In 2011, James Tsuei, a scuba diver enthusiast, decided to plan a vacation and get his Open Water Diver certification, an entry-level autonomous diver certification for recreational scuba diving. But the process of planning and finalising the trip took a whole month, which consisted of hours of internet searching for suitable destinations and finding the right dive operator, along with multiple postings on dive forums looking for advice.
“There wasn’t any centralised information resource on the internet for scuba trip planning, and all dive-related bookings required a long emailing back-and-forth process with clarifying details to accomplish,” Tsuei tells e27. “I saw a business opportunity here, and this led us to founding Deepblu, which aims to solve problems associated with dive trip planning and booking.”
As per some estimates, there are currently about six to eight million active divers (defined as people who make three or more diving sessions each year), and dive trips are big investments. Divers spend an average of US$1,000 on equipment and certification, and then even more money on dive shops (businesses run by dive professionals who provide training and tours), flights and accommodation. However, information about diving (destinations, quality of dive operators, etc) are all very fragmented online with no central location to assist divers with their trip planning process.
Founded in 2015, Taipei-headquartered Deepblu brings resources for divers onto a centralised platform. In addition to a social network for divers to share dive logs and photos with other enthusiasts, the startup also offers a Bluetooth-enabled dive computer, called COSMIQ. A wristwatch-like device, COSMIQ lets divers track and calculate important information, such as when they need to take a decompression stop.
“Divers can capture and record their dive experiences through the COSMIQ device. They can also capture all of their precious dive memories under their Deepblu profile stored in the cloud. It also enables them to share their dive adventures through social media posts on Deepblu with location tags,” he explains.
Divers are also able to ask questions or exchange opinions in the discussion groups on the social networking platform.
Recently, the startup rolled out Planet Deepblu, an interactive dive travel booking and planning tool. “Planet Deepblu is a marketplace, where dive shops can list their services on the platform, and divers can chat directly with dive shop owners, making for a personal experience. We position it as the ‘Airbnb for diving’,” he adds.
According to Tsuei, Planet Deepblu enables users to research thousands of dive spots throughout the world. The platform has accumulated over hundreds of thousands of user generated content (UGC) shared by its users about dive destinations including dive data, dive spot reviews, photos, and videos covering over 10,000 dive sites around the globe.
“Planet Deepblu already has over 500 dive experiences for scuba divers to discover and book directly with dive operators. Divers can directly contact the dive operators through the in-platform messaging feature to learn more about their services and book their trip,” he shares.
While the current focus is the North American market, the company plans to quickly scale Planet Deepblu to cover Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific, which has the world’s most stunning dive sites.
Tsuei claims that the niche scuba diving market has a considerable economic scale. The total global spending in recreational scuba diving and snorkeling was around US$25-30 billion in 2017. The largest piece of the average diver’s spending on scuba activities outside of scuba travel-related expenses (transportation, lodging and meals) is on dive experiences, which is approximately 30 per cent of the total pie. This is the focused business of Planet Deepblu.
As of now, Planet Deepblu is a free-to-use platform. In future, as it matures, it will pivot into a commission model, wherein it will take a cut from booking transactions. The firm also plans to expand to a wider audience by moving into other water activities like snorkeling to earn additional revenues.
Deepblu recently raised US$3.9 million from Silverlink Capital, which helped it to bring COSMIQ to the market and build the Deepblu social platform. It is now raising its second pre- Series A and looking for strategic investors that will be able to help us to develop Planet Deepblu and its services to the next stage.
Currently, US based users account for the the largest user base for Deepblu, followed by China.
In the scuba dive booking space, Deepblu competes with PADI. But unlike PADI, Tsuei claims, Deepblu does not just provide a limited selection of expensive live board experience, but all kinds of diving experience such as wreck diving, shark diving, cave diving and even dive experiences for physically challenged divers.
“In emerging market like China and Southeast Asia, scuba diving is perceived as a trendy sport amongst young professionals and a great way to explore the world. We hope to leverage this trend to grow our platform,” he concludes.