TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based Ship Mate, a mobile application for leisure cruise passengers.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
The Ship Mate mobile app was developed to extend and enhance the cruise experience. Our motto is "Don't wait to start your cruise" and our goal is to engage users months before and after setting foot on their ship.
In general, cruisers book their vacations six months before setting sail and Ship Mate provides the opportunity to start exploring their ship and ports, meeting their fellow cruisers, and preparing to have an amazing vacation, immediately.
Team Ship Mate is headquartered in San Francisco and consists of brothers, Jan and Michael Jirout. Jan has been coding since the Commodore 64 days and has been formally educated at Brandeis University and Montana State University.
Mike has started multiple ventures and has business degrees from Boston College and UCLA Anderson. The team is also fortunate to have the help of a handful of brilliant part-timers, including other family members.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
Despite offers for funding, the team has been self-financed since inception. Ship Mate sells for $1.99 in the app store and the proceeds are just enough to pay contractors and to maintain a "Ramen lifestyle".
We're currently negotiating additional revenue sources that will allow us to expand operations and add to the team.
What problem are you trying to solve?
For anyone that has cruised, you know that the anticipation is half of the fun. The thought of laying poolside listening to calypso music is what gets us through the workday.
Recent advances in mobile technology have provided a great opportunity to significantly increase cruiser engagement, which is what we've done with Ship Mate.
Get more for your dollar – take that seven day cruise and turn it into a seven month experience.
Additionally, we want to increase the efficiency of information flow while at sea and to save a forest or two. And, in order to even understand all of those cruise-provided documentation, you'll need a file cabinet in your cabin and a paperweight for the windy Lido deck.
Describe the business, core products and services?
Our business is cruising and our app is Ship Mate for the iPhone and Android platforms. We offer the following features:
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
- Cruise chat/roll calls
- Deck plans
- Ship tracking
- Budgeting software
- Excursion research
- Ship and port information
- Contact list
- Packing checklist
- Cruising tips
- Many more eatures to come
Anyone taking or planning a cruise who has a smartphone.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
Ship Mate was first developed for our biennial family-reunion-cruise. The 55 of us were running around the Oasis using the app and people were super jealous.
It was released for free in the app store and users gave us great feedback and requested more ships, lines, and features, which we gladly provided.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We've been fortunate in that our users request additional features that we're able to monetize, like cruise sales. We were continuously asked for the ability to book cruises and naturally partnered up with a wonderful group that now provides all of our agency services.
Additionally, our users have asked for more information and deals at retailers and service providers at port. We're currently in discussions with multiple groups to offer Ship Mate users exclusive deals that they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- Unshakeable determination, persistence and flexibility - we have fully committed to making this our lives and won't stop working 16 hour days until Ship Mate is undeniably the preeminent mobile app for cruising. By not accepting any funding, we're in complete control. This allows us to focus entirely on user experience over profitability. Additionally, our primary coders are in-house and equity based. Our runway is endless.
- Not enough hours in the day or warm bodies in the seats. We're having trouble finding quality programmers that recognize what we're building here.
- Endless – we have a pile of ideas that I'm actually using as a stool right now... everything from including dinner menus in the app to opening wifi hot spots throughout the Caribbean.
Who advised you your idea isn't going to be successful and why didn't you listen to them?
- The cruise lines viewing us as competition rather than a partner.
The phrase "an app is not a business" was not uncommon throughout business school. For every one speaker that said this, we had hundreds of users tell us how much they enjoyed the app.
We're now up to 70,000 uses per day and have an app in Apple's Top 25 Travel apps among Disney, Tripit, Kayak, etc. And we're just getting started.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
We have many goals – among them:
- A 7% penetration rate of cruisers (currently around 2.5%)
- 4+ average rating in the App Store
- 20,000+ Facebook friends
- 300 monthly cruise sales.
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NB: TLabs Showcase is part of the wider TLabs project from Tnooz.