In the spring of 2014, Adrian Gradinaru, ’14BUS, was on a boating trip in Greece with the Columbia Sailing Club. He’d been having the time of his life, and was eager to make boating a habit when he returned to New York. But it wasn’t until Gradinaru got back that he discovered this goal would be more difficult than he thought — after doing some thorough research, he found there was no way to easily rent a boat online.
Joining forcecs with Delphine Braas, ’14BUS, Magda Marcu, and Bogdan Batog, the team set out to create Sailo, a marketplace that would make it easy for virtually anyone to spend a day out on the water. Boat charters are a $20 billion industry, but at the time there was virtually no way to compare prices or book reservations online.
Gradinaru and Braas arrived at the Columbia Startup Lab (CSL) with little more than a PowerPoint of their business plan. “Being at the lab was an absolutely critical step for us,” says Gradinaru, “because it gave us the space to create exactly the business we wanted.” Together, they began to build out the Sailo platform.
Sailo connects renters, boat owners, and boat captains, relying on a complex network that had to be built nearly from scratch. The co-founders tackled the challenge with plenty of help from Columbia professors and like-minded developers at the CSL, who also helped them stay on the right side of thorny boating regulations and insurance laws. Braas and Gradinaru also learned from the expert lectures given at the lab, getting essential introductions on topics like viral marketing and investor relations. Gradinaru remembers his year at CSL as a time of milestones, from launching the company website to throwing the party that celebrated their first booking.
Today, Sailo is a rapidly expanding global service. Their catalog of rentable boats has grown from 100 to 5,000; their listings are scattered up and down the Atlantic seaboard, across the Mediterranean, and on a string of Caribbean islands. They’re also working on the logistical hurdles of multi-day charter cruises. With a boost from four full-time engineers, they’ve bulked up their website with messaging, a mobile app, and the Boat Calculator, an interactive model that lets users see how much owning a boat would cost them and how much they could earn by chartering it.
As they’ve grown, the Sailo team has stayed close with the Columbia Entrepreneurship community. They recruit Columbia interns from both undergrad and MBA programs, and stay in touch with their mentors from The Lab. With glowing features in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Travel & Leisure, and TechCrunch are anything to go by, Sailo has proven that Columbia startups can achieve success anywhere — even on the high seas.