Crowdfunding as a tool for the boat building sector

One of the most common moans made by delegates at many of the maritime conferences is the lack of access to capital for start-up projects in the maritime sectors. By its nature, the maritime sector is a capital intensive space to play in and many entrepreneurs’ dreams are dashed sitting in a chair at their bank.

Crowdfunding has emerged internationally as a potential source to deliver funds to enthusiastic entrepreneurs who have a good idea to sell. Can this form of finance be harnessed for the likes of the small boat builder keen to bring a unique platform to the market?

Cape Town-based entrepreneur, Jako Laubscher is testing the waters with his River Lounge concept on the Indiegogo platform which claims to have raised over $1 billion in crowdfunding for projects around the world. The platform has successfully hosted a number of other boat-related projects including the HYPAR smart boat, and the Keelcrab Sailone.

The River Lounge concept is seeking crowdfunding to take it to the next phase of development.

There are, however, a number of projects that do not seem to have gained traction yet including Laubscher’s River Lounge. Although currently in its concept stage, the River Lounge idea is an interesting one that could potentially attract interest from local and international investors.

The River Lounge is a fully automated hydraulically platform with hidden units that open and close with your remote control. It is a fully roadworthy product that can open on its own trailer for a 42m2 two bedroom apartment with amenities, air con, braai area, fridge, freezer (under deck), kitchenette AND/OR launch onto the water for a day out on the dam/river.

For international shipping it fits into a 40ft container or your garage. Weighing less than 2,5t your average truck or sizable car can tow the River Lounge to various destinations.

In contrast to the slick presentation and detailed drawings associated with the River Lounge on the Indiegogo platform is the rather crude conceptualisation of a kit to change a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) into a motor boat. Unsurprisingly the idea – which seems to consist of literally tying a chair and small outboard onto a SUP – has not garnered much attention.

Monty Furmie is another South African with maritime funding aspirations on Indiegogo. This Cape Town-based software developer is hoping to get crowdfunding to launch a sport fishing boat and charter business to be known as Kraken Oceanic. Capital raised via the platform will be used to train currently unemployed people in the skills associated with the building of the required vessel for the business.

In addition, Furmie states as one of the goals, the ambition to create open source software and systems for all communications, energy, GPS and Sonar/Radar requirements. “This software will be released as open source software and made available from our website as well as a publicly accessible GitHub repository,” he writes in his overview of the project on the platform.

Choosing a platform

Indiegogo is one of many international platforms that host start-up projects as well as fundraising opportunities for charities, but local South African versions are also available. The choice of platforms is one of the first steps towards running a successful crowdfunding campaign as one needs to consider their audience reach as well as their business model.

The South African based Jumpstarter platform has an “all-or-nothing” protocol built into their business model. As a registered Non-Profit Organisation (NPO), Jumpstarter states that all projects must be 100 percent funded before its time expires to be able to claim the funds. Funds relating to projects that do not meet this requirement become usable for other live Jumpstarter Projects as credits or pledges.

They maintain that this reduces the risk for all involved as it does not compel the project originator to follow through on a concept without the full financial support required.

By contrast the Indiegogo site offers two funding models and allows campaigners to access funds even if their full project goal is not met if they choose the flexible funding model. Choosing the fixed funding model, however, sees contributions returned if campaigners do not meet their goal. The choice depends on whether the project could go ahead without the funding goal being reached or not.

Obviously a commission fee is structured into the pricing and the platforms stipulate the percentage of funds raised that they claim. This can vary across the different platforms and can additionally include commissions and charges on funds that are transferred via a credit card.

Luring funders

Whatever the platform, however, the project really needs to catch the attention and emotions of potential funders who are generally everyday internet browsers that need to be persuaded to be parted from their cash.

This necessarily begs the question of trust. Will South African, and indeed African campaigners, be deemed to be trustworthy on international funding platforms where perceptions of a corrupt continent may thwart calls for investment?

