Starting up is an experiment for some, a habit — for the serial entrepreneur types and for some it’s a passion. All the stories that we have written over the years, have documented the various reasons for starting up. However personally as a writer, not many of those stories have struck a chord, but for this. Read on for my reasons.
Aquasail was founded in 2004 by Shakeel Kudrolli, a corporate lawyer with over 20 years of practice under his belt. His life as a lawyer was good, “law is a money making business and things were good. There was nothing to complain about,” says Shakeel. Besides being a lawyer, Shakeel also has the distinction of being one of India’s finest yachtsmen. His love for water started as a kid. “I had a deep affection for water since childhood. My house was right next to the sea. It was on the narrowest point in Mumbai. I could cross my fence and enter the sea,” says Shakeel. He has also won many laurels on the sailing side — he brought back India’s first ever gold medal on international waters in 1989 at the Asian Championships in China. He also won two silver medals at the Enterprise World Championships in Zimbabwe and South Africa in 1993 and 1995. And won a silver at UK Enterprise Open Championships in 1997.
Shakeel has been involved with the Sea Cadet organization and has trained many young cadets to sail and participate in international sailing championships. “People would always tell me to do something with sailing, as I have been involved with it for a long time and it is something I deeply love,” says Shakeel. So though the ground work started in 2004, it was only in January 2007, that he trained the first batch of people on sailing. Shakeel was very clear that he would be involved with the leisure side of sailing and not the sporting and excellence side of the sport.
While the space for leisure sailing is still very nascent in India, in the UK which is a more evolved market, the industry revenue for leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry in 2011/2012 was a whooping £2.855 billion. Shakeel has also founded Indian Marine Federation (IMF), which is associated with the British Marine Federation, the apex body in the UK for the leisure boating industry.
The team and techniques
Shakeel’s passion for the sport is reflected in the standards he has set for things at Aquasail. From high quality boats to the best safety gear, Aquasail follows only best in class in training. “We have to assure people that sailing with Aquasail is safe and getting the best quality gear is only one part of the promise,” says Shakeel. The range of courses offered by Aquasail includes exploratory courses, one day sailing, certificate courses, employee engagement programs, corporate programs, camps for children and family among others.
The Aquasail team currently comprises of 48 people, and the average age of the team, says Shakeel is 25 years. While Shakeel is the domain expert and plans and creates all the training programs, he is assisted on the marketing, CRM and consumer insights front by Zia Hajeebhoy. Zia is also a water baby, who has been sailing for 25 years now. Zia is an expert in building retail businesses and in the area of brand and business strategy. A graduate from St. Xavier’s Mumbai, she has done her MBA from JBIMS. Zia has worked with companies like HUL, Monsanto, Reckitt Benkiser and IL&FS among others, before she decided to join Aquasail. She has been instrumental in helping open up the corporate market for Aquasail. The startup has worked on team building and employee engagement programs with Aditya Birla Group, Bayer, Citibank, Barclay’s Bank, J&J and IDFC among others.
Currently Aquasail is the only leisure sailing company in SE Asia that offers such a vast variety of sailing courses for customers to choose from. In the last four years, more than 20,000 people have sailed with Aquasail – 80% adults and 20% children. Bulk of the customers for Aquasail have come from the B2B space. The venture mostly relies on word-of-mouth, online marketing, strategic partnerships and alliances for reaching potential customers, says Zia.
Another segment of customers using Aquasail are people who want to celebrate an occasion like birthdays, anniversaries, girls group and ladies group – who all enjoy being on water. “Customers from the age group of 2 to 92 year old have sailed with us,” says Zia proudly. And very recently they helped an autistic child sail, says Zia proudly.
While so far Aquasail has been largely focused on sailing in Mumbai and Mandva, from the next season that starts in October this year, they will also start sailing in Goa. They have tied up with Hyatt Goa and Shakeel says they are looking forward to attracting good footfalls in Goa. Future plans for the venture includes sailing holidays, for which they have entered into partnerships with 30 international destinations and 5,000 yatchs. Entering neighbouring countries is also on cards. And so is the plan for expansion of its fleet. Aquasail currently has 80 boats of 10 different varieties – each best in its class. But what gives Shakeel the most satisfaction is being able to convert his lifelong interest into an occupation and a successful one at that.