Boatflex is building Europe’s Airbnb for boats

There are tens of millions of underutilized recreational boats moored in marinas around the world, but location, cost, and time limits the number of people who can get out on the water.

A Danish startup is working to fix that though, helping more people set sail with a new venture that blends the best of Airbnb and Uber.

It all started on a beach…

A few years ago, Jakob Bojensen was vacationing in the Mediterranean. He and his friends wanted to rent a boat, but found that it was easier said than done. Very few boats were available for day rental, and the ones they found were out of their price range.

The experience of standing in a marina surrounded by empty boats they couldn’t use stuck with Bojensen. He decided to do some research looking into how many of those boats were actually being used, and how often?

He discovered that globally, boats sit in their marinas for 98 percent of the year. The number blew him away, and also revealed an opportunity. What if he could make it so that those boats were used more often by more people?

Bojensen envisioned a service, like an Airbnb for boats, in which owners could rent out their boats from a central hub when they weren’t being used. His friend Jes Brinch also loved the idea and the two of them soon decided to found Boatflex.

Boatflex by the numbers

The boat rental market is worth $6.5 billion a year in the EU alone. The average charter transaction is $3000 a week. It’s this chartering model that Bojensen and Brinch want to disrupt.

By offering a more flexible (and cheaper) rental system than the charter companies, they could open up the market to people who had otherwise been priced out. In Denmark, Norway, and Finland alone, Boatflex estimates that it could reach almost 70,000 users.

Why choose Boatflex over chartering?

  1. Cost – Renters can take a boat for a day or two at a time, rather than a week minimum, which immediately lowers the bar to entry.
  2. They’re building a community – Boat owners are encouraged to share their local knowledge with renters and spread their love of boating.
  3. Geography – 70% of charter companies are based in the Mediterranean. By starting in Europe—and with plans to expand to the U.S. in the near future—Boatflex offers boating opportunities to people who could never afford a trip to the Mediterranean.
  4. They rent boats of all shapes and sizes – The service is just as useful for someone interested in kayaking as it is for someone who wants to sail a 30-ft yacht. Houseboats are also an option, and offer Boatflex a chance to take a bite out of the Airbnb pie.

Getting the wind in their sails

Boatflex Jonas Hoegh with Silver Olympic Medal
Bojensen and Brinch knew they had a viable idea but didn’t want to go to investors with a napkin doodle. They knew they had to build an MVP to demonstrate the potential of what they were doing. To get off the ground quickly, they hired cheap developers in India to pull together a working website.

With the MVP complete, Bojensen and Brinch reached out to potential investors. They focused on developing relationships with local marinas and the FLID, whose managers understood the problem Boatflex was working to solve.

It was at this point that Bojensen and Brinch met with Olympic sailor, Jonas Høgh Christensen.

Boatflex’s goal of spreading the joy of sailing appealed to Christensen, and he joined Boatflex as a co-founder and commercial director. Christensen’s expertise, local knowledge, and sailing network helped Boatflex pick up further momentum.

The success of sharing economy businesses like Uber and Airbnb increased investor confidence in Boatflex’s business model, which similarly creates just a platform to facilitate the sharing of property.

Being able to point at these successful companies also helped when speaking with hesitant boat owners, most of whom are in their 50’s or older. Their boat is their baby, and the idea of renting it out to someone else is initially unnerving.

Boatflex worked hard to educate boat owners about how they could supplement their running costs with the service through short-term rentals.

Taking Boatflex to the next level with Gigster

The MVP that Boatflex’s developers put together was good enough to show to investors, but there were also concerns that the code couldn’t support further development that would be essential to growth.

Bojensen had heard about Gigster through the grapevine, and brought them in to do a code review, supervised by Boatflex’s tech lead, Stefan.

Gigster found that the original code that was developed in India, while functional, was not development friendly. To ensure Boatflex could reach its potential, a full site build and updated information flow was needed. Gigster’s work on the code review made them the obvious choice for the new project.

Also included in the project was a new referral system that would allow Boatflex users to refer their friends in exchange for system credit. Airbnb used a similar system to boost signups and bookings by 300%, and Boatflex is keen to leverage the same growth tactic.

What’s next for Boatflex?

With the new website launch approaching, the next step is to develop a mobile app so the service is more accessible to people when they’re on the go. At the top of the to-do list, however, is Boatflex’s arrival in the U.S., where their goal is to establish themselves as the go-to service for the would-be sailors of the world.

Thinking of taking your project to the next level? Speak with one of our Project Engineers to see if Gigster can help.

Alex Blott

Alex is based in Glasgow, Scotland, and regularly takes advantage of the highlands at his doorstep. He loves interviewing Gigsters clients because they're diverse and he always learns something new. His favourite writer is John Jeremiah Sullivan.