Episode 3: Chris Aversano
In this episode of Maritime Means, Blythe is joined by Chris Aversano. Chris is a product manager at Q88, a Veson company that is an information management and software solution for the global maritime transportation industry. He also hosts the podcast “The Last Dinosaur” about maritime shipping in the digital age. Today, Blythe and Chris discuss bringing the historic maritime industry into the modern age through technology, collaboration, and podcasting.Listen now (00:55:57)
Full episode transcript
- Chris Aversano has been passionate about digitizing the maritime industry for nearly three decades. He spends his days as a product manager at Q88, a Veson company, which is an information management and software solution for the global maritime transportation industry. So in today's episode, we're talking with Chris about bringing this historic industry into the modern age through technology, collaboration and even podcasting. Hello again, I am your host Blythe Brumleve and I'm proud to welcome in Chris as one of our first official guests of "Maritime Means...", a podcast by Spire Maritime dedicated to building a community of innovators. Chris, welcome into the show.
- I'm really happy to be here. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to chat with you and be on the other side of the microphone as they say.
Desire to work in the maritime industry
Chris and his dad were looking at all the different schools around New York, and SUNY Maritime caught his eye. Chris decided that that’s where he wanted to go. He thought the ship was cool, and having the training ship there was a big selling point for him at the time. He also liked the whole idea of traveling and international trade and transport.
- Likewise. You're an experienced podcast host, which we will absolutely dive into that a little bit later on in the show, but you've had, as I sort of mentioned in the intro, a lengthy career within this industry, but take us back a little bit - how did you first know that you wanted to work just in supply chain, maritime industry, all that good stuff?
- So it's a really interesting story. I think, something that's probably not too uncommon in this part of the world, in the States, I went to a future student night at the high school I went to and, you know, we're looking at all the different schools, and I went to high school in kind of an extended suburb of New York City, Orange County New York, and, you know, a lot of SUNY schools and other things and, I'm not sure what I want to do and I see SUNY Maritime - okay, this seems cool. My dad grew up in the Bronx, we said let's go visit. I walked on campus, I'm like - yeah, this is what I want to do, that's it. So about the ship, the ship was really cool. Obviously it's a big selling point, having the training ship there, which is a picture behind me, and then of course there's, you know, the whole idea of traveling, international trade, international transport, the often used 90% of everything, which hasn't really changed. You know, people laugh at it, you know, "90% of everything", and I know some folks poke fun at it, but it's generally true. And all of that was just a really big attraction, to be like "this is what I want to be a part of". And that started back when I was a junior in high school, I went to Maritime, really enjoyed it, and then from there I sailed for a few years with Mobil Oil, that's the flag behind me, and then I came ashore and I was lucky enough to pursue an MBA, while I was ashorte with them. And then after a few years I jumped into the commercial side of the business as a tanker broker, which I truly enjoyed doing. Kind of ran its course a little bit, worked for a ship owner, that came to a shorter end, but then I got back into broking. And after that kind of wound down, after about 2.5, 3 years with another firm, I ended up taking a step back from everything and looking at what was going on in the market and that's when I realized that trying to see what's happening in the market, getting into the digital side, was really interesting and I was able to join Q88, which then recently became part of Veson, but, before that I had a really great opportunity to work with Q88, and still work with Q88, but on the product management side which has been intriguing and a whole fascinating new part of the industry, and kind of using the skill sets that I developed to help our clients and help the customer base as well as the company, and kind of learn and understand kind of how the commercial trade works.
- You mentioned something that I think is really interesting, especially for for myself because I come from more of the trucking freight side of things; you mentioned that you were a tanker broker? Is that like a freight broker, but for oil tankers?
- Exactly, there's a whole category of tanker brokers around the world. Off the top of my head probably 170 individual shops. Anything from massive organizations, like a company called Clarkson's, publicly listed in the UK, to what they call one or two person shops where it's a broker and an operator. And they kind of just have a handful of really good clients and they just kind of spin the plates. So yeah, I did that for a long time, and, maybe similar to a freight broker, they bring together the cargo owner and they bring together the ship owner, and they do deals, some short term, some long term, but they do deals, probably very similar to what freight brokers do.
- I wonder if they're facing the same sort of driver shortages as - you know, ship captains, maybe, some of the similar things that they struggle with.
- So, it depends on the class, right? Because you have lots of different types of brokers. You have brokers get into the dry commodities and other things, but getting into the actual - let's say, what carries it right now. There's probably - for a long time, there's been too many tankers, and so freight rates have been kind of crummy for the last couple of years. Looks like we're coming into the opposite, but it's less based on the captain and the crew, and more based on the physical asset. Saying that, if you just keep a little bit of an eye - and this is not my expertise, but just kind of as a general maritime interest - there are projections that in the future there will be crewing shortages. So there will be crewing shortages of crews that could man, or get on ships. I've read a few articles, kind of high level, but in the next few years, that is something to watch out for. So that's why there is a push at getting more people into maritime at a lot of different levels.
The good and the bad in the maritime industry
Many high-level shipping companies, ship owners, and cargo owners were looking to make a positive change, especially regarding emissions. There may not necessarily be a consensus, but sometimes you must move forward to break the inertia.
