An article from our 2020 Blueprint. An interview with David Savage, Chairman, CEO and Founder of Excelerate Marine and its parent Excelerate Technology Ltd.
2020, I think you will all agree has been challenging for most people. Many businesses have struggled, yet others have thrived. Excelerate is one of the companies that has experienced both. Whilst their Maritime subsidiary Excelerate Marine has battled the ravages of the Covid Pandemic like everyone else in the industry, their core business is a global market leader in the provision of Enhanced Resilience and Security, Data, Voice and Video applications over Satellite, LTE (4G) and WIFI to 1st Responders, mainly Police, Fire and Ambulance which has proved to be even more vital than ever during the Covid Pandemic and is prospering better than most. Whilst the Covid situation has presented Excelerate with a lot of challenges it has also been a catalyst of change which has presented the company with many new opportunities and expanded its reach into providing its Video Streaming and Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot technology in Telemedicine Applications, in connectivity challenged areas. Home working looks like becoming the new normal but not if, as David Savage says the home working experience is awful due to poor connectivity. Savage cites a Zoom or Teams video conference as a good example;
“Participating in a live video conference where everyone has great bi-directional broadband and can experience HD quality video conferencing is fantastic, but try that with poor connectivity with calls breaking up, dropping offline or just really poor video quality and the experience at best is an absolute chore, making working this way very difficult or impossible. Excelerate can ensure that these calls are better or perfect wherever the user is. In a 1st Responder or Medical situation the difference isn’t just a better experience for the end user, it may actually make the difference between life and death, so getting things right and supporting our users well in what to us is quite naturally a 24/7/365 environment is critical, and quite a heavy responsibility in truth. We take our responsibilities with our Yacht customers just as seriously where our ethos and working practices are just the same”
Who can predict the future? None of us, but with multiple country lockdowns and a lack of overseas travel, this has impacted the yachting industry as a whole and Excelerate Marine has felt this.
Editor Joanna Palmer spoke to David Savage about 2020, 2021 and the future.
Q: David, how has business been for Excelerate as a whole in 2020?
“As a Group, our routines and workloads have been shaped by the changed circumstances caused by Covid and whilst I think our people have done a magnificent job in our maritime business there are limits as to what one can do when an industry and its employees are not allowed to work normally. Given the circumstance we were forced to focus on our Emergency Services Business this year, supporting those customers in what has surely been their greatest time of need, and delivering a multimillion pound order book globally, to enhance their capability – I am pleased to report absolutely everything has been delivered on time, fully fit for purpose during 2020 and consequently we are going into 2021 with significantly more cash than we had at the start of 2020. Like many businesses engaged in the marine sector Excelerate Marine has been negatively impacted by the Covid Pandemic and as a result, we have had to carefully review our plans, our costs, and our investment. In some cases, we have reduced our costs and made some changes but even so, we have recently hired an additional Business Development Manager to help broaden our maritime activities into general maritime as well as the Superyacht Sector. We already have dozens of fishing vessel customers in the North Sea for instance with the first one becoming a customer as long ago as 2012. We are extremely lucky that Excelerate Group is not exposed entirely to the maritime market where the Superyacht, Oil and Gas and Cruise Industry has either been badly affected or decimate, but we are fully staffed still and ready to cope with the eventual return to normality, whatever that may be.
I expect companies in the sector will put out a positive slant on 2020 but I would rather be honest, it’s been an awful year for many many companies and people and I don’t just know this from our own trading experience but I know this as a yacht owner too. We bought a 28 metre Sunseeker four years ago and its purpose is that of an R & D Platform and a demonstration vessel to show off what we do. To assist with the running costs, which as any owners know are not inconsiderable, we charter our yacht each season in the Med. The charter income of MY Excelerate Z was down 60% on the previous year. Talking to our charter broker we faired better than most apparently. Whilst I accept that not all owners charter their yachts and to some owners the reduction in income is not critical, the reduction in income certainly does have a knock on effect throughout all aspects of the industry.”
Q: What makes Excelerate Marine different?
