There are often stories written about how business owners overhauled, reset, or rebuilt following a downturn in their industry, but what happens when an industry encounters a surprise and a downturn? quick recovery? We sat down with Matt Fradette, co-founder and CRO of Dockwa, to discuss how the lessons learned from building his business turned out to be the perfect solutions Dockwa needed to manage the boating boom of boating boosted by the pandemic.
Dockwa, which launched in 2015, is just one of three outdoor tech companies that fall under The Wanderlust group, founded in 2014. Marinas.com and the new Campouts.com are the others in the mix. . Together, the applications and software are used by more than 250,000 people in more than 30 countries to access outdoor destinations. On the other hand, the companies and places featured in the programs are experiencing growth in the number of visitors. Under Dockwa, boaters search, reserve and pay for dockage through a mobile app and marinas can manage reservations online. Marinas.com is a database of searchable marinas locations around the world, giving marinas an additional advertising platform and boaters a place to learn more about cruise destinations. Overall, the guiding principle of the company has always been that they believe the world is a better place where people can connect with nature and with each other. They built the technology to help this idea come to fruition.
An idea is hatched
Fradette says the business started when her brother-in-law, CEO Mike Melillo, shared his frustration with locating transient impurities and knew there had to be something better. Fradette was working at Hubspot at the time, so he had experience with the required technology. He recruited the director of engineering from Hubspot, to join the effort. With an idea firmly in place, the trio began attending boat shows to talk to everyone about what a perfect reservation system would look like. At a show, they met Tyler Kneisel who was working on his own boaters reservation system and agreed to merge their efforts.
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“Our co-founders were all complementary with various strengths on the business side and they were all willing to take a risk even when our idea was just a PowerPoint with nothing else behind it,” said Fradette. He further explained that he took old advice from a mentor early on about not being afraid to talk about an idea to as many people as possible. He said that while many fear an idea will be stolen if they let it go, the reverse seems to be true. The more people they talked about, the more they learned about the needs and wants of boaters and marinas, and the more doors opened.
“Basically we were getting validation of our idea and with every investor, potential employee or marina we spoke to to better shape our product,” he said. “It was the best thing we did. It formed early relationships, opportunities and gave us important feedback. Taking risks in selling is one piece of advice I would give to any entrepreneur.
People are everything
Fradette said the other invaluable lesson he learned is that people are everything. He recognizes that the people who have been brought into the team are essential to the success of the business. This was brought to light for him, especially during the pandemic, when there was so much uncertainty at first as to how the boating industry and companies like Dockwa would fare, and then again when they did. have seen the boom in nautical activity. “We started a four-day work week during COVID because we knew about the stress and pressures our employees face. We wanted to give them time to disconnect and have time for themselves, to maintain their physical and mental health, ”said Fradette.
They decided Monday would be a day off, recognizing that many of the entire Wanderlust team were working because they enjoyed being outside and Mondays were less crowded on the waterways and trails.
Another change was to implement unlimited vacation days. Employees are requested to notify their superiors when they wish to take time and ensure that their work is in a place where it can be left for a few days. Otherwise, they are free to take leave as they wish and need. “We hire the right people who are motivated and linked to our mission and goals. They use common sense and don’t take advantage of what we offer, ”said Fradette.
Erase the bright red line around what a day’s work should be allowed for an easy transition to full-time remote work when the pandemic has brought it all to a halt. It worked so well that they decided to keep the company at bay and are given the opportunity to hire talent anywhere in the country. Currently, they have employees in 13 different states.
The navigation boom brings change
The boating boom has also changed the way they think about their products. The influx of boaters has proven to be a challenge for the marine industry, which Fradette sees as more averse to technology than many other industries. But COVID-19 forced what he called a notable change. Marinas suddenly found themselves short of staff and needed a system that wouldn’t chain anyone to a desk and allow them to work with fewer staff. They also needed more contactless options. Dockwa had been working on all these technological advances for several years. The new need for such advancements hastened their release of a more modern system that could deliver the solutions marinas were looking for.
Fradette said her market has already evolved from looking for strictly transient boaters to those looking for long-term slips as well. He said it became apparent that boaters were using their Marinas.com and Dockwa platforms to research marinas and obtain boat rental details. Although he said the increased shipping volume made it more difficult to find any type of dockage, many of their marina customers are in areas considered destinations and they maintain a high inventory of slips. transients to serve the many passing boats. He sees the boom slowing down a bit but staying positive for the number of new people he’s brought into the boating lifestyle. “I think it’s nothing but a good thing. Record boat sales will not last forever, but as more people are introduced to the sport, we will see these benefits for many years to come.