First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Grigory Eliseev: Trying to stay safe and sound, even though it is not that easy sometimes.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded 12 Knots.
Grigory Eliseev: 12 Knots was founded in 2010, and till that time, I worked in marketing in multinational companies (Johnson & Johnson and Beiersdorf). At some point, I decided that I should try to start my own business. Looking back, I assume that it was rather an emotional decision more than rational – do what you love to do, be your own boss, set up your goals and ways to achieve it. I was an amateur sailor Back then, and sailing schools were booming in Eastern Europe, so the decision was made to launch my own school with sailing base in Montenegro. That is how 12 Knots was founded and started as an IYT licensed sailing school. It took me almost a year just to learn how to run this business. With very little to no marketing data and no previous entrepreneur experience, it was a long journey of trial-and-error.
After 12 Knots gained awareness and trust as a sailing school, I started thinking about new opportunities for growing and expanding business. Most of the sailing schools have very strong regional dependence, and it can be hard to scale this business significantly. Entering a new country involves a significant increase in operational expenses and very complicated control of scattered bases. At the same time, we had a growing number of inquiries for the bareboat charters from sailing school graduates. After a quick research, it turned out that this niche was almost empty. Hundreds of different charter companies were renting out their boats, but no single company or service offered the option to query for all available prices and possibilities. So, an idea with yacht charter aggregator came into life. Since then the company has been expanded extensively, becoming recognized as a fast-growing yacht charter broker in the USA and Europe.
How does 12 Knots innovate?
Grigory Eliseev: To keep business running, you always have to innovate, especially in the online segment. 12 Knots was one of the first companies to launch yacht charter aggregator for the end consumers. Today you may find dozens of new web sites and companies offering very similar services. To stay in the game, you have to be at the edge of new technology, offering the best possible user experience and great customer support. With all the technology around us, personal communication is getting more and more valuable. Therefore, our key objective is to automate and simplify booking processes as much as possible and to keep a very close connection with our customers.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Grigory Eliseev: Like for most travel companies, especially for those focused on international trips this year is quite challenging, and I am afraid that next year will be even harder. Many companies and travel operators may go bankrupt, but those who stay will reap all the fruits.
Despite all Covid restrictions and being prepared for worse, we were very surprised to see quite stable interest in yacht charters among sailors. I guess sailing is one of those things you get addicted to and look for every chance to get on board and set up sails. 12 Knots team is also addicted to sailing, so we do our best to monitor the situation with Covid restrictions and offer our clients some safe destinations to go.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Grigory Eliseev: Working with people and running your own business usually goes hand by hand with difficult choices. Restructuring the business and parting with some people you’ve been working with for a long time is always hard.
Always look for the right partners, like-mind people that share your passion and vision of the business.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and 12 Knots in the future?
Grigory Eliseev: Well, you should always look for the bright side. Stress may make you think sharper, react faster and do the right things without second thoughts. It definitely gives a strong boost to improve and get things done quicker when in a typical situation, we can leave them for later.
For the near future, our main focus areas are optimization, innovation and client service. In terms of the optimization, we constantly work on automation of major processes in order to increase effectiveness. In terms of innovations, we concentrate on usability, offering our clients easy navigation through the web site and making the booking process as smooth and easy as possible. In terms of the client service, we focus on personal communication – thing we may lack most in the near future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Grigory Eliseev: Number of new companies and web sites appear every day, but company awareness and reputation are what will make the difference.
Your final thoughts?
Grigory Eliseev: We are all going through difficult times, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Do the things you believe in and believe in what you are doing.