The deck of a superyacht is the dream setting for many business meetings, but for Carl Whitewood, co-founder of 99Boat, it was a reality. As a yacht broker, he often found himself stepping aboard multimillion pound yachts in places like St Tropez, and Monaco, although admits that he became immune to it.
‘Being in those places, on those boats, was amazing, but it was just my job. I was just going to the office.’
As with most yacht brokers, large commissions were also a way of life.
‘I could make 5-10% commission on some of the sales I was making, which was great, but I also wasn’t really earning anything in between. There were months when I didn’t have enough to pay my rent, but I was still having lunch with clients in the Mediterranean, chasing a sale and my next big pay cheque. It wasn’t sustainable.’
Carl came up with the concept for 99Boat whilst in the middle of selling an 87ft motor yacht for a client – ‘he asked me what I did for my 5% and, honestly, I couldn’t really tell him, other than answer some calls and send some emails’ – but it was three years before he did anything with it.
‘I needed to step away from the industry for a while. Why would I want to earn £100 when I knew that a 5% commission could get me £50,000? Brokers are greedy, and it’s understandable why, but we’ve created a company which, at its heart, is about not being greedy.’
The company’s no-commission model was also inspired by the estate agency market, which has seen a shift in recent years away from commission to a fixed price structure.
‘We looked at companies like Purple Bricks. They were only charging people once, no commission. It took some time for people to adjust, but now people expect not to pay commission when they sell their house. Why can’t we transfer that to boats?
‘Unless you sell your boat through a site like eBay, you’ll probably have to pay some commission. It means that boat prices are artificially inflated because sellers factor in that commission in their asking price.’
99Boat’s model is simple; pay £99 and you’ll get the Port package, which is the basic package that offers 24 months’ listings (compared to £14.99 for 28 days on eBay) across a network of sites like The Yacht Market, Boats and Outboards and boats.com, which are usually only accessible to brokers, or pay £699 for the Starboard package which is closer to traditional yacht brokerage, with enquiries dealt with and support with the legalities of selling your boat. They also offer extras, like professional photography or premium listings, in their Chandlery.
The company, based in Desk Lodge on Basing View, launched in early January 2019, and already has big plans for growth and expansion, including partnering with insurance and finance companies to offer quotes for their services, and business advertising opportunities.
And as for those superyacht meetings?
‘Hopefully, the next one I go to will be on my own yacht!’