Making Waves

Setting Sail

Back in 1992, however, Bostonians thought Wilson was a bit crazy when he began to spread word of his idea. Fresh from a lucrative job in corporate finance, Wilson knew he wanted to steer his life in another direction. While on a cross-country trip, he found his inspiration on a Memphis tour given in Ducks.

He decided to bring the concept back to Boston and create a fun, yet informative, historical tour given in candy-colored Ducks with names like Beantown Betty and Fenway Fannie. Pouring $30,000 in savings into his efforts, Wilson began making the rounds to apply for permits and find investors.

The unique nature of the Duck--part bus, part truck, part boat--led Wilson through a maze of government agencies, seeking permits everywhere from the Department of Public Utilities to environmental groups. He encountered not only skepticism but even confusion and rudeness as he tried to explain his concept to officials, who, unfamiliar with the Duck, pictured a World War II tank rumbling through Boston's historical districts. "The short and sweet of it is that everybody thought I was nuts because it was a new idea," says Wilson.

Between the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts and the U.S. Coast Guard, Wilson faced dozens of officials asking questions he admits he wasn't prepared for. For example, he says, "There's a stability test to make sure a vessel is operating in the proper condition so it won't roll over when people are on it. The first time I walked into the Coast Guard office, they asked me about stability. `I'm a stable individual,' I said. I knew a lot about boats, but I didn't know anything about what the Coast Guard wanted."

Almost a year later, Wilson was still lacking permits, investors and support from just about everyone. "It was clear I was going broke," says Wilson, "One day I said, `I'm going to give up. But before I do, I have to see what my potential competitors are doing.'"

So Wilson took his first trolley tour. "It was such a pathetic experience compared to what I wanted to do," he says. "I said, `If this is my competition, it's a no-brainer.' And I never looked back."

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This article was originally published in the June 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Making Waves.

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