Episode 16: Going From ‘Last In His Class’ to Running a First Class Company – Fury Key West with Scott Saunders

November 7, 2019

We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Scott Saunders. 

MARK:           This is the Backyards of Key West podcast; my name is Mark Baratto and I have here a very special guest. Someone I’ve been wanting to talk to with a business that I’ve wanted to talk about ever since I’ve been coming to Key West. I have here Scott Saunders with FURY Key West Water Sports. 

SCOTT:          Right on!

MARK:           Is that how we say it?

SCOTT:          Yeah, we call it FURY Water Adventures because we think we do a lot more than just water sports. We do tours that are just not a water sport. We do things that are really adventurous. We have an 18,500 square foot in the Gulf of Mexico and it’s a state-certified water park with large water toys so it’s an adventure out there. Then we do the island adventure which goes 13 miles west of Key West in these special places so we do traditional parasail and Jet Ski and reef snorkel and sunset and glass-bottom boat. But we have the adventure side of the company which is pretty exciting too.

MARK:           That’s how I know of the business myself because I have an 11-year old and we would go and do the ultimate adventure and stuff like that on the water where it’s a hand full of a variety of different things. You can do a half-day, full-day, foods on there, you get beer after you do the Jet Skis of course, and it’s a fun thing to do. Whether you are a local, or not. One of the things that I just recently realized that I didn’t even know was that when it was my son’s birthday, which he is a July baby and so it’s in the summer and I called and I was going to buy tickets online but then I called up and spoke to someone in customer service because I’m like do you guys do local discounts? They’re like, yeah! I was like that’s awesome because I’m taking my son out and it’s his birthday. And they were like, wait a minute, it’s his birthday and he gets to come for free! So, he was free, my wife and I were local discounts which is 2-for-1 and it was the best deal in the world. 

SCOTT:          Right on. Well, that’s good, we love the locals and we do free on anyone’s birthday so we really embrace our local community because we think it is what great companies do. It’s definitely part of this company’s DNA. We engage locally with locals and with our community. That’s just what we do. 

MARK:           And I mean, you guys dominate obviously on the island. One of the things when I’m interviewing everyone it’s like, oh what’s a favorite thing you like to do with tourists when they come into town and it’s like – go on the water! Everything is like, get on that water. Key West is known for that, people come here for that and everywhere you go, every turn you make, every part where you get close to the water you see FURY. We’re going to get into that in a second, but a couple of things, why don’t you explain what you do for the company and the overall business itself. 

SCOTT:          What I do for the company has definitely changed a lot. We’re on that today and this is 17 years later since this began. It started in early 2004, my time with the company and what I do for the company has changed a lot. Early on, I was the accountant, I was the boat mechanic, I was whatever the company needed. We were very small and started out with two catamarans. 

MARK:           Right, like any startup. You’re cleaning toilets and doing everything.

SCOTT:          Yeah, whatever it took. Today I feel privileged as can be. Because I have a phenomenal team at FURY and I get to enjoy work and enjoy that team every day. I’m not as hands-on in the field as I used to be, but we have an ops team that’s as good as any ops team ever on the earth, or on the earth ever created. They are brilliant in what they do in the operation. I have a sales and marketing group, we have an accounting department, every aspect of this company is to me, staffed with incredible people. I find it just a joy to be a part of this team every day. Do I have input? Of course, I do. Because I’ve got 17 years and a lot of background.

MARK:           That’s the thing, you have callouses on your hands from actually doing all of the things that everyone is doing now.

SCOTT:          Yeah, and so, and I think it’s a wonderful team, we all get along, we all have this – we call it the FURY family. I’m not just making it up for this podcast, we are the FURY family. We are a large company that has a very family mentality. I think it is a large part of our success that we have that mentality within this company. We give a shit, excuse me-

MARK:           No, you can say shit on here! 

SCOTT:          We care about our people. That and I think any company and I’m a CPA as well, and you can look at a company’s financial statements but it misses the biggest asset of any company. It’s the people. We don’t put the people factor that human effort on a balance sheet, but it is the most important ingredient. 

MARK:           There’s a lot of progressive companies now that are advancing quickly that are putting human resources on a pedestal and making them sometimes the 2-3-4 most important person there. It’s not just about like sexual harassment and onboarding, it’s about understanding your people and what their needs are because that person that came in that was 22-years old, that then becomes 30 years old, and then 40-years old and then have children and they go away, and all these different things that happen, their wants are different. The 20-year old may just want to come and hustle their butt off, the 30-year old may want more family time, right? So, you have to constantly be understanding what your staff wants instead of – well they’re not robots, you don’t just plug them in and let them go. 

SCOTT:          That’s exactly right.  

MARK:           Did you start the company? Or, is it a family business? 

SCOTT:          No. The company was started in 1998 and it was a company that had cruise ship contracts. All they did was when cruise ships came to Key West, they would put cruise shippers on their boat to do snorkels and sunsets. That was the company. And that company had no market presence, no brand, no name, but they had two catamarans. 

MARK:           Was it called FURY? 

SCOTT:          The boat was called FURY. The boat was called FURY and so we looked at the name of the boat and I went, you know? That could be a great brand. So, we did. We went after looking at the and the boat was called the FURY Atlantic and I didn’t want to call the company the FURY Atlantic. So, I thought FURY had a nice ring to it. We went into it with our creative group, Black Dog Advertising, and we looked at how we could develop that name into a brand. That’s where the oval, the cresting of the waves came into being, but that was back in early 2004 and we had, well we had a little bit of a vision too, of what I wanted to do with the company. I didn’t want to just keep it at two catamarans, I had a more futuristic approach to what I really wanted to do with this company called FURY. And I think we have definitely achieved that and it’s been a lot of hard work and many years. 

MARK:           Were you born in Key West? How long have you been here? 

SCOTT:          I am four generations from Key West. I am.

MARK:           Wow! That’s like super conch.

SCOTT:          I’m a super local. I am not that fresh water; I am the guy that’s been here a long time. I have children that make fifth generation. 

MARK:           What were you doing beforehand? I was like going into the origin story of things because it really gets you learning about the mind set and having a different approach on how you view the business through the eyes of the owner. What were you doing before this? I heard CPA, so I’m assuming you’re an accountant. 

