Finding the right business partner is not easy; you’d have to be in the right place and in the right time, the partner has to be trustworthy and reliable, and he/she has to share the same passion as you. The list can go on.
For Ng Kah Meng, he was fortunate to have met his business partner at the place he’s always had an affinity for: the marina.
He wanted to make yacht chartering as accessible as possible to people, building the business from scratch with the one yacht that belonged to his late father.
Balancing Dreams With Responsibility
Kah Meng is the co-founder of BOB Marine, a yacht charter service in Singapore.
The 32-year-old was a freelance scuba diving instructor for a short period of time while still a student at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
He received his boating license in 2007 when his father had asked him to join him in learning how to pilot a boat, and in 2010, his father bought their first yacht.
“I was always drawn to the sea and I especially enjoyed scuba diving into shipwreck and underwater caves,” he told me.
“When I graduated from NTU School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in 2011, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer and passed away three months later.”
In the wake of his father’s passing, it was up to him to take over the family business. But he had “little to no knowledge” of the IT hardware industry then, he recounted.
“While I was still managing the IT company, I tried starting another business with some friends but the results were not ideal. It was only in 2014 that I met my business partner in the yacht industry and started BOB Marine later on.”
Turning Liability Into Possibility
After his father’s passing, he was tied up managing the family business so the yacht was only used two to three times a year.
“Owning and maintaining a yacht is very costly and this is true even to a yacht charter company. There are berthing fees, licensing, yearly maintenance, repair and even depreciation which can be as much as 7% to 10% yearly,” Kah Meng explained.
The upkeep of one yacht alone required Kah Meng to expend $5,000 a month.
What was a vessel filled with memories turned into a huge liability that he failed to sell off.
Then, Kah Meng was introduced to his co-founder by a mutual friend at the Boaters’ Bar at
They found out that their yachts were parked next to each other and they had been next-berth (as in, next-door) neighbours all along.
“Following many nights of casual chit-chat, we realised that we had strengths that complemented each other’s weaknesses. More importantly, we have the same principles and values,” he recalled.
“We decided to pool our strengths and assets (the yachts) together to start a yacht charter business [as that] was [only natural] for us.”
While Kah Meng has had experience in starting and running a business in the past, his business partner was just retired from the military then, and was unfamiliar with the working world.
“However, this difference in our experiences, thoughts, and views actually played to our advantage as we approached our problems in different ways. Ways that we would not have thought of individually.”
The biggest challenge they faced was the fact they were going into unchartered territory.
Despite being yacht owners themselves, they did not have any knowledge running a yacht chartering business and sustaining it.
To add salt to wound, Kah Meng said the marine industry is rather “tight-lipped” and majority of information on registration, licensing, and repair supplies are “often not shared openly”.
“We had to find our way, often the ‘hard’ way, before learning these information,” he added.
They realised that they could use their engineering knowledge to repair and maintain their yachts themselves; Kah Meng majored in electrical and electronic engineering and his partner was an aircraft mechanical engineering specialist.
“Once we were confident in our maintenance skills, we purchased yachts that were out of commission and had fully depreciated, as we could repair the yachts and bring them back to their former glory,” he said.
They focused on the functionality and safety of the yachts more than the aesthetics, customising the yachts with many redundancy and backup systems to ensure a smooth-sailing and safe trip for customers.
Kah Meng noted that this is “even more important” especially because they use older yachts.
Becoming handymen themselves substantially saved on depreciation costs, and in some cases, even appreciated the value of the yacht.
This allowed them to pass on those savings to their customers, making their yacht charters affordable and value for money.
“There are many misconceptions about renting a yacht. The most common ones are prices; that yacht charter prices are really expensive and not affordable, but prices [at BOB Marine] are as low as $50/pax or $600 for four hours with captain and crew,” he said.
“Yachts are often portrayed by television and movies for the affluent. Therefore it’s not surprising that most people feel that it is out of their reach.”
On Memories And Moving Forward
Today, Kah Meng finds time to go out and enjoy with family and friends on the yachts, while still running his father’s IT business.
The most memorable and enjoyable trip for him was going to Pulau Tioman which is about a five-hour drive by yacht from Singapore for a long weekend scuba diving trip, he shared with me.
He revealed that the ‘BOB’ in BOB Marine stands for ‘Band Of Brothers’ because both him and his partner agreed that “to go far, you need to have friends and family work as a team to achieve the goal”.
They want the company to bond and grow like family, seeing the staff as ‘Brothers’ and ‘Sisters.
“When the business first started, we did not invest much as the yachts were initially owned by us and we just supplied our own yachts [to customers].”
“However, as BOB Marine grew, we started to acquire other yachts and we invested around $300,000 to $400,00 from our own savings in total,” he stated.
In the beginning, they served about 15 charters a month, but they now serve between 30 to 40 charters a month. It took them around two to three years to break even.
Kah Meng shared that they will be wrapping up repairs on another yacht that they had purchased and are getting it ready for sales or for charter.
The company is also looking to expand into yacht repair, and yacht sales and brokerage in the coming months so they can share their passion of boating with more enthusiasts.
Kah Meng personally believes that perseverance is important for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“The journey is never straightforward and there are often more setbacks at the start. Get over them and then you will see the chance for success.”
“What’s equally important is also a good business partner that complements you and have shared goals and value. As the African saying goes: If you wish to go fast, go alone, if you wish to go far, go together,” he quipped.
Featured Image Credit: BOB Marine