Haskayne MBA student Ravi Thaker takes away paddlers’ pain points with self-serve kayak stations. The Paddle Station serves about 15,000 people each Summer along the banks of The Bow River, and is TripAdvisor's second most popular outdoor activity to do in Calgary in only 2 summers! See how and why below.
In 2017 University of Calgary MBA graduate Ravi Thaker launched his boat rental company. Outdoor enthusiasts in Calgary know how much fun it is float down the Bow River in summer — but also know the hassles: vehicle drop-offs; renting a kayak or raft, buying mandatory life-jackets and emergency kits, hoisting the boat to the top of a vehicle; finding a place to park; dragging the vessel to shore…..then doing it all again after you’ve finished!
That takes some of the fun out of what should be a relaxing time with friends and family, Ravi discovered, after he bought water vessels for the family a couple of years ago. The UofC MBA student purchased kayaks in Calgary to enjoy with his family. But the inconvenience of transporting them, the stress of wondering if they’d fall off during the drive, and a fluttering strap that nearly hit his son in the eye made him question his purchase.
The experience gave the self-described “serial entrepreneur” the seeds of a business idea called Paddle Station, which he introduced the summer of 2017. He hopes to one day to expand across the province and country — but with automated self-serve stations. It would be comparable to a car share, but for kayaks.
“I wanted to take these pain points away for people,” says Thaker, who moved from Zimbabwe to Calgary 11 years ago.
Though there are several Bow River boat rental operations in Calgary, Paddle Station offers something different: stations along the river's edge — at Shouldice Park, and ending at St. Patrick’s Island. Unlike competitors, it provides over 150 vessels from kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, and rafts for self-guided or guided floats.
By Canada Day 2017, the tide started to turn, and his company began garnering dozens of positive reviews on Trip Advisor and favourable local media coverage, not to mention 200 to 600 users per day on weekends. He also organized a Pride float the weekend of Aug. 25 that attracted more than 800 people, with some of the money going to a good cause. In fact that season ended with approximately 20,000 happy customers! In 2019 The Paddle Station became official Calgary Pride sponsors and will have a float in the annual parade!
“That’s the thing I love about Ravi; he does exactly what we want people to do,” says his former professor Derek Hassay. “He's not afraid to pick up the phone and call stakeholders and say, ‘I'd like to put kayaks around the city." Hassay says Thaker’s progress "shows we can teach entrepreneurial thinking, and people like Ravi are taking that to the next level.”