Coming Ashore Podcast Episode 4 – Tech founder Nick Chubb

Posted on 8 April 2020 by Andrew Cowderoy


On Episode 4 of the Coming Ashore podcast, Andrew Cowderoy sits down with Nick Chubb, the founder of Thetius. He retraces his career that begun offshore to founding his own business on land, pointing to the power of LinkedIn as one of his stepping stones.

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Andrew Cowderoy:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Coming Ashore Podcast. My name's Andrew Cowderoy, I'm the project manager at the Marine Society and today with us on the show, we have a special guest, Nick Chubb, the founder, chief exec, MD of Thetius.

Nick Chubb:

Just director.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Just director of Thetius, a former seafarer and a mentor on the Coming Ashore program. So thank you very much, Nick, for joining us.

Nick Chubb:

It's a pleasure.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And to get us kicked off, can you share with our colleagues around the world at sea why you went to sea in the first place?

Nick Chubb:

Sure. I went to sea at 19. I actually originally wanted to go when I was about 15 years old and got offered a place with Carnival, but my parents stopped me from going until I turned 18. They wanted me to do A levels first and have something to fall back on. So, I did another two years of college. I then went and taught in a school for a year.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Cool.

Nick Chubb:

And then I had the choice between going to sea or going to university and I was going to read music at university, but I was a terrible musician and it would've cost 30 grand. And so, I would have had loads of debt and probably very little in the way of job prospects afterwards. So, I went down the sea route, I went to Fleetwood, sponsored by Trinity House, and spent most of my training on tankers and the Trinity House ships and I loved it. It was great fun. Lots of travel, interesting stuff and challenging as well.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So, when did you convoy?

Nick Chubb:

2013.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And then, so how long after you qualified as officer of the watch did you continue with a career at sea?

Nick Chubb:

I didn't do long. I did a year as qualified. So, and probably be the first couple of months of that, I struggled to find work because you need to be a qualified deck officer. So, but eventually, I managed to get onto a wind farm doing renewables off the coast of Holland and Germany.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Cool, cool.

Nick Chubb:

Which was good fun, I had really good fun driving fast boats around. And then I managed to get onto a rowboat going between Larne and Cairnryan.

Andrew Cowderoy:

All right, very good.

Nick Chubb:

In Scotland, which was also good fun. So, I was second mate on that for a bit and then came ashore at the end of 2014.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Yeah. And why did you make that decision to come ashore?

Nick Chubb:

A whole load of reasons, really. Principally though, it was family. We'd just had a spate of really unfortunate deaths, serious accidents, illnesses in the family and that kind of re-adjusted my priorities a bit. I'd also got into a serious relationship and we had spent something like 11 months apart in the first year we'd been together, so we decided that we'd come ashore and move to London and it was only meant to be temporary. It hasn't worked out that way.

Andrew Cowderoy:

No, it never does.

Nick Chubb:

No, exactly. Yeah, yeah. But you know, we certainly haven't looked back since. It's been really good for us.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So was that you and your partner both at sea and made that decision to come ashore together?

Nick Chubb:

Near enough, I think I stayed at sea maybe two months, three months longer than she did. So, only a few trips on the ferry, but it was just a lot of things happening at home so I sort of ended up coming ashore.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And when you did make that decision to say, "Okay, I want more time with my partner, want more time with my family," come ashore, moved to the big smoke, did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you came ashore? Did you have a network? Can you share, again, that change, that shift to life on shore?

Nick Chubb:

No, I had no plan, no network, no idea what I was going to do and it was pretty disastrous.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Pretty honest.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, it was always, really my original plan was to go all the way to master mariner and then come ashore, and take the time to plan it out properly and work out what I wanted to do. I didn't do that and I ended up, I wanted to stay in the industry, didn't know what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay in the industry and for love nor money, couldn't find a job where they would recruit a relatively green third mate into an industry-based job in London.

So I actually ended up leaving the industry completely. I went and worked in sales for a financial services recruitment firm. So, totally out of the industry. I ended up doing two years out of the industry. I ended up moving into technology startups outside the sector and actually that, in the end, that time outside of the industry combined with my time inside the industry came together really well and ended up creating the career I've got now.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Absolutely.

Nick Chubb:

So, I don't regret it, but it was a winding path; it wasn't one that was very well thought out.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So when you'd spent some time away and you though, "Right, I want to get back into the belly of the beast of shipping," what did you then do to sort of find that first foot in the door, get back into shipping maritime? Was it, again, perhaps maybe not a great plan?