SCOTT:          That’s just it, I was a CPA and came back to Key West. I spent years at University of Central Florida and then I worked for the largest accounting firm in the world for 5 ½ years called Arthur Andersen, and it’s no longer a firm now. Then I came to Key West as a CPA and a couple of years after I got here, I opened my own firm.           

MARK:           Wait, so you come back to Key West as a CPA, and you’re like, I’m going to open my own firm right away? Or, were you like, I’m going to go work for someone? Was there one accountant named Bill on the island? How was that going on? 

SCOTT:          That’s interesting, and a great question. When I came back my goal was that I wanted to have my own firm. I wanted to be back in Key West, Scott Saunders is here and he wants to have his own CPA firm and that was the goal. I didn’t have the vision beyond that. 

MARK:           Because you just came from that world. A huge company, global or national company and you’re like, I’m going to do that here. 

SCOTT:          But here’s the interesting thing, right? The work that I was doing with that large company is not the work you do in Key West. 

MARK:           Right, of course. 

SCOTT:          I worked for a firm called Kemp & Green, William Kemp who is also a multi-generational native and I worked for them for a few years and got a good feel for island accounting and what the small businesses that were here. I did venture out on my own, about in 1997 or 1998, but I was working really hard and growing my firm and the idea to me was, do I want to only earn revenue while I have to have billable hours? I thought to myself, wealth generation is not gonna happen solely by me doing billable hours and hiring more CPAs even though that works. I just had a desire to want and have a company. To build some companies and do some things. My first jump was, my first venture beyond the CPA firm was that I bought a small guest house. I held it for eighteen months and I turned it over for a decent profit and I took that money that I made on the guest house and I bought into Pink Taxi’s the Think Pink Taxi’s and we grew that business with my partner and we grew it by a fair amount. A lot of profits that came off that were what I used to buy these two catamarans. That’s how it all happened.

MARK:           You’re working for an accounting firm and you’re making the decision that I’m gonna go, and you wanted to do your own thing from the beginning and you started working there. What was the push off point for you to say, okay it’s time now to make that move to have my own firm?

SCOTT:          I had 5 ½ years of working for a very large firm, so my background was everything from SEC work to mid-sized and a lot bigger than anything in Key West. I thought to myself, you know this is really helping you Scott if you want to return to Key West. You’re gonna have to learn what that small business market is all about. So, I worked for the firm in Key West that after those couple of years, I had really good tax background, right? So, it wasn’t much for me to get up to speed with some of the small business work. I had a background in much larger work. I was able to learn in about 2 ½ years, pretty much what I needed to do, but I had, well during those 2 ½ years working with that smaller firm here on the island, I was meeting a lot of people. I already knew a lot of people. I was out in the community meeting a lot of the people that I knew and would see again and they were like, Scott? You working here in Key West as a CPA? Yeah, I am. Okay, we’d love to talk to you. So, I was generating it seemed like a client a week, and good clients. There was a lot of people that were seeking my services as a CPA and it was refreshing as Hell. I didn’t have to spend a lot of marketing money at all. It was just, you do good work – we need a good accountant. 

MARK:           Yeah, exactly.  

SCOTT:          I jumped into it and I think I had five clients when I opened, and I had five good clients when I ventured out on my own, but I got up to 100 with it seemed like in less than a year. And I was hiring CPAs like fast. 

MARK:           The reason I ask questions like that and the reason I love this podcast is because there’s little nuances that people need to understand that are important because I want to bring value to the audience listening about starting their own business and stuff like that. You didn’t come, well where were you working at the time, at that firm? What city?

SCOTT:          Right here in Key West. 

MARK:           No, the other one before you came back?

SCOTT:          Oh, it was Orlando, Florida.           

MARK:           Okay, so you’re in Orlando and you’re working for the #1 accounting firm.

SCOTT:          In the world. 

MARK:           In the world, and you didn’t come here and say, “cool I’m a fourth generation and I’m starting my business right away.” You actually took a step back, in other people’s eyes possibly, to go work for somebody else to learn the local business before then you made that leap to go start your own business. That’s very important to understand. 

SCOTT:          It is important. There was no way in the world, I was ready to, I needed those 5 ½ years at that national level because I learned an immense amount about tax work at the highest level. I thought that was a real advantage when I came to open…

MARK:           Yeah, but you didn’t go straight from that to opening your own here, you came here and learned locally what to do. 

SCOTT:          You damn right I did because I think I had to because the market I was working was very large and some very large businesses. Some SEC work and I was doing SEC work there. So, that wasn’t here and I wanted to come back here and get a feel for what small business in Key West was. I wanted to touch it, feel it, see it, learn it, and I did. In 2 ½ years I felt like I had, and I had a jump start right and a real good background on tax at the highest level. After 2 ½ years, I was very versed in small business tax law, didn’t take much because the stuff I was working on again was much more in depth. 

MARK:           Of course. What kind of a kid were you growing up?  

SCOTT:          I probably was the worst student at our local high school who graduated. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine recently said that if they would have passed out “least likely to succeed” I would have got it. And I laugh because I was that student who was, you know skipped as much school as I could, took the easiest classes, yeah I was a baseball player and got sidelined a couple of different times for not keeping at least a C‑average on the baseball team, I just wasn’t engaging in any of it at all.  

MARK:           What about outside of school? Were you, did you sell things, did you bring candy to school and sell it to kids? I mean, were there other things business wise you were into at school? Or, was it just sports and trying to escape high school? 

SCOTT:          Sports and trying, and I’m trying to be really honest with this podcast with you, I was just … I had absolutely little, and I wouldn’t say I had no motivation, but I wasn’t and I didn’t have anything that I was looking to do. I was skating by school, water skiing, partying with my friends, and taking minimal classes, playing baseball and it was monumental years 1984 for me. I got out of high school in 1980 and I was working for a local contractor here on the island and busting my butt in construction work. 

MARK:           You’re done with high school and you’re like okay, I’m obviously not going to go to college, or I don’t want to do anything else, let me just start bringing in some income. And you’re on the island and there’s only so much you can do. 

