Dan Cowens is the founder of Snag-A-Slip. Launched in 2015, Snag-A-Slip is a boat rental service that makes it easy for boaters to explore new marinas and book boat slips across coasts in North and Central America. Customers can use their personal computer or mobile device to browse marinas and reserve a vessel in minutes, with no booking fees. Dan, a US Army veteran, is also the founder of Oasis Marinas in Annapolis, Maryland.
EDWIN WARFIELD: You’ve founded several businesses, including Snag-A-Slip, and you used to work for Towne Park in Annapolis. But before you became an entrepreneur, you served in the Armed Forces. Can you take us through your journey?
DAN COWENS: I was in the Army for eight years. I was a non-commissioned officer for six, commissioned officer for two. Do you know anything about the military? You don’t make a lot of money. So, I was looking for a part-time gig, which I found: Towne Park. They were really just getting started. I was employee 18 there. I had no interest and never thought that the company was going to blow up and grow, et cetera. I was literally just looking for a weekend job. And, as it kept going, and I’d be deployed, and I’d come back, Jerry South—who’s the founder and CEO, he’s a great mentor and friend of mine—he said, “you’ll definitely have a job when you come back, but it may be a little different because we’re going to have to get somebody as we continue to grow to move on.” And when I heard that, it’s really all about equity at that point.
I made a decision when I was in Virginia—La Crosse, Virginia to be exact, on my way to Fort Bragg—to resign my commission, reported back to Towne Park, and never looked back. And, we grew that business together—and, again, we had great people on the team: Dave Nichols who was the COO and the President, I tell people that he was the first guy that we had come in that actually had grey hair, but he was just a brilliant person as well. As we grew that business over the 20-some-odd years that I was there, and fortunate to be part of that team, there’s a lot of lessons that happened along the road there.
The last time, it was about 2011, we knew the next recapitalization of the company that we were going to sell controlling interest, so I went to the exec team, to Jerry specifically, and said, “I’d like to go back to Maryland and get my MBA, and I’d like your blessing to do that.” And, you know, he laughed. He said, “yeah”—because one of the statements I said was “I’ll go figure out what we’re going to do next”—so, he laughed and said, “of course,” and, again, just very, very generous with his time with me once that program got started.
Part of that program was an entrepreneurship piece. I got accepted to the exec MBA program there. I was on a trip, and it kind of got forced because when I went there I wasn’t planning to start my own business. I was really just trying to further my education because I’d grown up in the business—22 years of experience. I went on vacation while I was in the program, and I had an accounting exam to study for, so I only had about an hour to get out to my family; had a very, very poor experience at a marina. When I finally got to my family, that was out on this beach, I sat down and I said, “I figured out what I’m going to do. I’m gonna start Oasis Marinas.” And, my wife laughed and other friends that were there laughed. They said, “That’s a cool name—what’s it going to do?” I said, “We’re gonna be the Marriott of the marina world.” There are over 20,000 public marinas in the United States, and at that time, the largest operator had just over 20, so highly fragmented. And, they said, “Great! Go do it.”
I started building out that business model, and a part of building out that business model is where Snag-A-Slip was born. So, while I was equally as blown away that there was no Marriott in the marina world, I was equally as blown away that there was no Hotels.com in the marina world either, as an aggregator.
I went back to my team. At that time, I had to go and recruit five people in the program at Maryland to give up on their dream of starting their own business, to sign up and be a part of my dream. And we went for it. Two of those folks are still on the team here full time and making it happen, and they’re owners—that’s one thing that’s really important to me, that people that are on the team all have a pathway to equity and ownership in the company. I learned that from Jerry South. He said, “if I want you to think like an owner, I’ve got to make you an owner.” We continued to build out the model, and we launched Oasis and Snag-A-Slip. Snag-A-Slip launched first once we had development completed, and then Oasis launched three months after that, when we started our first marina here in Baltimore at Harbor East.
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