A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Using one technology to manage another

Don Hyde knows that properly maintaining the systems on a boat is more difficult than keeping up with those in a big house that sells for 10 times the price of the boat.

“The boat is the most complex asset most people will ever own,” says Hyde, a businessman and sailor who started a cloud-based subscription service called VesselVanguard that is designed to ease the complexities of boat ownership.

The small start-up in Annapolis, Md., organizes into a searchable database all of the manuals and paperwork for a boat and its equipment. It creates a digital profile of each member’s boat with a master equipment list that is used to create a customized schedule of the tasks involved in owning and running a boat, from oil changes to insurance policy and registration renewals. The automatic notification feature is at the core of the service, alerting boaters, dealers, service yards and the like via email or text message when scheduled maintenance work is due.

It’s a good example of using one application of technology to help keep another better organized and running more smoothly.

“I am a sailor, and the idea came from my experience owning an Island Packet 485,” he says. “I knew that everything I needed to know was in those many pounds of manuals, but even if I read them regularly, which is not my idea of boating, what was needed was a system that would alert me when it was time to do things. That need became the functional centerpiece of VesselVanguard.”

I spoke with Hyde recently for a story that will appear in the September issue of Trade Only. Most of our discussion focused on the workings of VesselVanguard, but I wanted to share some of his observations on innovation and change that I thought were appropriate whether you’re building boats, running a marina or working on the next disruptive technology.

“For true innovation to succeed, an entrepreneur must know the problem being solved so well that the elegance of the solution moves a customer to say, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ ” Hyde told me in an email interview. “It’s one thing to hear that from early adaptors, but when you repeatedly hear it from the mainstream customer and others who benefit, then you know you got it right.”

What he said next has the ring of someone who has been there and done that, as Hyde indeed has.

“It is as foolish to underestimate the willingness of a market to adapt to an innovation whose time has come as it is dangerous to overestimate the comfort level that most people have with the nature of change itself,” he says. “For an innovation to succeed it must adapt to the behaviors of the customer but also serve the interests of the industry itself.”

I drove a local country road to work this morning, and for a few minutes I was behind an antique car from somewhere back at the dawn of the 20th century. It was doing pretty well, too, tooling along at about 30 mph on its skinny tires.

I looked at my dash and the cars going by in the other lane and then studied again the design and shape and footprint of this sauntering collection of technology from another era and contemplated the changes that innovation is bringing to the ways we build, sell, market, service and use our boats.

Sometimes you don’t see it coming until it’s already in the rearview mirror.

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