A disastrous sailing holiday around the Aegean Islands three years ago was a turning point for Greek entrepreneur Antonios Fiorakis. He and his friends ended up on a smaller catamaran than they had agreed to hire and were left buffeted by challenging summer winds, with inadequate guidance.
Mr Fiorakis reasoned that he could do a better job as a middleman and this impulse eventually led to the creation of Incrediblue, an online marketplace connecting yacht owners with those looking to charter a vessel.
The business, one of a surprising number of start-ups to have battled through the Hellenic economic maelstrom, has echoes of “sharing economy” pioneers Airbnb and Uber.
Mr Fiorakis certainly sees yachts as underused resources. “Take a stroll around any marina and you’ll see they are packed with boats that always seem to be docked. They are like these wonderful toys but very time-consuming and expensive to run and maintain.”
The portal allows users to choose a holiday or charter a boat based on price, location, availability and user reviews. A skipper is always included. Fees range from €50 to €1,000 per person per day depending on the craft.
Mr Fiorakis says the company undercuts established players on commission, charging 15 per cent rather than up to 40 per cent. Boat owners can list their vessels after emailing their ownership documentation. They have a chance to do business directly with a broad range of customers as opposed to only experienced sailors.
So far, the portal has more than 2,000 yachts, catamarans and motor boats listed and moored across the Mediterranean, in Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Spain. The company is looking to expand into Italy and Montenegro.
Greece’s well-chronicled economic crisis has seen the demise of many businesses, a sharp rise in unemployment and an inevitable brain drain.
Against this grim background several hundred start-up companies have emerged in the country as their founders, Mr Fiorakis among them, ventured that a crisis of such magnitude could in fact create opportunities for ideas to develop.
Like-minded Greek venture capital firms have offered help. One is the private Athens-based Jeremie Openfund II, which has invested in Incrediblue, and other companies focusing on software and the web.
Aristos Doxiadis, a partner in the fund, explains that many Greeks have been forced to move away from the traditional way of looking for safe jobs in the public sector or family business. Opportunities instead exist in fast-moving and changeable economic conditions where businesses are able to quickly adapt their models. “The shock and depth of the crisis has led to the total collapse of the internal market in Greece — meaning the only viable option is to go international, especially with digital goods and services,” he says.
Incrediblue is now a UK-registered enterprise, with 17 mostly Greek employees in total. It runs its business, customer service and development divisions from Greece, while marketing and sales are driven from London.
According to market researcher Future Market Insights, last year the global yacht charter market was valued at $35bn and is expected to grow to $51bn by 2020.
Mr Fiorakis says the market is cluttered and competition is fierce. His company has a long way to go but is trying hard to make a mark with its different business model focusing on skippers as well as boats.
“We aim to match the right local skipper to a particular party boat. If you are a group of young people in their twenties we won’t assign a skipper in their fifties, otherwise it will be like going on a holiday with your parents,” he says.