Interview with the founder of the navigation application

Fast forward from a epiphany in the navigation station on a yacht race around the world from 2014 to present and the marine technology company savvy navvy, founded by Jelte Liebrand, has just completed its most successful year to date.

Former Google software engineer and avid browser Jelte explains how he left corporate life to found a savvy navy, often dubbed “Google maps for boaters,” now allowing hundreds of thousands of users to around the world to navigate the sea more easily and safely.

The idea is simple. A navigation app that saves boaters around the world hours of planning, mapping and route plotting with something they always have with them: their phone. Simplicity and security are the key themes for a savvy navvy. The vision of the navigation application launched in 2017 by Jelte and his co-founder Kevin O’Neill is to remove complex and unnecessary map data that often confuses boaters, for safety and ease of use, allowing better navigation to every boater on the water. .

Jelte, tell us how your idea of ​​savvy navvy got started?

I have been sailing since I was eight and competed in the Clipper Round the World Yacht race in 2014. When I was in the navigation station in the middle of the Pacific I was trying to find the best course. in Panama for the race. Should we stay ashore, offshore, pick the currents, the weather, and try to figure out the best options. As I leaned over at a 30 degree angle and latched on, I was desperately trying to look at the chartplotter, intricate maps, and use a mouse on a laptop. I figured there had to be an easier way to do it. So that’s really where the idea started.

CEO and founder of savvy navvy – Jelte Liebrand. Photo – warned sailor

What happened next ?

I started talking to other people on the Clipper boat. And other people who had their own boats and I were starting to find that a lot of these people have similar issues, even on their boating, not just on a race in the middle of the Pacific. Even in the Solent, if you want to go from A to B, a lot of people said they didn’t because they were worried about making a mistake in the tide calculations, or hitting a sandbar and running aground or other things that would prevent them from going out on the water.

When I returned from racing the conversations progressed and I realized that there was a really great opportunity to make sailing and power boating a much more enjoyable and easier experience that would ultimately allow more people enjoying the time on the water.

One thing is the idea – the next is to quit your daily job at Google to start a navigation apps business. How did it develop?

As an engineer, a job at Google is probably one of the best places to work. So it took me a while to decide to take that ‘leap’ and pursue my dream of savvy navvy. I became a dad, we came back from San Francisco to UK and my priorities changed. I told myself if I didn’t try this, step out of my comfort zone and give it a try, I’ll regret it forever.

Once installed, what was the first thing you did?

Absolutely fundamental to me was – and still is – that wise browsing is about user experience. I bought myself a clipboard, measuring that all official looking people have their own clipboards, and just stood in countless marinas interviewing sailors about their experiences. I wanted to know their problems. Their real pain points. The various problems whether it is to navigate the Solent in the United Kingdom or in the waters around Miami. Whether on a yacht race or recreational sailing.

Understanding what our clients’ weak points are is absolutely essential and one of the reasons we are so open, so transparent, so direct. If there is something we have done that has caused someone a problem, then we want to know it, so that we can fix it. I think this is one of the biggest things that sets us apart from others: we listen, we are open, we are transparent. We really want to hear the opinions of our hundreds of thousands of users and ultimately together create a better product and a better boating experience for everyone on the water.

You mention wise navvy values ​​here. Can you develop them a little more?

Our view is that everyone should and can enjoy boating. It sets the tone for everything we do and to get there we need to break down barriers and remove the intimidating factors and sticking points, which, to be frank, this industry has a lot. Remove some of the bullying factors that exist around sailing and boating in general. When you get on a boat, everything is new.

Everything has different names. There is a lot to learn and then you add some difficult technology to the mix. Seeing a chart plotter, it’s just wavy, cluttered and super complex lines. If you do not understand all the symbols therein, it could prevent people from enjoying sailing or wanting to learn. Or worse yet, some people may just ignore it completely and walk away completely ignoring the dangers.

So being open, unpretentious and approachable along with the ease of use factor is really at the heart of our hearts. We don’t say, this is how it should be and this is our finished product. We want to involve everyone and have a holistic approach to make sure we achieve this goal of enjoying being on the water.

savvy navvy app on an ipad alongside a paper map and portland plotter.
savvy navigation app. Photo – warned sailor

Some have criticized that your navigation app is too basic – what do you say?

We strive to be different and ensure that what we present is clear and easy to understand without sacrificing safety. As boaters there are of course things we need to know – hazards, fire sequences, shallows, reefs and the like, but there are also many other things traditionally shown on maps. that are not relevant to boaters. We don’t need to know things like submarine cables on the bottom if I’m 200m deep and not anchor. It just confuses things.

We have a great team of experts including our Senior UX Designer who is a cartographer by trade and we work together to create what we hear from the users they need. A recent review revealed that their on-board navigation had failed in the middle of the ocean, but had their savvy navigation app in their pocket and downloaded maps for offline use, so they returned home safe and sound. . You never get tired of hearing these kinds of stories – that’s exactly what we set out to do.

You have grown enormously from your inception in 2017 until the recent announcement of your record year for 2021. How have things evolved?

I think our crowdfunding campaigns over the past few years have really put savvy people on the map. Our first campaign went viral and in six days we had to shut it down. People have really understood that we are trying to do something that makes a difference for boaters.

After pushing a giant pause button on our plans in 2020 due to the pandemic, it just accelerated as the lockdowns eased and it looks like everyone is buying boats, resulting in a huge boom in the number of users around the world. We started with boaters in 2019 which really took off and today around 75% of our new users are boaters.

We doubled our revenue in the last quarter of 2021 and exceeded all of our crowdfunding growth campaign goals we set for the year with hundreds of thousands of users in over 100 different countries around the world. . Working directly with end users has also allowed us to create a better product that meets current market demand for simplifying boating.

What are the latest updates and features for your navigation app?

We are constantly evolving, changing and encouraging new innovations based on user feedback and growing markets. In fact, we’ve built our entire tech stack so that we can update daily. Chart styles have recently changed, we’ve added a revolutionary departure planner that compares passage times, as well as weather and tide information. Soon we will be enabling users to see the terrain in 3D along the coast, which will make a huge difference in both safety and confidence when navigating more difficult waters. By the time this comes out, we’ve probably added ten more!

Partnerships are one of your other areas of growth. Why is this important for a savvy navvy?

Anyone who wants to innovate in any industry needs partnerships. You can’t go it alone. This year alone, savvy navvy’s partnerships have grown tenfold, now covering each of its regions of the world, including marinas, smart boat sensor products, specialist boat insurers and boat manufacturers all over the world. electric. There are a lot of really smart things going on in boating right now – and anyone who brings innovation and ease of use and helps the boater is someone we want to collaborate with.

Jelte Liebrand, smiling, leaning over the wheel.
“As we approach our fifth year, many more are coming in 2022,” Liebrand said. Photo – warned sailor

Looks like a lot more is to come. What are the plans for the future?

Come to think of it, a lot has been achieved from this idea in the middle of the Pacific in the navigation station. We are a relatively small team and it has been very rewarding to build a savvy navvy with them where we are today.

As we approach our fifth year, many more are arriving in 2022. Exciting developments such as engagement, innovation and the use of technological advancements to integrate with on-board systems such as AIS and the NMEA2000. More partnerships are on the way, including working with sustainable partners, looking at options like mapping electric charging points for electric boats of the future and many more things that I cannot speak to yet. But my dream of a savvy navvy being in every boater’s pocket is certainly coming closer!

To learn more about savvy navvy or Jelte and his team, visit You can also read more about the growth of savvy navvy in the latest episode of his award-winning boating podcast “The Boating Life” Live Now.

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