Launching a foldable, one-minute boat

This entrepreneur liked the idea so much he bought the company. Adam Courtenay reports.
By · 21 Oct 2013
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21 Oct 2013
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This entrepreneur liked the idea so much he bought the company. Adam Courtenay reports.

When Perth entrepreneur Deryck Graham first saw the prototype for his Quickboat, he liked it so much he bought the company.

It was not the first foldable boat ever made, but Mr Graham saw the potential to make it work without the use of clips, latches, nuts or bolts. He planned to make it into the ultimate DIY-friendly boat, capable of being stored under a bed or in a garage, transported on roof racks and constructed in less than a minute.

In April last year, Mr Graham, 52, bought the design and patents from Quickstep Holdings, the aerospace company he co-founded, and named the new venture Quickboats. He began a global fund-raising venture, which has since netted him $1.5 million from about 30 high-net-worth investors.

It will begin retailing in December. There are about 50 advance orders and thousands of "strong inquiries" Mr Graham is confident of converting into sales.

While the "minute-to-make" boat was a hit at the Sydney International Boat Show in August, it is not an original concept. Mr Graham admits the boat's inspiration was Porta-Bote, another Australian company that has sold about 90,000 folding boats and which itself claims a four-minute assemblage time.

The big difference is Mr Graham's space-age design uses so-called "Armor Skin" panels secured by Kevlar hinges and no metal parts.

It will be interesting to see if his broad vision for the boat will work. He wants it to appeal to the weekend camper rather than pure boating enthusiasts. "We're thinking lifestyle, not boat segment," he said.

Nor does he believe the retail price of $4375 (including GST) will put off his market. It's not for the guy who wants a $100 tinny to fish locally. It's for the go-anywhere, entrepreneurial outdoor traveller.

"I wouldn't travel around Oz with a tinny, and blow-ups are not very good and get very wet. You can take a Quickboat to the Top End, stay for three months, fold it up and then go on to the next caravan spot. It's for guys who want to fish in lakes and streams they couldn't normally get to, or the family with two young sons who want to go fishing once or twice a year."

Undoubtedly, the boat is efficient, but the company's structure appears unwieldy. It may be Australian-originated with the main industrial designers in Sydney, but there are other designers in Ireland and the boat's engineer of composites is French. The boat is manufactured in Thailand, while the company uses virtual assistants in the Philippines and is about to engage a technology officer in Singapore. Its European agent is based in Amsterdam and the first salesman is likely to be hired from Adelaide.

What about Mr Graham's home town of Perth? Mr Graham, who runs the company with general manager (and nephew) James Graham, said it was too expensive to hire anyone from "the most expensive city in the southern hemisphere". He said it would all be managed through "a new generation" of cloud technology.

Mr Graham is no stranger to the virtual world - he sold about 20 boats in a promotional sale at the cut price of $3000 through crowd-sourcing platform Indiegogo, through which he also raised $65,000. It was an opportunity to simultaneously raise money and the company's online profile.

While his reps will be targeting the big boating and camping retail chains around the world - particularly in the US - he also intends to sell boats direct from the Quickboats website, with deliveries to a customer's front door no matter where they are.

How many can the company produce? Mr Graham said the Thai manufacturer had a capacity constraint of about 500 boats for the first year. He intends to launch in the US the year after to ensure he can manage the hoped-for demand.

By his own admission, only good communication will prevent chinks appearing in a company that he acknowledges is "geographically all over the place". He and his nephew own about 65 per cent of Quickboats, although further fund-raising may dilute their stake.

He expects the break-even point to occur at about 600 boat sales (without add-ons), with profitability at 800 sales.
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