gCaptain.com: The Inside Story

This is a first post in what we hope will become a series of interviews with passionate people from the maritime industry. Our first guest is John Konrad, founder of gCaptain.com, the website for maritime professionals.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I first found a love of the ocean as a young child living in a small fishing community in The Bronx. While in grade school my parents moved to a more affluent New York City suburb where I became an avid dinghy sailor on the Long Island Sound. For college I returned to The Bronx where I attended SUNY Maritime College and received my bachelor?EUR(TM)s degree in Marine Transportation as well as a Third Mate’s Unlimited License. From that point on I have sailed on a variety of large ships worldwide and currently I hold a Master’s Unlimited license and work as Chief Mate aboard a dynamically positioned Exploratory Drillship.

2. Why/when did you start gCaptain?

This was a bit of a Fluke. Living in California I have watched friends build sites that became very successful. The real motivation to jump into the web came just over a year ago when Rupert Murdock offered a friend, founder of digg.com, a particularly large sum of money. I was not, however, convinced his success could be transferred to the Maritime Industry so I teamed up with my brother Tim and launched a website for skiers called UnofficialSquaw.com. By the end of the 2006/07 ski season I had learned a lot about Internet publishing and convinced myself it could work in my own industry or at least doing so would allow me to learn more about my job and meet some interesting people.

3. What is gCaptain about?

gCaptain is about community. With advances in technology making each mariner a specialist in his own class of vessels the industry is getting fragmented. There is also a surprisingly low amount of dialogue between mariners of different nationalities as well as between those who work ashore and those out at sea. My ultimate goal with gCaptain is to share ideas between maritime communities and learn from each other’s mistakes and accomplishments.

4. Where do you get your inspiration

My inspiration to work the long hours required to keep gCaptain fresh is my son Jack. I hope gCaptain continues its rate of growth and eventually generates enough income to support our small team.

The inspiration for the stories comes from my own experience. I simply use my experience as a tech geek to find interesting and pertinent stories and my experience as a ship’s officer to filter out the content that is of greatest interest. We have also gotten a lot of positive feedback from our regular readers and they supply a constant flow of interesting story ideas.

5. How do you explain the success of gCaptain?

Humans yearn for knowledge and when presented in an attractive format that speaks to their interests they become excited to participate. Living so close to Silicone Valley has helped me build friendships with some very intelligent web 2.0 techies who provide a constant source of criticism and ideas. Working in the Maritime Industry for over ten years has allowed me to meet and become friends with an equally intelligent set of people. I definitely subscribe to the notion that to build a successful business you should make sure you’re the dumbest guy in the room as often as possible.

The other half of our success is 18-20 hour days. There is no substitute for hard work.

6. What is the most successfull part of gCaptain (blog, forum, discoverer)?

Unfortunately, it’s the blog. While we have some very dedicated users on our forum most of gCaptain’s visitors take a passive role and therefore enjoy the blog. This, however, is not an unusual problem to have. In my trips to Silicone Valley user participation is probably the most discussed topic among Web 2.0 entrepreneurs. You would be surprised if I told you a few of the big names in social media that have generated success with as few as a dozen core users.

The hidden gem within gCaptain is our offering of industry related tools. This is the fourth section of the site. While a small percentage of our visitors click on the tools button, those who do quickly get addicted. The most popular tool is our Custom Search Engine which takes results from google and runs them through filters set up by Master Mariners. This means that if you search for the term ‘pirate ship’ you’)re much more likely to see results about Somali pirates than Disney movies.

7. Is gCaptain a one-man show or do you have others helping you keeping the website up to date?

gCaptain is 100% a team effort. The site is actually owned by Unofficial Networks, a company founded by my brother and I. We currently have 6 sites, mostly ski related, and an individual heads each. We have some fairly advanced collaboration software that allows us to share ideas and criticism. Regardless of interest people have similar wants, so when something is working for one site we quickly start implementing it on the others.

On the maritime side we are constantly taking risks. Personally my dream job has always been to become a San Francisco pilot. Our most popular features are those sharing this scuttlebutt (what ship captains are discussing amongst themselves) about maritime incidents with our readers. This made for some difficult decisions when the Cosco Busan allied with the Bay Bridge. I eventually decided to take the risk and cover the incident by sharing the inside facts just as we did with the Pasha Bulker and Empress of the North, but upsetting potential employers is a continual concern. With our team all actively sailing you can understand why they wish to stay out of the limelight.

My wife is the other important member of gCaptain. She is now a teacher but she holds a Second Mate Unlimited license and previously worked aboard research vessels and containerships. She even has a war medal for serving aboard a containership supplying the troops in Iraq.

8. How much time a day do you spend on updating the website?

More than I’m willing to admit.

9. What have I not asked you that I should have asked you?

What is the future of gCaptain?

We want to continue our goal of building a community for all those who participate in the maritime industry. Our next project in achieving this goal is recruit writers. Currently gCaptain is focused on large commercial ships but by having specialist in each industry segment write articles on a bi-weekly basis we can start attracting readers regardless of tonnage, nationality or location. We have a lot of work ahead of us o achieve this goal but the lines have been cast and we’re underway towards the future.

You can find out more about Captain John Konrad by visiting gCaptain.com or listening to his weekly maritime news podcast ‘Messing About In Ships’ (MessingAboutInShips.com).