exactly, but below 50. We went live in three countries simultaneously. Fast forward to April 2018, we have boats in 28 countries worldwide. We have between 500 and 600 boats at the moment. The reason for that is you might say you can have more boats if you wanted to after two years, and that is true, we could have more boats if we wanted to. The reason why we only said yes to 500 boats is that we are adamant about our quality, which is our promise. We want to build a quality platform, which is transparent and creates a lot value for people. We want to nail it before we scale it. By that I mean we don’t want too many boats to go live in the first two years. We screen the boats before they’re made live in our platform. We look at things like their insurance. We look at their pictures. We look at who’s the boat owner. We often have a chat on the phone or through emails with the boat owners, so we know our inventory exists. We have a few competitors and they would go download 5,000 boats from a software. That’s possible in Europe, Software Success, but I could not guarantee that those 5,000 boats actually exist. We are doing this organically and we’re getting signups organically and that is what drives value for us.
I try at the moment to work with 500 or 600 boats in 28 countries, get them to turn, get them to be rented out and take it from there. That’s what we believe creates a value. We started small two years now and now growing at a very interesting pace. At the moment, every week, a country will go live. We added three countries: Mexico, the Maldives and New Zealand. We have boats in those countries. We’re happy about that traction. Somehow people are seeing us on Facebook, Instagram or newspaper articles.
Do you do yachts? Is it ski boats? Is it all different types of boats?
It’s all different types of boats. What’s important for us is the quality off the vessel. It shouldn’t be too old, so we have said no to many boats that were 30 or 40 years old. I can’t guarantee that that will function perfectly. What’s important is the quality. Once that’s guaranteed, we have sailing yachts. We have small sailing boats. We have big luxury catamarans in Greece and Croatia. We have small speedboats, but we also have big luxury yachts like the ones in Miami. We have Azimuts, Sunseekers and Ferrettis. If you want to ask me what’s your segment in terms of inventory, in terms of boats, I’d say it’s quality vessels which can be rented out, worry-free and hassle-free by either a small group of friends or a bigger party like a luxury catamaran.
If I wanted to get a yacht, a fancy one, and I don’t know how to drive the boat, do you have someone that I could hire to drive it for me? How does that work?
In most of the cases, our yachts would come with a skipper or a captain. For example, take our luxury catamarans in Greece and Croatia, they would all come with a skipper. You can book them online through our system and then you always have the option for the boat renter to click “Do I want it with or without a captain?” Some boats come with a skipper only. They have to rent that yacht with a skipper because it’s too big. On the smaller yachts, you decide if you can produce a valid license, if you can prove to the boat owner. “I know how to take a yacht out by myself,” then you can rent a boat out without a captain.
We cater for all needs. We’ve had a lot of feedback. We’ve got a typical Swiss family or your English family of four, they want a captain on their motor boat because they want to enjoy the day out and the father doesn’t want to take care of the boat for eight hours. He wants to play with his kids, with his children. Then we have other groups, like a group of six, they asked us, “We are six experienced sailors and we are looking for a quality sailing yacht, which we want to take out for a week, but we want to rent it without a captain.” That’s also another problem because we offer that. Most of our yachts come with a captain if you want that.
I’m going to be in Europe next year. I might have to do that, but I’m going to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho soon and I go to California a lot. Where are you in the United States? Are you spread out throughout? You mentioned Florida. Is it in multiple locations in the US?
To say that we are spread out in the US is a bit farfetched. We’re a Swiss, very European company, so the US has not been our focus, but boat owners found us anyway online. Social media travels rapidly. At the moment, we have a motor boat in Chicago. We have multiple luxury yachts in Miami, a couple of motor boats, not luxury necessarily, but the quality motorboats in and around Florida. That’s where we’re at, at the moment. In a nutshell, it’s mostly Florida. The thing is you’re not the first one out to ask me, “Do you have yachts in California?” We’ve had two parties ask me that, so we’re going to have to work in California because people are asking me, so that’s positive, that’s fantastic.
I know so many people on the La Jolla, San Diego, and the San Francisco area. It seems like it would be a big market in California and LA. What you do is fascinating and I could see why people would love to do that. I’m seeing so much more of this. I see a day where no one has cars, nobody has boats, you don’t have to deal with all the stuff. It’s going to be interesting to see if we cut back on cars and different things like that and how it will change, the housing, you don’t need as many garages, you don’t need all these parking lots. I wonder how that’ll change different industries when we do all this sharing. I’m always fascinated by people who take this challenge to go out and start these new companies and they get past their fear to think about what you have to do to start up a new company. You’ve done some amazing things and I’m sure you’ve reached a lot of different milestones. I’m curious what you want for the future of this company.
We also believe that people in future, the next 20 or 50 years, will not want to own assets anymore. People will want to own experiences and to have a fantastic experience. You don’t have to be the owner of an asset. You can rent an asset for a day or a week and you want to own the experience because that’s what we’re sharing on a daily basis on Instagram and Facebook. We share our experiences. That’s where we want to help. So far in the last two years, boat owners have been able to rent out their boats and they’re starting to have extra income, and as a result, boat renters would have a fantastic experience on the water without having to own a boat.
