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How startup Sailboat RC successfully sails the world from Split, Croatia?

Nikolina Kukoč

Nikolina Kukoč

15.06.2021.

radio controlled sailboat

Sailboat RC is a startup founded in 2016 by Zvonko Jelačić and Josip Marasović. Their primary focus is manufacturing professional radio-controlled sailboats (RC sailboats), but they have also recently branched out into a broader component of the business through their dock.me project, an advanced system for digitalization of the nautical industry. Their production is based in Split and, through the webshop they operate, they market their products worldwide. In addition to that, they also offer RC sailing teambuilding services, as well as advanced courses in RC sailing to potential customers.

Radio-controlled sailboats

Their advanced IOM (one meter) and DF65 (65 cm hull) sailboats are the company’s primary creations, though they also manufacture numerous additional RC sailboat products. The IOM class is the preferred sailboat of choice for advanced RC sailors looking for more speed and exceptional quality, while the DF65 class is more relaxed and suitable for beginners and intermediate levels of RC sailing skills. But it’s not just the top-class products that the Sailboat RC team can be proud of: “Our products are currently no.1 in the world because we hold the current titles of the World and European champions, as well as runner-ups, and have also managed to be the first ones to defend their title.

Therefore, we dare to state that Croatia is a real superpower in radio-controlled sailing!”

The Sailboat RC team

The Sailboat RC team currently consists of 7 full-time employees and 2 long-term subcontractors. They also occasionally hire additional team members, if the need arises. Josip shared the following with us: “For now, the team is holding up very well. We have managed to overcome all the pandemic-related problems that arose with the organization of our business.” It is great to hear that another startup team in our city managed to get through this challenging period relatively unscathed.

Photo by: Hrvoje Duvančić, regate.com.hr

The creation of Sailboat RC started as an agreement between the two founders: “When we realized that we can complement each other quite well in our work as partners, Zvonko and I decided to go for it. For me, the decision to follow an entrepreneurial path started forming during my university education at the Faculty of Economics in Split. During that time Zvonko, having a degree in shipbuilding earned at Split’s FESB, was already slowly developing his sailboat and thinking about taking his own creation further.

Considering our differing educational backgrounds, we complemented each other quite well for this particular venture, so Sailboat RC came to existence.”

Obstacles on the startup journey

As any startup does, Sailboat RC also had its fair share of minor obstacles and lessons learned, so we asked Josip to share some of them with us: “All major obstacles have been resolved with the help of quality people around us. There is no doubt – nothing can exist without dedicated people! Our probably biggest obstacle was to stabilize the business and improve its consistency right from the beginning to achieve a strong and recognizable brand in the world as soon as possible. Therefore, simultaneously working on growth and development, as well as monitoring sales and production without stopping or significantly slowing down deliveries around the world was something we had to immediately manage well. We found the solution in the exceptional dedication of my friend Joško Roguljić and my brother, as well as the rest of the family, who managed the lion’s share of the work when it was desperately needed.”

One thing the Sailboat RC team did well from the very start was the task division: “We divided the responsibilities according to our strengths and thus minimized weaknesses by complementing each other in our work.

Our beginnings were humble – a small garage for product building, an “office” in an apartment. However, slowly but surely our little startup kept growing and now we’re achieving stable growth every year.”

“In hindsight, maybe we should have thought about expanding earlier and should have believed more in the Sailboat RC brand success in the world, so today we would have more time to progress, rather than spend time patching up some backlogs about needed new employees, (any artisans specializing in precise work reading this – get in touch with the Sailboat RC team!), equipment, space, etc. Also, this pandemic experience taught us that our plans should have more detailed projections for several scenarios with the widest possible impact on business. If we had done them, we may have handled some material shortages around and after the lockdown better. However, the whole world was struggling with that, so we can’t blame ourselves too much. Overall, I’d say we didn’t make any big mistakes in our startup journey and managed to follow our set direction quite well so far”, says Josip of the mistakes made along the way.

Photo by: Hrvoje Duvančić, regate.com.hr
Positive aspects of working in a startup

With obstacles and mistakes, come also the positives of working in a startup. Josip shared his favorite positive aspects of working to build Sailboat RC: “The best thing is that you are the one who chooses the whole environment in which you work and that the results of your efforts and ideas are immediately very visible. Everything you do, good and bad, is very noticeable.

Something exceptional that a startup company offers is when you pour the creative part of yourself into the whole story. You have the opportunity to communicate a part of yourself with the people around you through the work you do and the products you create.

For example, I always love when children and young people, but also the elderly, are amazed when they see the combination of wind power and the possibilities of advanced technology that together enable the exceptional performance of the sailboats we produce. They always ask us where the propellers are, which our sailboats certainly don’t have. We then get the chance to emphasize the possibilities of renewable energy sources, but also education in STEM fields and the importance of a deep understanding of many concepts and laws of physics. One of the best feelings is when the eyes of the person that listens to our explanation get that glow of understanding and excitement.”

Photo by: Hrvoje Duvančić, regate.com.hr
Growing a startup in Split

As part of Split’s startup ecosystem, Josip also had some insight to share regarding Split and its benefits for startups and entrepreneurship in general: “Split is truly a quality city for startups, and this is mostly due to the rather diverse community that has recently emerged and which promotes positive social and entrepreneurial values. A lot of advice and help can be easily found, and it truly feels like you are welcome at all meetups and events. It is also great that the University is also actively involved in the ecosystem. From my own experience, I have gotten a lot of support from my faculty, EFST, as well as FESB and PFST. Of course, Split Tech City is also well-known to everyone for the work they do. I hope that startup-related projects will happen more and more in Split, especially for young people who are just starting to think about their future.

By activating the potential of our high school and university students, we create a healthy foundation for the future.

Of course, we must not forget that Split offers an ideal position in the center of Dalmatia. The city itself is not too big and not much time is lost commuting, the weather is excellent, so all this contributes to the overall satisfaction of people, positively affecting the work environment, as well.

When asked about what advice he’d give himself at the beginning of his startup journey, Josip jokingly replied: “Hold on for dear life and don’t worry!” However, he did add a bit of serious advice (not that the funny one isn’t worth taking, as well): “I would probably advise myself to better detail my managerial accounting right at the start while things were simpler.”

We’d like to thank Josip and the Sailboat RC team for this wonderful insight into their startup and wish them further growth and “fair winds and following seas” in the future!

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About author:

Nikolina Kukoč

Researching is woven into my DNA, but I'm a musician at heart. Interested in too many things and always curious. Forever in love with Split and enchanted by people who teach me new things. When I'm not writing about Split's tech community, you will find me somewhere in nature, in the theatre, or with my head stuck in a book. I do my best to live by the verse from the opera "Fedora" by Umberto Giordano: "Love forbids you not to love."

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