Do you have a startup company that you are trying to grow, but find yourself stretched for time while trying to navigate a profitable business, and have a happy and healthy personal life? Many would say that we can’t always get what we want, but what if you could pursue a life that is healthy AND profitable? My guest for this episode is Adrian Walker, and he is someone uniquely qualified to offer insights in achieving both. Adrian is the co-founder and CEO of Boataffair, and he tackles what it means to have a global impact by expanding our thinking beyond the local and linear framework. Adrian will also share some common mistakes and myths that people encounter as a business owner, and strategies you can use, starting today.
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Have you ever found yourself at a place where you are a startup company, where you were trying to grow to capture the market share? You found yourself stretched with time and you're trying to navigate it to have a healthy, profitable and productive business as well as have a happy productive personal life, marriage and more? We've got an expert who is uniquely qualified to talk about both topics. He's someone I've gotten the chance to know over for a while. He is the Cofounder of an incredible fast-growing company that creates transformational and unique experiences in the water all over the globe. He's the CEO of Boataffair. Prior to Boataffair, Adrian has worked as an investment manager for a VC capital fund. He gained a lot of experience in startup and investment opportunities. He's passionate about all kinds of things like boating, coaching, and mindfulness. He's been able to serve clients like you and like me in over 40 different countries. He loves a good discussion. He's just brilliant. Adrian, it's a pleasure and a privilege to have you on the show. Thank you.
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for that introduction.
Where are you?
I'm in the heart of Europe. I'm in Switzerland. I’m European, East from where you are.
Technology makes it awesome that we can connect from all over the globe in ways that we never could before. We're going to be able to impact a lot of people because of the wisdom that Adrian is going to share with our audience. Adrian, I know you've had a lot of success in VC, business building and working with startups. You’re almost like an adviser for them. You've got your startup, which is Boataffair and having a big impact. I noticed something you posted that said something about, "We've done a lot of hard work building our global presence." Speak about the mode you've been in to give people a picture of what you've done. As you're taking notes to what Adrian shares, imagine how this applies to you. See if you can see some of the things that you're dealing with, the problems and the opportunities that Adrian will explain to us. Can you explain that a little bit?
It's me and my wife who started and founded Boataffair, our boat-sharing company. We’re based in Switzerland. This is where we live. This is where we started the company. Both me and my wife have a very global mindset. We have traveled a lot. We have met in the UK. I've got lots of friends all over the world and so does my wife. With our business, thanks to technology, it was going to be a global thing. What we want to do is we want to connect boat owners and people looking to go into a yacht. This is by no means restricted to Swiss. We can't be restricted to a country. From the very beginning, we have the mindset to go global. I speak five languages. What I enjoy most about startups is I get to apply these languages. That's why we feel we thrive. We want to understand different cultures and take them into account. That's one of the keys. You have to take into account different cultures as well. With someone being in the US means certain sentences they had to understand, in Europe it’s the other way around. It's all about branching out and embracing different cultures. That was very clear from the very get-go.
It's such a unique process of you matching those that are boat owners. You match people who want to do boat swapping. You give people the ability to rent and you create amazing experiences on a boat as well. You have this global mindset. Someone might have a limiting belief where they think that you know they need to master the local area or the local market or think linearly or small. What would you say to somebody to get them to expand their thinking beyond a local linear framework to a global framework?
I'll say you as the founder, you don't have to be the expert for every single culture. You don't have to speak every single language. What you do need however is the ability to create this satellite network. You have to recognize it needs to have the key network in your key areas where you want to grow. I traveled to San Francisco and I met wonderful people there from various industries. That resulted in me having one or two agents in the States who are helping me to expand Boataffair in the US. The same goes for many other countries. When I said you need to embrace the cultures, you do need to understand that you need to do that. You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to recognize the need for that satellite network.
You had quite a background in the VC world where you were, in many ways, like an adviser or coach to these businesses. You helped them raise money, chose which businesses to invest in. What are some of the big mistakes that you see as you look at a lot of businesses that get started that fail? What are some of the common mistakes, myths or misunderstandings that people make when they're running the business as a founder?
