Rocking the $4.5 billion boat: How a founder’s passion and a Facebook group fueled a startup

This is a guest commentary from Michael Kiel. Hear from other Missouri entrepreneurs In Their Words.

As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve reached many crossroads in my professional life. Last year, I had just sold my marketing agency and knew it was time to venture into an industry I was passionate about.

While cruising on my boat at Lake of the Ozarks, I realized that the boating industry truly felt like home to me. The only problem? I didn’t have a problem to solve.

I decided to create a Facebook group with a simple purpose: bringing together people who love boating at Lake of the Ozarks. I started by inviting a handful of boating friends. Before long, a few hundred boaters had joined the group. That was just the start of it, though.

How a Facebook group became a business

The amazing thing about Facebook groups is the way they can grow exponentially. Each new member invited his or her boating friends, and I had connected 25,000 passionate boaters within a year.

As for the problem I was seeking, it quickly emerged. I noticed that most of the activity in the group focused on recommendations. Boat owners needed service providers they could trust to maintain their boats, docks, lifts, etc. On the flip side, marine professionals needed a platform to market and differentiate their services. As a result, I created Boat Planet, a website where boat owners can find, compare, and book products and services from trusted and reviewed marine professionals.

The group uncovered a gap in the recreational boating market ripe for innovation. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association, powerboat sales have increased for seven consecutive years. Consumer confidence is high, people are enjoying more discretionary income, and they’re spending it on the waterways of Missouri — boating brings in $4.5 billion annually to the Missouri economy, the NMMA reports.

Whether you’re a boater, a fitness guru, or anything between, you can use the abundance of the current climate to grow your own passion project. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Surround yourself with like-minded people.

My office is located at CIC St. Louis, which is in the Cortex District of St. Louis. I absolutely love the location. I’m surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs who use technology to solve problems, and there’s never a shortage of bright, innovative people — which inspires me to keep trying new things, too.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Just because you’re in a competitive environment doesn’t prevent you from collaborating. Entrepreneurs are social creatures who love to help each other — especially if it’s in service of innovation. Find people who inspire you, and ask to pick their brains. I bet they’ll be willing to sit down and give you feedback.

3. Give before you get.

My Facebook group worked because it began with pure intentions. It simply aimed to connect people and provide them with the information they needed. Your startup should be founded on the same ethos. One of the best ways to open up opportunities and successfully generate revenue is by gaining trust and proving your value.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from turning a Facebook group into a business is to set out in the spirit of curiosity and passion. By forming a community in an industry you love, you can make a living pursuing your passion — and help develop innovative solutions to common problems.

Michael Kiel is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for boating and online marketing. He is the founder and captain of the startup Boat Planet, an online marketplace for connecting boat owners with reviewed and trusted marine professionals. He also founded a full-service inbound marketing and SEO agency that was a top HubSpot partner, as well as a commercial real estate and design firm.


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