Pierre Le Poulain, who founded Samboat in 2014, told RedHerring.com that the peer-to-peer boat charter segment in France is strong and will continue to grow. The company now lists over 21,000 boats with two dozen employees at its office in Bordeaux. Le Poulain said it received more than 34 million enquiries about boat rentals last year.
Le Poulain had actually intended to sell his boat in 2014 because he was using it so rarely. After meeting Nicolas Cargou, a marketing professional, he changed his mind. “He convinced me not to sell my boat,” Le Poulain told the website. “Instead, he showed me that I wasn’t the only one having this issue.”
Within weeks of meeting, Le Poulain and Cargou, along with Laurent Calando, launched the first version of Samboat.com, a peer-to-peer boat and yacht charter company. Four years later, the company is busy in Bordeaux, the French Riviera and Brittany. The company has seen competitors sprout up in other countries like Spain (Nautal.com), Germany (Zizoo.com) and Switzerland (Sailogy.com) and it plans to expand outside France.
Le Poulain estimates that there are significant opportunities to market to SMEs (small-medium enterprises) across Europe. There are challenges. The average boat owner is aged over 50, and the average renter, says Le Poulain, “isn’t much younger.”
A big part of Samboat’s model is education and awareness. Other issues include dealing with different licensing laws. Croatia does not allow yacht charters through the peer-to-peer sector, so Samboat has opened its website to charter professionals, who now drive a large portion of bookings. Samboat has the largest fleet of any P2P boat startup.
“We implemented several tools and processes to increase the trust of our service,” says Le Poulain. “From a specific boat insurance when renting with us, the use of trusted third parties for deposits, manually checking boats, ID and licenses, to the setting up of a local ambassador network, we are constantly improving to build a trusted community.”
Outside France, Le Poulain says the company is looking at charter hotspots in Spanish, Italian and English-speaking areas.
Le Poulain says that renting nights on docked boats is not tenable since Airbnb has cornered that part of the market. Instead, it is now focused on chartering “classical” boats like RIBs, sailboats, motorboats and yachts.
“Currently, we are not looking to add other kind of vessels, but we are looking for experiences related to boat renting,” Le Poulain told the website. “For example, one of our boat owners is offering whale watching to everyone renting his boat. This is amazing and this is the kind of niche we want to expand on in the coming months.”
The company remains bullish about growth prospects in what they see as growing segment of the €24m boating industry. “Our mission is to provide the pleasure of yachting to those who do not have the chance of owning a boat.”