SCOTT:          You know, I did it. I thought to myself, well I’m going to try college. My dad was like, how long are you going to do that for? You didn’t like high school! But I said I’m going to try it and I went to Gainesville, Florida to Santa Fe Community College and I lasted six months up there and it just wasn’t working. I made minimal grades, not doing too much, why not come back to Key West and hang out with my friends. 

MARK:           I gave it a good try. 

SCOTT:          I did, gave it a good try, and I just started working for a construction company that was redoing City Electric, the whole building, and my job was sandblasting the whole building for a couple different summers. I think I’d lose 10 pounds a day and have to hydrate and gain it back and I did that for almost four years. I remember that was just grueling. I was living in a little apartment and I thought to myself, man there’s got to be something more I can do than this? 

MARK:           What was that drive? Why aren’t you the age you are outside smelling really bad, with bad hair and really burnt driving a bicycle right now? Because that could be you! But it wasn’t! What was that change that said, okay enough of this four years of the hydrating and the rehydrating and probably using beer for the rehydrating? 

SCOTT:          Yeah, a little bit. 

MARK:           To make that move to get your CPAs license and I know a lot of people that keep failing that thing, it’s not like it’s easy. 

SCOTT:          No, it’s 10% of the people that take that exam will pass it their first time around. I had met a wonderful woman in 1981 who I’ve been married to now for 35 years, and we were living together. I felt it was, well she was young and we were very much in love and as we still are today, and I just felt like I was failing our relationship. I should do more for her and if we ever wanted to have a family, I thought to myself, how? How can I even provide for my family? How can I do more for this relationship? What am I? You know, and in 1984, I remember April 1984, her and I we had had it. And I’m working for $10 an hour, she’s working at a chiropractic office for $8 an hour, and we’re living check to check. 

MARK:           Yeah, barely making it. 

SCOTT:          Barely making it in this little apartment with no A/C and I thought to myself, there’s got to be more. And I thought to myself, okay it’s go time. We gotta make a move. 

MARK:           But why were you not like, and we will get to the business area of FURY everybody, but this is important for people to know because right now, so far, the picture that you’re painting is that of what outsiders would call failure. But obviously, we know the end result here. What was the self-talk? Why weren’t you like, well I sucked in school, I didn’t make it through college, this is going to be my life. What am I gonna do? Why even bother try, half empty, where did that motivation come from besides her? 

SCOTT:          I was disgusted. I was upset with myself. I knew deep down that I had it, and I remember the month, the day even, it was like, if you look back in 1984, April 13th was a Saturday. I remember that day crystal clear that I said, okay, this is enough of this. Even when I was in high school, I knew that and teachers would say, okay Scott you’ve got to make a 98% and for me to graduate high school and I’ll never forget this, a class that I had struggled to make C’s in because I wouldn’t attend, I wouldn’t do the homework, I think I had to make my social studies teacher came and said, “Scott, you know you’re not going to graduate with your class. You’re going to have to make a 98% on my final exam. He said you haven’t got above a 75 all year. I’m going to keep you out of the line from graduating.” I said, “No, I’ll make the 98.” I scored 104%, I got the whole test right and I got, and I knew when I needed to do it, I knew that I had that. The same thing when I played baseball as an athlete, when I wanted to be in it, I would bat fourth. I was the best hitter on the team when I wanted to be. When I would go out and do the things that I knew, and I knew what success was, it was just when I wanted to engage it and when I didn’t. So, at that point and that’s Saturday, April 13th 1984, I said okay, this is about me. I’m going to do more and I’m capable of it. We chose Orlando, Florida and we rented a little trailer this po-dunk little trailer which was as cheap as we could find and I had a beat-up Datsun and 140,000 miles on it.

MARK:           That you drove there? From here?

SCOTT:          We drove there, we packed it up and we had nothing. We had this little trailer and …

MARK:           Did you know anybody there?

SCOTT:          Not a soul. We didn’t know anybody. It was all in. All my chips were on me and my wife gets a job.

MARK:           Which they never were before but all of a sudden, your wife lit the fire, not her, but you that you care for her, and then that lit the fire for you, for you.

SCOTT:          It was all numbers and it was now me. It was me and you’re gonna make this happen, or not Scott. And at that time of my life, you have to get to this place, too. Because that wouldn’t and in 1981, 82, 83 it was just at this point in time that I said, okay. I knew the time for change was upon me. And we drove up, and I remember us going to the grocery store and we bought $10 toasters and we had this little crappy trailer and I drove my little Datsun and a sign-up at the community college         and my wife got a job as a receptionist for a big medical doctor’s offices and a very large firm, and we had one car and I drop her to work every morning at 7 o’clock and I’d go to school and it was the most humble beginnings we could ever have. We still to this day drive by that trailer park every once in a while, and look at our trailer and it’s the wonderful humble beginnings that we had that we still look at that. We have a house now, right? But I mean it was a beautiful beginning for us and we still reminisce about that. 

MARK:           Did she follow suit with the drive? Or, did she always have that drive? Or, is she addicted to yours, or? 

SCOTT:          I think she was as shocked because how horrible, I wasn’t horrible, but I was a below-average high school student. I was on a mission and it was kinda funny how the timing in my life how this shift happened. I didn’t get B’s. I graduated top of my class and I didn’t make B’s. I graduated summa cum laude at the top of my class, I was highly recruited when I left college by every national accounting firm and my wife could tell you that we were wined and dined by all the big national firms, but I took, well I decided that the shift in my life that okay, I can do a lot more it’s about me proving it to myself because I know I can. And I did. And that was a monumental change for us. It has been wonderful. Tammy has been, that’s my wife, she is the backbone of most of what I, I don’t think I could have accomplished half of what I have without her. 

MARK:           You referenced her as the beginning spark to cause this change because you wanted to have a better life for you and her and a future family and stuff. That’s an enormous motivator for people. But what’s great about this story is, you got all A’s. When you got your first A, were you like, I knew it! Or, were you like, wow I didn’t know it? How was that? 

SCOTT:          No, my wife could tell you that I was on a mission. 

MARK:           I can picture you coming home and slapping that A against the fridge and be like, what’s next! Next day and boom – boom. 

