Startup pitch: Zizoo motors into charter boat rental and skipper reviews
Zizooboats is a new travel startup focusing on securing charter boats, using an online review community for skippers and payment system to ensure that the customer has a good experience both online and on the water.
The product is two-fold: a listing and marketing service for charter boat owners and an online editorial community for potential renters that want to know more about a boat’s skipper and potential in-destination activities once the boat has been rented.
The “Inspire Me” section sits underneath the raw booking tool, with highlights of destinations served by specific boats. This focus on vacation charter rental sets it apart from some in the space that offer more P2P rentals of any boat. Basically, rather than empowering leisure boat owners to offer a boat for rental, Zizoo is focusing on those already operating charters – and the customers that want to charter professional boats.
Zizoo’s tag is “the sea awaits,” and the company shares more about its product below.
Q&A with CEO Anna Banicevic:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
While I was working at Google UK, I was consulting top travel advertisers on their digital strategy and noticed that global boat rental industry is 10 years behind other travel sectors.
I started thinking more about this idea after my family sold our boat and I had to book a boat online. I was shocked with outdated sites, no real photos, reviews or online payments.
After doing some more research and talking to industry hotshots, it became clear that boat owners don’t understand online marketing and have to rely on expensive local intermediaries and customers on the other side have a limited access to boating due to off-putting jargon and complicated and lengthy booking process.
Ivan was leading the redesign of HomeExchange.com at that time and when I told him about my idea he decided to leave his job and pursue it with me.
What is the size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Total size of our team is 9 people: 4 founders (CEO Anna Banicevic, CIO Benito Gonzalez del Valle, CTO Ivan Miletic and CFO Sinan Masovic), and 5 employees.
Zizooboats was developed and designed by former Google, HomeExchange.com and iDirect employees and some serial entrepreneurs. Prior to this role, I cofounded MedCrunch an online magazine for “hacking health”.
What are your funding arrangements?
We are self-financed and backed by some mini angel investors. Currently in the process of raising seed round of €500,000.
What is your estimation of market size?
The boat rental market is estimated on Euro 42 billion (based only on 1 million boats registered in charters). Aside from chartered market, there’s a huge potential in the P2P market (20 million boats) which is more specific to the US due to looser regulation.
What companies do you consider competition?
There are competitors with relatively similar business models (most launched in 2013) such as Sailogy, Yachtico, Incrediblue, Boatbound, Fun2Rent, etc.
Each is different in terms of whether they a) offer integrated payment system (only a couple of them do), b) focus onP2P rental (more specific to US) and c) are/aren’t a community.
Zizooboats is the only boat rental platform mainly focused on chartered boats & community in once.
Other competitive advantages are standardized boat management system with editorial services; GPS-based apps that allow communication for boaters and location-based realtime insights (restaurants, beaches reviews,etc.), skipper community (where skippers can be reviewed, share their experiences and insights into destinations) and user-friendly inventory overview which includes high quality listings (from verified charter companies).
Please share your revenue model and strategy for profitability.
Our current business model is a B2C marketplace where all listings are free and we charge commission for each transaction (12% which is lower than the current industry standard of 2025%).
An average charter transaction is EUR 3,000/per week and boats in charter are rented out 12-16 weeks per year.
In the future we are planning to add another revenue stream: a freemium model for the services we offer to charter managers and boat owners (enhanced booking management systems, editorial services etc.).
What problem does the business solve?
Boat rental industry is stuck in time. In the flight industry, global distribution systems such as Amadeus distribute flight data and availability, allowing real time bookings and dynamic pricing. The situation in boat rental industry is completely different. Charters manage boatbookings through agents and archaic back end booking systems or even use excel sheets.
Front-end booking platforms and aggregators such as Incrediblue and Sailogy are connecting to backend data systems and providing no realtime availability or pricing. Zizooboats is cutting out all the intermediaries by providing charters with the advanced technology to manage their boats and market them globally.
On the other side, boat renters are facing the problem of lengthy booking process and lack of relevant information. They usually book boats through local agents (who charge a lot) or do lengthy research as websites have no content, reviews, location descriptions nor real photos.
Payments are usually done via bank transfer and jargon is alienating for non-experienced sailors. Zizooboats jumps in by building a trustful community of seaholiday makers, providing access to high quality boat inventory for reasonable prices and making the process of booking a boat holiday seamless.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We initially intended to create an Airbnb for boats a marketplace that simply connects boat owners with boat renters. The idea pivoted to focus on charter market as the boat rental market is currently very regulated and operated by charter companies.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Charter companies should use Zizooboats because of advanced technology that will simplify the maintenance of their fleet. Zizooboats also provides charters with additional channel for acquiring new customers and editorial services that will give their boat fleet competitive advantages.
