What are the magic ingredients for startup success? One part fantastic idea, one part angel investor, one part compelling pitch, one part well-timed opportunity and six (or ten!) parts determination and single-mindedness?
Whether it’s within the sphere of yachting or elsewhere, when it comes to starting a business, success is never guaranteed. Whether they’re financial, practical or logistical, the hurdles which confront budding entrepreneurs can seem insurmountable.
Insurmountable they are not, however! Here we speak to Liz Jackson, founder of the innovative yachting logbook company, L. J. Commercial Services, and discover her tips on how to get ahead as a yachting entrepreneur in 2022, whether yachting really is a ‘boys’ club’, and the vital role that technology will play within the industry’s future.
What was the reason for your shift toward offering digital products as a company (the digital logbook)?
I have been in the yachting industry since 2009, producing highly tailored, custom paper logbooks, for which we have developed a very good reputation. Given my own history also in terms of working with technology within the industry, it seemed like something of a no-brainer for people to say: “Can you put this into a digital format for us Liz?”, and for me to take this opportunity.
In this way, going digital with our products was not just a spontaneous idea I had; it was born from the needs of third-party providers – our client base. We listened to what our customers wanted, and have produced something to match, in a very strategic way. By bringing in our clients right at the outset, we could ensure that all of the foundations were there from the beginning. It’s like a house, you need to build it to be really strong and from the ground up, otherwise it will fall down.
What are some of the hurdles and pinch points that budding entrepreneurs may come up against?
First off, there is the issue of actually getting in front of the customers – how do you approach management and the decision-makers within a company? Up until initiatives such as Yachting Ventures came along, there was nothing available in terms of helping businesses in our industry to find angel investment funding, or any other support they might need in the early stages.
Naturally, there are also financial pinch points, because a lot of us startups are starting businesses with our own funds – even our life savings. In my case, my paper business pays for the expansion of my digital business, and that naturally comes with a lot of stress and pressure.
Finally, you also have to remember that as businesses, we are also employers. We are not only responsible for trying to deliver a brand new segment of our business with that money, but also supporting our employees and paying their wages too. It is about ensuring that you don’t fall at the first hurdle and that you can financially and mentally sustain it in the longer term.
Yachting has been accused of being something of a ‘boys’ club’. Have you found this to be the case, and have there been any barriers to you building your business as a consequence?
Yachting is different from other sectors because more men are found within yachting than in other industries, which makes us somewhat unique in that sense. In terms of pure numbers, women are definitely outnumbered. That said, I do think there are some really groundbreaking individuals who have prompted a fundamental and tangible shift in the way women in business are perceived within the yachting industry.
As one example, I would highlight the women that run She of the Sea, Jenny Matthews and Natasha Ambrose and go as far as to describe them as pioneers in this field. You also have groups such as the Association of Women in Yachting which play a vital role in bringing people together, as well as spotlighting more women in senior roles within yachting. I think the tide is shifting in terms of the perception of women in yachting, but it is moving slowly.
Speaking personally, I don’t think it has been a barrier for myself and my business because I think as long as you can provide a good product and service and people like and trust you, I don’t think gender will come into it.
What would be your top tips for people who are looking to get ahead as yachting entrepreneurs?
If people are coming into the industry ‘green’, I would suggest that they do a lot of research, a lot of listening, and reach out to people as much as possible. I’d also highly recommend attending relevant industry events as there is nothing more important than networking, especially in the early stages. It’s about being genuine, and being a person that people like to spend time with.
As a person, I am not exactly a social butterfly or a huge extrovert, but I always enjoy the events when I am there. It is so important to show up and be there to interact with others in the industry, as you never know what doors might open as a consequence.
Finally, how has technology changed the startup environment?
As a result of COVID, we are all used to doing more Zoom sessions and online meetings, and it has become a natural part of our day to day lives. I think this has accelerated growth within so many businesses in the sector and beyond, as people are no longer requiring face to face meetings for everything, which is bound to speed up product development and so on.
Finally, I think the pressures caused by COVID have also brought an element of empathy and kindness into the industry, which I think can only be a good thing. Yachting as an industry has always been quite service-lead, and not a two-way road, but now people in the industry will ask how you are and say ‘I hope you and your family are well’, and actually mean it! They didn’t used to do this.
When it comes to business, I have always been, and still remain, a major advocate for collaboration and working together, not this ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality. In Monaco, we had our first kickoff session as a group for startup tech companies, and it was really fantastic because everybody has similar problems at the beginning which we could all discuss. I believe that there will be far more of these initiatives and meetings in the future. As I see it, the strength of the industry is found in collaboration.
To discover more about the range of logbooks offered by L.J Commercial Services, including the eLogbook, visit the company’s website.