By David Gee
In May, Boating Industry received a pitch for a new app aimed at the recreational boating and watersports community. In the first iteration of the app, set to launch in mid-July, the company says sailors, powerboaters, jet skiers, and paddlers will be able to find their “vibe,” create groups, meet new people, learn etiquette, instant message, view anchorage occupancy, plan their weekend, and do other things to make the most of the time on the water. In this Q&A, we speak with Shannon Law, the founder of aflote.
Boating Industry: Let’s begin by sharing with us a little about your boating – and professional backgrounds.
Shannon Law: I am a lifelong sailor and traveler. When I was nine years old my dad parked a 26-foot MacGregor sailboat in the driveway, jump starting my love of the water. A proud Canadian, I spent a lot of time sailing Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, and like many Canadians, spent time in Florida in the winter, reef-hopping and enjoying key lime pie. While I still enjoy time on the water, my career took me into the competitive and challenging world of public relations and marketing, elevating brands such as Procter & Gamble, Coty Inc., American Medical Systems, and the Mexico Tourism Board.
BI: Where did the idea for the aflote app/platform come from? Typically, things such as this derive from some perceived unmet need the founder discovers. Can you tell us a little about your founding story?
SL: My downtime during the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to start research into the recreation that I love so much. When talking to friends and family, I found a lot of them were feeling less connected out on the water. The ‘death’ of VHF radio ushered in an era of ‘no new friends’; radio conversations moved to private SMS and Whatsapp groups. Further, online watercraft-related discussions were fragmented. Many boaters and paddlers visit several different platforms to connect, research and organize their ‘on-water’ lifestyle. With 90% of recreational boats under 26 feet and trailerable, coupled with the increase of nomadic sailors, I recognized a unique opportunity to introduce a platform to help like-minded watercraft owners connect.
BI: What is the unique value proposition of the app?
SL: This app is the first and only social platform for watercraft owners. Some of our features are extremely unique in the space: status-setting to alert other boaters to your ‘vibe,’ unique homeport user discovery, and highly-sophisticated map interactions. Down the road we will be adding other valuable features such as navigation, weather forecasting, provisioning information, boat-sharing, dock/slip rentals, and a discovery product store.
BI: On your website you list four or so primary functions/features. Why don’t you give us a topline explanation of each?
SL: Our map functionality is all about discovery. We want our users to discover new friends and new areas of interest. By following watercraft owners, you can see photos of their watercraft, learn about their interests, and locate them on the map when you are out on the water.
Our second biggest feature will be our groups. On the app, you can create or join public or private groups based on friends, interests or by watercraft type, location, and popular routes, all of which are great for new boaters who wish to know more about their watercraft or harbor.
We added a function to set your ‘vibe’ because let’s be real, not every cruise is the same. We have three social modes; party, social, and privacy. Feeling social? Set your mode accordingly to let other watercraft owners know that you are open to meeting new people. If you are in the mood for some solitude, use ‘privacy’ mode to let others know they should give you some space. Finally, if you are out to let loose, set your mode to ‘party’ and encourage other watercraft owners to drop by.
Lastly, users can view real-time anchorage occupancy. If they wish to confirm, all they need to do is zoom in and click on a friend or a stranger in a social mode and send a direct message.
BI: At this point you are likely just trying to scale and add as many users to the platform as possible. But there has to be a path to monetization eventually. If you are willing, share some information about how you are trying to do that, whether by subscription, ads or other means.
SL: This app is all about the user experience which is why aflote is free for users. We are looking at non-disruptive revenue streams only, so you won’t see any annoying pop-up or banner ads. With our map, we will have waterfront establishments along with boat and watercraft sales and services on our map for a yearly fee. Eventually, we may add premium features which will come with a small price tag.
BI: Smart boats are being talked a lot about these days. While the technology was initially applied to larger boats, the industry seems to believe that things such as geofencing, and ways to monitor bilge and battery levels and the like with your phone will eventually filter down to smaller boats. Are there things you hope to do in the future with your platform that perhaps technology doesn’t allow for today?
SL: We aspire to be the only watercraft app you will ever need. While we are starting with social, we have every intention of expanding. We are currently developing partnerships with other leaders in the space to bring all functionality under the aflote umbrella. For instance, there is a company in the Mediterranean, Vision Anchor, that has developed groundbreaking tech for anchor safety that includes camera monitoring for slippage. We are looking at potential camera launch integration. These integrations with other innovators will be important to ensure the best on-water experience for our users.
BI: What is your goal for the app/platform? SL: The last year has collectively reminded us the importance of connectedness. This group’s unique mobility presents an opportunity for a social app that connects people on the water, in real-time. We want our watercraft users to put down their binoculars and bullhorns and open aflote to find the icebreakers needed to befriend their harbor neighbors. We are trying to provide as many open-ended opportunities for connectedness as possible. It’s a big blue planet out there; we are just trying to bring everyone a little closer together!