Five Questions With: Michael Melillo

Michael Melillo is the founder and CEO of Dockwa Inc., a Newport-based tech startup that helps boaters research, plan and book cruising trips. / COURTESY DOCKWA
Michael Melillo is the founder and CEO of Dockwa Inc., a Newport-based tech startup that helps boaters research, plan and book cruising trips. / COURTESY DOCKWA

Michael Melillo, founder and CEO of Dockwa Inc., a Newport-based tech startup that helps boaters research, plan and book cruising trips, talks with Providence Business News about its new partnership with ActiveCaptain, an online interactive cruising guidebook for boaters, where he got the idea for his business and plans for the future.

PBN: How did you get the idea for Dockwa? Where does the name come from?

MELILLO: Newport Harbor was truly the inspiration for Dockwa. When I first moved to downtown Newport, I often took note of the perpetual harbor laps boats would make as their captains radioed marinas in search of slips. At the time I was unfamiliar with the process, so I befriended local dockmaster Tripp Messenger – our current account manager – who was instrumental in formulating this solution for the marine industry. “Dockwa” originated as the combination of “dock” and “aqua.” A later interpretation we like is “Dock With All,” which speaks to the marina community we’re building. As a boater using Dockwa, you’ll eventually have access to “Dock With All” – the tech-savvy marinas, yacht clubs and shipyards in the U.S., Caribbean and wherever else Dockwa expands its footprint.

PBN: How many employees do you have? Do you plan to hire more this year?
: We have 15 employees on the team working out of our offices on commercial wharf in Newport and Tech Square in Cambridge, Mass. At the moment, we’re looking to hire on our sales team and will be adding a few other positions within the year. I love this team – everyone at Dockwa brings a different perspective on the marine industry, from long-distance cruising to sailboat racing, powerboats to dinghies, chartering to boat buying, beginners to life-long sailors; the diverse boating knowledge no doubt contributes to the success we’ve seen thus far.

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PBN: How did the partnership with ActiveCaptain come about? Are a lot of boaters sharing reviews yet?
: We’d been interested in ActiveCaptain the moment we started researching the industry. The ActiveCaptain site is one of the biggest – and by far the most interactive – boater forums for exploring new harbors. Initially, we reached out to Jeff Siegel, the co-founder and president of ActiveCaptain, simply to learn about what he was doing, compare notes and to ask for his perspective on what we’d built at that point. The majority of our inventory is in New England, and a few of our key locations have seen a significant uptick in reviews since we rolled out the ActiveCaptain product integration. For example, prior to the announcement, Edgartown Harbor had six ActiveCaptain reviews. In the last two weeks alone, Dockwa has generated an additional 53. This type of content and information is extremely valuable to our network of boaters.
PBN: Are you still raising funds? How much has been raised to date?
: We just closed on a seed round of $2.1 million, raised from 70 percent return investors, bringing our total raised to $3.5 million. We turned away significantly larger investments due to the fact that we believe we can build a sustainable and profitable business without saturating our early years with too much cash. We are on track to reach break-even next year, but our goal is to build the most valuable tool for marinas and boaters. We have existed in the market for only 15 months, and will continue to sacrifice short-term monetary gains to fulfill the long-term vision and potential of this team.

PBN: Where do you see the company in five years?
: Dockwa’s goal is to become the No. 1 booking and inventory management platform in the marine industry. Our roadmap to achieve this mission includes further developments to our current products, as well as building additional technology to benefit both boaters and marinas. By creating the largest network of boaters and marinas in the space, Dockwa opens up new pathways of doing business for marinas and new ways to confidently explore new harbors for boaters. While we’ve already had great success bringing boaters, partners and investors on board, we’re still in the early innings of executing on our vision. In the next five years, we’ll continue to improve upon our industry-leading software and deliver enhancements that provide utility to boaters that has not existed to date. Connecting both sides of this market in real time allows us to swiftly roll out new innovations to a space that has traditionally been fragmented and slow to change. We love being told we cannot do something due to “status quo.” When I founded Dockwa, I was laughed at by the majority of boaters and marinas, claiming it would never work because something like it already existed – yet here we are. Our early success is 100 percent attributed to the team we have. The creativity and talent we have is unrivaled in the space, and I suspect we will be building things most could not imagine possible today.

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