Nick Chubb:

I'd love to say it was some combination of planning and intelligence, but actually, the old idiom of, "It's not what you know, it's who you know," rings true. In shipping particularly, it seems. And so I actually ended up, over the two years I was outside the industry, working outside of the industry, but in London, I ended up continuing to build my own network of friends and colleagues who are from the industry.

Nick Chubb:

And a friend of a friend of a friend was retiring and post opened up to work here at the Marine Society, to look after their digital portfolio of products. So, combining my experience of the shipping industry and being at sea and being a seafarer with my technology experience that I gained in another industry, it was just the absolute perfect job.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Absolutely.

Nick Chubb:

So huge, huge stroke of luck. But I do find if you want to get lucky, often it's actually about building the right relationships and making sure you're in the right place at the right time. And that takes time to do.

Andrew Cowderoy:

But I think you hit on a point. You say, "Luck," and as I had a conversation recently where actually, it's not so much luck, it's almost a reflection on your previous history. So you have gone off a network, you have gone off and built a portfolio of expertise, of experience, knowledge of people.

So, whilst you may think it's luck, actually, is it more a reflection on subconsciously you've been doing all this and you've been able to package it up to correctly, come here and work in the Marine Society and do what you did extremely well.

Nick Chubb:

Yes, I do think the kind of secret to catching those lucky breaks is to make sure you're in the right place at the right time. And there definitely is and was an element of luck to that, but there's no way, if I hadn't spent two years working on networking around the city and around the industry, then there's just no way I would have found out about the role.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So, in terms of your networking, how did you go about building that network, which provides you with the work that you do now, but also getting into your first job back in shipping?

Nick Chubb:

Sure. So, there are a few shipping-specific things, there's a few shipping-specific groups. I was a member of Honourable company of master Mariners. I was an apprentice there. I am an active member of the Nautical Institute and regularly attend their meetings. I've been to a few, this is going back a few years, I haven't been for a while, but back then I went to a few of the Young Shipping Professional Network of London-

Andrew Cowderoy:

SPN ...

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, SPNL. Yeah, yeah. Their meetings. And actually, the more of these events that you go to, the more you realize there are lots of events and the more you end up getting invited to things and then all of the sudden it starts to balloon. And actually, I would say probably once a week, in London at least, there's some kind of shipping-related event and probably Southampton, Glasgow, they're much the same. If you're living in a shipping hub and wanting to move into a shipping hub, there's always stuff going on. You just have to seek it out and go along.

And the nice thing about the industry is actually is the friendliest industry. It's rare, if ever, do you meet someone who you wouldn't be happy to go have a pint with. So, that's definitely a nice part of it. Nowadays though, I would say I'm a massive LinkedIn user. I reckon I've had at least two jobs that have come directly out of LinkedIn.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Cool.

Nick Chubb:

And in my business now, it's difficult to exactly attribute it, but I would say a good proportion of our turnover comes from LinkedIn and posting on LinkedIn. So it's actually, it's a hugely valuable tool.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Yeah. So coming on to your business today, Thetius, can you explain, just a brief background, how you've come to Thetius, to sort of, again, diving into your sort of tech background and really sharing with colleagues at sea the diverse options for jobs, careers, industries within shipping. So share, from leaving Marine Society to now Thetius how many ever years later. I remember sitting upstairs chatting with you.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, yeah. Probably about three years ago.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So 3 years ago, what's happened in the last three years and now you're at Thetius, you're meant to be speaking around the world, though due to current affairs, perhaps not. What's happened to bring you to now? And again, sort of sharing with colleagues those options that are available.

Nick Chubb:

Sure. So, I guess I'll pick up the story from the Marine Society. I helped to put together, alongside of the fantastic team here, put together a platform called Learn@Sea where we had four courses on English and maths for seafarers, and they were digital and they could be accessed anywhere around the world and downloaded, taken offline, taken away to sea. And we, within about a year of launching it together, were up to about 10,000 users around the world, which is fantastic.

And then I kind of realized, with the experience I'd had at sea and also my time working in startups outside of the sector, that there's this big transformation happening in every sector and it hasn't really hit shipping yet. So, I started my own consultancy on the side of my day job where I would either help technology startups enter the maritime industry or help established maritime players to engage better, engage with technology and use technology in their businesses.