I want to mention too many mistakes I kept seeing over and over again. I talked to many startup founders, people who started businesses, their heart is in that business. That implies in what I'm about to say that many of those founders got caught up so much in too much detail 24/7 every day of the week. They felt like, “If I don't work one afternoon, I'm losing total control of this business.” That is not true in my view. My experience with what I have seen, sometimes when we take a step back or take your Saturday off, it will give you a new perspective. You come back with fresh ideas. That's one big mistake I saw. People get bogged down into detail. They feel that pressure from society. Stand up to that, take a step back.
The second mistake was that many founders I’ve encountered upon having received a funding round, they fall for that trap. They think, "Half of the work is done. I have received funding. I can go out there and spend this money on the company car. Let me spend the money on the second company car while I'm at it to my team member because I want everybody to be comfortable.” This comfort clearly contradicts my first point, but people get so bogged down when they feel the pressure. You're just not being authentic anymore. Take that step back. See that you need to be comfortable, but you don't need the company car. Most people I know who have been successful know what it's like to bootstrap, to feel the pain but also react accordingly. Take that step back. Take your Saturday off. Spend time with your family and you come back with fresh ideas.
Having built eleven or twelve companies over the years, I've lived in both of these places you've described. One, that burnout factor and just being a workaholic, which I suffer from a few different addictions and workaholism, the respectable addiction is one of them. The second one, which is that comfort zone, sometimes we can get promiscuous with our funding decisions and go overspend instead of starting small, building and bootstrapping the way you're talking about. I'm reminded of a quote from my good friend, Joe Polish, which is, "Irritated oysters create pearls." Sometimes one of the best things for a business owner and entrepreneur is to actually be a bit of an irritated oyster after getting funded to then ultimately enjoy the fruits of the labor and make smarter business decisions to make it profitable.
Global Impact: You need to embrace cultures in order to recognize new ideas.
A lot would be that irritated oyster but also irritating from time to time. It's so easy, often I set myself as a founder. We closed a funding round. We're happy about that and we closed one-half a year ago. It's not just announced in the media in Switzerland and in Europe. It's announced into the US as well. It's so easy for people to approach you and want something from you because it's earlier in the process. It's easy to go for anything and everything people offer you because you do not want to miss out on opportunities. I feel like I'm being irritating to people when I stand up to them and say, "No, I'm not going to spend that grand on the fantastic ad that you promise me. I don't want it.” When they come back to you and challenge you, "Why don't you want it? You're missing out." Just stand your ground. I'm an irritated oyster. I love it. Be irritating as well from time to time and stand your ground.
For our audience, are you holding your ground? Are you showing up and leveraging the power of being an irritated oyster, and at the same time holding your ground to be an irritating oyster? I want to dive into something here as it relates to your business and your expertise. What do you consider your greatest superpower and strength in business?
What I'd like to think is I am quite good at listening to people, putting myself in their shoes, realize where someone is coming from and before you think about what is my need because I know my needs. I try to figure out what the other person's need is. If you clash with somebody and you have a heated conversation, you need to negotiate in business and you fix it. If you can't come to a conclusion or to an agreement, why don't you take that person's perspective and try to find a middle ground perhaps? By understanding the other person in front of you, he might seem rude, she might seem nasty, there's a reason for that. They're probably not nasty people. Try to understand the need, the motivation, understand mine. It clashes. Let's have a third person's perspective in that case. Let's create that and let's find a middle ground and you can only do that by understanding what the other person's need is. Superpower, I love that word. I love to negotiate. I love to understand other people's perspectives that create win-win situations most of the time.
You have a very easygoing demeanor and at the same time, you're laser-focused, at least in the experience I've had with you over the time that we've gotten a chance to know each other. With your ability to understand others and put yourself in that place, if someone is dealing with conflict or they're in the middle of a heated negotiation or they feel they're right versus the other, what advice would you give to somebody that you have found for you? It seems like if that is your superpower then it's just natural to you, but unpack that a little bit. What advice would you give to somebody like in the heat of a conflict situation? There is a little bit of irritation happening or frustration or it's a heated negotiation or discussion. What would you recommend someone do to get in the other person's shoes or to create that space that makes it a healthy position?
