Arranging a weekend debauch with the boys in Vegas or a spontaneous round of golf at Whistling Straits shouldn’t be harder than figuring out how to get home from the bar. That’s the thinking that led 25-year-old
, an app that hooks travelers up with
Uber style. That means you can get home after drinking even if home is a thousand miles away.
We had a hard time believing it was really as easy as all that, so we called up the Moscow-born boy wonder and asked him about the future of
aviation and his plan to make NetJets look like a hassle.
Uber for private jets? Seriously?
Back in 2009 when I first started flying private fairly regularly, it was mostly for pleasure. I’d get my buddies together and we’d charter a private jet. But the process was really old school, the way the industry worked was archaic. You’d have to call on the phone, talk to a broker, wait hours for them to source something. Then they’d come back with paper contracts. And the information wasn’t always accurate about safety, the interior of the plane – the kind of things people who fly private like to know about.
The process with booking a private jet was similar to how you’d have to buy stocks back in the 1970s. Everything was manual, you had to call a broker. What we decided to do is essentially kill the middle-man and give people direct access to air carriers through this app.
So how’d you make that jump?
I was involved with a few IT projects prior to JetSmarter and, after I sold them, I started flying private a lot. By 2012, I’d developed a relationship with a few of the private carriers I flew with, and I was sitting around with some of my developers from other projects and we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if there was an Uber for private jets?’ So I connected with some of these carriers and asked for a real time feed of their schedules to see what would be possible. I got live information and made a BETA version of the app in 2012 and showed it to my friends and family who I knew had been flying private. When they plugged in an itinerary and a jet popped right up it was a complete ‘wow’ experience for them. I realized we were on to something great. We raised some money and I invested some of my own.
You make it sound easy. So is it only sheiks and their ilk booking with JetSmarter?
Well, when it comes to ad hoc and on demand charters – say you can want to charter a 737 from Dubai to London for tomorrow – of course the demographic is fairly exclusive. It obviously depends on how you spend your money but the way we consider it is if you have $2 million of liquidity you’re definitely thinking about ad hoc charter.
But we are getting a lot of other individuals trying our one-way flights – empty legs where the plane is repositioning somewhere and we can offer one-way pricing or an affordable rate for an entire six-person jet.
So there is actually an affordable component to this plan?
Some 30 percent of flights in private aviation are empty – they’re repositioning to another scheduled flight. We are trying to efficiently pair that empty capacity with real time demand. This definitely opens things up the segment to people who earn say, even, $200,000 to $250,000 a year. Your business or first class fliers, in others words, can - every now and then - afford an empty leg jet from Point A to Point B if they’re efficiently using our app.
What routes are the most common?
Routes like Orlando to Ft. Meyers for example, or New York to DC. Maybe it’s a group of guys going from South Florida to Augusta to golf, or LA to Vegas – we see a lot of those. A lot of Chicago to New York flights, and flight from South Florida to New York City, too.
Do you consider major airlines competition?
In my opinion, all aviation started as private and should return to its roots. We are a tech company dedicated to solving that problem. Our next step is to take those empty legs and flights and try to make a technology that utilizes crowd sourcing and empty legs.
I’m fine with sharing a jet with four or five other people I somewhat know, or don’t even know. We are betting a lot of people are. We’re trying to roll out jet sharing and collaboration and crowd sourcing. We are giving people direct access to these carriers and their information. When you implement jet-sharing with empty legs, we are talking about private flights that could be even cheaper than commercial economy flights on a per seat basis. That’s competing with airlines and that’s open to hundreds of millions of people.
What we envision for Jetsmarter is not a service for the wealthy. Our goal here is to democratize private aviation and we want in the next five years to be truly competing with airlines.
You must have some good client stories.
Sure, lots, though we never tell names. We had an outrageous request for us to transport a ton of gold from Ecuador to Malta. We do Airbus corporate jets and Boeing business jet charters monthly - these planes are VIP-configured for royalty. We have people that are requesting million-dollar flights through our app. I have royalty using our app and top-notch celebrities using our app - and with no help from their personal assistant, either. When they realize it’s so easy to book something they like to do it themselves. You can book a private jet within a minute, paperless and cashless. We’ve done over 50 flights for some celebrities and never even talked to them on the phone.