Olympian, world traveler, sailor, father, and small business owner—please meet Ben Remocker, CEO of the 49er Class Association—Pushing the sport of sailing forward right from Vancouver, BC. We’re excited to hear about Ben’s experience as a Canadian Olympian in London and Beijing, how his business came to be, and what the future holds for his adventurous industry.
K – First and foremost, we don’t often get to interview an Olympian, so please, tell us about that experience.
BR – You know, we went in a tiny bit, not cynical, but at 28 years old, we weren’t kids anymore. We were there to compete, to see what we could do. Then we went to the Opening Ceremony and we were walking into the stadium and it was pretty amazing. But it was also great to speak with all the fellow athletes who also have such unique stories. And we realized that just because they weren’t doing logistical things like we were, they were still overcoming all sorts of other barriers.
Everyone really had a common background, a sort of internal drive to do the best we could, and it was a great group of people—I left the Olympic Games on such a high note, just loving sport, loving life, plenty of new friends and adventures to talk about. It was a super-positive experience. I don’t think that’s always the case with the Olympics, but we did a good job on understanding our expectations, and then taking opportunities as they came to us.
K – You hear a lot about how tough it is preparing for the Olympics, can you give us some insight into what that was like for you and your team?
BR – With sailing, you very much operate as an independent entity, but in my case it was a partnership.
Back in college I met Gordon Cook on the Queen’s Sailing Team, and then we started sailing together more seriously in 2003 and beyond. It wasn’t like traveling around with a team though. It was like running a small business. It was fundraising, logistics, scheduling, planning, and strategizing on how we could get the time and resources to improve our skillset, to become Olympians, and to reach our full potential as sailors.
So, I was working at the time to help pay for things before we got the nonprofit side of things going. Every year I kept negotiating more time off in my engineering job in order to sail more. Eventually, one summer they just said “Why don’t you just take a six month leave of absence?” So I did. And when I came back I said “You know, this year I’m going to need fifteen weeks off instead of ten” and they said “Why don’t you just stay off as long as you need to.” After a ton of hard work, I found the funds to just keep sailing.
That was in 2006 and then we sailed full time up to the Olympics. We qualified for the Olympics in 2007 and we had our best World Championship in January 2008, and we just trained as much as we could leading up to the Olympic Games.
It becomes a little more like a team in the months leading up to the Olympics. The national team comes together and forms a little more tightly around that time. Of course I knew my fellow Canadian Sailors, because we were all doing the same thing. Running our small “sailing” businesses, hoping to sail on the biggest stage, at the Olympics.
K – It was like your side-hustle at that point, with a lot of bootstrapping?
BR – Yeah, it’s pretty much like bootstrapping a business to do it alone on the sailing campaign. I mean, it’s not a small venture. At one point we would have five boats on four continents, with boats shipping in and out of different destinations for training camps, along with hiring coaches and sending newsletters to our supporters to help earn revenue.
K – So you basically built a business in order to get to the Olympics. Then you compete in the games, and you’re at an incredible high point. After that pinnacle, what was the motivation and catalyst for you to start your own business?
BR – I didn’t immediately get into that, I got another “job” on the West Coast. I didn’t want to join some firm and get dragged to Toronto once I became successful. So I looked around, went to a few interviews, and then the one that fit was a coaching company—industrial coaching, performance coaching, kind of like consulting with a more narrow focus, but more important; a Vancouver head office.
I did the interviews in Vancouver, and the training in Vancouver, and then never worked a day in Vancouver after that, it was all remote work.
So, they sent me to Alaska, Australia, Poland, down the Pacific Coast of North America, and I worked with some really tremendous colleagues and on some interesting projects, but I wasn’t spending time in Vancouver. I think I traveled 200 days in 2011 with that job. I was also getting married and wanted to start a family, so it wasn’t really the path I originally set down, it was where I ended up.
At the same time, though, I started building my first venture; Port Tack Charter, and a bunch of the guys I lived with in the UK were also launching some things of their own. We were always collaborating, and then one of the guys sent me a book by Richard Branson about how he (Branson) came up with Virgin this, and Virgin that, and right around then I also got invited to coach for the national team for the London Olympics. One of my old teammates and his partner were using a coach who was also coaching a four-time Olympian. They all headed to the Olympics, but as it turns out the same coach couldn’t coach them both at crunch times, so she brought me to coach her at the end and I got back into sailing that way.
Everything just sort of came together after the London Olympics. I quit my consulting job and started this business, managing the 49er Class Association.
K – Obviously sailing is your passion, and you seemed to have learned entrepreneurship to a degree level, but what really drives you? What’s your passion right now? What keeps you going?
BR – My passion right now is to commercialize sailing so that more sailors can reach their sailing potential in a way that I didn’t feel I was ever able to reach mine.
While I sailed a lot, I had to start late due to lack of funding, and we never really had proper coaching. The month before the games we couldn’t even afford to hire a coach.
We want to take Olympic sailing to the next level too. For example, the Bobsleigh World Cup will be on TV here, and those guys are—I’m not saying they’re living it up—but they’re probably able to pursue their sport to the utmost and I’m hoping to be able to commercialize Olympic sailing in similar way and be part of that movement so that more sailors around the world can do just that—sail.