I'd love to create a more comfortable space by asking about a very irritating question. I recommend people try this. If you're in a heated discussion and you feel it's going nowhere, it's left versus right, yes versus no. Nobody will concede. Ask the other person, "Let's take a step back. Do you think it's me? Am I the problem?" Then you will see most people go quiet because they're thinking, "What's he on about it? He's being nice. He's trying to establish whether it's his fault or not." Most people take a step back then. Reflect for five seconds up to ten. Come back to the conversation and say something nice. They might say, "No, it's not just you. It's me as well. You're right. Let's reflect on what the problem is." Then you can create that new flow that irritated people by asking a question about that. That's my favorite question, "I'm very sorry. We're not getting anywhere. Am I doing something wrong? Tell me. I need feedback and I love feedback." That question irritates, therefore it produces great results very often.
If the audience can apply what you share, that's a seven-figure, six-figure idea that could transform. I challenge you. Come back to the episode here at GrowthToFreedom.com/193 and make sure you start practicing, implementing, using and completing this. Make it happen because I believe it will transpire. I know you have a lot more on this journey that you've been on. It's not always highs as a business owner or entrepreneur and trying to do it in a marriage and relationships. As you evaluate the last X number of years of being in business or in the role of investing in companies, what's been your biggest mistake personally or your biggest failure personally? What do you learn from it ideally that also our viewers and our listeners can learn from it too?
My biggest mistake, my failures professionally and personally are to do with the fact that when you get frustrated, when you get anxious in a business case or in private, you eat it up. You feel like, "I don't deserve to share this because it's rubbish. It's not important enough." You eat it up and then it starts eating you up from inside. You, in turn, get to be a nasty person. You get irritated and that's not good for anybody. There are no fruitful exchanges that can happen there. Be aware of that. Open up and start talking to people about what's bugging you. Perhaps there's an easy solution to it, but you will never find out if you eat it all up inside yourself if you don't share. My failure, I didn't share my pain. I don't open up enough. I'm admitting this. I urge everybody to take that step back and ask themselves, "Do I share enough? Do I let trusted people know about my pain, about my fears?” Everybody on this planet got fears. Everybody experiences anxiety. The more you talk about it, the more you will realize that a lot more people than you thought have anxiety. It makes you feel good about yourself instantly and it reduces this anxiety therefore.
My biggest transformation has been instead of shoving all these things down and letting it eat you up and then move in a different direction, it’s opening up with that trusted group of people. Sometimes it can be a coach. Sometimes it's a family member or both. Just releasing it gives us so much freedom to be our better selves. To grow, to impact and to have a bigger contribution. Thank you for sharing that, it’s a great advice.
Global Impact: When in conflict, consider and take the other person’s perspective in order to find the middle ground.
You have to set your sense of pride from time to time because it’s a pride thing as well. You're not allowed to be vulnerable. Another thing, you said you talked to coaches or your family members. My son is six and a half years old. The most wonderful experiences have happened for me is he starts to understand what I'm doing with my company. Often enough, I feel a little bit down in the evenings. I put my son to bed. I will tell him about it. You start to learn a perspective when your six and a half-year-old tells you, “Daddy, just go to sleep. Tomorrow is a new day. I'm still here. I love you." I’m like, “Okay.” I shared my pain to a six and a half-year-old.
To the audience, what would happen for you if you started focusing on having this global mindset that Adrian's talking about moving from a linear environment to a global environment? Stop playing small. Stop playing behind, being in the closet so to speak and coming out front and looking and thinking in a global way. Identifying and honing in your superpower, dealing with conflict. Opening up about some of the fears, insecurities, anxieties and dangers you have going on to a trusted group of people including your kids. What would that do for you? We're just scratching the surface in Adrian's wisdom.
