Following their passion for both business and boats led Adrian Walker and fellow alumna Natalya Zubova (Full-time MBA 2014, pictured) to set up Boataffair, a boutique boat match-making company. In this alumni case study, they talk about their experience of launching the business, and how their continuing relationship with the Business School is helping them create waves in the luxury boating industry.
On creating Boataffair
What gave you the idea for your business?
As boat owners ourselves, we realised how little we take out our motor yacht and how this beautiful experience can be easily shared with other passionate boaters. We knew that if there was a fast and secure process with a trusted partner, we would rent our boat out. For this reason, we created a boutique platform with an emphasis on all things quality. Within our team, we speak eight languages fluently and have an extensive network in the start-up and the boating industry.
Our vetting process ensures that like-minded people with the same values are connected, boats are used more to their full capacity, and boat seekers will be able to enjoy an authentic experience without having to own their own boat. We’re called Boataffair to convey the emotion behind the boating experience – very often boating becomes a life-long affair, and with us, you don’t have to own the boat to experience that.
How did it feel when your business launched?
I felt an immense sense of pride and satisfaction the day we launched our website. In that week, we also organised our first Boataffair rental. We then forced ourselves to take a week off – we wanted to preserve our energy, celebrate this milestone and come back with recharged batteries.
What have been the key lessons learned from the whole process?
I have learnt to exercise patience. Some processes take time and not everything is in your control. I would advise every entrepreneur to be patient, to keep working hard every day and the results will follow.
On studying the Full-Time MBA at Imperial College Business School
How did your time at the Business School prepare you for setting up your own business?
During our Full-Time MBA Natalya and I took part in many Imperial College start-up challenges, where we got to know many experienced entrepreneurs and learn about some of the great ideas out there. The Imperial MBA provides the perfect ecosystem where business students can meet entrepreneurs and the School facilitates this exchange.
The highlight of my time at the Business School was my internship. It was of massive value to me because I got to work in venture capital in London and I gained invaluable experience in the start-up scene. I got to solve a strategic challenge with my employer and together with the mentor provided by the Business School, we tackled the issue from an analytical perspective. This was an immense learning curve for me, but also of great value to my employer. It was thanks to the Business School network and excellent exposure in London that this was possible.
What is the value of an Imperial MBA for entrepreneurs?
Imperial connects you to other faculties outside the Business School, and creates a very open culture and safe surrounding to try out new things. During my MBA I met a brilliant biologist at Imperial who was working on a new way to cure cancer, and together we brainstormed how we could commercialise her venture. These conversations can only happen at Imperial because here, brilliant minds from diverse backgrounds come together.
This interconnected university made me very curious to learn as much as I can from the world and to connect to as many brilliant people as I can. This open culture coupled with an astonishingly strong network ultimately pushed me into entrepreneurship and I know I could not have got this broad perspective anywhere else but at Imperial.
Since Boataffair was launched, you have continued to have a close connection to the Business School. How has it helped you?
Firstly we decided to hire an Imperial Full-Time MBA student as Head of Business Development because we wanted to take advantage of the latest and fresh business knowledge straight from the source. Furthermore, by hiring a Business School student we knew we would get someone who shares the same values with us in terms of work ethics and the thirst for knowledge. It is this rare combination of curiosity, ability to work hard and relevant knowledge that we need in our start-up and we turned to the Business School for this.
We also reached out to Andreas Eisingerich, Professor of Marketing, because we needed strategic marketing input and we wanted to find out what he made of our idea. We loved Andreas’ marketing class during the MBA and his brilliant ideas had truly inspired us. Often during the very early stages of our company we would think back and refer to marketing and storytelling concepts we still remember from his class. Also, we knew that Andreas is always open to new ideas and young start-ups. Therefore, it was only natural for us to reach out to him to explain our concept and to ask a few strategic questions. He helped us tremendously and sent us on the right path in terms of creating user content and stories that people would actually pay attention to. This support is priceless and we are truly humbled and so happy to receive this kind of help.
Advice to future entrepreneurs
Any advice to budding entrepreneurs?
I would say that it is normal to feel fear and to doubt yourself from time to time. However, if you are convinced of your idea and receive positive feedback from trusted people around you, you should go for it. It is important to surround yourself with people who believe in your idea and motivate you. They will become your brand advocates. Limit the exposure to naysayers and people who notoriously criticise your idea. Constructive feedback, obviously, is needed and very much welcome – you will notice yourself on your entrepreneurial journey who is trying to stop you with their negative thoughts and it is up to you to build up your mentors and positive people around you.
Sometimes wonderful things happen without you planning for them. Always be open to these experiences. A great example for me was a key meeting I had in Greece this year. By chance I had started talking to a boat owner on Instagram and I wanted to squeeze in this last meeting with him on my final day of my business trip in Athens. It turned out that the boat owner I met was an experienced start-up coach and entrepreneur himself. Working together we changed our marketing language and he continues to be a coach for Boataffair.