If last weekend was anything to go by, Sydney is in for one heck of a sunny season – and where better to while away the warm hours than at a buoyant beach club (cocktail in hand, naturally)? We caught up with Adam Abrams and Julian Tobias – the two nightclub big-names who tossed it all in to launch The Island – and found out what it took to get this business afloat.
“We’re getting a bit older, you know,” says Adam, as he and long-time wingman Julian sip on peppermint teas. “Nightclubs weren’t really our thing anymore.”
Indeed, the lads’ latest hospitality ventures are decidedly lower-key (and in the case of their cleaning app, downright domestic) than their Kings Cross nightspot, TheClub (a former strip club), infamous Bondi Beach rooftop parties and The Shh Room – a bar so exclusive it demands a password at the door.
“We had the concept of The Island… such a simple concept, in theory…” But in practice, launching a floating bar and beach club was something of a titanic task.
“Adam always uses the phrase, ‘It didn’t come with instructions’,” says Julian, but nevertheless, in 2010 they launched Australia’s very first 350-square-metre floating beach club in Sydney Harbour, complete with five-star service, VIP cabanas and daybeds.
“We were writing a manual as we went,” says Adam. “We had no reference point. So, what do you charge? How does it work? Do you own your water taxis? Do you sub [contract] out to other companies? Where do you get a tugboat from? Should we buy a tugboat…?”
And then there was the renovated barge itself, in its infancy, seriously lacking in the way of power, water and sewerage capacity.
“Our first event was for Vodafone, and an hour in we were like, ‘We’re going to run out of water in the next 45 minutes.’ That means you can’t make ice, you can’t flush the toilets.” Or as Julian says, “You’re finished. Game over.”
“So we took the tugboat we’d rented and picked up three or four thousand litres of water,” continues Adam.
“And for the whole first year, every two and a half hours we’d pump water on and pump waste off,” unbeknown to Sydney’s glitterati (and a spattering of international celebs – including former part-owners Melanie Brown and Stephen Belafonte), catching the sun, cocktail in hand.
“We were like a swan, you know?” says Adam. “Paddling furiously underneath, looking very graceful on top.”
“Our business ethos, if you want to call it that, has always never actually been about what we do, but identifying opportunities in things that aren’t being fully exploited or serviced,” says Julian.
“The Island was us saying, ‘Okay, there’s a gap in the market.’ The beaches of Sydney don’t have deckchairs like in Europe and America, where you can actually have a drink on the beach… There was an opportunity – a first-mover advantage – to get in early.”
They laughingly describe the first two years of The Island as “hell”, not helped by a slew of naysayers. As Adam puts it: “People who were running charter boats, people who were running bars, people who were running everything. I mean, these were some of the most experienced operators in Sydney, all saying it couldn’t be done. It was difficult to keep going and stay positive.”
So, having defied the odds, what advice would they give to others battling the inevitable entrepreneur’s storm?
“Just know that when you make a business plan – when you have a concept – it’s going to change, dramatically. Be prepared to evolve from day one,” says Julian.
“Yeah,” agrees Adam.
“There was a Prussian general [Helmuth von Moltke] who came up with the concept of planning and business plans evolved from that. He said, ‘There’s no plan that exists beyond the initial contact with the enemy.’ So, the second you start…” he says, before Julian finishes his sentence…
“All bets are off.”