I'm juiced up with all the great wisdom that you've shared already. We're going to take a little bit of a deeper dive. One of the things I saw in your post says you put smiles on people's faces. You had someone who you work with it says, "Join me on the beautiful coast cruise of Rio de Janeiro and relax with Brazilian music in the Bay of Guanabara. Enjoy six unforgettable hours in which we admire the Sugar Loaf, Corcovado and Morro Dois. Snorkeling at the Cagarras Islands and enjoy the beautiful view of Porto Maravilha and the Museu do Amanhã.” You put smiles on people's faces. That seems to be a very strong value as I looked into your company. Talk about the focus on creating smiles in that impact with your clients.
You might want to say we’re a tech company in theory. However, we as humans have always been very adamant that we are building this by humans for humans. We are convinced that humans here drive the technology. We have one goal and one goal only. We want people, our clients, our boat renters and yacht owners, we want them to have a truly authentic and wonderful experience on the water. We want to put a smile on those people's faces. We want to match parties on our platform to go out there and have a fantastic experience. What you have read there was one of our clients’ experiences in Rio de Janeiro. You can go on a boat there with a boat owner from Rio. That's an experience you will not find in any of your guidebooks. They're not online anywhere. We've listed that experience on our platform. You can do it through Boataffair. We want to put smiles on people's faces to make people happy. That's we believe in. Humans built this for humans. It's as simple as that. It's all about humans at the end of the day.
You've had a lot of success in the VC world. You're now building your startup company. If you had to narrow down one to three biggest breakthroughs for you that had the biggest impact for you or your clients overall, what would be one to three big breakthroughs that our audience could also learn from as well?
It's all right to want what you want. You don't owe anybody an explanation. As long as you love what you're doing and then you realize there are other people who love what you are doing, be that clients or partners, then it's absolutely all right. It's all right to feel that fear. It's all right to have that negative criticism. It's all about focusing on what matters. Create that group of people who do believe in what you're doing and who would actually give you energy. Avoid the people or avoid instances where energy's being drawn from you. My second point is, and that goes for myself as well as to my clients, it's okay to expect more. I tell that to my clients are well. You go to Los Angeles, you go to the beach, you can rent a boat that's possible, but you can't find the go-to platform that will create authentic experiences around the boat.
We take you to places where a car won't take you. What we’re doing is you craft personal iteneraries. I'll tell my client, "You can expect more and it doesn't cost more.” Expect more, that's all right because I'm expecting more of my life. That's how I started. Let's all expect more, we'll get to more. The third thing I want to mention is it's all right to receive negative feedback, even if it's not constructive. If you have somebody who joins your scheme and immediately you feel they didn't join for the right reasons such as making trouble, that's all right. You can deal with it. You have to deal with it. It will give you more strength, more energy and it will give you thicker skin, and that's the all right as well. Try to take a step back and think, "How do I deal with somebody who is just being negative for the sake of being negative?" You cannot turn them around or learn how to tell them that it's not my problem. When you are convinced that you've tried everything you can, you wanted to make the person happy, that person doesn't want to be happy through your help. That's fine. Let go. That's my third point.
If I hear you correctly, number one is it's okay to want what you want. Avoid where your energy is being sucked from you or pulled from you. Number two is expecting more doesn't have to cost you more. It's an expectation of high value. Number three is it's okay to get negative feedback and be willing to let go of any type of that or emotional attachment to that, especially if you've done everything you can to make the situation right. What would happen to you if you could put that in place in your business, in your life, in your relationships and a whole lot more? I have a feeling it would transform what it is you do, how it is you do what you do and create an amazing set of breakthroughs. I know we've just scratched the surface of your wisdom and I love your energy. You definitely come from a place of abundance and having a global mindset. If people want to go deeper to learn what you're up to, where can they go get access to some of the incredible resources that you've got available?
Global Impact: Stop playing small. Stop playing behind. Speak out and come out of the closet.
