Dhvani Desai & Nikita Peer
High disposable incomes and the pursuit of pleasure have made life smooth sailing for the affluent – and many are taking this metaphor quite literally. Leveraging the uptrend in the leisure industry is Aquasail India, which offers thrills and spills and even serious business on the high seas.
Captaining this ship is Mumbai-based Shakeel Kudrolli, a lawyer who traded in his robes for the call of the sea. Thus, launching his start-up with a seed capital of Rs 50 lakh in 2004, Kudrolli went from offering holidaymakers rides in beach craft to owning a fleet of sail boats, yachts and catamarans.
The company operates from three venues. Dropping anchor first at Mandwa in Alibaug near Mumbai and then at the Gateway of India in Mumbai, Aquasail is now on the verge of starting operations in Goa.
“I was involved with water sports and taught children to swim and sail on weekends. I went on to coach the Indian Team, which eventually won the World Championship,” remembers Kudrolli, who now coaches entrepreneurs in the boating and sailing industry. The expert yachtsman is also the founder of the Indian Marine Federation, which aims at facilitating the growth of this segment in India.
Mixing business with leisure, Aquasail operates in two distinct segments – corporate and retail. In the corporate space, it rents yachts to companies for training programmes, brand building and business meetings, and offers the regatta format for employee engagement and client engagement for networking purposes. The cost for these programmes can be any Rs 3-7 lakh depending on the size of the team and the length of the programme.
The retail segment includes courses in sailing via the Aquasail Academy and renting various types of boats for celebrations, day cruises, family outings and even wind surfing. Pricing ranges from as little as Rs 3,000 for a short sailing experience, to Rs 2 lakh for an evolved long-distance cruising course.
There’s a third revenue stream – selling leisure craft. “The sale of yachts and leisure craft is the last rug in our value chain which can cost you anywhere from Rs 50 lakh rupees to Rs 5 crore.
For those who cannot afford the steep price and still would like to own a yacht, aquasail has introduced a time sharing programme through a club membership. Through this programme one can own a yacht at roughly 1/5th the actual price; while paying a nominal annual fee towards maintenance charges.
"Through all the above models we do ensure a margin of 20- to 40-percent,” comments kudrolli. Although majority of the revenues are coming in from corporate model. “Close 50 % of revenues comes in from corporate clients, 30 % from retail and the remaining from outright selling yacht and the club memberships. “This ratio is likely to change in favour of retail and as the market develops toward boat-buying several years later,” says Kudroli.
As is the case with many businesses today, this company too attracts the bulk of its customers via the partnership model. It has tied up with hotels, travel agents, banks and event management companies. “We also have a sales team of six persons that helps achieve our targets and also,” says kudrolli,
Kudrolli says to build his business and establish a brand, he had to throw himself in the deep end. “After gaining experience in a field, I tend to look for new challenges. So after practising law for two decades, I thought of popularising sailing in India in the leisure format. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to travel around the world and watch how others who had developed the sport had started new markets. Thanks to a global approach and mindset, I see lot of opportunities in this field in India. People are travelling and there is a different attitude setting in,” he says.
But introducing Indians to sailing meant taking a long view of things, and Kudrolli had to be patient. “In my first year, I bought around 20 power boats with a capacity to take more than 40 people on the water. My focus was not on teaching sailing but to get people to experience sailing.” After receiving an encouraging response, he scaled his business by buying yachts and later went on to add customers who were buying boats for fun.
Eye On The Horizon
Though Aquasail is now well-established, cash flow was a huge challenge in the beginning. “We had issues in the building process while arranging for resources, finances and technology. For instance, I had to get people from across the globe on board. I am going to take this to the next level by bringing in colleges with a curriculum on water sports management.”
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