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 WeeksWhen 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 WeeksOnce 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.
On to the PrototypeWe 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 white-boarding and actually get into the grind of how HOBA would function and look.
Our Prototype, in case you didn't know, is a complete set of screen designs layered with clickable elements so it looks and acts the way your final app would minus the code.
Here's some of the screens we designed for HOBA:
Time to start developmentNow that the Prototype was complete, it was time for our development Launchpeers to jump into the project.
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
To get over that hurdle we did what all startups should do. We talked to customers.
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.
On to launch & growth
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.
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, our Launchpeers 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), Dave's Launchpeers implemented a media and “influencer” outreach strategy.
Then they crafted a press release with Dave and shared it with a list of media contacts in the southeast. Without any spending, HOBA achieved four earned (not paid) media placements in one week, and had a bunch more interested to join in on that.
With this initial success, HOBA was well on it's way to become the ‘Uber for boating.’
Over $1.5M in funding and counting
Within 1 month of launch Dave had raised $500K in funding, and 3 months later had secured another $1M. That's pretty crazy for a startup 3 months post-launch, but because of the work we put in with Dave it wasn't much of a surprise.
We even had conversations with Dave's potential investors, answering questions about his tech stack, brand, market traction, and more.
The feedback we got from the investors?
"You all really know what you're doing. The branding, design, and scalability of the app makes it a lot easier for me to give this money to Dave and HOBA."
That's what we love to hear.
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