I'm very happy to be connected to all of you. I'm happy to have conversations not only to spread my wisdom, I also want to learn. I have to learn so much so everybody can learn on a daily basis. I'm happy to connect on LinkedIn. You can search for my company Boataffair. We've got a page there. My company is to be found on Boataffair.com. It got all the contacts, all the social media channels on that website. We are very active and we love to engage on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We talk to people. We answer questions and we ask questions. I'm so happy if you reach out to me through all those channels.
I want to encourage you to go deeper, even if you're not in the boat industry. I would encourage you to go check out what he's doing. You'll learn a lot. It's a tech company that's a boat company, but it's a company about human beings and creating the client experience. If you're looking for a way to improve your client experience, go check it out. Even looking at their website will give you some insights that you probably hadn't thought of before. You can do that at Boataffair.com. You can go check out his social media pages, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and a whole lot more. He's very accessible at least at this time. He and his company make it easy for you to have a great experience, not just with the company but with them. That's one of the things that's very clear for me, getting a chance to know you in this short time. I just love to ask you a few personal questions. Why Boataffair? What do you see as the big problem you're solving there?
With Boataffair, we want to bring transparency back into the charter market and the experience economy. Back when we started, when we started brainstorming, we saw a lot of intransparency in the boats market. We sold boats globally as well. I'm a boat owner. I think I've got a very authentic problem I'm solving. I've got a boat I hardly ever use. I couldn't rent it out. I didn't know how to share it. It's all about meeting with other people by unlocking value with your boat and using your boats more. You meet people. That creates business opportunities. You get to network with like-minded people. We're solving for boats as an asset being underutilized. People want to get more out of it. There was no go-to platform that has a focus on quality and a focus on enabling everybody that participates to expect a little bit more. We created Boataffair to bring transparency into the boating market and to enable boat owners to make more of their assets they can share with our boat swapping scheme. We want clients and renters to have a transparent go-to platform that's happy to exchange with them that will create an experience. You don't just rent a boat with us, you invest in an authentic experience. That is what we want to do and that will put a smile on people's faces.
If you'd like a smile on your face and if you'd like an authentic experience, take the first step and go check out what Adrian's up to. As you build your business, I noticed you've got quite a team that you've surrounded yourself. You work with your wife. She's the COO of your company. What would you say is the best part about working together in partnership with a spouse? What are the things that you guys struggle with the most?
What's beautiful is we are both boaters. My wife, Natalya, she's been sailing for twenty years. I've been driving my boat for 25 years. We know what we're solving for. We connected over a passion, we both have the same passion and that's beautiful. A lot of our clients, partners give us that feedback. They say, "We can see that you both equally believe in what you're doing. You come from a sailing and motorboat background. You know what you're solving.” The beautiful thing is that my wife and I, we can talk about these topics a lot. We talk about them a lot and that can be very beautiful. It can be on a Saturday evening with a glass of wine on the balcony in the summer. Accessibility-wise, she can always access me, I can access her. That's where beautiful ideas are born. Sometimes with a glass of wine on the balcony, no pressure, you're offline. We go hiking at the weekends to the Swiss mountains, we're offline. Suddenly, we have an idea.
The danger can be that you do not disconnect enough because we are both in this together. We are Boataffair. My wife and I are Boataffair. We tend to talk about it a lot. We have to be careful not to talk about it all the time. We therefore have established a few routines and processes. We love to go hiking. We go offline or no dedicated afternoons, that's the Sunday afternoon. We love to take off and go hiking. We promise each other, "Natalya, I promise you I'm not going to talk about Boataffair. Let's talk about anything else but Boataffair." The danger is that you can talk about the company too much. It's all about managing expectations and realizing that, take that step back and take countermeasures and it's easy. It's so much more we have to talk. It's an easy trap with Boataffair. We love it so much. We're so passionate. The thing is it's not a burden for us to talk about it. We love it. It’s to be aware of that and make space for other things.
Global Impact: Be aware and make space for other things.
