Frequent readers of this blog will know that there's a special place reserved on Knots and Boats for entrepreneurial ventures in the marine world. One such venture is led by Greg Kutsen, one of the younger entrepreneurs I've had the good fortune of discovering while meandering through the Annapolis boat show last Fall.
His company, Mantus Anchors, it poised to compete with every other anchor out there, as evidenced by his impressive video library showing comparison tests between his designs and the titans of anchoring we’ve all come to know well. Coupled with a keen understanding of today’s best-practices in marketing – including great ad designs, a slick website, and a dedication to video assets – he and his products are coming onto the marine scene in a remarkable way.
Below is an interview with Greg about his products, his business, and his vision for the future.
K+B: What made you want to enter the marine business in the first place?
Greg: It was part serendipity and part destiny. I had taken a year off work to embark on a sailing adventure. During this cruise to South America, I became frustrated with the uncertainty one feels while anchored and simultaneously grew more fascinated with anchor designs. I started making plywood mock-ups and testing them on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia. I would compare my mock-ups in performance to the steel anchors I borrowed from cruisers. The common joke I heard, from neighbors at Club Nautico was: “Greg, you do know plywood anchors will not sink, right?”
I then made several steel prototypes. It was when I got back to the US that I finalized the design. I met Deneen, who later became my girlfriend, and she motivated me to learn CAD software. Also, she was very supportive with engineering advice and, maybe even more importantly, supportive of my fanatical schedule and work ethic (i.e. obsession). It was my mates at the marina that convinced me to try to market the idea. I had imagined starting an anchor company, but it was hard to justify since I am a full time Emergency Room doctor. After some serious sacrifices, Mantus Anchors LLC was born.
K+B: Do you have a business background?
Greg: I did take some high school business classes and enjoyed them, but I do not have any formal training in business, which I think would have been a great help. Nevertheless we learn as we have to everyday.
K+B: How did you come to the US originally? What is your story?
Greg: My family emigrated from Moscow, Russia (former Soviet Union) in 1989. We were lucky because at this time Soviet Union was a closed country and we were only able to leave because we are Jewish. During this time, small number of Jews were allowed to leave Russia. I was 12 years old when we left and I believe it was a very formative time in my life. We left with the visa to go to Israel but, as was common, we changed the destination to the United States when we landed in Vienna, Austria, where we spent a month before moving to the small town of Netuno, in Italy.
In Netuno we lived for 13 months while we waited to see if the United States would grant us a Green Card. My little brother Phillip (current Director of Operations at Mantus Anchors) was 1 month old at the time, and I learned some serious responsibilities taking care of Phil. At this time everyone in the family worked: Mom as a translator at the hospital, Dad at the market selling our Russian possessions and my older brother Mike and me on the street washing windshields for tips.
K+B: Are you a boater? If so, power or sail? Can you describe what boating means to you?
Greg: We own a 38 foot Ericson, a sailboat named Coconut. To me boating is time on the water, and I cherish nothing more than time on the water. I love everything about it, including dealing with seasickness if you can believe it!
K+B: What are some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your business?
Greg: Time management. Given my full time career in medicine, starting a marine business was a totally crazy idea. Finding the time to do it and try to do both things well, I still find very challenging. Also, constant doubt. Am I absolutely crazy? I have a good job that I spent 12 years training for, and I have zero experience in engineering or startups. Should I risk everything I have on this crazy venture? Will I look like a fool to my friends and family? Seriously, an Anchor Manufacturer?
K+B: Can you describe a low point in your business and how you dealt with it?
Greg: I think the lowest point came 2 years into the venture; I had spent all my savings on the business and was working 120-hour weeks. At this time we were trying to manufacture (cast) our Mantus Hooks here in the USA. We contracted with a local casting house here in Texas. After paying $60,000 for tooling and $20,000 for the first run, the casting house declared bankruptcy and the tool they made came to us deformed and not functional. This was a really hard time for us, and really questioned my resolve.
K+B: What was the opportunity you saw with marine anchors, and how is your product fulfilling that opportunity?
Greg: Even though there a number of good anchors on the market, I thought there still was a performance gap. I thought we could make an anchor that would virtually guarantee a set. In other words, make an anchor that would set the first time, every time, regardless of the bottom type. I think we did it, and I am really happy with the final product and the feedback we are getting from our customers.
K+B: In your opinion, what does the future of boating look like?
Greg: I think there are a lot of things to be excited about. There is innovation happening almost in every sector. Hulls are getting lighter and are now incorporating foils; electric propulsion is getting more practical; and of course the new digital technology is making things fun, but also making boating much safer. As these products increase the feeling of security and safety, boat owners are more willing to spend longer stretches of time on their boat and venture further from home, thus growing the cruising community.
K+B: What's next in your product line?
Greg: Chain swivels are generally known to be the weakest link in the anchoring system due to their susceptibility to be side loaded. We are developing really cool chain swivel design that will finally be the strongest link - easy to service and very affordable. We are excited about it.
K+B: If you could send a message to other entrepreneurs about starting/running a business, what would it be?
Greg: Be ready to endure, but in the end it is worth it!
If you’re in the market for an anchor, I highly recommend a visit to MantusAnchors.com to check out the product lineup, which now features a plethora of products that support and assist anchors and anchoring in elegantly functional solutions. When you order, be sure to ask for the anchor-shaped bottle opener as well – because, let’s face it, anchoring always comes with a cold reward at the end of a beautiful day on the water.