Most platforms make it fairly easy to create a funding project or campaign – but on the surface it does not seem that even the most reputable sites are immune to hosting scams. Indiegogo, for example, recently hosted a scam that netted a campaigner $850,000 in a couple of days for a innovative artificial gill that “lets you breathe underwater”.

A company called Triton seems to have capitalized on the lack of knowledge surrounding marine ecosystems by claiming to have invented a device that was able to filter the oxygen out of seawater and allow scuba divers 45 minutes of shallow shipwreck exploration.

Bearing in mind that this is not an isolated scam, investors need to understand that they could be operating in a potentially grey area while those seeking funding need to realise that they need to overcome any skepticism that may exist by being transparent as well as open to questions.

One can be sure that these online platforms that act as facilitators for this funding have built-in terms and conditions that protect them when the fish does not hit the net so to speak.

It is interesting to note that, given the huge potential for crowdfunding to promote entrepreneurship and financing on the African continent, the establishment of the African Crowdfunding Association (ACfA) was established to promote effective self-regulation as well as “build trust and transparency between all actors in the African crowdfunding ecosystem”.

The take-home has to be, however, that both campaign developers as well as investors need to be circumspect about their expectations when using crowdfunding platforms. That said, it could be an interesting space for some maritime sectors to seek finance. Quite honestly, though, it is the platforms that are actually raking in the funds for the role in facilitating the deal – and it is therefore not surprising that a massive plethora of available crowdfunding sites exist.

Perhaps I will start one aimed directly at the maritime industry – anyone keen to fund this for me?

 

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Transnet and the Game of Thrones

Yesterday the Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi, toured the Port of Durban with the Chief Executive of Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) ahead of the official launch of the Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy. There’s nothing altogether strange about that – but I did feel like I had missed a crucial episode of The Game of Thrones.

Richard Vallihu, who less than a month ago revealed the new TNPA building at the Port of Ngqura, was nowhere to be seen. Instead it was Shulami Qalinge that stepped up to the title of CE at yesterday’s proceedings.

It seems that there has been a succession to the title in the few weeks since the unveiling in the Eastern Cape, but with none of the usual official announcements from the State Owned Entity, the Department of Public Enterprises or even a Cabinet congratulatory notice. Why?

Minister Maswanganyi made it clear last night that the shift to promote women leaders in the maritime space was welcomed by his Department and Qalinge appears to come to the position with good and relevant experience within the logistics sector and Transnet.

TNPA is not usually shy with appointment announcements, but Qalinge seems to have flown in under the radar and ousted Vallihu who’s appointment was certainly officially announced in 2015 when he took over following the sudden departure of Tau Morwe.

Industry sources say that they too are surprised at the seeming secrecy around the appointment and report that news spread to them via the grapevine and not through official Transnet channels.

Indeed Vallihu is still listed in the position on the TNPA website and I am left questioning the validity of my own eye-witness account of yesterday’s proceedings as I scour TNPA as well as government statements for confirmation of the episode I seem to have missed.

Nevertheless, welcome aboard Ms Shulami Qalinge and may your time in the position help steer the Port Authority forward.

Could SAMSA get a permanent CEO by the end of this month?

Acting CEO of the South African Maritime Safety Authority, Sobantu Tilayi, recently jested that he could have pronounced himself as the permanent position holder when he stepped into the Minister of Transport’s shoes to deliver a speech at the eThekwini Maritime Summit during April.

But it’s no real laughing matter that the Authority has been without a permanent CEO for almost a year and I have been eagerly scouring each Cabinet meeting report as it is released to ascertain whether an appointment has been approved. Because, as Tilayi pointed out during one of his many conference appearances last month – his present contract expires at the end of the May so an announcement is surely imminent.

In a question posed by Choloane David Matsepe to the Minister of Transport in the National Assembly last week, the Minister was asked whether any CEO, CFO or COO positions were vacant in any of the Department’s entities – and what steps had been taken to fill these positions.

