Georgina Gavin, Sales and Marketing Director, VesselValue.com UK
Inspiring Women Series
Our journey to find inspiration from successful women in business brings us to the London offices of VesselsValue.com, where Georgina Gavin leads a team of shipping industry experts helping to automate the complex and often obscure world of billionaire ship owners, banks and international commerce.
VesselsValue (VV) provides real-time valuations for those massive ships that transport everything around the globe from oil and gas, to food, retail and farm products. It's a high-stakes business with vessels listed in the tens of millions of dollars; values that are assured one day and fugitive the next, as market conditions and quiet deals are underwritten, once again changing the reckoning. It's always been a somewhat subjective process historically undertaken by the brokers, after conversations among buyers, owners, and banks.
VV was the first company to automate ship valuation. It's similar to what Zillow is for homes (Zoopla in the UK) in that home valuations are based upon criteria such as comparables, with a heavier emphasis on recent transactions.
"The reason we wanted to create the industry's first automated valuations is because then it becomes an objective valuation, and a very transparent valuation with a methodology behind it." Georgina said many of the owners feel ship valuation is an art, but art leaves open the door to interpretation. VesselsValue virtually eliminates the subjectivity by working round the clock to track actual vessel sales. "We felt there was a real gap, not just for online, instant information, but also for a really objective valuation."
By sourcing VV, you will get the same answer for how much the ship is worth as the ship's owner, as the insurer, the underwriter, lender or whoever it may be. "There are lots of different people in the industry who need to know how much the ship is worth today.
The fact of the matter is, particularly in the difficult market we've been in, traditional broking houses who have always issued valuations, have had a bit of a tough time because owners wanted their ships to be worth a certain amount of money and it's difficult for brokers who don't earn their money by issuing valuations, they earn their money by buying and selling vessels for the owners. It's important to keep up those relationships." It's likely the large broking houses don't mind VV being in the space because it relieves some of the pressure.
Though VesselsValue offers objective valuations, Georgina emphasized they do indeed listen to the owners, who understand their ships better than anyone. "They aren't always happy with the valuations, but VesselsValue won't adjust them." That confidence in their databases and analytical teams is what makes VV such a vital resource for the industry. In a world with such a rich history, VV has found a berth from which to launch this important big-data platform.
"The owners provide us with feedback on the technical information of a particular vessel and we are grateful for their views and expertise on the commercial market." Just as homes have attributes that differentiate them, so do vessels have unique technical features that may have an impact on the vessel's ultimate selling price.
VesselsValue isn't just a listing of ship values. As Georgina describes it, "We are also providing a lot more market data and intelligence wrapped around that, to really allow people to get the full story themselves, without having to pick up the phone and call around their network."
VV is an industry-centric operation. The players in the industry know what they are looking for as they navigate the site, and pay a subscription for access to this data. "The information is recalibrated every night, so we are providing you with real-time data as best as we possibly can."
Each night the company receives millions of lines of relevant sales and market data, including satellite feeds that track vessels. Their model makes adjustments for age, size, features of the vessels, what it looks like, "so it's vessel-specific. It's not a benchmark value, it's a specific value."
That specific information is what VV calls a Feature Score, "That's where the art of valuation comes into play. What someone is willing to pay today, that premium or discount, can change tomorrow. We're constantly working on maintaining our databases and how we should score the ships." That's a remarkable feat considering the scope and complexity of the industry.
Transparency, objectivity and data drive the model but, "There is inevitably going to be the human heuristic input into this. We gather information from brokers, charterers, ship owners, classification societies, insurers. We speak to as many people as we possibly can to make sure we're on-the-money when it comes to treating a ship in a certain way."
VesselsValue helps insiders see the big picture and regional market influences. They can then home in on individual ships and their sales data, in almost a predictive way. In the past a ship would be sold, then weeks would pass before another similar vessel was sold. That's when valuations were adjusted. VesselsValue helps to fill in those dark periods between sales, with relevant data that facilitates the valuing process.