Speaking of countermeasures, if Natalya was in the room with you and you were going to turn to her and thank her for how she showed up to allow you to be this visionary innovator, this creator, this dreamer, what would you thank Natalya for in her support to allow you to do and be that?
I do thank her. I thank Natalya for allowing me to think so big, from not making me look like I'm ridiculous. There are people there who are narrow-minded who will say, "You're crazy. That's not going to work." You start saying what you think, you start saying, "You are dreaming big." I thank Natalya for allowing me to mention and to say what I want to achieve. It's a lot. I want to achieve a lot for me, for my family and for our Boataffair community and my clients and my partners. I can't do that by thinking small. I've got crazy ideas sometimes and Natalya listens. I thank her for listening to me. She gives me honest feedback as well and that is so valuable. That works the other way around as well. That's the beauty of it, it's a give and take relationship. I thank her for all that. I'm so blessed to have found that. That's not a matter of course.
Thanks for giving us a peek behind the curtain of your life as a husband and a wife. Being vulnerable, to be able to share that with our audience.
This is me being vulnerable and open here. That's us, transparent and authentic. I urge and recommend people try it out as well. It feels liberating.
Speaking of liberating, I'm curious what were you known for in high school?
In high school, I was known for being able to entertain people. I make people laugh and smile. That's what I was known for at high school. That showed because, during high school, I joined a musical and I acted on stage. I took singing lessons and piano lessons. I always love producing something for others. I don't mean jokes. I can't tell jokes. I love to be funny and I'm very sarcastic. I suppose I take everybody in every business and everything very seriously, but I don't take life too seriously. I smile about things. For everybody on this planet, it's going to end the same way at some point. You might as well smile on a daily basis. I'm a bit sarcastic at times. I'm well-known in high school for making people laugh and by bringing laughter into people's conversations.
For our audience, what would be the one to three action steps that you would challenge them to take as a result of our time together?
I recommend one thing especially and I did it myself as well. Look at yourself in the mirror. Ask yourself, "Are you happy with where you are?" If you’ve got that little feeling somewhere in your body that tells you, "I'm not happy." Listen to that, promise me you will listen to that, because I did. Not from the very get-go. It took me many months if not years, to be honest, to actually listen and then act upon it. Do this if you have that inkling, that feeling. Secondly, when you realize that, reach out to someone you trust. Don't go to naysayers. We all have our naysayers for various reasons. I'm not saying they're bad people. I always try to understand other people's motivations but reach out to people you trust and talk to them about your feelings. You will see that you're not alone with your fears. I know you're asking for three. I'm giving you two because they're so important to me and I feel like that could be important to a lot of people as well. Be true to yourself and reach out.
I want to encourage you to take action with what Adrian has shared with you. I've got multiple pages in notes here. From the idea of having a global mindset of ways to steer against burnout, the superpowers and how to honor the superpowers, how to be irritated as an oyster, but also how to show up irritated. How to solve negotiation and conflict issues. We talked about three simple steps to get a breakthrough. It's okay to focus on what you want. Expecting more doesn't have to cost more and a whole lot more. It's been awesome to have you here with us, Adrian. Thank you for sharing so much great wisdom.
It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your absolutely fantastic questions.
I would encourage you to go check out what Adrian's up. You're looking for a way to truly hone in on the human condition, the human spirit. The quality of the experience right that you deliver to your clients. You can learn something from Adrian. If you're into boating and want to have an amazing boating experience, also go check out what he's up to at Boataffair.com. Seize the day, make it a great week, we’ll see you next time.
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Adrian is the Co-founder and CEO of Boataffair. Prior to Boataffair, Adrian has worked as an Investment Manager for a Venture Capital Fund, where he gained significant startup and investment experience. He is passionate about the platform economy, connecting people and boating.
Together with his wife and Co-founder, Natalya, he grew Boataffair from scratch to a global yacht and experience sharing company present in over 40 countries. In his free time, he enjoys a good discussion on mindfulness and coaching techniques, loves to hike in the mountains with his family, and can't be separated from the sea for too long. Adrian holds an MBA from Imperial College, London.