- Well, that's a perfect segue to one of my first questions, because I didn't mean to take it in a different direction, but that's sort of the nature of it, and sort of the pluses of doing a podcast, is being able to explore different nuggets of information that the guests may drop, so thank you for entertaining that side question that I have. But speaking of the lay of the land, what does the current landscape of the maritime industry look like? It's a very large part global supply chain, most people around the world became familiar with what the hell the supply like chain actually is over the last couple of years. So, within the maritime sector, what's the good, the bad, what's the positive notes? Give us the lay of the land.
- So I think the positive - there's a lot of, what I kind of see is at the high level, shipping companies, ship owners, as well as the cargo owners are really looking to make a positive change, especially when it comes to emissions and the whole ESG Spectrum, which is, you know, environment, society and governance, and trying to make positive inroads into that. It's gonna be slow. There may not necessarily be a consensus, especially on emissions, but sometimes you just gotta move forward just to break the inertia, right?
Let's do something and, it may not be the perfect answer, but let's do something. So I feel that there is a lot of that happening. I feel that there is, with the higher visibility of freight and supply chain - of the whole supply chain and again, not just maritime, but talking to maritime, I would like to think that people would become more interested in it,
especially younger folks, and not necessarily having to go out to become a ship's captain or work on shore, but there's tons of jobs, especially - let's say in the US, I'm thinking very regionally here in the Northeast, of course of jobs that are supported by wind farms and things like that - that's gonna require an entire infrastructure, not just the sailors, but the entire infrastructure to support the offshore wind, from building maintenance, the environmental impact. So I think that there's some really interesting stories on a global level, certainly emissions, and maybe closer to home with the wind and - again, I'm not advocating for wind; personally, I think it's a good idea, but I know there's a lot of people who are against it or, you know, we can do this better, that better. But I do think it's certainly a good story and certainly would get people involved who haven't been.
- So it's more about taking this historic industry that's been around for a while and trying to find ways to modernize it, from an environmental standpoint and then also from a humanitarian standpoint? Am I understanding that right?
- Yeah, a little bit of everything, right? I think the maritime industry is clear they want to do their part, and frankly, some of it's coming from pressures from investors and from clients. I mean, you look back and kind of more in your industry - it was earlier this year, late last year, where IKEA was getting pressure from their customers about who they're shipping with and, are the ship owners that they're using environmentally sensitive, you know, what are they doing with greenhouse gasses? And that's pretty important that they're making that leap from the furniture, which I'm pointing to because I have a piece right over there, to how it gets to them; and they're making that leap. So I think that's pretty important, actually, especially as consumers become more aware of the overall impact, which has been highlighted because of Covid and supply chain and everything.
Chris doesn’t think there are misconceptions, but he thinks about how maritime can better educate the general public about the industry. How they can inform them that 99.9% of the time, shipping goes without a hitch, especially in contrast with all the news regarding maritime accidents.
- 100%, because I think that quote that we often hear is "shipping is the invisible industry". And, after the last couple of years, it seems to becoming more visible in people's minds, where they want to know how their products are sourced and, and get a glimpse of that entire supply chain so they can support the companies and the products that they think align with their values and their morals. What are some other misconceptions that the general public has about maritime?
- Well, I don't think it's necessarily a misconception, but I thought about this question when we were talking about it before, and I think it's flipped the other way, it's how can maritime do a better job about educating the general public, the non-maritime speaker, you know - maritime folks, how can we do a better job of educating them? That 99.99% of the time it goes off without a hitch. But when it doesn't, you hear about a ship stuck in the canal, a ship stuck in the Chesapeake bay, God forbid an oil spill somewhere here or there, a fire of the capsized Ro-Ro, the one that happened in the winter with the Ferraris and stuff. And then the one that happened two years ago off of - I forget if it was south Carolina or Georgia, I kind of forget. But you look at that and you say "oh that's a disaster" or you got 100 ships sitting off of the West Coast. They don't realize how much time, effort and energy is put into running everything as smoothly as possible, getting it as efficiently as possible. And I think that it's the other way around, it's what the general folks need to know is that we're invisible because most of the time there's no problems, and sometimes when there's problems outside of our control - high energy prices right now, you can trace that right back to your crunching supply that comes out of the Black Sea, that normally we deal with, now we're not dealing with - we may not get it, but Europe gets it, which makes - you're decreasing the ball, which has this effect, not just on Italy and Spain, but on right here, right? So, we have to do a better job of conveying how it's all kind of interrelated. It's all interrelated with ships, frankly.
- A big part of that puzzle that I think a lot of companies, including yourself, are trying to solve is from the tech side of things, digitizing the industry. But what when did you first realize that the maritime industry needed to have sort of a tech renaissance?