Shipping is "so volatile" that one particular piece of the calculation is constantly changing, that is, what a ship is actually earning on the water. VV's process accounts for these variables.
Georgina finds that, more and more, the data published by VV helps to influence the calculus of negotiations. I suspect it aids in transparency in a way that wasn't available before VV was started by the CEO and founder, Richard Rivlin.
VesselsValue moved into the realm of big data two years ago with the launch of their first AIS Satellite product called VV@. Big data indeed. "I think we receive about fourteen or fifteen million rows of Excel a day of raw, what we call 'messy data' from the satellite owners. We clean it up, analyze it, manipulate it, feed it into our existing databases of sales and ships and all the other things we store, then our team can start to do much more sophisticated analytics. We can feed into our analysis macro trends that are influencing supply and demand."
VV tracks some 33,000 vessels, on the water, in ports and in shipyards. They can look at a specific ships, or on the quantitative side, look at segments and types.
"We can see all vessels, even at deep sea. We can combine terrestrial data with what the ships are actually doing. We can analyze trade flows and advise owners on fleet management."
Georgina studied politics at university and made the transition from to shipping after meeting the charismatic founder. "No one was doing what Richard was talking about so I was very excited to be a part of it. The challenge in the beginning was convincing those who saw shipping as an art that a machine could be a useful, accurate, and vital tool. We can demonstrate our accuracy from our valuations leading up to the day of the sale."
VesselsValue acquires information about sales well before we read about it in the press. This is a critical component of their success. The broker/charterer/owner network knows about these deals first, and the real deal behind them. VV gets this current information from a sister company, Seasure Shipbroking Ltd, another creation of Mr. Rivlin's.
"I have to be open-minded, every day. There are a few key people who have been here from the beginning. We are going to make mistakes, but we're not hell-bent on sticking to what we decided the day before. We are growing rapidly because we are always open to trying something else. We want to change some of the traditional processes, so we are willing to change, adapt and push boundaries."
Georgina and her colleagues are immersed in the jobs they love and the broader shipping market. "It gives us great credibility to be as informed as we possibly can be. We're constantly thinking about what we can do better or how we can sell it better. We're probably beyond being a start-up at this point but we still have that culture, challenging and innovating. It doesn't matter how long someone has been with the company; their opinion matters and we will implement a new idea, regardless of who presented it.
VesselsValue will be releasing new, groundbreaking products, further expanding the use of the AIS satellite data and analytics. "The valuations at VesselsValue.com is the heart of what we do. Right now we're the only ones doing it and that may not last forever. I'm very keen to make sure we don't sacrifice on the quality of that service."
"When we started VesselsValue we were quite male-heavy, but it just so happens that we've naturally balanced out and now we're roughly 50/50. That wasn't a conscious decision, it just worked out. You can't generalize and say men provide this quality or women provide that, but by having a fairly equal balance of men to women you're more likely to have a nice balance of qualities."
The company is also working with the local community in their new office on the Isle of Wight, where the CEO is from. "The IOW is a county that suffers from high unemployment and there are few opportunities for young people who want to stay on the island, so VV is doing recruitment drives in the area and exposing local young people to the possibilities a company like VesselsValue can offer.
We just need to promote our business more to show women this is a really great industry to be a part of. I get to travel and meet the most interesting people, especially the shipping families. The industries that seem shiny and glamorous aren't always like that and I absolutely try to make people open-minded about looking for careers in different industries. I'm very passionate about that.
We are a flexible company, willing to be brave with our decisions. We are constantly pushing ourselves, and developing quickly. We are ahead of the game and plan to stay there."
VV is moving into a new office in June, so stay tuned for more developments from this ambitious, cutting-edge company.
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Joe Hefferon is a writer and retired police captain living in Toms River, New Jersey. He has recently completed a novel, The Unlost, due out in 2015. Hefferon is a regular guest writer and has published a series of articles featuring inspiring women.