SCOTT:          But it was predicable because I would study and be in school all day. I’d come home and study at night, I would study on weekends, I was on a mission. It was, well I was getting A’s because you saw the work I was putting into it. It didn’t come easy, so I was putting in the time. When it come time to take the CPA exam, I was like, bring it on. I walk out every part of it 45 minutes early. I knew it. So, that was and we survived those four years and we were finally like, God, Scott’s gonna make real money. I had these firms giving out $5,000 signing bonus, plus taking you out to dinner and giving you tickets to games and we are like, holy shit! 

MARK:           You’re going for zero to this!

SCOTT:          We are going from peanut butter sandwiches and chips. I gotta say that’s the truth, I couldn’t afford to eat in the cafeteria with my friends. I’d sit out in the frisbee court. I’d tell my friends, no, I gotta go right now and I’d have a sandwich I packed and eat on the ultimate frisbee court. But I wouldn’t change any of it for anything. It made us what we are, and I had to go through all of that to keep, and it was the drive. 

MARK:           Adversity is the backbone of success.

SCOTT:          It’s a wonderful thing, you’re exactly right when you say that. 

MARK:           It seems like your attitude definitely was like, take the island burn the boats when it come to your education. Yet, that wasn’t even where it ended, right? Because you’re like, okay the education is the stepping stone to the next level and then the next level from there. So, you start working for the accounting firm, you come back here and you’re like, okay, I’m going from #1 in the world to Key West and then I’m going to start my own firm here, knowing that you probably would never make the same kind of money or the potential of moving up and make partner and all these different things in Orlando. But you still wanted to come here. Why did you want to come back? 

SCOTT:          There’s a saying in Key West that you get sand in your toes. I’m not so sure that’s completely accurate but there was something about coming home. This is my where my mother, my father, my sisters were, all my family was, my grandparents were still alive at the time, my Bahamian grandad and my Cuban grandmother and it just all my friends were here. Should we have moved back? That’s debatable, you know? But we did and I look at the story right now and the answer is Hell yeah, we should have come back. But you know, we did and it was the right move for us. And, we also while I was working for the big firm Arthur Andersen, we had a son. He wasn’t able to see his grandparents much, my parents would drive up to see us once a month or something like that, we thought well if we have another child it would be good for family to see our children. My sister had children and we just wanted to get closer to the family and that’s why we came back. But I also, make no mistake about it, I wanted to have Scott Saunders accounting firm in Key West. It was just and it was just something I wanted. 

MARK:           Right, so you had that and you had success in that, you’re like all right, I’m entrepreneurial and I need more than just this, clearly from going up there for the education onto now. You bought the small home and you flipped that, then what was your next step from there? The taxi cab company, you sold that and then what? 

SCOTT:          Actually, there was the little guest house I had Andrews Inn and we bought it for a number, my wife and I and we kinda built it into something better and we flipped it and took that and bought an interest in the Five 6’s Taxi Cab Company and I had in 2004 when I looked at these two boats and I went, okay. How can this work with my taxi cab company? What can I do? 

MARK:           Taxi cabs on water, one word. 

SCOTT:          Right, it’s not but there’s a lot of people in your backseat, how can I parlay that client base into my boats? How can I move them from here to here? So, that was kind of a thought and I thought well, this company that only has cruise ship passengers. 

MARK:           Right and their taxi cab is picking up people coming into town not from cruise ships. 

SCOTT:          So, I thought to myself that the problem with this company that has these two catamarans that has no real brand, no name, no nothing, there’s a real market out here. When I started looking at it, I looked at who the competitors were at the time which was Sebago, Sunny Day, Sunset and they dominated the public market because this one company had cruise ship contracts and that’s all it had. It didn’t do anything in the market, but I started looking at who became my competitors and I was looking at their boats and they were full. I started looking the tours they were doing and I was thought, you know the problem with the company that has cruise ship contracts is that you have one customer. If the cruise ships stopped coming here, you’re dead in the water and two, what negotiation power do you have with one customer. They dictate price, they tell you what to do and how to do it. I thought that was a dangerous posture. Buying the two boats, I had a vision beyond just working with cruise lines. Matter of fact, my vision was that we would get away from the cruise lines and there’s a very robust public market that my competitors were in and I thought if we get in it, we’re going to have to do it better. They’ve got all the hotel contacts, concierge desk, sales channels that were out there that could sell our tour, they had them pretty tied up. I had a little bit of a game plan to go into that market. 

MARK:           When you went into that market, did you say one boat is going to be for cruise and the other we’ll market towards the new business? Or, did you just go all in again?

SCOTT:          I went all in. Both boats, fill ‘em up, let’s ….

MARK:           You’re like sorry cruise ship, we’re not playing, we are going all in.

SCOTT:          What I did with the cruise lines is that I said here’s the deal, instead of you having two boats exclusively, I’m going to give you 50 seats in each one. The other 100 seats I’m going to sell to the public. They were like, you can’t do that our contract is for the whole boat. I said, no, it’s not anymore. Well, I’ll start giving you the seats you need and that’s how we are going to do business. Of course, that caused a little trepidation for a little while…

MARK:           But they agreed. 

SCOTT:          Well they did and here’s why, I ordered a third boat right away. I ordered a new boat in 2005 right away so that I can give them more and while I continue to grow this market and but my vision was even more than that. I knew and here goes back to the genesis of the company, I knew that if we were going to get, if I was going to do this, I knew that we needed a brand, I knew that we needed people – important great people – right? And my vision was doing something that was encompassing who all who wanted to be on the water. More than just reef snorkel and sunset sail. And I had competitors out there that had a lock on that, so it was twofold; it was growth and having a panacea of water adventure for offering more than just snorkel and sunsets. Hence, in 2005, I acquired the glass bottom boat from the Artman family who had that business since 1958. Launched a parasail business in late 2005 with a single boat. We started doing parasailing and offering that to the cruise lines and public. Then I started looking and our sunset numbers and our reef snorkel numbers were still being dominated by our competitors and I thought okay, how can we be better? 

MARK:           You weren’t going after their business yet? 

SCOTT:          Oh yes, I was. From day one. And trying to raise the bar. I was trying to create more experiences on the water, like for instance glass bottom boat and a lot of people don’t want to get in the reef, they just want to see it. So, we wanted to have more offerings and I wanted to build a brand that had more offerings of everything you could do on the water. And, we are going to get into the trips too. I just morphed into doing specialty trips but the idea early on was just don’t compete against these guys, let’s develop new products to the marketplace then allow that traffic that they have will come to me. 

