In all honesty, we didn’t know what we were getting into when our team first met Dave, the Founder of HOBA. We work with a lot of non-technical founders and as a hardworking boat captain, he definitely fit that bill. His 20+ years of working as an independent captain also meant Dave knew how to get his point across clearly — one of the most important aspects of starting a partnership like ours.

Admittedly, when we first met and he said he wanted us to help him build the ‘Uber for boating,’ we couldn’t help but chuckle a little. Not because it was a bad idea (who doesn’t love going on a boat?!), but because the ‘Uber for…’ phrase has become such cliche in the startup world.

Little did we know Dave was definitely on to something.

5 months later and our relationship with Dave and HOBA is going strong. The app already counts over 3000 users and is growing at the rate of about 200+ downloads per day. So how have we gotten here in less than six months? Below, our team reflects on the process we used to help HOBA have early success…and how we’re setting the foundation for multi-city expansion.

In the beginning — 2 Weeks

When we first met Dave he was very adamant about what he wanted; the Uber of boating. The thing was, he wasn’t quite sure what that would mean for an app that relied on water instead of roads, and on boat captains instead of licensed drivers.

So our team set out doing what we do for all our clients; lots and lots of brainstorming and whiteboarding.

We looked at what Uber has done really successfully, examined their UX and functionality, and translated that into an MVP we could build in 3 to 4 months, along with making some User Interface and workflow adjustments to account for the nature of HOBA being on the water and not on pre-defined roads.

Once the MVP for HOBA was defined, user stories were documented, and wireframes were complete, we moved on to the really fun part.

Branding & Design — 2 Weeks

Once we fleshed out all the technical and business requirements for HOBA, it was time to do some branding. At this point, HOBA didn’t even have a logo, so we collaborated with Dave to create one that would portray a sense of fun and attract curious new users.

Creating the logo was a little harder than we all expected.

Branding is one of the most difficult parts of building a new startup. Often times, founders skimp on this area in favor of going ‘lean’ and just launching something fast. That’s a big mistake. In a busy world where new startups launch every day, it’s crucial to look professional and appealing to your ideal customers. A polished logo is one of the best ways to achieve that.

We got some help thanks to early sketches by Dave. These drawings got us on the right track in terms of his desired look and feel for HOBA.

Using Dave’s sketches, our designer took a crack at some initial bare bones logo concepts.

And then it happened.

BOOM! We nailed it. Even Dave couldn’t hold in his excitement. He loved the logo. It portrayed a fun brand and the stylized font had a throwback feel similar to ‘Gilligan’s Island.’

We took the completed logo and hit the ground running on the first round of mockups. This was the most fun part of working with Dave because we were able to take all of our initial brainstorming and whiteboarding and actually get into the grind of how HOBA would function and look.

Now came the hard part.

Time to Build — 12 Weeks

Development is definitely where Launchpeer shines. We don’t like to brag…but we really do know our $hit when it comes to building incredible web and mobile apps.

That said, HOBA presented our team with some unique challenges.

First, we weren’t building one application. We were building five. Yes, five.

  • Web App: For legal reasons Boat Captains had to upload documents in order to register for the application, so we couldn’t let captains register through the mobile app
  • Native iOS app for Captains
  • Native Android app for Captains
  • Native iOS app for Consumers/Passengers
  • Native Android app for Consumers/Passengers

Second, the boating industry is one that has it’s own unique set of rules. Captains have done the same thing for years, booking charters through phones and texts. Figuring out how to build a product with an awesome user experience that’s simple to adopt was at the core of what we needed to do.

To get over that hurdle we did what all startups should do. We talked to customers.

Yes, that’s about 9 charter boat captains shoved into our conference room drinking coffee and eating donuts for half a day while they talked about the app. Some of the feedback was great, some wasn’t so great. The point was, we did it. The feedback we got from them was gold. If we had assumed what our customers wanted before launching we would have clearly been inundated with support requests, not for bugs in the app but for questions about how it works and how to use it.

Out of that meeting we made some tweaks, adjusted some website copy, added an FAQ section to the app, and changed the workflow of charging consumers for booking a trip. We also figured out how much the captains were willing to give up to HOBA in terms of pricing; 80/20. HOBA would keep 20% of all boat trips booked within the app. Done.

