Having followed the Ankor journey from the start, we have enjoyed getting to know founders Mike Sager and Elliot Cousins. We have witnessed how they have brought a new energy and perspective to the industry, driving the digitalisation of the charter sector forward - all whilst maintaining their signature Aussie wit. Read on to get to know the Ankor story...
In order to build a product people actually want and need, you must first develop your listening skills. At least that’s what Elliot Cousins of Ankor Software believes: "First and foremost, we listen." Perseverance and tenacity is also essential, as Ankor discovered after their first product launch. Their end-to-end process flow for charter brokers needed more work than originally anticipated: "We had to eat humble pie to get where we are now. The amazing take-up of our global yacht availability calendar, mobile app YachtNoter and itineraries platform Trips, are testament to this.”
Together with friend Mike Sager, Elliot founded Ankor, a software company to help ease the pain points of the yachting industry with a smart and stylish charter-oriented platform. The journey started with the launch of an itinerary creation product called Trips in 2021 before the team added the charter show app ‘YachtNoter’ and most recently ‘Calendars’ to their expanding repertoire of software solutions. Both Mike and Elliot have backgrounds as serial entrepreneurs in Fintech and Travel, contributing to their ability to identify and provide cutting-edge software to an industry in desperate need of solutions.
Friends turned business partners
Elliot’s career began in investment banking and finance, yet his entrepreneurial drive led him to a range of other ventures, from co-founding a digital-print marketing startup which was acquired by Qantas, to building a fintech platform for Australia’s biggest bank. Mike has a similarly impressive background, taking on leadership roles at MNC tech companies before working as a global executive at the world’s largest hotel travel technology company (SiteMinder), which went public for $1.4 billion in 2021.
Elliot and Mike first crossed paths at the Sydney Startup Hub, a co-working community for Aussie tech startups. Elliot was building a new tech venture with investment backing from CommBank, Microsoft, and KPMG, while Mike was actively advising various startups as an investor. They quickly became great mates and shared a common itch to solve problems through startups and investing. Anyone who has spent time around them together at shows is sure to agree on their bond.
Mike reflects: "We quickly realised that, given the right timing and opportunity, we would love to work together and create something impactful. It was just a matter of identifying the right problem to solve." After deciding that the time was right to go into business together, they spent time researching luxury travel sectors, including private aviation and high-end accommodations and soon identified a gap in yachting.
They quickly realised that the yachting industry had similar market dynamics to the luxury hotel world, and saw the potential to build something truly innovative and impactful. Building a startup in the yachting industry also made sense to both Elliot and Mike as they both had family and friends in the industry. Most notably, Mike had grown up around the industry with his dad working as a Captain in Oregon and the Gulf. Mike's father also ran the local sea scout base in Portland, Oregon as Mike remembers: “I would visit on weekends and play around on boats of every size, listening to stories and sleeping overnight on yachts, listening to the sounds of the Columbia River.”
Leveraging their outsider perspectives
Their bold vision has encountered its fair share of challenges, particularly in establishing trust within the yachting community. Reflecting on this, Elliot noted, "We underestimated how sceptical people would be about two startup entrepreneurs entering the yachting realm. It took us two years to overcome those initial reservations and foster incredible relationships worldwide. Building trust is paramount which is why we invest huge amounts of time and energy into attending as many shows and industry events as possible, connecting with people, asking questions and listening to what yachting professionals want from software companies like Ankor.”
Interestingly, their outsider status in the yachting industry, which might have originally been perceived negatively by industry veterans, has become a strategic advantage. Emphasising their distinct position as non-yachting professionals, they have successfully leveraged their expertise: "We are a team of product builders and technologists. Our pedigree is in design, engineering, and security. We proudly declare ourselves as the company that will continue propelling the industry forward, empowering yachting professionals with technology, not competing with them. The fact that we aren’t ex-brokers, nor will we ever be brokers, we believe is actually a big advantage for us, we have no conflict."
As they began to research pain points experienced by the global yachting industry, Mike and Elliot quickly recognised a common issue among brokers - limited time for crafting visually captivating and branded yacht proposals and itineraries for clients. With their sights set on solving this problem first, the team began working to better understand the preferences of their target clients when it came to software, and have continued to evolve their products according to user feedback. Reflecting on this, they mentioned: "An early challenge was that our first product offered too much functionality for some brokers to easily adopt. We listened to our early customers' feedback and learned quickly how brokers prefer to engage with our products."
This year, the Ankor team expanded their offering to launch the Calendars product, allowing Retail brokers to see live availability of over 1,000+ yachts from around the world, as well as the Central Agent's contact information. Calendars allows Central Agents to market their yachts to a global network of Retail brokers who would otherwise not be able to find them. More than 90 central charter agents have already embraced Calendars since launching in January, and the early feedback from brokers on the platform is excellent. Hannah Bailey of BM Yachts Australia commented: “We’ve been Ankor users for a long time and are proud to list our 6 central agency yachts (plus more to come) on Calendars. Calendars showcases the fabulous charter yachts we have here in Australia to brokers all around the world.”
Building a product that brokers want and need
In spite of growing their offerings rapidly, Ankor have been strategic with which areas of yachting they have chosen to focus on, rather than tackling several areas of the industry: "Our motto is inch wide, mile deep - which means we'll continue to focus on the major pain points felt by brokers. Our last three product releases were in direct response to requests from brokers wanting better access to the global fleet of premier yachts, an alternative to costly and cumbersome charter contracts, and a solution to the headache of keeping track of yacht inspection notes.”
When asked where the company sees its growth in the 3-5 years ahead, Elliot responded: "Our vision is to elevate the digital experience in yachting to a level that is unmatched by any other travel sector. Any type of broker anywhere in the world should be able to create a beautiful, entirely unique experience for their clients with absolute ease”.
To learn more about Ankor, visit their website here: https://www.ankor.io/