MARK:           Right, because they don’t offer those things.  

SCOTT:          Herein lies the genesis of the commotion on the ocean. Their sunsets and we were getting 12-15 people on our sunset a night on a boat that would hold 127 people. I’m looking at their boats – packed people – they’re packed and I’m thinking, we got a better boat, more user-friendly upper deck boat but their boats are full. I’m thinking this is crazy. So, what could make our sunset be best? So, we put a band on them. We thought okay, and that and I give a lot of that to Charlie Bauer who at the time was at Hog’s Breath Saloon and had the Songwriter’s Festival he does every year in Key West. Why don’t we put, and he’s also a small owner in FURY, after the fact, years later, good friend of mine and he thought, why don’t we put some musicians on the boat? That would be kind of a cool thing it’s like a Hog’s Breath really on the water. Right? We thought that would be a really different sunset, can you even do it? Musical equipment on a boat with water and rain? So, the answer was no. So, the boat we, well we’d have to hook up these generators and reverse wiring. And so, when we ordered the new boat, which was the Key West FURY which was the third catamaran because we bought two, that boat was built with generators in the engine room with wiring and the whole thing and so we did a couple of commotions and started out small before the new boat got here and we saw the people thought, that’s the greatest shit ever. 

MARK:           Oh yeah, I can’t picture going out there without music now. 

SCOTT:          When the Key West FURY got here, we started doing these commotions a couple times a week. Every time we’d do one it would sell out and all of a sudden…

MARK:           You went from 15 seats to sell out. 

SCOTT:          We started going and the people loved this, they loved the live bands, some margaritas and appetizers, we knew we had a hit. 

MARK:           Was there food before?

SCOTT:          No. 

MARK:           No food, no music, now you’re putting food, music and booze and it’s like, hello. 

SCOTT:          It changed the sunset experience and my competitors they just, their boats were never you know fit for that to have generators in the engine room that can hold output for band equipment. So, we knew we had something special with that and it continues to be special more and more all the time. But that was a trip as we grew this as part of the vision to have more offerings and ultimate adventure came into being, the ultimate express, the island adventure, all these trips and that’s what FURY is. We are a great group with more offerings on the water. Something for everyone. 

MARK:           When you first bought the two boats, how long did it take before you saw positive revenue? 

SCOTT:          I think about 2 ½ years. We were breaking even because here’s why, we could have made positive revenue after one, but everything and even the profit we made we didn’t take out. 

MARK:           Right, you fed the business. 

SCOTT:          And we fed that beast for a long time because I bought the Key West FURY in 2005 and then in 2009, I bought the Caribbean FURY, bought the glass bottom boat in 2005, we were buying new parasail boat every year and we’re up to eight parasail boats now. So, we were building and there was no dividends per se to owners or Scott Saunders. We were taking profit and floating it back and building this thing called FURY Water Adventures. You know we have the Corinthians that go way into the back country now, so we were building something with a vision. We had a very long-term vision of what we were doing. What we wanted to create and FURY wasn’t created overnight. I think the vision was that we had the vision very early on, but it’s taken 17 years to get where we are today. 

MARK:           Where you are today, do you think you had that vision early? 

SCOTT:          I did believe it or not. I did have a vision of what this could be. Because I saw a very robust market and I think Key West is a special place. I mean, I grew up here so I knew it was, and where else in the world do you have the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other? The third largest barrier reef in the world right here. You have really special things. Some of the things that separated us from our competitors were that we began to attract people to come to Key West. I remember early on being with my marketing staff, and there was only three of us in the room, and we are talking about how we get tourists once they are here onto our boat. We all went, me especially, let’s not wait for them to get here. How can we attract them? How can we start making the brand which is becoming known available to people in South Florida, West Florida, you know Melbourne? How can we start attracting these people down here? What can we do? Let’s bring the people here. Let’s work with the hotels and that and so I can talk about this now, we started a concierge service. We manage eight desks to this day. We went out to the hotels and said, “hey, your concierge desk – do you like running it?”  They said, “No, we have trouble staffing it.” How about if I turn it into a profit center for you? How about if I manage it for you? 

MARK:           And that’s here in Key West? 

SCOTT:          That’s here in Key West. We manage eight desks today.

MARK:           But you never did that in any other cities? What did you do for marketing in the other cities? And, what year was that?

SCOTT:          Well, that started when I started the company.

MARK:           So, it’s way before social, it was all in print.

SCOTT:          Yeah, it was all print and TV! We were doing national advertised spots with FURY. We started to really marketing people to come here instead of just trying to once they land at the airport or we have billboards in the Keys, we are looking at ways to get our brand out more. That started separating us because I think our competitors were really focusing on once they get here. How do we get ‘em? And we were refocusing on let’s bring ‘em here.  

MARK:           Well, you kinda had that feeling and thought process when you were with the taxi cab company because you’re like okay, I have the taxi cab with people in there and how can I market them after they leave to another profit center, which would be going on boats and doing tours like this, and then now you’re like okay, people come here and they want to go and do all these tours and stuff but where are they before they walk outside their hotel. They’re in the hotel, we can have concierge in the hotel pushing our brand and our product from there and then where are they before they come here? Well, they are in other South Florida locations.

SCOTT:          Of course, they are. 

MARK:           So, let’s market to them.  

SCOTT:          We even went to Miami and we hired people to go and wine and dine those concierges to send those day trippers to Key West. We marketed to have the concierge desks in Marathon, so we really were looking beyond Key West and building a company down here with more new vessels, more products. You look at the best attraction companies and we are not Disney by any stretch, but you’ve got to roll out a new product. 

MARK:           Yes.

SCOTT:          And we’ve done that successfully. We’ve rolled out new product after new product, from the commotion on the ocean, island adventure, ultimate adventure, ultimate express, dolphin and snorkel watch, we have continued to have more offerings and we’ve got things in the hopper today. We have to be fresh; we have to be innovative. How many times can people do the same thing? It’s still gonna be fun, but we want to be that company…

MARK:           You want repeat business.

SCOTT:          We want repeat business so we’ve got to have some offerings for them. 

