Author:Julia Lin Translated by: Kevin Nian-kai Wang Editor:Yunchieh Tsou
The Taiwanese startup deepblu has aimed its crosshairs at a key niche for scuba divers and free divers: an integrated software and hardware solution combining underwater recording equipment and a social platform for its users. With hardware serving as a means to connect its customers, the company’s real focus is on social networking, a strategy that has helped them gain a strong foothold in markets abroad.
Brad Chen, co-founder of deepblu, comments on their strategy thus:
“In the past, documenting a dive meant putting pen on paper after surfacing. This was not fun at all, and was hard to share with others. Even if you had specialized underwater video equipment, you still lacked a platform to share your photos and videos. Because of this, I came up with the idea of combining underwater recording equipment and a platform for sharing and social networking, to let everyone share their love of the ocean, and help them reach a larger audience with their knowledge of the sea and the importance of conservation.”
Electronic scuba diving watches: A stepping stone into the diving community
After several years conducting market surveys, Chen grew ever more certain that combining underwater recording equipment and an online sharing platform was something he had to do. In the initial years after founding his company, he divided his time between developing a prototype diving watch, and searching for funding and partners.
At one funding event, he met James Tsuei, who was working in the VC industry at the time, and YC Chang. Sharing the same ideals, the three joined forces in combining their different fields of expertise to form deepblu.
Tsuei, the Co-Founder and CEO of deepblu, recalls how their company began:
“In the summer of 2015, Chen proposed the idea of combining a dive computer with the ability to upload digital dive logs to smartphones. Even though at the time he only had a few concept drawings for an app, a prototype shell for a diving watch, and a PCBA still in its development phase, these all utilized pre-existing and mature technologies. This was unlike many startups I saw at the time, which centred around yet-unproven technologies and concepts.”
He adds, with the keen eye for untapped potential markets that entrepreneurs have,“The only thing we needed to do back then was to pivot our business model for our scuba diving watch, from one centered on hardware to one focused on a social network IoT platform. In the diving ecosystem, and the value chain ,the way many services are provided are still stuck in the past, so there’s a huge potential market what we’re building.”
deepblu’s goal thus took shape: use their deepblu COSMIQ dive computer to penetrate the diving market, and link their dedicated COSMIQ app to facilitate the recording and sharing of each dive. Each diver could create their own profile, and could use the app’s syncing function to record every detail of each dive, while also sharing this information with other enthusiasts.
In addition to uploading photos, divers could also share videos clips, and in November 2016 the COSMIQ app will be updated with a discussion board function, allowing diving enthusiasts to connect with each other even further.
In April 2016, the deepblu COSMIQ was launched; as the company’s first watch, the COSMIQ put deepblu second only to Japanese manufacturers in Asia in bringing diving watches to market. Yet the watch serves only as a stepping stone, as deepblu foresees an even bigger potential market.
deepblu has partnerted with numerous world-class scuba diving instructors, encouraging their use of the deepblu COSMIQ watch as a form of real-life product promotion, since the more users who use their product, the more members the deepblu app can attract.
Tsuei reminds of the company’s focus on services: “We are not a hardware company, but rather an internet company. Even though we launched the diving watch first, we aim to use this watch in connecting users to a social media platform.
The COSMIQ app records real-time location and other data, syncing the accurate course and duration of each dive from the watch, and also allowing users to upload photos and videos of each dive to their personal profile. As users record more data into the app, their personal profiles become ever more enriched. In addition, users can share their data and status updates with each other through the app.
Social networking as vertical integration
Since its launch in April 2016, the COSMIQ app has seen a steady rise in user numbers thanks to promotion via Facebook and other social networks. The majority of its current members are in the US and Taiwan, and membership is set to reach 10,000 by the end of this year. According to Tsuei, “By connecting with our community directly and using word-of-mouth as a form of vertical marketing, we achieve an effect that far surpasses conventional multi-million dollar ad campaigns.”
The company aims to reach 200,000 members by the end of next year, and 2 million the year after. By reaching 2 million members with their services, Tsuei believes that the company can tap into a full quarter of the US$30 billion-a-year scuba diving market. In other words, the business model stemming out of their networking platform has the potential to generate at least US$500 million a year.
With 40 million certified scuba divers around the world, of which six to eight million are active scuba divers who dive at least once a year, deepblu’s goal is to create a dedicated internet platform for this community, where diving enthusiasts can not only record their activity, but also share information with each other.
“Divers need to book flights and boats, reserve hotel rooms, and find instructors; these are all services we can provide through our platform. We hope to become the Facebook of scuba within two years, the first name that people think of when they talk about scuba diving.”
Tsuei notes that 2 million members means dozens of millions of log entries, turning the deepblu app into a database for the scuba diving community, where any kind of information can be easily found.
Furthermore, deepblu plans to partner with instructors, equipment dealers, hotels, and other scuba diving-related industries in providing their services. Tsuei compares this with Taobao: “Every scuba diving-related service that you can imagine, you can find on our network.”
With their aim of becoming a treasure trove of information for the global scuba diving community, deepblu plans to enter the market in China in Q2 2017. Tsuei notes that since Google Maps isn’t available in China, where instead Baidu & GaoDe are the common map platforms in that market, this presents a major challenge in creating a global database of scuba diving spots, and deepblu hopes to gain an early foothold in this potential market.
Chinese Version: 在海底打卡不是夢！用潛水錶當社群敲門磚，deepblu 打造全球200 萬潛水者社交平台