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An interview with Thijs Jansen, co-founder of Barqo, by Nadine Maarhuis

Barqo is an online sharing platform that enables private boat owners to rent out their vessels, currently stuck at the docks, to soon-to-be captains. By doing so, the enterprise stimulates the sharing economy while at the same time making boating as a leisure more widely available. Thijs Jansen, the co-founder of Barqo, realised the potential of their idea: ’’Nowadays it’s far less about possessions and far more about an experience. It was the combination of violability that comes with a sharing platform and the scalability of this concept that triggered me to focus entirely on making our enterprise a reality.’’.

Over the last two years, Barqo has lived up to this potential. With 5,000+ boats world-wide and that number still growing, I wonder: how did this scale-up grow so fast? Who better to ask than the founder. With Thijs, I explore the do’s and don’ts of a young scale-up that focuses both on being profitable and making a positive impact.

Barqo’s key to success

When I ask him about the key elements of Barqo’s success,Thijs explains to me that for Barqo it’s all about having a good team and establishing the right partnerships: ’’We have a great connection with our primary investor. He’s an integral part of the team and by this, he instantly brings a great network to the table.’’ Also, Scott Kennedy, Barqo’s mentor during Impact Hub Scaling, is of great value, constantly giving Barqo tips on how to gain new customers, test concepts and improve the UX of their website.

Partnering up with Centraal Beheer Achmea

Thijs also tells me about their newly established partnership with Centraal Beheer Achmea, one of the biggest insurance companies in the Netherlands. With this partnership, Barqo tackled one of their most pressing problems: offering the boat owners security. Together with Centraal Beheer Achmea, Barqo developed an entirely new insurance product, one that revolutionises the industry. ’’We’re offering our clients a flipped-around insurance model: instead of having to insure your boat, the renters choose a temporary insurance, that doesn’t affect any of their other personal insurances at all.’’ According to Thijs, this increased trust amongst boat owners will give rise to an expansion of Barqo: ’’Many owners were hesitant renting out their boat simply because they were afraid of the possible negative consequences, like in the case of damage or theft. Now, boat owners on Barqo can sit-back-and-relax while offering others the opportunity to enjoy a boat tour.’’.

However, establishing such a new product in collaboration with a cumbersome international organisation like Achmea had its challenges. ’’Because Achmea houses many internal stakeholders and organisational layers, the decision-making process easily gets obstructed and slowed-down. Yes, working with larger corporations can come across on start-ups as quite a frustrating process at times.’’. However, over time, Barqo experienced that it’s exactly the combination of those different strengths that gets innovation off the ground.

How did Barqo manage to seal the deal? 

But, to begin with, how did Barqo convince Achmea that their enterprise was worth to create a whole new product? According to Thijs, what you need is a very structured operational business with a clear vision and future perspective. This insight is something Barqo gained from Impact Hub Scaling: ‘’When we started off with Barqo, we outsourced too much of the development of our online product, which leads to an expensive product. During the workshops from House of Performance at Impact Hub Scaling, we realised that maintaining your vision and KPI’s as a point of reference for everything you do is crucial. For example, now, when we design a message system, we keep the bigger picture in mind: if we change this or that, how will that reflect upon our sales? And, most important, how will it help us to improve the product we’re offering our customers?’’.

By reflecting upon the effects of every activity within the greater scheme of things, Barqo was able to create an enterprise with such a clear and compelling vision that even an organisation like Achmea was willing to put a whole team together and develop a new product to contribute to their further success. So, it seems like the sailors at Barqo know their way around the mother ship…

Clear-cut advice

What would these successful captains of scaling advice other scale-ups? According to Thijs, the answer is simple: ‘’Start! Start as soon as possible! It’s only then that you’ll start discovering things you could have never discovered from behind a desk.’’.

It seems like this clear-cut advice very much fits the hands-on ‘niet lullen maar poetsen’ mentality that made Barqo what it is today.

Are you a scale-up that also wants to use its full potential? Sign up for the next Impact Hub Scaling and before you know it, you will also be setting sails on the expanding waters of change….