After it took James Tsuei a month of research and emails to plan a dive in Indonesia, he decided it was time for his startup, Deepblu, to launch a booking platform for divers. Planet Deepblu bills itself as “the Airbnb for diving” and is the latest piece of the diving ecosystem the Taipei-based startup is building.
Based in Taipei and backed by Silverlink Capital, Deepblu was founded in 2015 to bring resources for divers into the mobile, cloud-based era. Its products included a Bluetooth-enabled dive computer called COSMIQ and a social network where users share dive logs. Dive computers are small devices, often worn like wristwatches, that let divers track and calculate important information, such as when they need to take a decompression stop. COSMIQ automates a lot of the process and enables divers to wirelessly sync dive logs to Deepblu’s social network, which the startup claims now has more than 40,000 members, 500 dive shops and 300,000 dive logs.
Deepblu drew on its community for Planet Deepblu, integrating their dive logs, reviews, videos and photos to help users plan diving trips. There are already several dive booking sites out there, but Tsuei, Deepblu’s co-founder and chief executive officer, says they operate more like Agoda or Booking.com, while Planet Deepblu’s Airbnb-like approach means divers can use it to communicate directly with dive operators instead of relying on agencies.
Tsuei claims this can save them up to 25% on the total cost of a trip. By serving as a centralized database for dive planning, Planet Deepblu also wants to save its users time.
Part of Deepblu’s mission is to give scuba diving the same visibility and cultural prominence as golfing by making it more accessible to beginners as well as advanced divers. Though it’s a niche market, diving has a lot of financial potential. Tsuei says there are currently about 6 to 8 million active divers, or people who make three or more diving sessions each year, and dive trips are big investments. Divers spend an average of $1,000 on equipment and certification, and then even more money on dive shops (businesses run by expert divers who provide training and tours), flights and accommodation. For passionate divers, it’s more than just a hobby.
“It’s like golfing,” says Tsuei. “There’s a higher barrier to entry because it takes time and money, but it also becomes part of your lifestyle.” Out of the 40,000 members of Deepblu’s social network, the company says about 40% have uploaded their own dive logs, which is a very high level of engagement for any online community (Deepblu also syncs with Bluetooth-enabled dive computers from major diving gear brands like Scubapro and Tusa or lets members enter data manually).
For service providers, one of Planet Deepblu’s value propositions is reaching younger divers. Although scuba divers are passionate about what they do, Tsuei says that in many key markets, including the Caribbean, divers are aging into their sixties, but their kids aren’t following them into the sport. Instead, younger people are turning to surfing and extreme sports. Emerging markets like China and Southeast Asia, however, are seeing an increase in young divers.
Planet Deepblu can help dive shops around the world reach them (about 60% of its users come from in the United States or Taiwan, but 20% are based in China and the rest are mainly in Korea, Southeast Asia and Europe). Part of Deepblu’s future plans include creating a “LinkedIn for Divers,” with features like verified profiles for people who upload a copy of their license, which can help freelance professional divers find more clients.