When Jon Keene moved to Naples from the Boston area in 2019, he picked up on something right away. “There were more boats than cars here,” he says. A Navy veteran who spent his career running large car dealerships in the northeast, Keene, now 57, was ready for the next chapter in his life. He decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and create his own company.
In 2020, Keene and business partner Mark Archambault launched Pelican Coatings, a company that provides a glass-like clear ceramic coat on boats. The clear coat reduces damage from barnacles, algae and sea worms and dramatically cuts down on maintenance time. “Imagine putting a Coke bottle on the bottom of your boat,” Keene says. “It’s much easier to scrape off a glass bottle than wood or fiberglass.” And because the sealant is clear, boat owners don’t have to rely on thick gray bottom paint, which can ruin the look of a sleek new watercraft.
Keene has seen the positive effects of his product time and again. The company recently coated the hull of a 40-year-old wooden crab boat. The owner used to have to take the boat out of the water for half a week to chisel off the bottom growth; today he does it with a power washer. “It takes 20 minutes instead of four days,” Keene says.
Now that he’s had the experience of working for himself instead of someone else, Keene has a feel for the rush of being an entrepreneur. “Some days it’s like going off a cliff,” he says. “It can be scary. But there are days when it’s the greatest feeling in the world—the greatest accomplishment a human can feel.”
Keene doesn’t measure his success in terms of what he achieves for himself; he measures it by what he helps those around him achieve. “When one of our guys is able to buy a house or a car, those are great days,” he says. “Owning a business is the whole human experience.”
The Handshake Test
“The one thing every entrepreneur should understand is that better people equal better results,” Keene says. The most successful business owners surround themselves with smart, dedicated, trustworthy people—from partners to advisers to employees at every level of the company.
When Keene is bringing on someone new, he has a simple test to see if they’re a good fit for Pelican Coatings: Do they look him in the eye when they shake hands? “That tells me whether they’ll look my clients in the eye and be able to communicate properly,” Keene says. “I say that better people produce better results, but the results are not just for me and my company, they’re for my clients.” A firm handshake and a steady gaze go a long way.