- Well, there was the big tech bubble in 2000 even in our industry, and a lot of really smart people putting money into the space and it just didn't go anywhere. And I think a lot of it was because of buying readiness and all this other stuff, and I think now what's happening is - you use technology for everything, right? So, now it's becoming more relatable to use it in your business, right? Before I didn't use Uber to get a cab, I called a cab driver, right? Called the cab company, I stood there and hoped that they come, right? I just got back from Boston and, I'm walking off the train, the Uber, I could see the car coming, I know exactly how much time before the Uber driver is going to be there. And I think, not to say hailing a ship is like Uber, but just using those sort of tools in your every day makes the gateway for using it in your work life that much easier. Saying that, there are gonna be some things that people are gonna be a little more apprehensive about - sharing certain information, everybody wants to share information, that gets a little tough sometimes, but certainly there is some more information that can be shared.
- Yeah, because I think that you can have the best software in the world but it doesn't mean anything if people don't actually use it. So I think that, speaking to your point, you've been around the software space within maritime for a while, especially as the SaaS culture is building up in a variety of different industries. So, walk me through what the product making process looks like. How do you decide what to build, software-wise, within the maritime industry?
- So, I kind of came in to a company that was in a lot of respects a little bit on the mature side. I came into Q88, we had the product built out, the Q88 itself is a product that was started by the founder Fritz Heiderich over 20 years ago, which was a very basic idea of ship's particulars, the length, the width, all this sort of stuff and putting it into a database so that it could just be updated once and then extracted; and if there's a change in, let's say, an expiration of a certificate, you simply change it rather than have to rewrite it or white it out; so, he basically put stuff in the database 20 years ago and that general concept to say the same for the base product and we have a bunch of other great products. So, I was really fortunate coming in, there was some stability and maturity in those products, but what I kind of was able to do is do some enhancements and other things. And what I think helps is that, being an expert in our target audience, which were ship brokers and then people on the commercial side of the freight business, mostly on the wet, and as we expanded to, maybe at some point the dry - we have a little bit of a dry offering, but who knows what's gonna happen here in the future - but, as I look at it, you're just able to have that expert and to look at stuff and go "oh I really think this could work". And then you have the ability or capability of picking up the phone and calling people and saying "conceptually I have this idea. Is this something that you would use?" "No." "Yes." "Yes, but..." So you're able to kind of do a lot of thinking, and it's a lot of data mining, in the sense of, you look at users, you look at user kind of personas but then you also have your own knowledge to say this could be a really interesting gap that we try to fill through a feature or a piece of technology.
It wasn’t difficult for Chris to raise capital for maritime software. Q88 was funded by itself and then purchased by Veson, and it has a couple of backers, too.
- And so, as you're finding out what software works best for your customers and trying to find, I guess, additional product market fit - what about the funding aspect of it? Is it difficult to raise capital for maritime software?
- So we're really lucky. Q88 was always fully funded by itself, and then we were purchased by Veson and the funding is there, it's public knowledge, we have a couple of backers and they're fantastic. So, in terms of the startup - what I'm kind of seeing, if you just read TradeWinds or Splash to 24/7, or any of those outlets, you do see startups are getting funded, sometimes for smaller amounts, 1.5-2 million dollars, sometimes bigger amounts, 7-8, sometimes for even bigger amounts; it was, I always get this confused, it was either Kepler or Vortexa had a funding for $200 million dollars to just keep going. That's a lot of money. ZeroNorth just got $50 million. So, that's a lot of money. So, I think the money, the interest is out there. It's because some in the space look at us as the Fintech business was, 10-20 years ago that there's a big area for technology to come in. So let's see what happens. But I think, if you have the right idea - not too sure what's going to happen with funding because of interest rates and other things happening - but in general it seems to be a very positive environment. And again, if you can get in front of people who believe your stories, there could be it. In terms of personal, I've been very fortunate to work for Q88 and Veson who are funded extremely well.
Chris thinks keeping, digitizing, and archiving ship certificates into a proper database is very important. Putting them all in a database, maintaining it, and sharing and updating information as you see fit in terms of a new certificate makes photocopying them unnecessary.
- That's a good segue to sort of transfer into what Q 88 does, because you mentioned on your website that it's an information management and software solution for the global maritime transportation industry. Now, from one of the videos that were on the website - I loved this quote because the leadership said "we used to have rooms full of files and we would ship Fedex envelopes, full of papers, all over the world". Now, you're passionate about digitizing the industry. You you join a company that is trying to solve a problem of rooms full of files. So what were the important things that were being kept on these files that you needed to then say "okay, we need to keep these files, or we need to digitize them"? How does that process work when you open up a door and say "okay we need to do something with this"?
- So, that was going back to the original story of how we were built, right? It was those files, it was the ship's certificates, and the stats of the ship in terms of size and specs and stuff like that. And you literally would just have one and then you would just send it off so people would have this. I'm not too familiar about that exact story but basically by putting all that into a proper database, and then being able to maintain that database and then share the information on that database, update the information on that database as you see fit in terms of new dry dock or a new certification certificate, those were things that - you know, you have a certificate of dry dock; okay, you got it from the shipyard, then you had to make a photocopy of it. And if I had to guess that's where that came from, but the point is now, no you scan it, you put it into the file of that ship and you go on, not necessarily a file per se, but then you have access to it. So I think that that's the really big thing that Q88 started with, it was to have - and this was only for tankers. And what happened with Q88 is, we became a little bit of like the Kleenex, or Q-tip of the tanker industry. You had to have a Q88 in order to do a voyage. Period. So if you do a voyage for any of the major oil companies, you have to have a questionnaire 88 form sent, because it has all the specs and has everything people need to see. So, it became a de facto part of the trading process. And then from there we have other products, we have a voyage management system which helps the ship owners manage how much money they're making, billing, invoicing, bunker, how bunkers play in. And then we have a product that I'm accountable for, which is a position list product which we sell to ship brokers and kind of a subset of that which ship owners and charters can use as well. So we've kind of built those products, but really the backbone was this Questionnaire 88, Q88 product.