After another couple weeks of going back and forth with various features, pushing back on Dave a little when he wanted non-MVP like features, and ensuring the application was completely bug free it was time to worry about launch day.

Public Launch — 4 weeks

While the app was undergoing development, our marketing team worked directly with Dave to create a go-to-market strategy so we’d be ready for launch. With HOBA, we decided to follow a phased, localized strategy, starting in our own backyard of Charleston, SC and then expanding into Miami and Ft Lauderdale, FL.

Dave has been a boat captain in the Charleston area for over 20 years, so we knew we’d be able to leverage his many connections in order to bring initial captains on-board (pun intended). By following a phased strategy, we could test various marketing messaging before jumping into a larger market like Miami.

We also decided to reach out to both of our target audiences (boat captains and consumers) simultaneously, but with a heavier initial push on recruiting boat captains. This was largely because we needed to make sure there would be plenty of captains on the map once consumers logged in to request HOBA rides. No captains = unhappy customers.

We used a combination of paid and organic tactics to drive app installs and build an online following.

First, we created a “Launch Day Team.” Dave reached out to his closest captain buddies to be available for HOBA rides on Launch Day/Week and to spread the word to fellow captains.

We also created a private Facebook Group for early adopters, specifically boat owners in the Charleston and Miami areas. The goal of the invite-only group was two-fold: it’s a place to educate captains about registering on HOBA, and it helps build excitement around how simple HOBA makes it to turn their boat into a business. We integrated fun messaging like, “As a boater, you’re part of a community of people who share your love of the water and having fun. Let’s face it, a captain never goes anywhere without the crew.” To achieve organic growth, we asked the captains in the “Launch Day Team” to invite their captain friends to join the group.

At the same time, we set up a specific landing page for captains, which we linked to on the HOBA Captains Facebook group. The landing page helped us explain the value HOBA offers to boat captains, highlighting features that would help them bring in more charter business (like creating captain profiles and setting their own rates).

Next, we set up a public Facebook page, which we used to build connections with existing and potential users. The HOBA Facebook page now has over 1060 likes, 1,000 of which were organic(not from our paid Facebook Ads campaign).

To drive this kind of organic traffic, we leaned on our early adopters and leveraged user-generated content. We tagged captains from our “Launch Day Team,” we shared photos and Facebook Live videos with the founder, Dave, himself, and we got friends, family, and early HOBA riders to share photos of their fun times on the water or of their HOBA swag. (We helped Dave make hats and stickers for Launch Week). The majority of HOBA’s Facebook content is user-generated, which not only helps create sense of community and trust, it increases likes and shares (users and captains are excited when their photo gets shared, so they’re more likely to comment or share with friends).

Once we had the foundation set on Facebook, we launched a paid Advertising Campaign. We implemented two campaigns — one for captains and one for HOBA riders — at a small investment of $538.

We ran two Ad campaigns targeting captains: one that drove clicks to the landing page we mentioned above, and the other that invited boat owners to the HOBA Captains Facebook group. Once there, they’d see all this user-generated content from captains earning more money, exclusive Facebook Live Q&As with the HOBA team, and resources around how to register. Thanks to the ad campaign, the Captains group has over 300 members.

To target consumers, we ran an “app-install” ad. The campaign reflected the fun brand voice and had a simple call-to-action. This ad alone resulted in 400 new app downloads.

About two weeks into launch (once we had a solid number of boat captains in the app), we implemented a media and “influencer” outreach strategy.

Our team crafted a press release with Dave and shared it with a list of media contacts in Charleston, SC. Without any spending, we achieved four earned (not paid) media placements in one week, and have a few more in the pipeline.

We also created a list of about 40 local boating-related Facebook pages; each week, we’ll post some information about HOBA on 4–5 of these pages, continuing to get the word out about the app and ultimately increase downloads.

With this initial success, HOBA really is on track to be the ‘Uber for boating.’

Raising Money and What’s Next

Dave has already raised half a million and is actively working to raise about $1.5M by May of 2017 (4 weeks from the writing of this). Our relationship continues to grow with Dave because we’re not just a dev shop or marketing agency. We’re in essence the co-founders for our clients. Dave’s success is our success (no, we don’t own equity in HOBA in case you were wondering). We genuinely want him and HOBA to be successful and the plan over the next few months is to help him expand across the East Coast.