Student making waves with watersports start-up
Oil and water aren’t normally a good combination, but in Clemson University sophomore Christian Vizethann’s case, both appear to be playing a role in his career path.
Christian Vizethann filled a need for a watersports service on New York’s Lake George, and it’s paying off.
“I’m a grease monkey at heart,” the mechanical engineering major from Cornwall, N.Y., said. “Ultimately, I’d someday like to own a business customizing high-performance vehicles.”
Meantime, the 19-year-old is focusing on engineering August through May and making waves in the summertime with a business he started in 2014 on Lake George in eastern New York State.
Ski Air Watersports was born mid-summer in 2014 by Christian and his father. It’s a “white glove” watersports charter business that caters to recreational water skiers, wakeboarders, tubers and wake surfers.
“The idea for Ski Air Watersports came out of a void we identified on Lake George,” Christian said. “There wasn’t a recreational service on the lake that provided tubing, so we saw the niche and filled it pretty well.”
The business was a natural for Christian, who had spent most of his early years becoming very skilled at many of the services his start-up offers tourists on the 32 mile-long lake. “My family had a vacation home near the lake, so we spent a lot of time on the water. We had all the boats, the equipment and know-how, so we gave it a shot.”
Christian, a member of Clemson’s waterski team, bought his family’s ski boat, a Ski Air Nautique boat, considered a premium watersports vessel. For 2015 the business expanded, purchasing a 2nd boat, a 226 Air Nautique, to handle an expected increase in business. As the business owner, Christian pays all expenses, including maintenance, fuel, dock, and licensing fees, insurance and advertising.
Fees for the watersports, or simple lake tours, range from $150 to $175 per hour, which includes instruction, equipment and even transportation to and from the lake. “When you consider we made more than 300 ‘runs’ last summer, it adds up to a lot of money,” Christian said.
Ski Air Watersports’ revenue grew 300 percent in its second summer of business and, Christian says, even with the overhead, profits were almost 60 percent of the business’s gross. The demand for his services is such that a third boat may be purchased for next summer and he’ll enlist the services of his brother and sister to handle the additional workload.
Many customers have been drawn to Ski Air Watersports by word of mouth, and Christian credits some of his marketing strategies as the biggest customer magnet.
“Being a member of the local chamber gets us in their publications, but our best advertising comes from customers on TripAdvisor.” Christian created a membership to TripAdvisor, which bills itself as the world’s largest travel website. The positive customer experiences not only brought business but TripAdvisor ranks Ski Air Watersports as Lake George’s No. 1 outdoor recreational activity.
Christian is a resident of Clemson IDEAS Living-Learning Community in the Stadium Suites, where students eat, sleep and breathe entrepreneurism. He sees his experience in starting a business as being helpful to others participating in the business school program.
“I’m in a good position to share what I’ve learned with others in the LLC. It’s an environment where we learn from each other by sharing ideas and experiences.”
Ten years from now, Christian envisions making a living from under the hood of a car rather than at the helm of a speedboat. But the speedboat may help get him the business he dreams of starting.
“I’ve always had a mechanical aptitude and have enjoyed tricking out two of my own vehicles,” Christian said. “I could see my seasonal business earnings used as start-up capital for a business that builds out high-performance vehicles. Spending my summers on the water may be a way of getting there.”