“I think the main differentiator apart from our prominence in the 1st Responder market is that Excelerate is an unusual, perhaps unique combination of four things:
- We genuinely are an inventor and developer of solutions and applications.
- We are a high level end to end integrator of hardware, IT infrastructure and Networks, often at National Government level.
- We support everything ourselves without relying on 3rd parties
- We are a network operator in private satellite and 4G/5G Networks.
I brought us into the maritime market believing that a lot of the things we had invented/ developed or do in our 1st Responder Business would help us establish a place for Excelerate in maritime, starting with the Superyacht Sector. I still believe we can be positively disruptive and that at some point we will introduce some of our own solutions and services that no one will be able to do or compete with. Whether this is enough, only time will tell, but I am taking a very long term approach as I have with all our businesses.”
Q: What do you see as your next steps for Excelerate Marine?
“ I am pretty sure that surviving companies in the post Covid era will look back and take a view, that in hindsight the Covid crisis was a catalyst for some very important and positive changes, so for me, remaining patient and continuing to learn and understand the nuances of the maritime market and its barriers to success is critical. I am particularly keen to see the extent of any shake up in the market and to discover if that creates any opportunities for Excelerate to speed up its ambitions. I am absolutely convinced that there are some great competitors or potential partners out there who are very good at what they do but don’t do a lot of the things we do so in fact could be a great fit in a combined business.
We have also used some time freed up by the state of the market to look at how we were doing things and how we needed to improve them to make it all more relevant and more cost effective for existing and future yacht clients. I have personally worked a lot this year with a chap called David Swallow who had been a Superyacht ETO for10 years but who has branched out as a Consultant and Provider of IT and Communications Support for several big Superyachts. I was keen to understand why Excelerate had some great referrals with many happy captains who literally think their experience with Excelerate is the best they have ever had and yet David was cautious and had been unwilling to give us a try. I could write a book on what I’ve learned this year working with David and I suspect he might say the same but suffice to say that the user requirement aspects of our new Global Multibeam VSAT offering we’ve just introduced can be largely credited to our experiences with David and two of his yacht clients this year with one being utterly fault free where the captain wanted to continue using our services across the Atlantic and then in the Caribbean and up the East USA coast upon arrival. I think gaining David Swallow’s confidence this year was very tough, he is a hard man to please, but has been achieved for the right reasons with plenty of patience and sweat on both sides. Of course the commercial aspects of our new VSAT service are down to me and my team but it was pointless plugging some technical and support gaps and then whacking our prices up so I am sure our existing clients will be happy to know that now they will be connected on Excelerate’s more resilient and global multibeam VSAT network but that we’ve kept our pricing down at our 2019 single beam level for the better service”
Q: How do you stay ahead of the competition?
“I mentioned that we are an inventor and developer so we actually do have an R & D Team and they are flat out on projects and applications that are particularly focused on delivering better, faster and more secure and resilient broadband connectivity and applications irrespective of geographic, topology or technical challenges. We live and breathe coming up with solutions that improve Public Safety and better Situational Awareness capability. We have been providing Hybrid Satellite and LTE (4G) for over fifteen years and next year is our twentieth year in business. We also host our own fully redundant Excelerate Databox Cloud which is immune to outages on the Public Internet as is our own fully redundant Video Streaming Hosting which is used by 1st Responders to share their UAV (Drone) and Body Worn Camera video images securely and in real time with as many command rooms, collaborating agencies or mobile devices that are authorised. We currently have a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Satellite Service that we are testing at our Cardiff HQ and one other location and the results are startling – 120 Mbps down x 50 Mbps up but more importantly with a latency of just 28 Milliseconds, that’s better than my Vodafone service at home. We are the project lead on a number of part Government funded proof of concept Satellite and 5G workstreams which are going to change the way we communicate in every aspect of what we do over the next five years so this is bound to have a positive impact on the things that Excelerate will bring to the maritime market, driven by the 1st Responder business which funds our maritime ambitions and innovations.