- Well, not only are you saving offices from being used as a storage system for all of these different sorts of paperwork, but I imagine that saves so much time, and being able to look up different records and things like that very easily, I imagine that solves a lot of those different problems.
- Definitely. It became a huge time saver.
- What about the rest of the industry? Is there anything else, additional forms or things that need to be digitized?
- Yeah, we're looking for ways to do that on the dry side. The dry had less of the requirements. And I think there's gonna be a lot of things, people are looking for the next big frontier, which a lot of discussions - obviously things around emissions, people are, "how do we figure that part out?". Certainly not the liner trade, which you're involved in, which is the container ships and, to a lesser extent, the car carriers, but the trading ships, the tramp trading ships, which is the dry and the wet, how much more on that - you know, I think it's been covered pretty well. But I think as regulations come in - environmental regulations, other regulations - there could be an opportunity to digitize some of that.
- That makes a lot of sense. Especially as more regulations come down, people are gonna have to have a way to manage that, in addition to how they're managing all of their current documents which is, I guess, the crux of any business, is all the paperwork that you got.
- Right, and we have a way on our platform to manage some of the certifications and things like that. So if you have a certificate we can manage that, but there's a few companies that do that. But specifically for the tankers, and that vessel spec, some we've seen where we have 80% of the market. But if you look at the trading ships, the ships that are actually trading, it's a little harder than that - I've heard numbers as high as 92% or something.
- What do you mean by trading ships? Those more like on the commodity side of things?
- No, so there's a bunch of ships, especially older tonnage, that may not necessarily be on our platform. Sanctioned tonnage: not on our platform. So if you look at those ships, we're about 80-85%, but if you take those out of the equation, our number goes up even higher because those ships aren't going to have a Q88, they just do their thing.
- So they're on their own special sort of regulations, take it as your own risk...
- They just do their own thing.
They are very serious when it comes to protecting their data. They conduct cybersecurity training from time to time. The money is in the data, so it must be protected at all costs.
- Speaking of risky things, with all of the data that you guys are collecting and managing, there also is a rise in cybersecurity concerns and things about protecting that data from nefarious actors, but I struggle with trying to find out the motivation behind why someone would want to maybe hack into some maritime data. Do you have any kind of insight on what kind of cyber security precautions that are being taken to protect the data that you're collecting and things like that?
- Well, we take a lot of the very robust things we're protecting on our side and how we do that - we have a whole website about how we protect your data and I know with coming together with Veson they take that seriously. So, there are a couple of ship owners and certainly Liberty Maritime out in Long Island, there's a gentleman by name of Josh Shapiro, and through association with CMA, I've heard him speak, he talks about cybersecurity really, really at a great level because they're ship owners, and those are the people who are concerned about their data being out there, about somebody having a thumb drive, and - y'all guys going to update a piece of equipment, and maybe it's something a little more nefarious than that. And certainly there is a lot of focus on the ship's side, now saying that as I'm talking, everybody at Q88 and at Veson on as well, we do cyber training, we have cyber security training on a regular basis, we have little vignettes we watch about social engineering, about the little fob things, all that stuff - we have training internally, so we're not exposing our data. And Josh gave a presentation talking about that about three or four years ago, it was pre-Covid, talking about how he was working with his folks, not only ashore, but afloat about being really careful, because it used to be a ship would just be its own little island, right? Now with connectivity, with people coming on board to update software, are they doing - so he's a really great source and I've seen what they're doing and they were very vocal about it. But in terms of what Q88 and Veson, not only our platforms are robust, but the people factor.
- Which is very important.
- We have a lot of training, actually and, I guess some people maybe they roll their eyes, but I think it's such an important - I mean our money is the data. Yeah, you better protect it.
- 100% because I think that's something that nobody has really realized, or a lot of people probably haven't realized yet, unless you've gone through some of these trainings, I've heard of cybersecurity teams that set fake spoof emails and, if you click on the link, guess what, you're going to be training.
- Yeah, it's funny, I'll get some of these, especially as we go through this transition of, you know, Veson, and I'll ask like "this isn't right, right?" like no, okay, you know, put the - we have the little phishing tag on the top - we have google - you know, hit and that's effective, it really is. Something you don't think about, it never happens to you until it does. So you know, if you be on your guard, certainly we take a lot of precautions, and I think that more and more companies, even kind of smaller companies, you have to do it, right? Because if, especially, everybody has data and they think that their data is so important and - you gotta protect it.
