Most Slacker-Friendly Business 2008: Sail Away with the Hamptons

Who doesn’t dream of living on a sailboat?

You live at your whims, stopping at ports in locales that most people would be jealous of ever visiting. Your office? It’s the deck of a yacht. Your commute? The coast of Mexico, maybe, or would it be nicer to head out to Hawaii? It’s your choice.

Kim Hampton and her husband Brad are living that dream. The couple, winners of our Home-Based 100 contest in the Most Slacker-Friendly category are the owners of YachtPals.com, a social-networking site for “cruisers” as she refers to the full-time boating set. Their aim is to make the enterprise, which put up its sails earlier this year, the Facebook.com of sailing.

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As laid back as these slackers might seem, though, there is some work involved. Being home based, or boat based, actually leads to productivity, Hampton swears.

“I work harder with my PJ’s and laptop in bed than I ever did near a water cooler,” she admits.

It wasn’t always that way. The Hamptons have an IT background and used to do back-end website contract work for companies like Hewlett-Packard and Intel. They have even helped out the Department of Defense. Sixty-hour work weeks in an office weren’t uncommon.

Their moment of reckoning was the result of a tragedy. Brad’s mother was ill and about to die right before her scheduled retirement.

“She said, ‘Don’t wait for your retirement,’” Hampton remembers. “That hit us more than anything else in our lives.”

The couple decided not to wait, and took to the seas, following their passion for sailing.

Doing their Internet-based work from a sailing vessel, the two soon realized an unfulfilled need. Whenever they docked somewhere, they realized that the small community of cruisers they knew were all familiar with each other but don’t have a common place to network or find out news about the global boating community. Their tipping point came at a marina in British Columbia, and the concept took off.

YachtPals.com now has more than 250,000 readers a month and aims to be the Web portal for every cruiser around the globe. Not only does it allow sailing enthusiasts to communicate online, the site also has blogs, free guides to various ports and news on important sailing events around the world, which can range from international races to traumatic events.

Even though the sailing community is small, it has made national news of late, with the pirating tragedies off the coast of Somalia. Hampton learned first hand how seriously the site was taken in its small life after she received a phone call from someone with inside knowledge of a captured boat in the area.

“It became a huge responsibility for me,” she recalls. “To us, these just aren’t news stories. These are our friends.”

YachtPals.com doesn’t just focus on the serious matters of the day, though. The site also has people travelers sharing stories about their times in Malaysia and has a weekly feature showing boat crashes, where people aren’t injured, of course.

The Hamptons, who still do Web-contract work on the side, aren’t overly worried about monetizing YachtPals.com. But they’re not necessarily slacking. Kim doesn’t want to be at the mercy of the few companies that cater to the industry or tourism bureaus that might push their destinations on potential visitors.

“As an experienced Web developer, I know that a year is a good time to see if a company is going into the black,” she says. “We want to make sure the sponsors are coming to us.”

Her message: Follow your passion, don’t wait for others to dictate your lifestyle, and most importantly, keep moving.

“There’s no reason you have to have a traditional lifestyle,” she underscores. “Every time we consider settling down, we say ‘Why would we?’”

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