Feeling the fear, doing it anyway – Ikonic rises

AJ Blackmon, CEO, Ikonic Yachts.

Clambering over the guard rail of the Perrine bridge 500ft above the Snake River, every nerve ending screamed at him not to do it. This is not right. This can’t be good. Hands and legs shaking, with fears of the past and future snapping at him, AJ Blackmon inched to his feet. His eyes flicked out over the Idaho countryside, and he stepped off.

That’s when it hit him.

“The moment you leave the ground, it is just like the most euphoric, peaceful, conquering feeling you’ve ever felt in your life,” Blackmon, CEO, Ikonic Yachts says of base jumping.

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The “mental clarity” of knowing he has prepared 100% for that moment is the buzz he craves, not the ride itself. And though he has retired from base jumping, skydiving and wingsuiting he still seeks the rush that comes with conquering the fear, both in his hobby of motorsport and in business.

“It is the most intense overcoming of your internal being,” he says. “That fear is real, it’s every day present in your life and if you’re not aware of it, how can you overcome it?

“What I really crave is that feeling in my stomach of I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew but I know I’ll rise to the occasion.”

‘So underwater’

After a five-year stint as CEO of Apollo Yachts, Blackmon set up the Florida-based Ikonic Yachts in 2023, with the vision of creating “the first yachting family office” and a mission to “hyper focus” on each client at an investment advisory level.

His sales pipeline is based on referrals from “multiple blue chip sports team owners, entrepreneurs, Wall Street founders and A-list celebrities”, a legacy from 10 years in the industry selling and chartering superyachts.

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But it was an adrenaline rush of a more pressing kind that sent him down the yacht path in the first place.

He was lying in bed staring at the ceiling, his girlfriend – now wife – “bawling her eyes out” next to him, as they reeled from the magnitude of a failed trade show he had organised in Utah.

“I was so underwater it was crazy. I had just lost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Blackmon, who was born in Tampa, Florida but grew up in a small Midwest town with dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.

“I had rented a house that night to celebrate with the team. And obviously there was no real celebration.

“I remember staring at the ceiling. I can put myself in my body in that moment in time, all the time. And one thing that I realized is that I just have to keep moving.”

‘Started crying’

When he was 18 living back in Tampa, Blackmon had a job washing boats for $3 a foot at various yacht clubs including West Shore Yacht Club and Tampa Yacht Club, and his thoughts now kept coming back to yachts and the individuals who owned them. He was reluctant to become a “sales guy” but his girlfriend said his passion and honesty would make him stand out and be successful. “People really trust you, and you light up when you’re around boats,” she told him.

“And by the way, we need to figure something out, because we have no money, so I don’t know how we’re going to pay rent.”

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He floated the yacht sales idea to one of the investors whose money he had just lost, and they offered him the chance to sell their 50-foot sport fishing boat in Key Largo.

“I listed it and within three weeks I sold it,” he says. “I remember getting a cheque for $47,000. My family has never made that kind of money at once in their life. I mean, I started crying.”

Room for mistakes

He began working for a small brokerage and had some successes selling boats to high-profile people who found him on Instagram, he says.  “It was just like a chain reaction of right place, right time and a light bulb went off in my head. I’m like, this is it,” he says.

Then one of his mentors – a Wall Street financier – got in touch to ask Blackmon to find him a boat. They did an in-house deal for a 47m yacht which he says, “put me on the map” and gave him “my first eight-figure transaction” within a year of getting his yacht broker’s licence.

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Recalling a quote from leadership expert Simon Sinek about just needing one person in your life who believes in you, Blackmon adds: “The client knew I was green, but he trusted me to do the right thing by him. He gave me the room to make mistakes and learn from them, sometimes at his expense. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.” 


During the transaction process he also learned a valuable business lesson. Not offering charter at the time, he introduced the client to a well-known brokerage to assist but they quickly solicited him to co-list the vessel and “essentially earned a substantial commission for absolutely zero effort”.

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“I got a very quick lesson in yachting,” he says. “I thought if I never want this to happen again, I need to be on top of our clients’ needs every way possible, from management, to charter, to sales, representation, their entire yachting universe. We have to create this ecosystem where we are dedicated to our clients, just like their family offices to their investments.”


Ikonic, he says, is the brainchild of that thinking, but like all yacht brokers, Blackmon has endured his share of lows among the highs.

One Christmas he flew to Livorno in Italy ahead of his client to see a large yacht they were about to buy after months of prep work. But on arrival he found it was in a poor state, contrary to the numerous videos, images and PDF files he had received. Blackmon warned his client off but while he was there, he discovered another yacht which was “incredible”. They got to the point of having an offer accepted and undergoing sea trials before they were eventually gazumped on the price.  “That’s the piece of brokering people don’t talk about, they only see commission percentages and assume every deal goes through,” he says. “I spent basically spent a year trying to get a 47m deal done. It was a painful process, but it happens. I just try to stay on an even keel and sharpen my skill set from every experience.”

Blackmon says it is a privilege to be trusted by the successful individuals he works with and believes it is his duty at Ikonic to give them “lifetime achievement experiences”.

“You’re giving something to individuals that can buy and do anything in the world, and they’ve chosen to spend this money with you on an experience that, if we do our jobs right, provides them enjoyment and lasting memories for the remainder of their life,” he says.

“I don’t know what’s more special than that.”

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