- Especially the smaller companies, because one wrong move and you're out of business. And that's what we're sort of seeing, with some of those those different hacker issues and things that are going on in the world. It's crazy, but, sort of a necessary evil is to have that constant training against some of these nefarious acts.
- It's great and it's not that difficult. I mean, it's like 20 minutes.
- It really isn't.
- Kind of like, click through, then you answer the questions at the end, "gah, I got that wrong". Get your little certificate, move on with life.
Chris thinks that, as the industry gets younger and people become more comfortable with the usage of newer technology, the saturation of people using them becomes higher.
- Right? And it's all a part of adopting more technology into our day-to-day lives.
- And I think within shipping itself, you know, adopting technology is a little bit of a challenge. You mentioned earlier that it is becoming easier. Do you see that changing, the adoption of technology, do you see that changing in "post-Covid world", even though we're still kind of in it, or do you think that there's still a long way to go for the entire industry to adopt technology?
- Well, I think we have a lot of adoption of technology, it's the saturation, right? It's the "yeah, we'll do this", but then, you were talking about it earlier, "Okay, we have the platform, but I don't use it 100%" or "I don't use it at all". And I think, as the industry gets a little younger, as people become more comfortable, that usage, that saturation level becomes higher. I think we've done a pretty good job about addressing it, about doing things, about assessing different platforms and technology, but I think we have to go past the "only the young women in this office, or young men in the office, use it". No, everybody uses it, right? Maybe to different degrees. Well, I'm the General Manager, I don't need to do input, I just need... But, I think that's where we need to maybe start to focus.
- As we talk about the changing of the tides when it comes to the adopting of technology within the industry, but what about on the flip side of things where this industry is historically - you know, everybody gets together in the office, that there is no remote work. Covid forced everyone to adopt or change their philosophies, in regards to that thinking. Now, you've been on record to say that you embrace remote work within the industry. Why do you think that that's the right move right now?
- Well, look, at the end of the day, I think I embrace remote work for everybody. I mean, with the exception, - okay, my old profession as a ship broker may be a little hard to do. Maybe a little hard to do full time remote, but Friday in the summer? You kind of know nothing's gonna happen, do you really have to go to the office? You could maybe come home. I know one of the broker shops in the UK, they've adopted like a three-day work week. I think it was three days, yeah. And that's permanent. And I believe they're on record - I forgot which one, about a year ago - no, we're going three days a week. Just figure it out, how individual teams work. But I think there's two things: one, it just gives a lot of flexibility to people. Like I said, I do think there are some teams that could benefit from being in person - with any type of industry; the second part is, I do feel that you can hire somebody, or consider somebody, who you would never consider before because they lived four hours away, who aren't going to move. We actually hired somebody at Q88, we are a Connecticut-based company, and he was up in the Rhode Island, and he was the right fit and they hired him. And you could even go so far as to say maybe there are people who are underrepresented in the industry and you want to hire somebody from central America, or from Africa, who checks all the boxes, but they can't move to Houston, or can't move to Denmark, or can't move to Singapore. But they could do their job, they have a connection, they can do their job sitting from home. And I think that will also help - you know, the more diversity, and not just for diversity sake, but the more different types of people you have serving an industry that serves everybody, is actually probably not a bad thing. Maybe I sound too pie in the sky, but that's kind of how I believe it.
- What are some other ways that shipping or maritime can modernize themselves?
- I think it actually goes back to the beginning. What type of technologies, including social media, do you start to educate the future of the business? Not all, but some of the future, who goes through the maritime schools? How can you really modernize their education to then be reflective of what is going on in the future? And I think that that's a really important thing to consider, whether it's social media, having a social media awareness and presence, whether it's understanding what technologies are out there. I know companies are going into the schools and saying "here's our technology, and we want to show you what our technology is" and I think that's really important.
- As if you already don't do enough over it over at Q88, you're also a fellow podcaster and one of your goals is to reach sort of that younger audience and get them interested into this industry. But before I dive into those style of questions, the podcast name I think is interesting. It's called "The Last Dinosaur". How did you come up with that name, and what is the meaning behind it?
- It was a little tongue-in-cheek, and it's just the whole idea idea that our business is one of the last dinosaurs to adopt digital, and I try to explore, not only like "I got this cool idea that's gonna revolutionize" - okay, that's cool. But then also talk about social media, and how social media plays into our business and things like that, so it's the combination of the two, and I think it's pretty interesting and - I'm only into it a couple of months, and it's a good creative - I was talking to somebody the other day and we talk about creative outlets, and I'm like, "yeah, I guess that is a creative outlet". I like talking to people, I like the maritime industry, I don't have a feeling about dinosaurs, but, I just thought it would be really funny to come up with - and the logo, my 10-year-old and I kind of sat down, she did a lot of the drawing, and I had a friend of mine cleaning up digitally, so the logo of like a dinosaur driving on a ship.
- You mentioned social media a couple of times, because now that I'm starting to think about that, I follow a few merchant mariners on different social media platforms, and the content that they are posting is incredible. It's views that I would have never imagined seeing - you know, at the top of a cargo ship, and the middle of the black sea, or a foreign port - over in maybe Singapore or, you know, just these views that I didn't think was possible with a merchant mariner jobs. So the social media angle I think is really interesting.