What we’re launching is a new product. It’s a new scheme called our boat-swapping scheme. We’re excited about this because this has not been done yet by anybody. Essentially what we’ll be doing is we are going to allow people to swap or exchange their boats. If you’re a boat owner, very often boat owners will say, “I own a boat, I might rent it out but because I already pay so much in terms of maintenance, I would not go and rent out other boats, so I’m stuck with my boat because I’m paying enough already.” What we want to do is have a global membership scheme going where both owners can swap their boats. What does that mean? If I’m a boat owner in south of France, which I am, and now join our boat-swapping scheme, I can go and try out other boats in this boat-swapping scheme free of charge.
It’s a bit like home exchange where people exchange homes. If you’re out for next week, you can exchange boats. Even though we’re not even live yet with this scheme, we’ve had signups from boat owners in Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Barcelona, Majorca, the US, and even Sweden and Switzerland. Boat owners can now say with Boataffair, with our startup, with our company, “Not only can I rent out my boat to make extra income; because of my boat, I get to experience other boats on this planet free of charge, so my assets, the boat, which is typically underutilized enables me to have even more out of that asset. I can rent it out but I can also go and exchange it and try out other boats.” We are going to launch this boat-swapping scheme. We’re excited about that. We’re working around the clock to make it go live. We’re hosting an event in Valencia, Spain where we are going to announce this boat-swapping scheme live to 200 to 300 boat owners who are going to come to our event. We’ve excited about that.
The other thing which is already live, another milestone we are proud about, is our experience page. Our experience page again is something that hasn’t been done yet in the boating industry. On our dedicated experienced page, boat owners get to list not their boat, but what they offer on that boat in categories. If somebody with that boat offered cave diving or romantic sunset cruises on our experience page, the boat owner can list those experiences. We have various categories; at the moment we’ve got 30 to 35 categories from romantic getaway, sunset cruises, diving, and kite surfing. Because of that, the chances for a boat owner to get found by a boat renter are even higher because you can’t go and look for boats. You can go and look for experiences. Diane, if you come to Europe next year and you want to go kite surfing, you can go to our experience page and you can go to the category kite surfing, you click on kite surfing, and then all the boats on our platform that offer kite surfing will pop up there for you and we’ll make it easy for you to choose a boat that offers kite surfing.
We’re building up boats but we’re building up our experience database as well transparently because we believe people want to own experiences and not assets, so we’re giving them experiences. Our boat owners life this experience page as well because they can showcase what they offer. A lot of boat owners have told us in the last two years, “Everybody knows I rent out my boats but nobody knows what I offer,” so we have created this experience page, this dedicated space where people could show, “You can come kite surfing with me or diving.” We have a few boats in Greece where you can even get married, so we offer that as well if you want to get married or renew your vows.
You offer so many interesting experiences. I’m definitely going to have to look into this more.
It’s all interconnected. It’s all connected to the boat owner, the boat, and these are complementary products. It’s not diluting our offering. It’s always the same. We want people to have a quality experience on the water by sharing the boat by meeting other people in a very transparent and safe manner.
This has been so interesting, Adrian. I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to know how to reach you and find out more. Can you share all that information?
Our company is Boataffair. You can find us on our website, Boataffair.com. We’re also very active on social media. We have Instagram and Facebook page. If you want to write to us, you can send us an email at Welcome@Boataffair.com and we’ll reply within 24 hours always. We are at Boataffair.com.
I knew Marcel would always introduce me to the greatest people, so I’m so glad we got a chance to meet. Thank you for being a sport. You have a great business and I’m very interested in what you’re doing. I hope everybody checks it out. Thank you for being on the show.
Diane, thank you so much for having me. Thank you to Marcel in Switzerland as well. Thank you for introducing me to Diane. It was my absolute pleasure to be here and it was a lot of fun. Thank you so much.
Thank you so much to Bernie and to Adrian. What a great show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, please go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can sign up to receive notifications when we have new shows or listen on the site. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.
About Bernie Swain
Bernie Swain is the founder and Chairman of Washington Speakers Bureau and is today’s foremost authority on the lecture industry. Over the past 35 years, Bernie has represented 3 of last 4 US Presidents, the last 4 prime ministers of Great Britain, 5 Secretaries of State and countless world and American leaders. He has also represented numerous business executives, public figures, media leaders, and sports legends.
About Adrian Walker
Adrian Walker is the Co-Founder and CEO of Boataffair. Boataffair is a boutique boat sharing platform, headquartered in Switzerland. They are a tech startup located in the ecosystem of the sharing economy and it is their goal to enable boat owners to share their boat in a more transparent and safe manner whilst making boating more accessible for boat renters. Individuals no longer need to own a boat in order to have an authentic boating experience on a quality sailing or motor boat. They can rent one through Boataffair from members of their trusted community.
- Bernie Swain
- Washington Speakers Bureau
- What Made Me Who I Am
- Bernie’s Facebook
- Bernie’s LinkedIn
- Bernie’s Twitter
- Adrian Walker
- Marcel Kuhn Bamert
- Boataffair’s Instagram
- Boataffair’s Facebook
- Welcome@Boataffair.com – Boataffair email address