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Social media site dedicated to boaters

08_mediasite_01Two New England business partners plan to register more than 1 million users on TheOpenSea.com

TheOpenSea.com, a social networking site designed for mariners, sprang from an entrepreneur's passion for boating and the need he saw for more direct communication between recreational boaters and the marine industry.

"I thought of the tagline, 'We're all in the same boat' - because we are," says Gary Druckenmiller Jr., the site's co-founder. "We're all undergoing a tough time right now in this economy. Why not have a way to connect and help each other?"

TheOpenSea went live in May 2009, and it has been steadily growing. As of September, the site had 12,144 consumer members and 706 business members.

08_mediasite_02"Ultimately we want 1 million users," Druckenmiller says.

People who visit the site can sign up by clicking the orange "Come Aboard" button on the home page, and then create a personal profile, a marine profile, and even a profile for their boat - one they either own or work on commercially.

Members can post photos, create a personal network, chat, and create a log, as well as view other users' information, publicize events or post an ad for crew. Boaters and manufacturers can even chat with one another. Plans to turn the venture profitable include on-site advertising, site sponsorships available to businesses and premium memberships.

Ease of use was important to Druckenmiller, 38, and co-founder I. Todd Russell, 44.

"I thought if small marine businesses could latch onto the power of the Internet and be able to connect with other customers without the confusion of Facebook, which is so broad, it could help the industry a great deal, but also give recreational boaters a home, so to speak," Druckenmiller says.

Druckenmiller says the idea for TheOpenSea came to him in 2007 when he decided that he wanted to combine his work life with his passion for boating. He currently owns a 26-foot Sea Ray Sundeck.

"I saw the success of Facebook, and then LinkedIn, and I thought, 'Why can't we have something like that, but home in on the marine niche?' " says Druckenmiller, a Hartford, Conn., resident who grew up on the waters off New York's Long Island.

"The first boat I had was a 17-foot Larson bowrider that we cruised out of Jamesport on the North Fork," Druckenmiller says. "I had a Laser and a Sunfish I sailed, and later my dad upgraded to a 26-foot Carver Montego that allowed us to head out to Block Island and do more exploring."

Druckenmiller has a bachelor's degree in marketing from Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., and he has worked for Westerbeke Corp., Swiss Army Brands and Timex, developing their Web presence and honing the skills that helped him launch TheOpenSea.com.

Druckenmiller and Russell met at a marketing agency they both worked at in Avon, Conn., in 2007. Russell has worked extensively in marketing for 15 years and is an avid boater who splits his time between his home in Avon and his hometown of Balboa, Calif. When Russell visits California, he sails with his father on a 75-foot Pedrick custom sloop the family owns. He is a member of the Newport Harbor Yacht Club in Balboa, Calif.

"Gary and I are the perfect balance - with his background in Internet and mine in full-service communications, Gary handles strategy and I form alliances and manage the overall operation [of the site]," Russell says.

The site is a member of the National Marine Manufacturers Association and an official partner of the Association of Marina Industries.

"Having AMI as a partner is a pretty big deal for us," Druckenmiller says. "It allows us to work closely with marinas and boatyards in gaining membership and strengthening their networking."

Druckenmiller says they would like to continue to align themselves with major associations in the industry in addition to NMMA and AMI to spread the word about their site to its members, as well as offer educational and consulting services to bring businesses up to speed with marketing in the digital realm.

"Ultimately, we'd like boaters and manufacturers to be able to join the site, and then buy products and services from businesses without ever having to leave TheOpenSea," says Druckenmiller. "There are so many small businesses that don't want to have the complicated process of building their own site. The truth is, the entire marine industry is about five years behind everyone else. We need to close the gap between technology and the marine community."

For information, visit www.theopensea.com.

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.

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