Why I Joined Voyager Portal: From Kings Point, to sailing and onto maritime tech

By Robbert Kessler

Featured photo of Bob on the USNS Pollux engine Control room during Operation Desert Storm

How it began

My entire adult life has been around ships. I attended the United States Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point for those in the know) and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Engineering.  For ten years I sailed on ships and worked ashore ensuring vessels were running as effectively as possible.  I moved into maritime software and over the next 15 years, I brought value to my customers through digitization of legacy systems.  When I reflect on my past experience, I always seek to make things better. From digitizing handwritten requisitions to ensuring I bring value to every customer interaction, Optimization and Waste Reduction are the common threads of my career

Digitization means creating and curating a comprehensive data set related to a specific asset or evolution, regardless of its source (e.g. paper, email, excel spreadsheets, ERPs, etc).  Comprehensive data is a powerful tool, it can deliver timely operational insight.  It can drive strategic decisions, however it is difficult to attain.

Incredibly, even with more than 15 years of digitizing, the market behaves much like it did 200 years ago.  We still find bills of lading, logs and statements of fact which are handwritten.  Deals are struck based on relationships and experience primarily because much of the data necessary to inform decisions is trapped in places that cannot be leveraged.

Why Voyager Portal?

The bulk shipping markets are complex and require many stakeholders from different companies to communicate and coordinate.   The lack of visibility and collaborative tools brings massive waste.  Voyager’s mission perfectly aligns where my passion lies: “advance the bulk shipping market towards a zero waste and a transparent marine supply chain”

Voyager Portal isn’t my first start up experience, that was at PortVision where I met my two mentors, Dean Rosenberg, Founder and CEO and Andreas Schenk, CRO. I was very lucky to be an instrumental part of a team that identified a market, delivered an innovative solution, and grew our customer base by 500% in 2.5 years.  Our success was down to putting our customer’s success first.  Ultimately PortVision’s success garnered the attention of Oceaneering which acquired PortVision 3 years after I joined.  

When I was researching Voyager Portal, I was intrigued by the low code workflow modeling and became excited when I saw how flexible it really was.  During my sales career, one of the customer concerns I could answer in my sleep was:  “Your system doesn’t meet all of our needs”  My answer was:  “You are right, and unless you want to invest in a custom software suite, you won’t find one. Aren’t less overhead and faster time to value good enough reasons to accept a 90% fit and adjust the remainder of your needs to align with our software”    My customers were not delighted with this answer but recognized the pragmatism.  Voyager’s low code workflow modeling has rendered my answer obsolete.  When I understood it can be configured to align with any workflow, I knew this was something that would delight EVERY customer I had ever dealt with….  A system that could take a customer’s existing business processes and digitize them without any compromise while increasing stakeholder visibility.

Demurrage is an unavoidable consequence of shipping, however, it can be mitigated.  While at PortVision, a major gulf coast refinery attributed our solution to saving over a million dollars in demurrage by providing a more transparent way to understand barge movements.  That was when AIS was cutting edge.  What is cutting edge now?  A system that pays attention to CP terms, voyage events and ETAs.  It identifies potential conflicts in the data which could increase demurrage exposure.  It alerts the proper stakeholders so they can take action.  Voyager calls it the Demurrage Early Warning system.  I call it genius.

During my interview process I was made privy to the sales pipeline and the customer list.  I was blown away.  I learned a fast growing list of very large energy companies have signed on as clients and an even larger list in the later stages of the sales pipeline.  Many companies have requested additional information.  I couldn’t believe that I was going to struggle keeping up with the demand to learn how much value Voyager could provide.  Typically at this stage of a start up I expect to work hard just developing a list of qualified leads.   At that moment, making Voyager the next stop on my career path became a no brainer.

I am excited to be part of a smart, motivated team that is helping move my lifelong industry to better efficiency and more transparency.  Expect big things from us!

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