This article appeared in ForbesLife, which has an entire section devoted to planes and boats.
If Lamborghini Made Boats, They’d Probably Look Like This
By Amy Guttman
If Lamborghini made boats, they’d probably look like the Hedonist, an elegant, highly styled, but not over-the-top, 63 foot yacht. The brainchild of Serbian entrepreneur Boris Ivanovic; the boat is powered by Rolls Royce water jets, propelling capturing speeds of up to 40 knots. An African mahogany hull gives the Hedonist its look, which is sleek with a capital S.
Ivanovic only set up his yacht company, Art of Kinetik four years ago, but already, he’s turned heads in the ultra-luxury space, as well as the yachting world. With a background in civil engineering, a childhood lived all over the world, including high school and college in America; Ivanovic was first successful with telecoms startups in Sweden. Later, he and a former classmate from MIT partnered to form Hyperoptic, credited with bringing high-speed broadband to the UK. He still has a hand in the business, dividing his time between London and Belgrade, but now, the 44-year old is pouring time into a business close to his heart.
“Broadband is a utility. A powerboat is the ultimate boy toy and it’s a luxury boy toy. We want to make money, but that’s not the primary idea. The idea is to make the best and most beautiful boat in the world. Every little piece is a work of art and requires hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours to create.”
Hand-sanded hulls take 10-15 thousand man-hours. All of that labor does pay off. Wherever AOK boats dock, scores of people gather to drool and take pictures, and Ivanovic gets calls from all over the world from interested enthusiasts. They’re exactly the kind of yachts that give pause to wonder which oil magnate, or Sultan might own it, for they, and members of dynastic clans are the clientele demographic. With a price range of just over half a million dollars for a 30 foot boat, to about 4-million dollars for a yacht stretching 65 feet, they’re practically the only ones who can afford them.
The cost may be staggering, but there’s good reason for it. The entirely customized yachts can take up to a year to craft, with every detail accounted for, including ergonomics. If a component doesn’t match Ivanovic’s vision, his engineers will make it.
“It took 9 months to do one Captain’s chair. We wanted a lot of design, a lot of ergonomic analysis, trial and error. We’ve actually been asked by a lot of people to make that chair for their office because they’ve never seen one like it.”
There’s little doubt Ivanovic’s boats are well received, but Art of Kinetik has had to overcome two major challenges. The vessels are designed, engineered and manufactured in a small boatyard in, of all places, Belgrade. Persuading high-paying customers to pay millions for a boat built in a land-locked country isn’t an easy sell. It’s a far easier task for neighbours like Croatia, with its position on the Adriatic, where Ivanovic frequently tests his boats. But, Ivanovic was convinced it would work even after his own initial scepticism.
“I wanted to buy a boat, but I couldn’t find one that I really liked. A friend mentioned his Godfather is involved in a little shipyard in Belgrade and they’re making these amazing mahogany boats. I completely discounted it, thinking, it can’t be anything I would like if it’s made in Belgrade, but he said, no you have to see it, its amazing. “
Ivanovic met his friend’s Godfather, and in typical startup fashion, the two stayed up until 4am drawing designs on a napkin. The inspiration for came from Riva, the Italian boat-maker Sophia Loren made famous in the 50s and 60s. They were all wood, and were often compared with another fine Italian machine – Ferrari. Eventually, the company was acquired and switched to plastic boats.
“The idea was to interpret how Riva would look in the 21st century if it continued with its traditions of making wooden boats. Riva is a classic, but retro design and people forget that originally Riva’s design was actually very modern and progressive. It was a classic shape that ages well, so we thought, what would the 21st century equivalent look like? We set up a factory, bought machines in Italy and decided to do everything in Serbia.”
The materials, the look and the style of AOK yachts may bear some resemblance to Riva, but trends change. These days, it’s often the boat with the greatest speed and state of the art technology that wins over the jet set. Ivanovic says AOK’s fleet is definitely not for everyone, even among those who can afford them.
“A wooden boat is one of the main elements of our concept, but we tied it with a modern design. These principles are in conflict, because usually people who like wood prefer the classic ‘retro’ design, and those who love modern design will want carbon, Kevlar or another composite. We are aware of the contradiction.”
Ivanovic’s boats are also the wrong choice for ultra high-net-worths who place a high value on recognizable brands. AOK is making a name for itself, but it’s not a well-known name, yet. A typical client, Ivanovic says, embraces individuality, goes beyond brands, and shares the AOK philosophy of yachts as floating art. But, as Ivanovic points out, perfection costs money, a lot of it.
After four years in business, AOK has made just seven boats – a production ate of two boats per year. But Ivanovic isn’t worried. After all, broadband may earn him a living, but boats are his passion.
“We don’t really make money. I invested a lot into it and don’t expect a return, because I’m getting a different kind of pleasure from it. Money, for me, is less about the power of what you can buy, but more about the freedom to do what you want to do.”
And, Ivanovic says, if after a few more years, AOK doesn’t break even, he’ll pack it in and get back on his Vespa, another beautiful boy toy.
Original article here.