- Right, and then going back to what we talked about in the beginning, getting people interested in it. Well, how do you do that? Well, that's a cool job or - what would be really cool and I'm sure it exists, I just didn't find it, as somebody who's a container crane operator. You know, I happened to be in Boston, and I could see the container terminal from where I was, you're up whatever you're up, and you're driving that over the ship, droping....
- Oh have you seen the TikToks of that?
- Yeah, I haven't.
- Oh they're great.
- Yeah, I'm sure somebody wakes up and goes "that's what I wanna do".
- It looks like a video game, that's what I think is really exciting. Yeah, because I mean, one guy in particular - I don't know what country he was from, but it wasn't US-based because he had an accent, so he was talking about - the English that I could understand, how he was saying it, and he was maneuvering the controls and he would go live every day operating the crane, and then at one point he said that he was starting to get in trouble because he was getting too much attention from his live videos.
- The other ones which I found effective and, I follow a few of these, are some of these guys are ships' pilots in a couple of ports, and if they do those timelapse videos, and it looks like a video game, right? But I know from my experience, I mean I was never a ship's pilot obviously, but being on the bridge when you take arrival and you come into a port, it's amazing cause it's slow, right? You go 10 knots, but a lot happens, because it's a big ship, little channel, all that good stuff, and they make it look - when you're going 30x speed or whatever it is, it's pretty amazing, actually.
- Yeah I think that's definitely one of the better recruiting tools, is being able to give that social media eye to an industry that, as we said earlier, shipping is the invisible industry, but now they're putting eyeballs on it and I'm sure it's helping recruiting, I'm sure it's helping getting younger people to notice how they even get a job as a merchant mariner. So it's all really exciting stuff.
- Right, and I think that that's the schools - and I'm obviously talking about the US schools, but there are nautical universities all over the world, they could all be doing this and getting the folks in their countries, in particular countries or regions - thinking of the Caribbean maritime, I don't know the proper name of it, but they have a maritime academy in the Caribbean - getting folks there really interested in the industry.
- And that was one of the points that you had said earlier, is that you got involved with the industry by taking a tour and showing up in high school, and that's how you found out that you wanted to join the the industry. Now, since being in maritime for so long, what made you stay in the industry? Because it's one thing to see all that excitement, but to stay in it for close to three decades that you've been in, what has made you stay there?
- So I think there's two parts to that, right? As you're asking the question, the first part is I like to travel, to meet interesting people. That gets to the second part, but I like to travel, get on the road, airports, hotels, not to say I like to do it for like a month, but you know - I was in Greece for Posidonia last week, I was in Boston on a business trip this week. Both equally as fun, both equally as cool, both equally as tiring - a little bit my own fault, but that's okay. So I like doing that. The second part related to the first part is people, I actually like people, I like meeting people from all over, and sharing different views, culturally and viewpoint-wise, it's just wonderful, it's great to sit down and have dinner with somebody, or drink with somebody, or even coffee with somebody, doesn't need to be stronger than that, and just learn about them, hear their problems, especially coming from the software vendor side, how you can figure that out. It's easier to do that face-to-face for sure.
- I think if you want to meet and and travel around the world, the maritime industry is just perfect.
- And I tell this story, when I was a younger ship broker, I wasn't a young ship broker because I was in the business for like 10 years, but when I was starting my ship broking journey, it was a lot of times - the business was done a little differently and, every other year - so it was 2004, 2006 - I went to the Parisian ship brokers party week. Okay, I literally went to Paris for like three days to go to parties. And people were like "you're going to Paris", "yeah", "what are you doing?" Well, I'm gonna meet someone, got like an early dinner and then a big party, and then a breakfast, and then two parties, and then dinner, and then go to the supper club, you know, one of these left bank supper clubs, we have like steak tartares and stuff like that, it's pretty wild, and then having a breakfast and then flying home. "That's work?" Yeah, that's what I do. Even explaining Posidonia, "what do you do in Posidonia?" Going to party. And people who have jobs that are - you know, wonderful jobs - I'm thinking of a friend of mine, she's a licensed social worker, does great work with people who have trauma and other stuff. I like doing this.
- Yeah, it's definitely a job that, once you got in it, you knew right away and you stuck around because of all those different opportunities.
- Look, it is a lot of work, it is a lot of aggravation. It is weekend hours, especially I was doing the brokering, right? You know, ships don't stop on the weekend, right? That's the other part of it. Ships don't stop at the weekend. Ships continue to go, you have a problem you're dealing with, it's Thanksgiving, I remember I was putting a ship on subs, getting a deal together, while I was putting a turkey, or basting a turkey on Thanksgiving.
- That's definitely I think a sign, within all of shipping, all of transportation, you don't necessarily - it's not a 9-to-5, weekends-off kind of job. It has its pros and its cons, as they say.
- Right, and now on the software side it's a little bit less, but then I know if there's a problem my clients have and they're saying "Hey, can you help us with your software?", I know it's not "Oh we'll get to it tomorrow". No, this is not a tomorrow job. This is not like, "Oh I could shut down the billing office and we'll just bill a day later". No, we need to do this today because my ships don't stop.
