The co-founder of New Zealand-based marketing, business services and business brokerage start-up, YESSSS, speaks to Kim Hollamby about her business beliefs and why the marine industry is perfectly placed to offer equal opportunities for all.
What attracted you to working in the marine industry?
I stumbled into the marine industry accidentally. I was more land-facing and into riding horses as a girl. My dad had a trailer boat, and I loved the ocean and fishing, but I didn't realise that there was a career path for me associated with boating.
At university I studied for my Bachelor of Business, majoring in marketing and management. Then I took an internship with Propspeed and found out how cool and interesting the boating sector was. When talking with customers about the company’s propeller coatings, I learned about the passion of boat owners and the love people had for working in the industry. Getting the opportunity to travel the world was a bonus!
I grew up with Propspeed over eight and a half years. When I started, there were three of us; at time of leaving, there were more than 30. We worked all around the globe and met new people.
It was a great journey, but last year I decided I was ready for a new challenge. I had quite a few business mentors and connections encouraging me to do something different. I decided I wanted a project where I was in control of my own destiny, and started to think about which problem could I solve using my skills and experience. Some of my industry friends had indicated they would like to hire me but couldn’t afford a full-time role, which led me to thinking about starting an agency. So YESSSS was born out of that demand for sharing my skills and experience.
Tell us about your business
I founded YESSSS as a marketing, business services and business brokerage business with my joint CEO Chris Baird, well known previously as CEO of NAVMAN, FUSION ENTERTAINMENT and Propspeed. Chris and I work fantastically well together – we balance each other out. For this business to be successful quickly, I needed his experience. I work as the director of marketing – that's my happy place. Chris focuses more on the business development and business brokerage side, where leveraging his experience with acquisitions and exits helps. He is like our navigator, setting the course that we implement. It’s a great learning curve for me and my young team.
Aside from Chris, we’re an all-female line-up at YESSSS. Our main connection is that we’re all into boating and the ocean environment – and we love the marine industry and the fact that it's built on the passion of those who go boating. We are super flexible and work a four-day week, with Mondays the usual day out, although clients come first, and we are available if something comes up.
YESSSS launched at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show in March of this year, which worked well as this event is very trade-centric with lots of good networking. We have grown quickly since, with nine clients on board and another six at the proposal phase. Two clients are outside of New Zealand and Australia. We’ve been international from day one, working with Australian and New Zealand companies to take their products to the world and vice versa. We’re very focused on the nuances of every market, not just continents but countries and the regional differences within them.
YESSSS is a perfect fit for businesses who can't yet afford the large salary of an experienced marketing manager or a general manager. We work as an extension of the client’s team, fill in the gaps to get them to that next level, and plan to make ourselves redundant. Once they have grown, our clients can hire someone, and we are available to help bring them on board, coach them, and provide more of an advisory service.
What interesting trends are you seeing in the industry?
The thing that I am excited about is the use of alternative fuels, hydrogen fuel cells and the development of hybrid boats. I know everyone has been jumping on the electric boat bandwagon, but from the perspective of my technical background and talking to contacts in industry, I’m not convinced it’s the right thing.
I like what Volvo is doing towards creating a full circular economy, where they're taking parts from cars and boats and putting them into different uses. It’s important for the marine industry to be working on technologies that can retrofit existing boat fleets with decarbonised energy solutions for a longer life. The most sustainable thing to do is keep reusing existing boats, certainly until we have better methods of dealing with end-of-life stock.
I also like to see disruptive entries to market that challenge the status quo – I’ll be walking the floor at IBEX and METSTRADE to look for those.
You were on the panel of last year’s Women in the Marine Industry event at METSTRADE – what is the importance of events of this kind?
I don't think there's anyone actively trying to prevent women from coming into the industry these days, and the different perspectives of women in the workplace are now being perceived as a benefit. However, issues remain as we heard last year from the panel and the audience.
It would be lovely to live in a world where we didn't have to have a 'women in the marine industry' panel because everything was equal and there was no issue of gender equality. It’s good that we raise awareness of issues now in this way so that one day in the future we won’t need to.
There’s no desire by me or other women I know in the industry to be a box tick that balances a demographic target. Any person’s place in the industry should be on merit. If you cannot hack it, you should not expect to survive. If you are there on merit, then you will thrive.
We are fortunate that we work in an industry that is driven by passion and a love of the water and boating. That should make it attractive to attract people of all genders, beliefs, and ethnicities to get involved. It is a great industry to thrive in, but one also where you get out of it what you put in. It isn’t an easy ride, but it is very rewarding once you've earned your place.
What is the importance of METSTRADE to your business?
Everyone knows METSTRADE is the place where the marine industry does business. When I was working for Propspeed, it provided the opportunity to have all the important players right there in one room to meet and greet, work on relationships and lock in the deals.
This is the first year of operation for YESSSS, and I've made a commitment to take my senior leadership team there, so our existing clients benefit from our presence, and for us to grow our international client base. It’s a good way also of demonstrating we are not an agency that sits in an office and pretends we like boating. We want to make our mark and show that we are here to help.
Which METSTRADE areas and activities do you most look forward to?
I’m going to spend a lot of time in the new Start-Up Pavilion because I love to see what people are doing. We also have a client there – Hullbot, a specialist in underwater robots for hull cleaning.
I'm excited about the new DAME Awards categories. There is innovation in so many places, and I think the refresh is good for the way we're heading with new products that are coming into the industry. The change has got talked about this side of the world. We are encouraging companies we know to enter. The DAME Awards is the competition that matters in the marine industry and something to be proud of if you get a nomination and get included in the DAME exhibition, which is an area I always visit.
After several years of being busy on a stand, I’m looking forward to the freedom of visiting features like the Construction Material Pavilion and Super Yacht Pavilion. There are some new layouts that I am keen to look at and take notes so that we can maximise impact for our clients.
How do you plan a typical METSTRADE visit?
A successful METSTRADE happens in the prep. A lot of people go the wrong way about it by failing to orchestrate their time there.
I start in September by looking at the data – who is going and so on. By the beginning of October, I’m locking in meetings because all the important people worth connecting with quickly get their calendars booked for those three days. Then I send out reminders and work on proposals. I drill this approach into my clients because METSTRADE is a significant investment in money and time, and it’s important to maximise your time there.
It also helps to prepare follow-up activity before a METSTRADE visit. You may have the best of intentions to act as soon as you return, but the energy levels are low, a week becomes two and then suddenly it’s the end of the year.
Oh – and I’ve banished anyone on my team from having a blue chequered shirt uniform! We’ll probably be dressed in something that makes a statement.
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