MBA Stories: Adrian Walker and Natalya Zubova

 Adrian Walker and Natalya Zubova founded Boataffair, an online rental platform that enables boat owners to hire out their vessels to holidaymakers and boating enthusiasts. They graduated from Imperial College Business School in 2014 and state that the knowledge and network they acquired during the MBA programme not only help them turn an idea into reality, but gave them life-long lessons.

One thing Adrian Walker and Natalya Zubova had in common when they enrolled on the Full-time MBA programme at Imperial College Business School was an ambition to escape the corporate world and start businesses of their own. However, their studies gave them more than a new career path – the MBA enabled Walker and Zubova to meet, get married and, together, launch a business venture.

Another thing they had in common was a love of boating. This shared passion, teamed with their MBA enabled them to launch Boataffair.

Boataffair is an online rental platform that enables boat owners to hire out their vessels to holidaymakers and boating enthusiasts during those times when their boats would otherwise be sitting idle in the harbour. Boating is an expensive hobby. The platform gives owners the chance to recover the costs of owning and mooring their boats, whilst providing holidaymakers with a memorable vacation.

Their journey began with two significant career moves. Walker gave up his role as an Assistant Manager at PwC, and Zubova resigned from hers as a Conference Director at Informa, and enrolled on the MBA programme at Imperial.

Walker says: ‘We wanted to find a business opportunity where we had a genuine interest,' ‘and wanted to use the MBA to help steer our careers in this direction. It was during a vacation in the south of France that Zubova and I came up with the concept of Boataffair.’

As boat owners ourselves we realised how little we take out our motor yacht and how this beautiful experience could easily be shared with other passionate boaters, if there was a fast and secure service available through which we could rent our boat out to a trusted partner.’

Their casual conversation identified a gap in the market, and mushroomed into a viable business idea which met Walker's and Zubova’s desires to work in an industry they were passionate about. This passion, along with their MBAs ensured a robust business model.

Walker goes on: ‘Boats are often the pride and joy of their owners, so we had to build a business which promoted this ethos. We ensured that boats listed on our site would be cared for and used responsibly. Our business model focuses on offering quality instead of quantity, to appeal to a discerning audience.’

To ensure quality, Boataffair uses a verification process to ensure like-minded owners and renters can be connected, and employs local concierges to hand over vessels to renters on behalf of owners, and receive them at the end of the lease.

Walker says: ‘We personally check each boat to ensure the potential renter is getting a quality product. We also make sure that the vessel is fully verified, safe, and seaworthy.’

Not only did the MBA programme at Imperial provide the business acumen to transition a business idea into a fully-functioning, sustainable venture, but proved to be an ideal testing ground both inside and outside of the classroom.

Walker explains: ‘We tested our business concept on our professors and classmates, and gathered their support and advice. The whole learning experience, the eco and entrepreneurial system of the MBA at Imperial delivered an abundance of vital lessons.’

Walker and Zubova launched the first prototype of Boataffair two years after graduating in 2014, and officially launched the business in spring 2017, utilising one round of seed funding and support from investors. Today, Boataffair lists boats for hire across twelve countries, has a variety of business partners and agents, and a small sales staff.

Walker attributes Boataffair’s success to their ability to provide the very best product and service.

He says: ‘Our MBA taught us not only the importance of creating a robust business plan, but also the dangers of growing stagnant by failing to develop your ideas and offerings further. We’re always looking to improve and develop our business.’

Indeed, the latest additions to Boataffair’s services include island cruises, sailing lessons, yoga on a yacht, and even weddings on the water.

Walker explains: ‘It’s essential to upscale our business in a controlled manner. Of course, this ambition brings additional costs which requires further investment. Our Business School experience has been highly valuable in sourcing funding opportunities through Imperial College Business School’s alumni network.’

He concludes: ‘It just goes to show that an MBA doesn’t just last a year, its benefits are ongoing.’