MARK:           If you want to have a raving fan, which is someone that’s going to be there with you for the long-haul, you need to always innovate. It’s like tech, it’s like any other business. 

SCOTT:          You’re spot on.          

MARK:           It seems like your mindset always was, this is gonna work, let’s keep feeding the beast, we must always innovate and grow, was there ever a feeling of, I gotta quit. 

SCOTT:          Yeah. 

MARK:           I mean not so like everyone has that in their own mind, but…

SCOTT:          Well you hit on really interesting topic because there were times along the way that I became very discouraged. We persevered. Several come to mind. I remember early on…

MARK:           What’s the most painful one?         

SCOTT:          The oil spill. The potential of the 2010 oil spill, the BP oil spill, that really, really affected me mentally and physically. There was every scientist on the globe predicting that it was the end of the Keys. They were all and the University of Miami scientists couldn’t have been more wrong. He was touting that this was the impossibility of this oil not to make it to the Keys. I remember getting up in the middle of the night repeatedly looking up these different forecasts coming in and they all talked about this oil had to make it into the loop current, there was no way around it. It was going to start flooding into the loop current and when it did, it would annihilate the Keys. They were saying this and it was every scientist saying it. Then there was this wonderful intervention that mother nature decided to form, called a gyra. Well the oil didn’t, the loop current that flows from here to Spain pinched off and separated and it stopped being a loop current. 

MARK:           Someone was looking out for the Keys big time, oh boy. 

SCOTT:          Then all of a sudden, this oil just got stuck right in the Gulf. Now it was never good, but I’m saying it didn’t make it, and none of the scientists thought that could happen even thought this pinch in the loop current happens at varying times. It just so happened because they would have been dead on if it wasn’t for this pinch and all of a sudden the loop current pinched. It stopped moving and this oil sat there and it stayed and parts of it was running during a very critical time. It was and you can even call it the hand of God, or divine intervention, but it was something because that much oil coming through our reefs would have been devastating. 

MARK:           During that time before you were celebrating about the pinch, what kept you going? 

SCOTT:          There was times when, and I had just really bought these two catamarans and we had some real storms in 2004 and 2005. I remember being in dry dock with these boats and these hurricanes were forecast to be here and we are readying the boats and dry dock and it was very stressful time during those ’04 and ’05 hurricane seasons. I’m new to this, I am still learning, I’m not a mariner really yet, I’m a business man, I’m in dry dock and I’m learning about our boats and I’m having to put big metal steaks to keep the boats, you know so they don’t …

MARK:           Yeah but you’re also an accountant so you can see when there’s blood in the business. 

SCOTT:          I tell you, those ‘04 and ‘05 years were very stressful times because we were threatened with a lot of storms and couple, we had a couple of hurricane hits. I’m thinking to myself, what the Hell have you done Scott? You’ve got yourself into something you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re dry docking these boats, you’re building this brand, should you pull the plug here? I mortgaged my house, my wife’s going Scott, what are you doing? You just put $400,000 on our house, how’s this gonna happen? I stayed the course and we kept staying and we stayed the course. Here’s an example and that oil spill in 2010, my marketing team had rented a helicopter and this was a Saturday and this was at the time when they were saying the oil’s gonna get here, it’s just a matter of time. So, my marketing, John Penny is the creative director of Black Dog Advertising, he rented a helicopter in Marathon to do some aerial stuff of our boats and he called me up and he said, “Scott, I’m at the helicopter, you want me to do this or not. Because Key West is about to become undone if this oil hits.” I said, “John get up in the helicopter and fly.” I can’t run my business thinking that I’m going to be out of business. I persevered 04, I persevered ’05, right? We’ve gotta continue the course. We’ve got to stay true to the vision. And we did. And he was like, “Okay” and sure enough we went out to the reef that day and it was kind of a funny day the helicopter came so close to the boat and it had a sail and I thought it almost got pushed onto the reef, but anyway, we have been at that place where you think, this is as close to quitting as you can come. And we just didn’t. We persevered, we persevered, and I guess some people thought you’re just crazy or lucky. Maybe?         

MARK:           What about biggest success? I’m assuming wanting to quit and that, and then overcoming that would be a giant success, but what comes to your mind first with the business?  

SCOTT:          Well, you think about biggest success if FURY’s biggest success is its people. You know? If you think about biggest success, we are talking about a group of people here that are passionate about what they do. They are passionate about the company. They are passionate about the people they work with and I’m passionate about every damn one of them. That is our biggest success that we’ve got this monumental group from captains to crew to administration that are passionate about this company. My biggest success is being able to work with all of them. 

MARK:           What do you do to keep that passion alive with them? How do you handle all of these people? And understanding what they want? 

SCOTT:          In a sentence? I give a damn about all of them.  A lot more than a damn. I care about every one of these people know that I am in it with them. Every day. This goes beyond even work. These people could call me in the middle of the night, I’m out of bed, how can I help? What can we do? We are the FURY family. We are that. We are a special group. 

MARK:           Were you always like that? With your friends growing up? Or, where did that come from? 

SCOTT:          You know, I think I’ve always been a passionate person and I’m inwardly very intense, right? That’s always been the case although you wouldn’t recognize that during high school, but I think I had an intense side of me always. I think as I’ve gotten older, I’ve matured a lot and you start realizing what’s really important. You gain a lot of wisdom through time especially as you go through some of these experiences that you think, man we are lucky to have survived the oil, the hurricanes, all these things. You find these people that have stuck with you. 

MARK:           But why did they stick with you?  

SCOTT:          I think ….

MARK:           It’s not after the fact, it’s during.

SCOTT:          They saw the passion I had and how much this meant to me. They saw in me, and I’m speaking for them right now, but I think they saw that I was all in and that I was passionate about I was doing and that I was passionate about them being in it with me. It was kind of this unspoken thing, but they saw how hard I was willing to work and the chances I was willing to take, the risks I was willing to take on, and they were like dude, really? If you’re gonna do that, I’ve got your back. And I always had their back. If it was a family situation or whatever it was, we’ve always had each other’s back and they’ve seen my investment in time and energy and the risks I was willing to take and make sure they got paid. Even the most recent hurricane Irma, we paid our people! We didn’t say, “hey, good luck guys.” That’s not who we are, we paid our people during this time so they can continue to pay the rent and eat. So, we are passionate about, or people can say you’re passionate about your brand, well we are passionate about our brand but we are passionate about our people. 

