Deckee – Slingshot Accelerator 2014

By Mike McKiernan, CEO Deckee Group
The Deckee Group (Deckee, Boata, Fishraider and Marie Studio) is the definitive hub for finding and comparing marine services, insurance providers, boats, products and destinations.

For a long time I dwelled on the idea of creating a ‘TripAdvisor for Boating’ — a place where boat owners could share travel recommendations and experiences with one another online. Having worked on marinas for a number of years, I knew first hand that there was a huge gap in the recreational boating market for this utility, I was just clueless as to how to go about filling it. At the time I was completely oblivious to the Startup culture and community. Instead, I made an appointment at my local business centre and on their advisement I naively picked some Australian VC firms out of a hat and sent them a bulletproof eight page proposal reminiscent of the work of a young Steve Jobs. The anxious wait for a response seemed like a decisive moment in Deckee’s underdog story. They came days later, and although it may not have seemed like much to them, the advice that I received from Rick Baker (Blackbird Ventures) and Stuart Richardson and Darcy Naunton (Adventure Capital) steered me onto an entrepreneurial path to be selected for the Slingshot Accelerator program in Newcastle in 2014. It was there that I found a group of like-minded individuals who, like me, thought their idea was a beautiful unique snowflake worth millions. There was a lot of whiteboards, some cool diagrams and insightful mentors that poked holes in all my assumptions. By the end of the three months it was hard to get a good night’s sleep without thinking about the structure of my pitch slides or ‘what the real problem was’.

How I came out of Slingshot as an aspiring entrepreneur

Have passion and patience
Startups definitely aren’t for everyone. If you aren’t driven to see your idea through to your last dying breath, your presence in an accelerator will only serve as an experiment in your own limits and a harsh reminder of what you are not. These days I’m out of bed before the sun rises so I can fit more into my day. I wake up with firm goals in mind and a list of people I need to call. I turn up unannounced to marine businesses to introduce myself and start conversations. There is a wall in my house covered with the names of a hundred potential investors that looks like I’m trying to track down a murder suspect.

Meet your users
In the beginning I was guilty of wasting time bogged down in irrelevant details. Coming from a background in design I spent more time internally debating the colour of icons rather than identifying the real pains of my users.

Craig and Trent (Slingshot Co-founders) kicked me outside and I returned to where my idea started. I got third degree sunburn walking up and down marinas for hours talking to boat owners, shaking hands and kissing babies. I asked open-ended questions about their lifestyle and the problems they face, and by listening with genuine interest I uncovered a fundamental need that has since become a core feature of our product.

Be politely persistent
I used to start doubting myself and the concept behind Deckee when people didn’t reply to my emails. I sent out dozens every day and saw nothing but tumbleweeds in my inbox.

I eventually realised that some people – particular those in senior roles – are just high-volume and can’t process all of their email. American VC Mark Suster suggests that one of the best ways around this is to simply send your email again: “Hit reply all and include them so they can see that you have sent it before”. Since I started doing this I’ve had many meetings that would never have happened if I didn’t follow up on my initial request.

That being said, you can send and resend emails until your fingers bleed, but you’ll get what your asking for more often when you start communicating with people over the phone and building relationships in person.

Forget the money
It’s easy to read about all of the multi-billion dollar acquisitions on TechCrunch and lose sight of why you pursued your idea in the first place.

Truth be told I’d love to ride jetskis in the Caribbean and drink pina coladas every weekend but unfortunately it is hard to schedule anything around my unquenchable thirst for nautical innovation.

For me, success will not come when we reach our first hundred customers or close an investment round. When the time comes that boat owners around the world start their day on the water by checking Deckee, let the confetti shower down on our shoulders and everybody who has helped achieve that vision along the way

NOTE: In 2018 Deckee was Aquired by Fishraider – Australia’s #1 fishing and boating community forum which will bring an annual reach to more than 1.3m marine enthusiasts.

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