One of my early clients was a startup called Intelligent Cargo Systems and they had developed a port call optimization system for container ships. And I worked with them on a consulting basis for awhile and then they asked if I would join the team full time. So, actually, I left the Marine Society to join Intelligent Cargo Systems as head of growth. And we launched the product with them not too long afterwards and raised some investment and started closing contracts with clients who operate container ships.

And I was also still doing bits of consulting here and there. And then, I was asked repeatedly for the same thing by a few different contacts, and that was for a sort of overview of what's going on in the technology space within the industry. Because you've got the likes of Crunchbase and CB Insights that are really good at providing what's going on in consumer technology. They're okay to the B2B technology, but as you get down into heavy industries, they're terrible. And I had particularly shipping, there was just nothing out there.

And people have different definitions for the word, "Shipping," around the world. In America, it just means on the back of trucks, you're shipping stuff. And perhaps for us seafarers, it means actual ships. So, we're trying to fill the gap and Thetius was conceived as a platform to provide analysis, intelligence and research into emerging technologies within the maritime industry.

So, I started the company in July, left all my other work and went full time on the company. And so far, it's been a success. It's been good fun. We've got some fantastic clients that I'm really enjoying working with. We have a sort of free version of the software, of a sort of innovation database that anyone can go and sign up to. And yeah, we're getting a lot of interests and we're being asked to speak at events all over the world, like you said, barring corona virus. And yeah, it's going really well.

So again, you're probably picking up a theme, I'm not really much of a planner. I'm not a strategic planner that comes up with a five year plan and then follows through. I'm probably more of a person that just takes opportunities as they come. But so far, it's done me okay.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So touching on actually the Thetius, so shipping, I mean, huge heavy industry, we've got the traditional career opportunities in PNI, other insurance, finance, management, operations, brokerage, the list goes on and on. And now we've got almost this new career opportunity coming in, which is startups, technology. Can you sort of, perhaps, say if you can, explain some of the startups, what they're doing and also what they would perhaps be looking for in new talent and whether there's potentially a fit for men and women coming from life aboard ship.

Nick Chubb:

So, it's really interesting that you sort of mentioned all these different sectors, ship broking and insurance and ship management and training, and then mentioned technology. And that's right, because there is a new maritime technology, ship tech sector that is developing and there's a huge number of new companies that have come on the scene in the last five years specifically developing software for the sector.

But interestingly, I think it's probably better to think of the technology side as, it's more like an umbrella and it just sits over all of those sectors. So all of those sectors you rattled off has their own, if you like, technology ecosystem. And we see it is particularly strong at the moment in the insurance sector and in broking. There's a lot of money going into developing new products and services around there. Freight forwarding is also just becoming this huge sort of beast of a technology sector.

So, that's really exciting. And the way I see it is that every sector you can think of within the shipping industry that you think of as a sort of traditional sector within the industry, there is now this sort of technology layer on top. So, if you have a good understanding of technology or you're willing to learn to code part time while you're working at sea, actually you could end up with a very in-demand skillset. In terms of the sorts of companies that are out there, in the UK, I can tell you because we sort of track data on it, there's now about 30 startup space in the UK who are building everything from a sort of automated booking platform for crew training right through to port call optimization software, cloud-based ship management software.

There's some amazing things going on with artificial intelligence in insurance and automated claims handling, marine IoT, smart containers and some smart engine management systems. And the skillset of a seafarer, seafarers, I mean this in the nicest possible way and it's complimentary, they're like the ultimate cowboys, right? If there's a problem at sea, you just fix it. You find a solution and you fix it. And actually, that mentality suits being in a startup really well because you will wear a thousand different hats. Every day, something mad has come up that you weren't expecting the day before and there are just problems that have to be dealt with.

So, it's actually, barring all of the technical skills that are really valuable, just the soft skills that you learn at sea are hugely important and very valuable to this sector. And there's a massive shortage of people who understand how ships work, understand how engine rooms work, understand the sort of principles of navigation, because as more and more of this software gets built, sort of the principles of user-centred design and actually understanding how someone would use it in reality on board a ship when perhaps the weather's bad and things aren't going very well, is absolutely crucial.

