Press Coverage: YachtWorld.com Expands Into Europe

Europe

As forecast in EMB�s [Europe Marine Business] April issue, US Internet conglomerate YachtWorld.com is to set up a European office. The California-based company has now set up a European operation based in Southampton, UK, with Ian Atkins as managing director. Atkins is a well known figure in the European marine industry with over 20 years experience of selling boats.

When EMB spoke to Atkins he was in the process of finalising his team of high tech sales, marketing and technical staff that will provide the support for YachtWorld.com in Europe.

"We�re creating the same sort of opportunity for European brokers to capitalise on the Internet that YachtWorld.com has done so successfully in the US," he told us. "YachtWorld.com is currently the most visited site in the marine industry with around nine million page hits (sic) [nine million page views] per month, with more than 300,000 of those from different individuals."

Originally set up by leading US Internet company Cobalt (sic) [The Cobalt Group, Inc.], the business as bought by YachtWorld.com parent company boats.com in January this year. The site majors on boat sales through brokers and claims 1,000 brokers in 62 countries with more than 27,000 boats listed. The value of the craft on the site is put at nearly US$8.5 billion. The site claims the largest photographic database of new and used boats--motor, sale and commercial--for sale and charter with listings provided by member yacht brokers, not individuals.

Following YachtWorld.com will come the launch of boats.com, a site designed to be the premier marine Internet hub. According to Atkins, the boats.com site will enable boat users, manufacturers and resellers to participate in a �thriving online marketplace�, opening up new commercial opportunities for the industry while enhancing the consumer�s boating experience.

"We intend to improve our consumers� boating experience � before they even hit the water," Atkins told EMB. "YachtWorld.com and boats.com will provide more comprehensive content and information than has ever been available, educating and informing the boating public."

According to the company�s research the online consumer market is growing by 140 percent a year and 100 million Europeans will be shopping online by 2004.

The dotcom revolution faltered in April when stocks fell, wiping millions off companies only just set up and yet to turn a profit. It�s likely there will be more casualties in this field, but there will also be the properly financed and run dotcom success stories that will become market and world leaders.

YachtWorld.com was launched five years ago by US Internet conglomerate Cobalt. Based on similar automotive sites, YachtWorld.com soon became so successful that Cobalt had to take the decision to invest and progress or get out and concentrate on its core business. As boats.com had just made an approach to the company, the latter course of action was best for everyone.

Boats.com was set up in the summer of 1999. But where most dotcoms are started by entrepreneurs seeking their next (or first) million with a good e-commerce idea, boats.com was set up by people with an interest in the subject matter as well as the technical ability to make it all work through the Internet.

The co-founders are all sailing men. All are successful businessmen. And, all have experience at the leading edge of Internet technology.

Stuart Johnstone is better known for his connection with J/Boats, he was also CEO of VOSAIC and was the architect of the renaissance of EIDOS, the European games publishing company. So successful was his time at EIDOS that his investors received a 21,000% return on capital.

Tom Hutton has 40 years sailing experience and still owns at Swan 51. A Harvard MBA, he is an investor in other technology and e-commerce companies as a venture capitalist.

In addition to being an avid boater and international sailor, Rolando Esteverena brings more than 35 years of experience in engineering, marketing, finance and business development to boats.com. Prior to boats.com he served as CEO of four companies, two of which he led through successful IPOs. With a background in electrical engineering, Esteverena was also a pioneer of the scanner market and digital/media editing markets.

Paul Rabe was executive vice president at Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC), where he established profitable international supplier alliances and orchestrated global repositioning projects to support evolving product lines.

Peter Van Alstine holds at BA from Dartmouth and an MBS from Harvard Business School. Previously with movecentral.com, he has also worked for Proctor & Gamble, where he devised volume sales increases through innovative distribution arrangements.

The net results is a group of individuals with the experience and knowledge to make boats.com a major player in the dotcom world. Boats.com has moved fast in its mission to be at the forefront of recreational marine e-commerce. In January the company announced it had US$6 million first-round backing from Mayfield and Trident, both triple "A" rated.

"Mayfield and Trident bring an added level of expertise to our team," says Ian Atkins, European managing director. "By having such experienced partners and management, both in the marine and Internet industries, we are well positioned to hit the ground running."

In February the company announced the acquisition of the assets of Canadian-based Ovation Digital Productions, publisher of BoatShow.com and BoatShow on CD-ROM. This provided information on over 2,000 production and custom sailing and powerboats. Boats.com also acquired the exclusive license to The PowerBoat Guide with information on another 1,500 powerboats. The accumulated information gave boats.com the world's largest database of information on virtually every power and sailing craft built in the US in the past 20 years.

Next up was the acquisition of SailingSource.com, a hosting and content provider for performance sailing and racing websites with over 150 corporate and association clients. Then came Scuttlebutt, the site recognised as the racing community's leading daily online newsletter.

More recently boats.com appointed a team of editors to develop and manage the site's content for the marine industry and the boating community. Under the leadership of Joe Skorupa, ex-editor-in-chief of Boating World Magazine the boats.com editorial team is set to grow to around 40 people by the end of this year.

"The Internet offers unprecedented opportunities to harness and distribute information about our industry," said Skorupa. "Our goal is [to] develop deep content and an information-rich database of new and archived editorial material that complements today's traditional offerings."

The European site is still under wraps: "I can't say too much about it right now," said Atkins. However, he did acknowledge the site would have a greater depth of information than the YachtWorld.com site, which will operate in English, French, Italian, German, Swedish and Spanish. European brokers will have the option to have their details translated into the various languages.

"Europe is a huge market," he said. "According to Forrester Research in the US, the growth of e-commerce will be 100% a year for the next three years. That means the European e-commerce industry will be worth 1.6 trillion euros by 2004. "That's 6.3 percent of all trade," he smiled.

Reprinted with permission from Europe Marine Business, Issue Six, May/June 2000.