Our Ahoy! Chief Insurance Officer, Kaenan, tells me the good news, and for a moment my world stops. "That's it," he exclaims. "We are free to sell boat insurance in the United States." When I take this turn of events, I am thrilled for everything that lies ahead - but I can't help thinking of the long journey that brought us here...
It all started one day, just a little less than a year earlier, in a catch-up conversation with a few of my former naval comrades. Each of us had had exciting careers in boating, technology, entrepreneurship, and business after serving in the Navy. We had developed different perspectives, but our shared history and love of the ocean kept us connected. Even though we had traveled long distances without contact over the years, boating was always our safe haven.
In the conversation that day, when we reconnected, we discussed the intersection of boating with our respective fields of expertise. It became clear that there were exciting areas of boating where we could innovate together. There was also a strong passion to drive technological innovation into this often-overlooked market segment that - for some reason - lags technologically behind others like the automotive industry in which I have worked for the past 20 years.
There was even a patented core technology on which we could build, a technology that helps boaters and sailors avoid reefs or ground. We already knew that this technology was very valuable, as some of us had unfortunately experienced such disasters before, and others knew other people who had had such bad experiences.
But how are we going to commercialize this technology? How are we going to bring real technological value to this domain with this technology? Will people buy it embedded in a retail hardware device? We didn't think so. Perhaps we should license it to companies like insurance companies and help them reduce the "loss rate" they pay for claims? Well, we said, working with insurance companies is often a nightmare. It will take years to prove the effectiveness of the technology to them.
"Wait a minute," I said, as someone who had the privilege of observing both Lemonade and Hippo up close, watching them grow from an idea to a successful new insurance company... "Why aren't WE becoming a new kind of recreational boat insurance company?" Why aren't WE vertically integrating our boating technology and knowledge of boating to bring real value to end consumers, far beyond just avoiding grounding?
Why aren’t WE transforming recreational boating insurance from antiquated financial security to a technology-driven proactive asset that assures the boaters that they are protected - not only from misfortune but also in the rare event that this happens? In short... when others insure the boats, we want to assure the boaters that they are able to be on the water and enjoy the boat as much as possible.
As far as technology is concerned, we knew we would be fine. Living in Israel, often known as a start-up nation, we were able to partner with two great co-founders: Arie CTO - a highly decorated veteran of the Israeli Intelligence Corps Tech Unit, and Shachar VP Engineering - a very experienced and accomplished expert in business software. But what do we know about insurance? We have to add an expert from the USA to the team.
Fortunately, we had a mutual friend - David Schapiro, also a naval officer, who had spent his entire career selling technology to insurance companies. When we asked David for advice... he enthusiastically encouraged us to meet with Kaenan Hertz, a former USAA SVP who works with Insurtechs, is an industry authority, and a great guy all around.
And that's exactly what we did! We contacted Kaenan and through a series of zoom calls, we all did it. However, starting a business requires very close ties and making sure that the founders are all "on the same wavelength." This requires quality time together, in person. How do we do it? We're all in Israel and Kaenan lived in New York City. So what? No problem, we will all just get on a plane and visit him! And there in New York, we will have our full-blown creative brainstorming sessions, which will translate our abstract ideas into concrete realities...
But then Covid...
Between lockdowns, flight restrictions, curfews, and internationally closed borders, it seemed almost impossible for all of us to meet in person, synchronize, and bring our ideas to life. Given the time constraints, distance, and a raging pandemic, it was likely that if we only had a handful of phone calls, it would just fizzle out.
But somehow we knew we couldn't let go of it. We all felt that something gigantic was at stake, our truest passions, a glimmer of enthusiasm, a new approach to boating, and a community that we were so close to realizing - if only we could. The pandemic-ridden world seemed to collapse around us, but the peace of boating - the idea of normal, quiet, happy times - became our mission.
So we decided to reverse course. Instead of us coming to NYC, why won’t Kaenan come to Israel? He is one, we are a few, it will be easier for him. And we are Israelis so we know how to improvise and get him an entry permit. With appeals to the government, some last-minute flights through almost closed airspace and a lot of effort and luck, we finally managed to meet in person in Tel Aviv.
The meeting did not disappoint us. All of us, including Kaenan, immediately got along. We sat down and suddenly we were naval officers again, we felt like we were on the water, brainstorming and problem solving, connected with the water as only boaters can be. Armed with the deep expertise we had all acquired over the years, our company Ahoy! began to come together...
We decided that Ahoy! would be a new-age recreational boat insurance company that would not only provide financial protection but also a protective asset - to protect boaters, not just to compensate them after an incident. It would be powered by technology - an intelligent technology that could warn boaters of nearby reefs and the threat of dangerous weather, help them locate their boat if it is stolen, and much more, hopefully, prevent incidents from the outset. It would use the best practices of other company successes, to renew the entire experience.
After this meeting, we all returned to our individual lives, determined and laden with tasks to accomplish, research to explore, questions to answer, and plans to execute what would transpire over the upcoming year.
And now, let's click the "Fast Forward" button for this amazing call from Kaenan in the first paragraph of this blog, the moment it all came together: "We have permission to sell boat insurance in the United States!"
Truly, it was a start like no other!
The journey so far has been extremely exciting - but our release is only just the beginning. We are starting in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Arizona and are rapidly expanding into other states, so stay tuned!
The proactive, risk-reducing technology that we mused about during the dark days of Covid is now a cornerstone of our offerings and actively protects our boaters on the water. Our team is more determined than ever, to pursue - and realize - our innovative mission. We are transforming the experience of recreational boating insurance for boaters - one by one, bringing them peace along the way.