So there are all sorts of roles. They're are sort of engineering roles, software engineering roles if you can learn to code, and definitely the experience is helpful there. But things like product design, product management, even on the commercial side, sort of when you look at things like sales and marketing, being able to speak the language of seafaring or just of the industry, all of those are really, really important skills that the tech sector as a whole lacks. So, I see it as, it's a new sector, it's a pretty exciting sector and I think in the next five years, it's going to grow exponentially. So there's a huge amount of opportunities.

Andrew Cowderoy:

I mean, on the host, working on a startup, both having done it and doing it, it's actually quite a fun time, a game for somebody who's coming ashore and shouldn't almost be put off to say, "Well, actually you know what, it's a start up. I don't really know. They don't have any positions going." And it's a point to say, "Well actually, there's always, if you can provide value and if you can provide a degree of understanding, knowledge, experience that can be utilized, approach a startup and approach a company and say, 'Here we are.'" There may not always be a position, but there's always worth saying, "Yes," and in a lot of cases, it'll almost sometimes create a position.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, and I guess that speaks to your earlier point as well about building up your network and having as much network as possible because I think that would work particularly well in a startup. And I know, for example, there is a company called Orca AI who are building decision support, computer vision-based decision support systems for bridges. Sort of a step towards sort of manned autonomy. And they have spent the last two years actively looking for people with everything from a sort of officer of the watch and upwards, to get upwards through, to come and contract with them when they're on their leave, to give input to what's going on.

And a lot of that sort of stuff can come just from an introduction, introducing yourself. But I would say, don't be put off. If technology isn't your thing, don't be put off about finding a partner at one of the law firms. They will have their contact details on the websites. Get in touch with them and ask just to meet for a coffee and find out what maritime law is like, what maritime insurance or ship broking or whatever it may be.

Because people generally are nice enough that they will and you just, you never know what it's going to lead to. And I think of it would also help to just kind of filter out what you don't want to do before you get there and you're sort of stuck doing it.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So now the year's 2020, you've had an exciting career path. Upon reflection, and if you were talking to our colleagues at sea who aren't thinking about coming ashore, what advice would you perhaps immediately start to think about giving them as to sort of, that you may have done different. Would you do anything differently? Would you, perhaps, look at the plan versus just going with your gut? I mean, I'm personally a go with your gut person. Just sort of some advice for that career change and sort of what you would perhaps do differently or advice you'd give.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah. Okay. So, I think it's important, I think personally, the way I see it is it's important to think of your career as a career in maritime rather than a career at sea. Because at some point, whether you're 21 or 65, you're probably going to want to come ashore and keep working a little bit. You know, even if you're sort of on the edge of retirement, people do do it. So, I think it's really important to network early on, as early on in your career as possible.

Like I said before, it took me about two years to build up enough of a network in London to be able to get that job that was my step back into the industry. If I'd have started that in the first year of my cadetship, I probably could have gone straight into a job in the industry. So, I would say from day one, get involved with membership organizations, get involved with the union, get involved with professional development bodies, get involved with networking groups, of which there are plenty around in every city. It's a really small industry.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Yeah, very.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah. It's weird, power zone of global trade, but actually, there's probably only a few thousand people who are really sort of at the core of it.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Oh, absolutely. You don't need to reach far to find somebody that you know and if you don't know them, there's a connection. Rather than a connection of five, there's a connection of two, possibly three.

Nick Chubb:

Exactly. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It is sort of very clustered. And if you've been out there building up the network for a few years across the sector, when it does come a time to come ashore, and for me certainly it wasn't planned, it was a bump ashore and for family reasons, that landing will be a little bit softer because you've built up a bit of a net. I think that's probably the most important thing. I would also say don't be afraid to try lots of different things in or out of the sector.

I've had quite a few jobs since I came ashore, in and out of to the industry, and I think it's really important to spend a bit of time experimenting because you spend however many years learning to drive ships and while there's a lot of important skills in there, not a huge amount of it actually maps across to what you'd end up doing day-to-day ashore. You end up with a very, very different sort of working pattern.

So, if you can, while you're still at sea, try and go on along to as many companies as possible and learn about what they're doing, meet them, understand what the role's a bit like, and then if you're going to have a sort of plan to make ashore, when the right opportunity comes up, coming back to that luck thing, when the right opportunity comes up, you're ready to take it.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Yeah. Get out, experience, work experience, network.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew Cowderoy:

It's getting to understand what is actually on offer versus stepping back and I'm going, "Oh God, this entire industry is scary, I'm petrified and nobody is going to speak to me, I'm a seafarer." Some will, actually.