The response noted what the industry already knows – that interviews have been conducted for the position of SAMSA’s CEO and that one person is currently acting in this capacity. The Department’s response further notes that a recommendation is to be routed to the Minister for approval.

Perhaps this month’s Cabinet meeting briefing will include the name of a permanently appointed CEO for SAMSA.

New DoT Minister misses maritime 

It is disheartening to note that the first briefing given by the new Minister of Transport, Joe Maswanganyi, yesterday outlining the immediate tasks for his department made no mention of the maritime industry. 

This, despite the recent revealing of the DoT’s Comprehensive Maritime Transport Policy as well as the central role that the DoT’s agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA), plays in the government-driven Operation Phakisa focused on growing the maritime sectors. 

This, despite the need for that agency to see the finalisation of an appointment of a permanent CEO and despite many other initiatives that are currently receiving and in need of attention. 

His briefing understandably looks primarily at road transport issues and we give cognizance to the importance of this sector in his stable. It also briefly mentions rail in relation to the agreement with China to build the Moloto Rail Development Corridor, but it fails to even give a nod to the maritime sector. 

And, as it refers to the proud history of struggle heros who dedicated their energy to fighting for better quality of life for their comrades and his commitment to patriotism as well as the National Development Plan, he may well have taken note that the maritime industry is the sector in his portfolio that offers a great opportunity for delivering on these promises. 

It would be disappointing if the current momentum gained in the industry in sensitising government to the potential impact of the maritime sector is lost. We are fortunate, however, in the fact that the Deputy Minister, Sindiswe Chikhunga, is already known to be a driver for maritime awareness within the Department and it is hoped that her voice will continue to be heard. 

An African passport by 2018?

One of the many challenges that the highly mobile people of the maritime industry face is that of accessibility to jurisdictions within Africa. This is particularly frustrating for Africans aiming to work on the African continent and may even hamper emergency response to potential maritime incidents.

Discussions at the recent World Economic Forum meetings in Kigali, Rwanda refocused attention on the idea of introducing an African passport by 2018 – a move that will surely be welcomed by proponents of the maritime industry who face delays when responding to clients’ emergency requirements in other African countries.

Leading a session, South Africa’s Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Jeff Radebe, implored delegates to reflect on the continued need for visas in Africa and to meet the 2018 deadline of creating an African passport.

In February this year the African Development Bank released the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, which highlights the fact that the continent remains largely closed off to African travellers. According to the report:

“On average Africans need visas to travel to 55 percent of other African countries, can get visas on arrival in only 25 percent of other countries and don’t need a visa to travel to just 20 percent of other countries on the continent.”

 

The clock is ticking on the African Union’s (AU) goal and vision for Africa as set out in Agenda 2063 which envisions the establishment of an African passport and an end to visa requirements for all Africa citizens in Africa by 2018. There are no clear indications from the AU as to the progress that has been made in this regard, but it is clear that it falls within the Union’s Flagship Projects in the First Ten Year Plan.

However, three years into the First Ten Year Plan, many of the goals remain largely aspirational and it is not clear where or what the stumbling blocks would be to the realisation of an African Passport. Common sense, however, suggests that without the reality of a peaceful and secure Africa as envisioned by Agenda 2063 – the likelihood of an agreement on free movement on the continent is more than 18 months away.

Chairperson of the AU, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma writes in her foreword to the report, however: “We believe that the free movement of people is possible, which is why Agenda 2063 calls for the abolition of all visa requirements within the period of the Ten Year Implementation Plan and the creation of an African passport.”

Perhaps regional visas are more realistic in the short term, but  any move to finalise agreements in this regard will certainly be welcomed by the African maritime community.

 

Conference Call

The fact that “some 90 per cent of trade is carried by sea” is the most over-used statistic at maritime conferences. If you are that way inclined, you may be tempted to create a drinking game out of how many times this is presented during any given conference programme. Maritime professionals just love this fact – we highlight it every chance we get. Enough already!

