Charles Bacon is a chimaera. A geophysicist, sailor, systems
expert, entrepreneur and internet veteran, his online booking
engine The Waypoint launched last month at the London Boat Show.
Here's what The Waypoint does, how it's revolutionising sailing and
why this is truly a start-up to watch.
Tell me about the business
In essence, The Waypoint is a planning tool for boat owners
and a vacancy management system for businesses. It's an application
that allows marinas to track who's coming, how long they're staying
and when they are leaving. It also comprises a boat owner
interface. They can switch it off or fully automate it, use it to
make berth bookings and put their home berth online.
How's it going?
I formed the business last year with my co-founder James
Steward. I met James working on a government contract. He's the
internet expert, while I'm the go-to guy for systems and boating.
We launched at the London Boat Show a couple of weeks ago. It's
been nuts. The product has been two years in development: working
on the requirements, identifying problems and how to solve them at
a price that suits our target market.
It was. We had to find exactly the right people to work on the
development. It's a web application but it features a lot of
automation so it really has to run like clockwork. We also have to
input lots of exotic languages. This wasn't something we could just
buy off the shelf.
What's your background?
I'm a physicist by trade. I've worked in government contracts on
high tech defence projects. I was involved in e-borders, that
ill-fated government tracking system. It was a data mine that
tracked everyone entering and leaving the country, an
anti-terrorism initiative. It was supposed to be ready for the
Olympics but it was cancelled last year.
My specialism was geophysics but that got me into sonar systems,
radar, that sort of thing. I was working for the Navy military -
hi-spec radar systems: they had to be covert, only use so much
energy. That led to some interesting trips on some very exotic
Is that how you became interested in
I've been sailing all my life. My earliest memories are
those on the water with my father.
What about the web side?
I've been on the internet since the eighties. Back when the only
access was through FTP and gofer and all the sites were
How did you put the two passions together?
I sail - I own a boat. For years, I would go past rivers and
empty permanent moorings while visitor moorings were packed solid.
I thought, if only the tenant of that permanent berth had a simple
way of telling his marina he was away, I could use it overnight as
a visitor. Every year, I waited for someone to come up with a
solution but no one did. Then LateRooms.com took off - people don't
phone up to book hotel rooms anymore; they book online. But you
still can't book a place in a harbour on the web - it's still all
over the phone. So, I thought: "I'll do it".
Who's your target market?
Anyone with a boat! All sizes, all shapes. Although berthing is
a bigger issue for larger vessels in particular. You can pay
£7-8,000 a year on berthing for an average size yacht. But if
you have to leave your yacht somewhere for a month because of bad
weather or work commitments, rates double in price as you pay
visitor rates as well as your home berth mooring.
In theory, if marinas and harbours could encourage all their
permanent berth holders to go cruising and then re-let all their
empty home berths to visitors, their income could be increased
significantly. Our more conservative models show that with normal
traffic, harbours and marinas could see a 15% uplift in
It's up to them to incentivise the boat owners to use the
system. If they pass on a cut of visitor takings, like a royalty,
to the owner, it would be incentive for them to cruise longer and
make more of an asset that usually just costs them money.
Who's interested so far?
The Waypoint has been live since the January's Boat show. We
have five businesses signed up and we're in talks with MDL,
Premier, Dean & Reddyhoff and Quay Marinas. They know it's the
way forward and are excited.
We're already trialling The Waypoint with BWML, which owns 18
locations - it's using our kit with four at the moment. We've also
just signed up a new £3.2M marina development in Roydon, Essex,
which will be using The Waypoint as their main method of managing
their marina vacancies.
What's the revenue model?
Except for our commision, we aren't charging for the service
this year. At the moment, it's just important to raise awareness
and get harbours using the app.
Next year, we will start charging an annual fee. And the plan is
to take an additional 15% commission on every booking. We've
already built the functionality that allows us to take payments
automatically online, so owners can pay for their berths using
their mobile phone on route. And you can cancel bookings up
to 48 hours in advance for no extra charge.
One interesting thing that came out of attending the Boat Show
was that if you offer a service at zero cost, people don't value
it. We're currently playing with the figures to offer a variety of
plans: annual subscription should be more and transaction costs
should be reduced or visa versa, otherwise some businesses,
operating lots of visiting boats, would end paying a fortune.
They've told me "Charles, I'm not letting you take such huge sums
off me." So I'm leaning towards having four levels, starting at
free and increasing to a £345 fee per annum with a reducing royalty
How are you raising awareness?
We're using social media as well as above-the-line marketing.
We're planning to spend up to £18,000 a month on ads. The Waypoint
is going to be purely business-facing for the next three months.
Then we'll become boat owner facing. We're also looking to raise
investment: £500,000 to take the company international.
And finally, can we have a sneaky peek at your five-year
We're only in the UK now but we need to scale up quickly. We're
aiming for Germany, the US, Sweden and then Europe. The UK, in
boating terms, although prestigious is very small. By the end of
our five year plan we aim to have a 35% market share of all the
territories we're active in and this should bring in £14m after tax
Find out more about The Waypoint.