Stories from the maritime industry
Chris shares his favorite stories from the maritime industry.
- So you've been podcasting for a little while now, you've had a chance to meet people all over the globe and sort of experience those great stories within the industry. Can you share any of your favorite stories that are going on in maritime right now?
- I think the decarb story isn't going anywhere. I certainly think, with the IMO kind of coming out of their meetings - and there's a lot of opinions on that. I don't know if it's a good story or a bad story, but I think it is "a" story. I think, obviously digitization, we kind of talked about that, but that's just happening. And locally here - talk about social media, we talk about this stuff - obviously the cadet from King's Point suing King's Point this week is a big, not necessarily good story, but it is a story that's going to carry a lot of weight for a long time and certainly is something that's impactful, especially in the US, but I think globally, and I think there's gonna be a lot of eyeballs on that.
- Can you break that down for us or for those who aren't familiar with it?
- There was a lawsuit brought against the Merchant Marine Academy from a graduating cadet. And because one of her sea terms there was - I didn't read the whole thing, I didn't get into the, it came out when I was traveling - but there was a sexual, either assault or harassment on the ships, and she came forward publicly and filed a lawsuit. And that is a big deal and it's going have a lot of eyeballs, especially here in the US.
- And I think speaking to the larger issue of that, part of getting more people, recruiting more people to the industry, women are a big part of that. And so. as you recruit more women into the industry, being able to respond to their concerns, and things that happened to them, I'm sure it's just an incredibly important - if it's not already, it will be very soon because of that story, it sounds like.
- Exactly. Exactly. And then, you know, the other thing - not necessarily a good story, but a story - continues to be what's going on in the Ukraine and the outfall of that. Again, I don't want to obviously minimize the humanitarian piece to it, but the change in the trade flows and everything else, certainly keeping the industry very much on its toes from everything from natural gas, to coal being re-fired in parts of the world, to grain flows, to everything, even insurance. So, those are the things that are not necessarily good stories, but certainly stories that are keeping people occupied.
- Yeah because, especially if they're not good stories, but they're still stories that people should be aware of within the industry, that affects all of the stuff that you're buying off of all of these different websites and all of that.
- And I think that both of those aren't going anywhere, they're just gonna have iterations. For both of those stories are gonna be with us for a long time.
- Now, as a podcaster - you're an industry professional, you're paying attention to some of the top stories that are going on within the industry, but you also are really heavily involved with the volunteer side of things. Most notably your time as, well, a little league head coach, and - you're still actually, I think, a little league head coach. And you're serving as, or served as, the Vice-President and President for the Connecticut Maritime Association here in the US. Now, going back to our earlier notes about the getting the younger generation into the maritime industry, with that said, with your little leaguers, how familiar are they with what you do? Do they have a growing interest in it, or they have no idea?
- They have no idea. I coach my 10-year-old's softball team, and some of the girls sometimes start splashing each other, and I go like - guys, look, you know how hard it is to make water on a ship? And they look at me like I'm a funky old guy, which I kind of am, and I have to explain to them "No, you can't drink salt water. So when you're on a ship you actually have to make the water, you have to get rid of the salt so you can drink it". And they they look at me and then they splash each other with water. So, I try to explain to them, 10-year-old's a little bit maybe too young, but they do understand that I work in that part of the industry. With some of the other kids - I have a couple of older kids - and they kind of get that. In terms of the CMA - wonderfully involved with that wonderful organization. I know what we're trying to do with the younger folks is, we're just trying to do more outreach. We have the connected Maritime Association Education Foundation, which now I'm a board member of that, not in a leadership position, and we actually try to promote the maritime industry, not only in Connecticut but in the US and beyond, and they have scholarships that are available, and for, not just the maritime schools, but if you're in high school and you have an interest in maritime. So there are a lot of things that we're trying to do to continue to keep up the interest.
- Because I know, with a lot of associations, they were hit very hard during Covid. A lot of your revenue producing opportunities are really events and networking together. And that was essentially just cut off about a year for a lot of folks. How do you think that associations like the CMA, how are they evolving with the changing tides, or is it just back to normal operations, where you're meeting in person again, or is there a digital strategy along with the in-person strategy?
- So we did try digital. So, the CMA especially is very much a social organization, and is pegged really on a few major events including the CMA trade show in early Spring - late March, early April - and that's our big revenue generator. The smaller events - we have a summer picnic and a golf outing, and these other things - they typically either tend to be loss makers, actually, or they tend to be break-even, somewhere in that ballpark. And our big one is the trade show, and not having a full trade show, we did try some digital on the trade show, it didn't really work. I do think there may be an avenue though, for the trade show especially, will evolve to - let's say if there's somebody that we want to have speak, but he or she can't make it, having them as a floating head as part of a panel, not pre-recorded, but like this, sitting in their office, somewhere in Rotterdam or Singapore or wherever, and being part of a panel and getting that extra kind of lift from a real quality person I think is gonna be more acceptable in the future.