Boat renters should use Zizooboats because we have partnerships only with selected charters which means the highest quality of service and inventory. We provide them with the rich content, real time availability and prices, real photos and detailed boat info. We are building an online community for sailing enthusiasts with user-generated content, where users can review boats, crew, places and get real time insights into sailing destinations and their next boat holiday trip.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
We are building our community by using social media platforms where we can actively interact with our users on a daily basis and offer them best support. For the early customer acquisition we’ve mapped out user source markets based on the results from extended research we’ve done in Croatia, Italy and Greece and currently targeting our new potential customers by using this data.
We are also working on building an offline community of Zizoo ambassadors (mostly skippers but the rest of boat crew too) because skippers are the best field advocates since they’re in direct contact with our targeted market.
This summer season is actually a testing season for us, which we will use to test our product and talk to as many early customers as we can, so we can improve it and bring it to the next level before starting raising awareness through active marketing campaigns.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
We see Zizooboats as the online hub for sea tourism and sailing enthusiasts. Our vision is to become one-stop shop for boat rentals worldwide and user-generated platform such as TripAdvisor for boat holidays.
Product wise, we’re planning to have exclusive holding of the charters inventory as they will use our boats management system (similar to extranet), 25k boat assets and presence in 20+ sailing destinations around the world.
Challenges we have to overcome on this journey are the costs of the content creation (our own photos of the boat inventory on the site), leveraging skippers and boating community to create user-generated content and convincing traditional charter companies to switch from the old systems to new, advanced technology.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
The problem with travel industry is that no one has really cracked the problem of customized holidays which are enhanced with realtime insights.
There is no hub for traveling in the sense that you can go to one place, see all the info you need to book and to plan your holiday and then while on holiday get real time insights that can influence your decisions along the way. Being informed about the the actual situation in the places you’re visiting next, especially on the open sea, can significantly improve your holiday experience in general.
Sea tourism is a perfect place to crack this problem because the nature of boat holidays,which are inherently social but also very complex. You need a lot more info that is currently offered to have a great experience.
This is why we provide rich content for planning and booking trip, but also creating communication mechanisms through GPS tracked chat system that allow user to see each others location in the app, engage, chat and share realtime insights on the holiday (where to find beautiful secret beaches, what are the best restaurants in the area or just where to go next).
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style… and why?
We believe Airbnb is tech company that has the culture most closely aligned to ours. The team at Airbnb is passionate about what they do, have the highest standards of care and love for their community, and have a drive to innovate continually in order to improve the safety, security, and experience for all their members.
This is the same way our team works towards building trustful community of sailing enthusiasts and providing them with all the necessities they need to have unforgettable boating experience.
The reality of the boat rental market is a difficult one, as Tnooz has mentioned in covering other startups billing themselves as “Airbnb for boats.” Most especially related to the insurance liability – there are financial implications for a casual boater to rent out a boat by the hour, day or week.
Zizoo eliminates this potential financial risk and scalability challenge by focusing on ships that are already in operation as charters. These already-existing businesses are ready to take on charter guests, and are simply lacking the means or depth in digital marketing to ensure the highest number of bookings each season.
The ability to rate skippers is also a valuable tool for the community – and for inbound traffic as potential renters search to learn more about potential charter captains.
Focusing on editorial is also smart, as it could bring in new customers that had never considered a charter before as a potential vacation type. Many of the charter boats are also affordable – it’s not just high-end yachts here – meaning that the market here is broader than the typical “rich person rents yacht” niche.
24/7 customer support and verified secure payments are additional layers of trust for consumers, especially those wary of passing along financial information directly to a charter operation or independent boat owner in a faraway land. The security of knowing that a reservation is backed by an always-on customer service team also helps reduce the uncertainty of dealing with a boat owner or skipper that may or may not have regular access to internet between the booking and actual trip.
For charter owners, outsourcing the marketing is incredibly appealing, as managing a charter boat takes time, effort and outreach that could be better spent elsewhere – especially for a lifestyle owner/skipper who would rather be out on the water than fielding phone calls and emails.
Overall, an interesting approach to the charter boat market – and another indication that boating is a compelling emerging category in travel. Next up for the startup is to increase inventory, improve pictures, offer more interactive elements, and expand destinations to further increase appeal to vacation browsers.
NB: Yacht image courtesy Shutterstock.
Nick Vivion is a writer and strategist. He was a Tnooz reporter and global events lead between August 2012 and July 2015. He was the launch co-founder of Booty's, a global street food restaurant in New Orleans and was recently AVP Operations, North America, at Zomato.