MARK:           Right, because they are the brand. 

SCOTT:          You damn right they are. 

MARK:           Yeah, that’s what it sounds like. It’s funny because almost everyone that I’ve been interviewing that have been successful in running their own businesses and stuff like that in the past episodes, all talk about FURY. A lot of the story is, because I always ask when did you first come to Key West? Because not everyone are conchs. And it’s like, yeah, I remember my first job working with FURY, working on one of the boats, or working here, and it’s almost like a right of passage when you’re young and you’re coming here. Now, obviously a lot of the stay, and a lot of them maybe that wasn’t their dream or passion and they followed it, but you have touched a lot of people that you don’t even know that are running businesses around here because you helped them stay. Because they got work from you and they obviously liked it. 

SCOTT:          And you’re right, believe it or not we have a lot of people. My head of operations manager, John O’Casio (“J.B.”) was a mate on our boats for the two catamarans when we first started. Scott Aarons, one of my parasail captains was a mate on the catamaran. And they are still at the company today. Now they are captaining everything and operations managers, but I’ve got people and there’s so many people that have been here a long time, are captains. Other captains that have been here since the inception, I think there have been a lot of people come from FURY and I’ll tell you I’d like to think every one of them had a great experience with us. I think they did, because I can tell you as a company, it would never be anything else from the company.   

MARK:           I think I know the answer to this, but what keeps you passionate about this business? 

SCOTT:          The people.    

MARK:           Yeah, that’s what I thought. 

SCOTT:          The damn people. I mean these people, I do feel every day I get to pull up to work and I’m one of the luckiest businessmen on the island because I get to come to work with this great group that truly cares about the customer experience and really care about their environment and care about the reef. I did an interview with Frank from Blue Zoo, he came down to Key West and he went out on our snorkel boats and he said, Scott I gotta tell you, we are out on your boat and we are coming back from the reef and you are captain Anna did a U-Turn because she spotted a plastic bag. He said we were running a little bit late, she didn’t care, she did a U-Turn and got the plastic bag off the water and we finished going into Key West. I said, “that’s our captains!” They are passionate about the resource as well. 

MARK:           All the times I’ve ever been out on the water it’s always about making sure the plastic goes in the garbage and not in the ocean because we don’t want 50 years from now there to be nothing but plastic. 

SCOTT:          Not to talk about all the things that we do but we do some very good things in addition to the things we do, the memories we create for customers. We do beach clean-ups once a month. We go out on our dime, we load our boats up and ask volunteers to join and if we don’t get enough, our crew is always willing to jump in. Administratively and captains and crew. We clean up thousands of pounds of garbage every single month. 

MARK:           And that’s in Key West?  

SCOTT:          Yeah. 

MARK:           And how does somebody sign up for that? 

SCOTT:          We always post it digitally on the digital platforms. We put it in the local papers. We usually get pretty decent turn out, we put about 20 people in the boat and it’s NOAH approved, we get the right permits from Sanctuary to go do these clean ups. We do Woman Key, Boca, we go back to the outer islands and we pick up a ton of garbage. 

MARK:           Oh, I bet. My wife and I would do a beach clean up in Miami right outside where we were living and we kind of started that whole clean up process in that area. The pounds and pounds of stuff that we started with two of us, then ended up being 20 of us, would pull out of the water was crazy. And most of it, you would think, oh this is people throwing out their car window but most of it were from boating. A lot of times, not on purpose, you have a water bottle that’s half empty and you hit a wave, or the wind blows and it goes overboard and you’re like, oh forget it. Guess what? It ends up getting some place it shouldn’t get to. 

SCOTT:          Yup, I know. We see a lot of plastic and we are hearing lots about plastic right now. It’s, well none of it’s good. We are hearing more about it and we see it in the beach clean ups. I think we peel off anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 to maybe 1,800 pounds of garbage off the beaches. Believe it or not, that’s a lot. It seems like not a lot, but it is a lot. I’d say ¾ of that is plastic, in some form of plastic.  

MARK:           It’s a shame, and that’s a whole ‘nother podcast we can get into is the plastic issue. 

SCOTT:          We sure could.          

MARK:           So, Key West is a small town but not, we have lots of tourists that come in here. What do you do to keep yourself sharp and continue to educate yourself? I know we talked earlier about podcasts and books. Are there conferences, do you travel to other locations that have similar business? What do you do? 

SCOTT:          I always do, well if I’m on an attraction somewhere else I’m clearly looking at what they are doing. Even if I’m in a restaurant looking at how they are socially reaching out to me. What text message they are sending me. What email do I receive? I’m constantly looking at what other like-kind businesses and non-like-kind businesses are doing. I always look at how can any of those advancements, how can that work for FURY? How can we bring that into what this experience is? But I have younger people here that are usually way ahead of me on that. But I’m always when I travel and I was just in Asheville, North Carolina and I was in a little brewery and I thought and I was looking at some of the things they were doing. I did, well there was a take-away with some of that stuff. I thought how can we apply that in Key West? I’m always, well I don’t travel enough, but I look forward to it. 

MARK:           Name something that you love in the business that you do that most people wouldn’t think that you do.

SCOTT:          In the business…. 

MARK:           Besides these awesome podcasts. 

SCOTT:          No, right on. That I do, I guess people wouldn’t think that I still involve myself in the accounting process because that’s the CPA side of me, but I am still really looking and I like looking at in a granular way at our data. I like mining my data. To see how I can, so I’m still that guy who’s the CPA nerd and really mining my data looking at what the secret in this is? What can we do better? How can we reach a customer a different way? What’s a peak time? How do they buy? I’m trying to really see if there’s secret in the data and what can we do with that in the future?

MARK:           Well, knowing that data is a huge advantage because it builds the foundation of the business especially when you’re looking at all these different things that go into the business itself that some people are like, yeah, I’m cash flow positive. It’s like, well talk about how much cash you have in the bank. How much operating cash does the business have, that’s different than yeah, we’re green this month, it’s like, no you have to pay people 30-60 days out. You are actually in the red and you don’t even know that. 