- For sure, because I think that that's what a lot of associations are gonna have to adopt, is more of that, you know, with workplace is evolving into hybrid work models, associations as well play a vital role in recruiting young people to our industries that we feel so passionate about.
- Right, and I think especially with the CMA - it's such an in-person event, like Posidonia was last week. I didn't sit in on a ton of the conferences, but it seemed like there was a ton of people there. I don't know if they had any floating heads that couldn't be there for various reasons, but I would imagine that, yeah, you'd have to take that. I do think, though, there is a place for some - you know, if you have, let's say five or six launches a year, and maybe make them, you know - the one in february where it gets snowed out half the time anyway, talking about being in the Northeast - you have that digital, right? And you try to get 50 or 60 people show up on a digital conference, especially if you can get a high end person, people will show up. And then on a semi-personal note, we had all of our board meetings, every one of mine, happened to be digital. I tried one and then it got snowed out, in-person, but so what does that do? Well, that gives the same type of flexibility, and less rigidness, to getting board members, right? You may have a board member that has a young family. I can't spend four hours after work. I can spend an hour and a half out of work because I could hold Junior right here, help my wife and take a break and walk the dog or whatever and then come back to the meeting. So I think there's a place in that for sure. And again, it doesn't have to be every month a virtual meeting, but I think there's gonna be a lot more places for that.
Future of the maritime industry
Chris predicts that the maritime industry will continue with hybrid technology in 5-10 years. He thinks the industry will get younger and garner interest from people who have never been involved in it in the first place.
- So we've talked about how trade associations have evolved and how work place solutions have evolved, even from the technology side, to the hybrid work models. What do you think the maritime industry looks like in 5 to 10 years? Is it continuing these hybrid technology adoptions? Is it something else? What's your prediction?
- I tend to think it's going to continue to be these hybrids again, I think that, for the commercial side probably gonna tend to go back to the old ways. I do think though a model of having a split remote - you know, hey, I don't need to be there five days as a trader. I could be there four days, or three days. Yeah, some days and then I could sit with the rest of the group. I think it's gonna get younger. I think we're gonna get more interest from different people who have never been involved in the industry. You know, there's a lot of smart people who are doing some smart stuff and I think you need to get them in the industry, ant they may not have been interested before, but now they should be, and we should really foster that kind of youth movement and, not necessarily diversity for diversity's sake, but just get people because it's a great industry and I want to share. I want that to be shared with anybody who has an interest
- What advice would you give to the newcomers, the entrepreneurs who may not know nothing about maritime, but might have a little passing interest?
- Ask questions, reach out. There's tons of people - reach out, get yourself involved in - okay, cheesy plug - like CMA, right? CMA I think charges 100 bucks for membership. Come on. A student. I think it's 40 bucks, I mean. So a year - not a month, not a week, a year. So get yourself involved in that. If you're down in Houston or these other places, tons of things that you - YoungShip Texas. I know CMA is doing a lunch-in with them, or drinks with them at one point. All these different opportunities to learn and listen. It's certainly just following people on LinkedIn, I mean, you can follow a ton of people. We talked about ships' captains, this and that, ask questions because people who post content love it when you ask questions, right? I mean, you post content - somebody says, "hey, great podcast", Thanks a lot. You know, whatever - they love that stuff. But I think the other part of this is people who are industry, like myself, be open to mentoring people. It doesn't have to be full term, like, okay, today, this is what I did in my mentor job. But I met a couple of people in Posidonia, young folks, I'm like, hey, give me a call if you need questions. I'm always here, I could point you in the right direction. "Really?" Like, yeah, I'll just help you, because I think that's the way it's - a lot of people have that in place because my father was in it, and my aunt was in it, my uncle was in it, but there's a lot of people just like it, like myself, and you need a little bit of a mentor, a little help. Somebody say "that's okay, don't worry about it". That's how I look at it.
- Very well said, seek out education and that's exactly what you will find.
- Especially now, especially with all the info, there's no excuse if you really want to look for it.
- 100%. Alright Chris, where can folks follow more of your work? Q88, your podcast, all that good stuff.
- Yeah, mostly on LinkedIn. Just check me out. I do post lost stuff that we're doing, when we have some great content on Q88, certainly with the evolution with Veson, we're gonna be just really excited because it's a wonderful growth opportunity, not only for the company, but also for our clients. I'm really excited about some of the ideas that we have percolating, not only just for my product but for the whole product. And then obviously "The Last Dinosaur" will keep roaring along, I have two right now that are almost finishing editing, and I'm doing an interview on Monday, so I'll have a few here. We have the monday off for Juneteenth, so I'm gonna take a little advantage of that.
- Well, awesome. Well perfect. Everybody, I highly encourage - go subscribe "The Last Dinosaur", check out more of the maritime industry, and be open to asking questions and joining the different associations that exist all throughout the sphere. Alright, Chris, thank you so much for your time, I really enjoyed this conversation on how we can really take this industry several steps forward, even though you've been along for that ride and helping to bring the industry forward with digitization. So, appreciate your time and thank you again.
- Thank you for having me, I much appreciate it, it was a great interview. Thank you so much.
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