Nick Chubb:

Yeah. I don't think people realize, certainly I didn't when I was at sea, I didn't realize how valuable the skills and experience I was building up are, and actually how valued they are ashore if you get in front of the right people who need that skillset.

Andrew Cowderoy:

I think also actually, not even just in terms of the skillsets, actually just getting into that networking environment because when you step on board a ship, perhaps it's for the first time, you've never met that crew, instantaneously, you need to build that rapport, you need to engage with them. You need to build that relationship because you're going to be living with them for, whether it's a month or whether it's eight, nine months.

So, actually taking that exact same mentality, you're stepping inside a networking event, a boardroom, a seminar, wherever. Exactly the same. You step inside that room, and it's like joining a ship for the first time. You want to go and meet everybody, connect. "This is who I am, this is what I've done, this is where I want to go."

Nick Chubb:

Yeah, and people will help, that's the really nice thing. It's a genuinely friendly, helpful industry and people will, obviously you've got great institutions like this one, but then I've yet to meet someone in the industry where, if I've asked for some help with something, I've yet to have someone turn me down. And equally because of that, whenever people ask me for help, I'm always as helpful as I possibly can be.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Absolutely. And sort of jumping back to Thetius and a bit of the tech, what can we expect for the next sort of couple of years? What do you sort of perhaps see coming into the industry and developing? Just sort of keeping, if somebody is not wanting to come ashore tomorrow or within the next six months, what can we sort of start to look towards within tech within the industry?

Nick Chubb:

So, I would say the industry is only just getting a good handle on how it uses data and being able to capture, analyse, and sort of gain insight from data. 50,000 ships around the world, each of them has hundreds of centres, if not thousands. We're now getting to the point where a fleet management team might be looking seriously at hiring something like a data scientist to be able to derive insight to get things like fuel savings or better weather routine.

So, there's a whole sector starting to build up around data management, data and analytics, and that is really exciting. That's coming at the same time as, over the next, let's say five years, there'll be a whole new network of low Earth orbit satellites coming online. So, depending on what you read, anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 satellites are going to be put up into low Earth orbit and they will be able to do low latency, high bandwidth communication anywhere in the world, point to point.

Andrew Cowderoy:

So looking at the LinkedIn as a tool to use for seafarers coming ashore, some advice and guidance on sort of really utilizing the platform to its best.

Nick Chubb:

So, I'd say that the best thing to do is actually just share your experiences and share your expertise. If you're onboard now or you go away for three month trip, writing and posting your reflections of what went well and what went badly, sharing your, I guess, professional experiences, things that you've learned. That's stuff that people really value, and it's stuff that will get you noticed by the right people.

And particularly if you're sharing stuff that is of interest to you and people are resonating with it, then when they have jobs, they're going to come to you and it's probably going to be the sort of job that you're interested in doing because you've been sharing content like that.

I'd also add that the search functionality on LinkedIn is really good. If you get to a point where you are looking for your next job and you're sort of actively thinking about coming ashore, you can do a free trial of LinkedIn Premium where you get access to really, really good search tools. You can send out something like 15, 20 messages in a month, cold, to people, asking for to meet them for coffee and learn about what they're doing or if they have a job you want to apply to. Stuff like that really helps.

So, I would say definitely share. Share your experiences. Join a few of the groups as well. Things like the Nautical Institute Group for sure and use, when the time is right, use the search to find the people you want to connect with.

Andrew Cowderoy:

And if anybody wants to find out more about Thetius, connect with you, what's the best way to do so?

Nick Chubb:

I'm on LinkedIn, I'm really active on LinkedIn, so I'm Nick Chubb on LinkedIn. Look me up, or go to thetius.com. We have a huge database of about 500 startups, scale-ups and large corporate innovators on that database and we actually provide some basic contact information for free to the leadership in those organizations. So actually, I should have plugged Thetius instead of LinkedIn. Use Thetius to search for your next tech job if you want to get into the tech space, or just email me. I'm Nick@thetius.com.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Well, thank you very much.

Nick Chubb:

Not at all.

Andrew Cowderoy:

Thank you very much for listening to the podcast.

 

This podcast was presented by the Marine Society. If you want to find out more about the coming ashore project, be sure to subscribe to the channels podcast on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes. Visit us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or visit the Marine Society website.

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