SCOTT:          Profitability and cash flow are two different things. Some people are like, oh I made $100 this month and there’s $100 in the bank. No, you have debt service so you had capital investment, so you know, you’re exactly right. You are obviously well schooled in business, but a lot of people aren’t. A lot of people think, oh I just made $100 and I’ve got a $100, well now you’ve got liabilities to pay down, you’ve got to capitalize your balance sheet, so on and so forth. But, I am still that guy that loves being a CPA, too. 

MARK:           You got your start, you believed in yourself to get into that sector of your life. 

SCOTT:          It is the language of business. It just is. I tell anyone, show me financial statements cause you’re not going to fool me. If your financial statements and I’ll spot the error in five minutes and I still… in our accounting department and that’s one of the things is that they, well my accounting manager Katy would say, don’t give him something without us looking at it because he’ll spot it, pretty quick. 

MARK:           There’s the thing too, and not to get nerdy on the accounting side, but there are things that people don’t understand because we aren’t taught those things in regular school and the government does not come out and say, by the way, do you know that you had the ability to have this tax right off, or this, or that. It’s not people sometimes get scared and they’re like, oh I’m trying  to buck the system by doing this or that, but the system was put there to say you are allowed these specific things and if you have a massive business and you’re making millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions or thousands, those things could make a difference month after month and year after year. 

SCOTT:          No doubt about it.

MARK:           So, get a good accountant and understand that business for sure. 

SCOTT:          No doubt. 

MARK:           What legacy do you want to leave behind? 

SCOTT:          That we came into this business and made it, well we left it better than it was when we started. That is kind of a thing for us. We are very much into reef restoration. We want to be a part of restoring our local reefs and I have spent tens of thousands of dollars in that effort. We are about to endeavor even that much more. We want to be able to leave no footprint, and leave the footprint much better. We want to start planting lots and lots of coral out to our local reefs. This is an initiative that has been ongoing since 2005, we work with MOTE, and we work with David Vaughn at MOTE and we are now working with David at a new location and it’s called Plant a Million Corals, his foundation. We are working with Sanctuary Foundation, but reef restoration is a big piece of what we want and if there’s a legacy for this company is that FURY created great memories, FURY creates memories of a lifetime for our customers but we also left a reef far better off than it was when we started. 

MARK:           I love that. What about a legacy for you personally, like you as a man? In the business? 

SCOTT:          In the business, to me it’s about my people that I get to work with for as long as I continue to be a part of this thing called FURY, and I’m honored to work with such great people. Is that, we don’t lose what makes us great. I know it would be my time to have some younger, smarter person to replace me when I lose that passion or they feel I’m not getting it done for them. That I maybe don’t fit anymore. I just don’t see that happening, but if it did that would be my time to step aside. I don’t see where that’s anywhere on the near horizon. 

MARK:           I feel and just knowing you briefly that one of the things that will go on is the people that work for you will say what a great boss, a great man, a great company.

SCOTT:          You’ll hear me say to anyone who uses the boss word, that I am no one’s boss and they’ll all tell you that I don’t use that, it’s not even a word that I asked them to use, I asked them to stop using that word. I am no one’s boss. I am another one of them. You’ll hear me often referred to and I’m another spoke in the wheel. This wheel turns every day and we’re all spokes in it and I’m one of those spokes and willing to work as hard as any of you are. They know that I am. 

MARK:           The five-star General civil soldier, is how it is. 

SCOTT:          You damn right. That’s right. 

MARK:           Where are we going to find more about you and I’m going to put all that in the show notes, but do you have any websites besides your website or anything you’d want to leave with people?

SCOTT:          I know that sounds crazy, but I don’t have an Instagram. I don’t do Facebook. I just haven’t ever and I think it’s a rabbit hole that you could go down and you can and I can see me spending too much time on it. I know that I probably should, but I don’t… well I do have a Facebook page and I haven’t gone on it in probably a year. But you know, I had a Twitter account that I may go on every six months. I know that I should, but you know, I think and I shouldn’t say I know I should because it’s just not what I do. I’m here with these people and I know we are doing this as a company and I know we are dealing with our community and I know the passion we have for our local reefs and the restoration efforts. These are the important things for me and making sure I follow up with my team and get emails on time and I think to myself if I am engaging with the social platforms, some of that might could suffer. 

MARK:           It’s and this is what I do is social media and marketing and stuff like that. But it’s not about, well you should be on Instagram or Twitter, like Twitter would be good for you because you love people and it’s a good place for you to communicate and stuff like that, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. You know you, you’re obviously not judging others on that, and you’re not complaining about it. 

SCOTT:          There’s not much to know about me from that aspect because I don’t put it out there and I graduated from college and we’ve gone through so much today that no one knows about with me.  

MARK:           What about the website, do you have a foundation for the clean-up or all that or is that just?  

SCOTT:          It’s all FURY. We don’t have a foundation for that, Max Mungle handles scheduling that with Sanctuary counsel staff so that we have the required permits and NOA joins knows about beach clean-ups so that they’re permitted and these things. We just do that, he schedules them once a month, I think we did two last month. But we put and you’ll see when we are going to do those, we definitely put that on our Instagram or Facebook pages and go see all that. 

MARK:           On the website? Can you find that, too?

SCOTT:          I’m pretty sure. I’m not so sure, you know, I don’t know the answer to that, it might be and I know it’s definitely on Facebook and on Insta, but it’s probably on our website, too. 

MARK:           Well, Instagram the person that is running it was very responsive because that’s how we connected. If you do want to ask about that, you can always go and message FURY on their Instagram account and stuff like that. Before we go, I always have one last question. 

SCOTT:          Right on.

MARK:           Give us a tip of the day. Now it can be a new gadget, it could be that you just got this weighted blanket, it could be you love these new cotton boxer/briefs, anything. 

SCOTT:          Oh, a tip of the day. Be unconventional. Think outside the box. Do what others aren’t. 

MARK:           I love it. What a great way to end. Listen, this was wonderful, thank you so much for taking the time. You are super busy but I could tell you have a passion and a love for people so I really appreciate your time. 

SCOTT:          I’m honored that I got a chance to speak with you today. Thank you very much. 

End of Transcript

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