I came into the maritime sector believing that some of the things we were doing and will be doing in 1st Responder market could be of benefit and relevance commercially and technically within the maritime market and nothing so far has shaken that belief however I mistakenly believed that would be enough, but I didn’t appreciate some of the other barriers so we have to work harder on breaking some of these down. In a lot of ways some of these are not technical but even so I intend to introduce some game changers that frankly most of our competitors won’t be in a position to replicate or beat but I am patient regarding the timing”
Q: What do the next 12 months hold for Excelerate?
“I think we have already made some great improvements to some of the services our captains and their owners already thought were fantastic so I can’t wait to see their reactions as we head into 2021. Our French part of our maritime business have already won some important refit work for 2020/2021 where our integration skills across a broad range disciplines has created some fantastic case studies and referrals. In hindsight I regret not giving the broader maritime market more attention because in truth those customers may well “get” the benefits of what we do in the 1st Responder market more than the yacht market which is perhaps more focused on other things and where the barriers are different and in some cases in my view, at odds with what is best for an owner from a financial perspective.
At the time of writing, the Covid lockdowns persist but this time with the potential promise of some credible vaccines, so I would like to think that the yacht market is feeling more confident that by Spring 2021 things will start to look like preparing for a better 2021 is quite realistic. We have been recruiting across all aspects of our business including maritime and my senior team have been flat out during 2020. Whilst there have been challenges, and doubtless there will be more, Excelerate Group and Excelerate Marine both here in the UK and in France are in an excellent position to capitalise from its strong fiscal, technical and innovation position”
Q: Any wise words for Owners, Captains or ETO’s considering their communication provider?
“First of all there are more similarities in the yacht market with our 1st Responder market than one might think so I’ve got bags of empathy with a Captain or an ETO when their Owner, a Yacht Management Company or a “Bean Counter” asks them to look at something new, be it technology or a supplier. We’ve never gone into a meeting with the IT department or Head of our core customers where the initial reaction was to throw their hands in the air to celebrate our arrival but rather the reaction tends to be “doesn’t my boss think I’ve got enough to do”, or “why can’t they just trust my judgement and leave me to get on with things”. Often Captains struggle to verify what suppliers are telling them, particularly if the yacht does not have an ETO. This often leads to what I call the better the devil you know trap which of course might be the case, but what if the truth is the opposite? Conversely ETO’s, as expert as they may be, are rarely experts in every field so with respect we employ lots of experts in lots of different fields and I would like to think that rather than be a challenge we are an extra resource in lots of different specialist areas.
The other thing I want to say is that in our 1st Responder business customers are fantastic Paramedics, Police Officers and Firefighters but they want to concentrate on their day job and not retrain to be more technical. Because we are an inventor and a developer with an R&D Team who are a mixture of hardware and software engineers and developers, we never forget that our users and customers are first and foremost normal human beings. This means that we provide solutions with bespoke front end user interfaces that take this into account and make what we provide either easier to use by normal human beings, or we automate as much as possible and we make it as easy as possible to provide as much real time remote support 24/7 with the least user or customer intervention. Because we own the front end interfaces, we can make them interact and operate anything we want, fully scalable and customisable with no limits regarding future proofing or capability. Our patented Excelerate DDMI (Digital Dashboard Management Interface is being used as the front end control of a multitude of Voice, Video and Data Solutions as well as other functionality such as lighting, air-conditioning and power management on a significant number of Incident Command Vehicles around the world and variations of DDMI can be found on Superyacht Bridges as the Yacht Connectivity Manager, or our own Exstream UAV Secure Video Streaming Solution or our Linx Portable WIFI Hotspot. In most cases we can enable the functionality remotely so that everything can be achieved remotely via an APP on an iPhone or iPad.
If our competitors can do better than we can and are more cost effective then we can’t argue with that, but how does one know unless there is dialogue between us or our market doesn’t put us to the test. The cost of the “better the devil you know” syndrome is incalculable, but it is vast and a lot of it is avoidable. I cannot argue that there is time that needs to be invested in assessing new offerings and suppliers, but our goal is that the pay back in real cost and improved ease of use and support significantly outweighs this”