K – It’s amazing to see people doing what they’re truly passionate about. So, my next question, we have a theme here at Kashoo that we help small business owners climb mountains and plant their flag, so in going from sailing to running your small business now, what’s the biggest mountain you’ve had to climb, your toughest obstacle?
BR – The biggest obstacle for me is that my current business model is one that relies on sponsorship, and we’re a relatively small fish. We do have a great niche audience, but that’s quite niche. So attracting the views to levels that provide sponsors is difficult, but it still remains probably the best monetization avenue within the sport.
There’s also a fragmented market in sailing. You’ve got kind of wealthy people who do like watching the major sailing events, and who may even help fund those projects. That takes a lot of the viewership and sponsorship within the public space of sailing, even though the competitions are not necessarily skill or athletically driven. And then there’s a bunch of others in the middle who are semi-commercial, and so the Olympic sailing, while it’s well respected within the sport, struggles outside.
Our sport is different than the sailing most people think of, or see on TV. They’ll have a 40 ft boat, which is a little easier for the public to understand and to see physically and then we’re sort of competing with those viewers and to commercialize. So, somewhere in there is what we’re trying to sort out. We’re going down the more extreme sport route, where sailors are physically performing and it looks pretty extreme when you’re watching them. Actually, one of the funny things about that is that the guys at the level that I’m working with are extremely good, so they don’t crash very much and crashes make for dramatic television, and that’s usually the times they’re showing them.
K – It almost sounds like NASCAR where viewers watch for the crashes! Building on challenges, when it comes to doing your own bookkeeping, what are your challenges?
BR – I sell probably $200,000 worth of goods in the online store. I have a number of PayPal accounts that we collect other items from, we then take money from the events and our sponsors, and then we have expenses through a lot of smaller contracts. Sometimes I have to do all that from the road and sometimes our clients don’t even have credit cards, or it’s just kids racing boats, and then there’s lead athletes who don’t know anything about the “real world” yet, so they want to pay me cash or barter and trade and do all sorts of weird stuff. So the challenges I have is just spending as little time as possible getting transactions entered and reconciled into formats and forms that are easy for—well just easy for me and accurate for my accountant. Our accounts are simple but there are a lot of transactions. I just want to spend as little time as possible on that side of things and it takes more than I’d hoped.
K – And what made you decide on Kashoo?
BR – Obviously I was looking at other options, like Intuit and QuickBooks. I think I had experience with or even bought a copy of QuickBooks and I said, “What the hell is this thing?” It’s really not very intuitive at all. I was trying to set up accounts in England, Philippines, etc. as I was starting to get work all over the world, and I was like, “What is this madness?”
I knew I wanted to go online and have it cloud-hosted. So I just did some googling and I think you guys were just starting out, so I did a little more researching and saw Kashoo had a lot of positive feedback. I think it was a very good rate to start and that you guys kept up performance. That’s nice.
I think I had a couple of Support interactions while in my free trial period, and we were like, “someone actually got back to me that day.” Then, of course, Kashoo is intuitive. So as a non-accountant, but numerical guy, I could figure it out easily. I can’t figure out how to use the QuickBooks system for the things that I need to keep track of, like Accounts Payables, Profit & Loss, and the day to day running of a business as opposed to accounting tasks. So I find your system very easy to figure out who hasn’t paid me. And when they should have paid me, I just get on the phone with them and make it happen. I can compare last year and quarters and carve up with automated reports pretty easily. All that stuff works really well for me!
K – That’s great to hear Ben. So, with your coaching, sailing, running a business, your family, all these things going on, how do you stay balanced? Do you have your family there with you?
BR – I guess I would say I feel balanced right now. I’ve got a young daughter who I love spending a lot of time with, so I’m kind of exercising less. But I like working hard, so that’s never an issue. A few times a year I get away into the wilderness so there’s no way to reach me by internet. And I try to break away a few times a week to get some workouts in, and then I’m working on the weekends. I’m always pretty busy, so just being busy is kind of natural for me.
K – I think that’s a trait that many athletes, Olympians, and successful entrepreneurs have in common! Okay Ben, last question; What will 2017 bring for 49er?
BR – 2017 is going to bring the first-ever “fully-foiling” Nacra 17 Regatta. It’s this new class of sailing I’ve taken over since last summer where we reconfigure the boat so it completely flies out of the water.
The technology is at the level where it can be implemented in a very small boat. It’s only 17 feet long, so to get those forces all working in a way that you can still race properly at that scale, without any automation, it’s just going to be completely controlled by the skill of the sailors themselves.
The guys are going to go super-fast. It’s actually one man and one woman together on a boat. So, it’s called a mixed crew and they get to choose who steers and who pulls the ropes. Depending on the team, some women are steering, some men are steering.
Teams are going to be going 50 kilometers an hour the entire time—and it’s going to be pretty wild!
We’d like to thank Ben for taking the time for this interview and wish him nothing but future success. You can learn more about Ben’s business, 49er Inc, by visiting his website or connecting with him on Facebook or Twitter.
Do you have a story to tell? If you’d like to share your story and have your business featured on Kashoo.com, drop us a line @KashooOnline, click on the little “smiling” chat icon in the bottom right of this window, or call us at 1-888-520-5274 and we’d be happy to chat.