Use this pearl of wisdom in non-maritime related forums or at dinner parties with your accountant friends where such information is still likely to astound your audience, but for heaven’s sake – those of us working in the industry know this already  – and would counter this as an exact statistic anyway.

Unfortunately this highlights another issue relating to conferences, workshops, exhibitions, summits and expos. There are just so many of them and a great deal of them are pulling the same speakers and addressing the same topics. The question has to be: how do members of the industry choose which event to support and attend without resorting to FOMO* as a decision making tool?

With all due respect to industry-related magazines – we offer little assistance to industry in this regard. Most conferences approach us to be “event partners” to gain some free advertising and promotion before and after the event. In exchange we are offered the opportunity to dish out our magazines; a delegate pass and our logo on their promotional material as a media partner.

Conferences are seldom selective in choosing their media partners and publications usually accept every partnership they are offered – oftentimes with no intention of attending, but with every intention of getting rid of back issues that we are too emotionally attached to to send for recycling.

Make no mistake – there are still some very good conferences on the calendar and not everyone attends these events to absorb presentation after presentation. Often the real value lies in the networking opportunities and the card exchanges. It’s in the opportunity to sit next to someone you have never met before and develop a new connection.

It is, of course, an added bonus if the material presented blows you away. Sadly not much is done by conference organisers to really mould and shape their programmes. I realise it’s probably difficult when they only receive the content of Power Point Presentations at the last minute (and sometimes even as the speaker walks into the conference venue).

But I do feel that the organiser has the responsibility to their delegates (who are often paying a good few thousand to attend) to play a stronger role in content delivery. Not everyone has the ability to develop and present a paper – and the vetting process should go beyond a person’s job title at a specific company or entity.

By way of comparison – it would be like an editor of a magazine accepting article contributions without reading them and simply sending the magazine off to the printer without verifying that content is not repeated; is relevant and of a decent quality.

So my goal for the year is to engage with event organisers and delve a little deeper into what the calendar holds in the hope of providing some definitive feedback to the industry at the end of the year.

*FOMO: Fear OF Missing Out – accepted abbreviation amongst social media platform users. 

 

TETA is on the take!

The Transport Education and Training Authority (TETA) collects levies from its registered members annually and is tasked to redistribute the money to fund relevant training in the maritime sectors.

So, if you clicked on this blog thinking the title referred to a scandal at the Authority, I hope you will not be too disappointed to learn that the money they are taking from the industry appears to be doing a lot of good.

It’s being channelled into the upliftment of people who probably would not have the means to pursue formal training. It’s helped develop human capital in the maritime sectors. And it’s spurred on many individuals’ ability to progress along career paths.

This is a modern day Robin Hood story

I’ve had the opportunity to interview Malcolm Alexander at TETA twice now. Last week, in his office, I came close to resigning from the magazine and begging him to let me work there. The scope to make a difference is palpable and his energy is infectious. He really believes in the system and trying to make it work for companies as well as individuals.

He is the first to admit, however, that not everything is perfect. But at least they are delivering and people are benefitting. He highlights the significant contributions made by some of the companies in the industry and notes in particular the likes of Talhado Fishing, Sea Vuna and I&J as championship league players in the training game. Malcolm also points out that many registered levy players do not use the system to their advantage and encourages companies to speak to them about the opportunities that exist.

So yes, TETA is on the take, but they’re redistributing what they take into verified training initiatives that are upskilling our sector. If your company is not participating fully within the TETA levy and grant system, watch out for their series of workshops this month around the country to get more information.

So next time you pay across your levy begrudgingly – take a pause and consider the impact that training actually has on the lives of those who receive it. This is truly about building a better South Africa one skill at a time.

The forthcoming issue of Maritime Review will include a look at Education and Training in the Maritime Sector.