By Dave Anderton
Deseret Morning News
At the height of the dot-com boom, Bruno Vassel's son urged him to start an Internet business. So the father-son team decided to do something fun, launching iboats.com, an Internet site selling boats and marine equipment. Six years since its inception, the Draper-based business that began with less than $20,000 is thriving. On Thursday, iboats.com was named Utah's fastest revenue growth company by the MountainWest Venture Group.
The company's first-year revenues were $58,000. In the past five years revenues have grown by 14,601 percent, Vassel said, reaching the low eight-figures. And the company's online platform lists more than 100,000 boat-related parts and accessories, including 15,000 boats.
Vassel, who funded the company himself, still has not taken any venture capital money. "It's one of those things where you put in everything you possibly can," Vassel said. "You hock your home, your cars." For Vassel, who worked for Avon in New York City and was in charge of international marketing, running his own business presents more of a challenge. "I traveled all over the world for Avon, but you're one of a very large group of people," Vassel said. "You never make a decision and have to live or die by it when you're in a large corporation."
iboats.com also ranks No. 48 on Inc. magazine's 2004 list of the top 500 fastest-growing privately held companies in America. Devin Thorpe, chairman of the MountainWest Venture Group's Utah 100 Awards, said he remembers when iboats.com was in its start-up phase. "No one was sure whether the model would work," Thorpe said. "It is remarkable that they are one of the few, true, pure dot-com companies created during the bubble period that has survived, thrived and really grown. It's really a tremendous success story."
Rounding out the top five fastest-growing companies on this year's MountainWest list, announced Thursday, were Overstock.com, STSN Inc., HobbyTron.com and USA Lending Group.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who sits on the Senate's Small Business Committee, said this year's top 100 companies represent the future. "Utah's biggest problem in the coming decades is growth," Bennett said. "These companies represent where our children will work, where our grandchildren will get jobs."
In addition to the 100 fastest growing companies, MountainWest recognized 15 companies for total revenues in real dollars. Zions Bancorp. led the group, followed by Questar Corp., SkyWest Airlines, Headwaters Inc. and Overstock.com.
Clark Hinckley, senior vice president of investor relations and communications for Zions, said much of the bank's success is tied to businesses like the Utah 100. "If our clients do well, we do well," Hinckley said. "If our clients don't do well, we end up charging off loans. So, to foster and encourage and to participate with companies like this that are growing is very important to our own growth." Twelve companies were recognized as "emerging elite" for outstanding accomplishments and future potential. Some of those businesses included Salt Lake-based Axis41, Bountiful-based CaseData Corp. and Provo-based VitalSmarts LC.
This year's Utah 100 winners posted average revenue growth rates about 341 percentage points higher than last year's group of winners. "Utah's economy does have a lot of technology emphasis to it," said Todd Stevens, president of MountainWest Venture. "So coming out of the market downturn for tech in 2000-2001, I think we are starting to see tech coming back as well as retail." To be eligible for the Utah 100, companies had to be Utah-based U.S. organizations, have a minimum of $50,000 in revenue in the base year of competition and a five-year operating history.
About iboats.com iboats.com was co-founded in October of 1998 by Bruno Vassel III and his son Bruno IV. Today the company offers a broad range of e-commerce opportunities that support all boating, fishing and water-sports enthusiasts. To back up its claim of being the #1 boating site, iboats.com currently receives over 33 million visitors per year who view a quarter billion pages. iboats also covers all major areas of interest in boating with the largest number of boating items for sale online, boating classifieds, boat financing and insurance, and the largest marine directory and boating forums online. These forums currently have 549,473 answers posted to over 97,600 questions covering 21 marine-related topics, an average of 6 answers for every boating question. Some questions receive over 75 answers. As a core principle of the company, iboats strongly supports the marine manufacturers and thousands of retailers in North America, offering them online business solutions in the form of personalized web sites, e-commerce capabilities, powerful online boat-listing services, a boat and motor leads program, and significant traffic directed to participating retailers' web sites and physical establishments.
SPECIAL NOTE ON USE OF iboats NAME: The company name iboats, or any of its forms, including iboats.com, or iboats, inc., should never be capitalized, whether at the start of a sentence or mid-sentence. The company also does not use a capital B in its name