We speak to My Ocean Company’s Jonny Dodge, a Dubai-based next-generation entrepreneur who does business in a very different way.

Steve Holmes
Jonny, your passion for yachts stems from an early age?

JD: I’ve always has a passion for being out on boats. As a little kid I’ve got photos of me jumping around on the Sunseeker that we had down in the Pool. We’d literally get one from Robert Braithwaite, then change it every year, getting to know the family and going on cruises.

Yachting runs in your family?

JD: My Dad’s furniture company fitted-out palaces and superyachts, so at 17 years old, I ended up hanging out at boat shows like Monaco and going on all these superyachts and having this dream of one day holidaying on one, or renting them out.

But you didn’t initially venture into the business?

JD: I got into the world of celebrities, parties, and supercars in London. At the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took my undergraduate degree in Exeter in product and industrial design, then I took a year out to work with my dad before doing a two-year master’s at St. Martin College in industrial design. This taught me about creating something that a consumer would want and which could be a service or a product. I then started working for a creative marketing agency, which looked after Dunhill. This gave me money to sponsor every celebrity party going and pretty soon I was on the list of the ‘Most wanted guy at your celebrity party in London’.

Connections galore?

JD: I met this guy who worked at Gumball 3000 who was doing a boat rally, the Blade Run, and he says: “You know everything about parties and boats, do you want to get involved?” So we organised it together and I had two powerboats racing under Tower Bridge at 60 knots with the BBC doing a live news report on the six o’clock news. Long story short, he left Gumball and he asked if I wanted to take his job. I did and working with Max and Julie allowed me to create this black book of millionaires, which is now a black book of billionaires. I was very lucky that this happened and that I’ve collected a lot of billionaire business partners and connections along the way.

The black book helped you get into the right places?

JD: After Gumball, I bought a London nightclub with Tony Fernandes, who, at the time owned AirAsia, and QPR. I remember him saying to me: “Jonny, I’m going to buy a Formula One team!” Next thing, I’m on his 28-metre Princess in Monaco on Grand Prix weekend. I just turned up with a suitcase, not really thinking about the yachting industry. Later, Tony asked me to work for him. I said “Nah, I’m never gonna work for you, but if you can introduce me to Bernie Ecclestone, that’d be cool.” Within six months of being in Formula One, I had the rights to put on the Grand Prix Ball. Bernie then asked me to help with the F1 Rocks, so I did the worldwide parties. This led me to setting up GP Management, where we scaled up, doing all the sponsorship and hospitality at the races and that included running the yachts.

And that was the start of your yachting career?

JD: Our two biggest races were Monaco and Abu Dhabi, where we had yachts at every race. The business grew over the years and we started to do more things around HNWI customers, but the idea of working with yachts came during lockdown.

Lots of time to think?

JD:  The pandemic put the events industry on hold so I moved to a villa in the south of France where I just brainstormed. But it was at the end of Covid restrictions where things really took off. My friends came down in the summer and they wanted to do things; they wanted to go out and spend money. I said “Okay, well, I can get you a boat for six hours for 3000 Euros?” And that’s how the business started, chartering a 55-foot Azimut in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.  I just walked along the port and found it for charter. We’d been working with yachts as part of the Formula 1, but this was the first time that I took it all on.

Your little black book came into play?

We grew rapidly with our connections, relationships and knowledge along with the new fresh approach we were taking. We started from day one saying, we’re going to be young. Our oldest member of staff is in his 30s. Everything’s going to be digitally focused – we only use messaging apps. That’s the only way we’ll communicate!

No email?

Nope! WhatsApp, Telegram, Instagram, that’s how we instantly talk to our clients and suppliers. We’ve done $20 million deals done on WhatsApp. The reality is, it’s faster, quicker, easier; you get the results, you create a more personal relationship. With our maritime lawyers we were like, “Look, we’ll work with you on one criteria, that we’ll only work with you on WhatsApp.”

They had to then go to their board and ask if they are happy to communicate with a client only through WhatsApp. We now have a WhatsApp group with our lawyers and everything just gets done.

Does it help start a fresh-thinking business from a clean sheet?

JD: It’s the simple things, like companies that build their websites for a desktop. The majority of traffic doesn’t come from desktop, it comes from mobile. It’s just these silly things, the old information that people are still working to.

Crypto’s huge for you?

JD: We’re built from the ground up to manage crypto, we understand it. I’m invested into a crypto fund. It’s part of what I do. And so we’re driven by that – we understand the future of crypto, we’re not here for the fad. We are the biggest crypto yacht charter company in the world by revenue. We did $15 million in crypto charter last month. We also did the biggest charter in the world – we had Flying Fox for over a month, plus three support vessels.

Does this mean a change in customer?

JD: We’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry like our consumer base is a lot younger. I think the whole industry has seen that. In the last couple of years the average age of people buying and chartering yachts has dropped by at least 10 years and that has a lot to do with crypto.

Do these younger guys see superyachts in a different way?

JD: A superyacht’s a lifestyle and that’s what you’re selling ultimately. But these young guys, they’re not buying houses. You buy a house if you know where you want to live and you want to stay there forever and you want to have a family. So, for many of our clients, their first purchase is a yacht, they’re buying the yacht before they own assets. But this makes rational sense in a young person’s world. I don’t want to buy a house, in fact, I want to keep that money in crypto, because it’s making me more money and making me better returns. I’d love a yacht because I can take it anywhere. It’s my traveling home – it doesn’t tie me down, I can take it to Europe, I can take it to the Caribbean. It gives you that flexibility. People like this want to spend their money on experiences, not on products.

These younger owners are changing the industry?

JD: It’s going to push the industry to have to deliver. At the moment we’re working with a very famous architect who doesn’t usually do yacht design and he’s going to design something that looks like a spaceship. We’re also building a 70-metre for a client – it’s going to be very exciting. It’ll store all the toys, your Lamborghinis etc and that’s what people are getting excited about now. It’s changing the design process. It’s changing what people buy, and it will keep changing rapidly. And because we were built from the ground up to understand that, then that’s why we’re going to come in and disrupt.

The explorer: An adventurer and entrepreneur, Jonny has trekked everywhere from Antarctica to the Amazon Jungle.
Crypto’s quick for business?

JD: Crypto is a faster way of transacting. If I need to transact $2 million, and it needs to be with you immediately, I can do that on my phone. Imagine trying to do that with a bank? It’d take a week. It’s about speed. It’s about ease. And of course, people who’ve earned it quickly are willing to spend it. A lot of our clients are billionaires in crypto.

You’re loving Dubai?

JD: We’ve got three superyachts here that we bought for customers and manage. We see a huge potential for growth. I’ve just joined the association here. For me, it’s about making changes. To get people here, we need to offer them superyacht charter for a week. That means we have to offer them places to go and we need facilities. Niki Beach has got a pontoon, that they promote and that’s great. Imagine we anchor three superyachts, then come into the club by tender. It’ll be like the South of France. We see the potential in making yachting here more experiential. We just need seven things to do in seven days. It’s going to change the landscape here.