What is your background, pre-AirProxima?
Over 30 years in Silicon Valley, building great teams, companies, and products. Before AirProxima, I worked at Amazon for many years developing incredible, industry disrupting products such as Amazon Echo (Alexa), Echo Look, Echo Show, and FireTV — products that have literally changed the way we interact with the Internet. Prior to Amazon, I developed a Global Live Broadcast system which enabled anyone with an HD camera to broadcast their own live video throughout the world, to millions of viewers, in under two seconds — fundamentally changing the economics for HD live broadcasting. Companies like YouTube and Vimeo used the technology to enable the type of videos we watch every day online.
When was AirProxima established? How has the company evolved since you launched?
We founded AirProxima in December of 2015, then spent months researching and analysing the private aviation industry. We recognised a fundamental lack of high quality, on-demand, regional air travel at a price that would be accessible to more people. Then we started building the machine-learning technology and marketplace that would enable our vision to come to life. Within the last few months we launched our full beta marketplace with over 20 operators using the software and 5 million flight options available for consumers to buy with just a few clicks.
What was the inspiration behind starting the company? How did it all begin?
I’ve always wanted to be a pilot, and after leaving Amazon in 2015, I had the freedom to invest in the time to learn. During my lessons, I noticed how many private jets at the airports I visited went idle, day after day. It made me wonder. Someone was paying for them to sit there. Why couldn’t they reach the demand or customers out there looking to fly?
One day, I was having a beer with a friend and very accomplished pilot. We started talking about why no one had created “Uber for private jets” given all of the planes sitting idle at the airports we visited. We started doing some digging and quickly learned others had tried, many others, and they had all run into the same set of problems — the technical problems are hard, very hard, and the economics can only make sense with a simple, non-membership, deep-technology based solution. The US aviation is a heavily regulated industry that has rules to keep us all safe and ensures that “grandma can make it to Christmas dinner on time.” Private charter flights are still booked over the phone where prices are based on the charter operator’s “tribal knowledge” leveraging decades of experience with handling weather, undocumented airport fees, constantly changing prices and flight constraints, and personal relationships to fill in the gaps to satisfy the customer’s request.
AirProxima was built to revolutionise regional air travel. The aircraft sitting idle are a tremendous, untapped resource — well over US$10bn annually. The owners, operators, and pilots want to fly their planes — the fixed costs have to be paid for regardless. The variable costs are well within the range of the consumer’s willingness to pay for a seat on luxury travel, and the consumers reap get the benefits of private aviation — no TSA, no baggage claim, no waiting for hundreds of passengers to board or deplane.
It sounds like a really unique offering… do you have competitors? If so, what sets you apart from them?
Commercial aviation is on one end of the spectrum — hub-and-spokes travel model; you go where and when works best for them; Private charters are great but prices and availability are not transparent or readily available; and membership-based private aviation forces you to commit to paying for a service you may not use.
For example, there’s a great company called SurfAir. You pay them $2,000+ per month, and you can fly on all or most of their routes, whenever you choose. They have a limited set of routes, and if the plane is full, you don’t fly. AirProxima employs a network of charter operators so there is always a plane to fly you where you want to go, when you want to go — no membership fees. We don’t own or operate the aircraft (unlike competitors) so we can create a network that can serve a potentially unlimited number of custom routes vs. set routes.
Another example is a company called JetSmarter. Again, you pay them a yearly membership fee of $15,000+, and you pay a fee for each flight which can be on the order of $3,000 or sometimes more depending on the route. They give you a larger set of routes to choose from, but you are still faced with paying for a service you might not use.
We think the membership model doesn’t work. AirProxima provides consumers with a dynamic platform that lets you find flights where you want to go, when you want to be there with a completely open and transparent online marketplace where anyone and everyone can buy these flights on-demand.
How did the name of the company come about?
AirProxima is the combination of Aircraft and Proximity — our technology is built around optimising aircraft utilisation and price based on proximity to the customer.
We’ll find the best aircraft, closest to you, and provide a better experience getting you where you need to go.
How would you describe your partnership with Enigma Alliance and how did that all come about?
I met Stuart Page, (Enigma Alliance CEO) through a mutual friend, and I could tell immediately we were going to do amazing things together. Stuart and the Enigma Alliance have such a fantastic vision, focusing on improving lives. It fits extremely well with the AirProxima vision — to bring luxury, on-demand aviation to the public and to bring back regional air travel to remote areas throughout the world.
What would you say is AirProxima’s focus for the short to medium term?
As with all of my startups, AirProxima is focused on delivering value to the customer, and there are a series of steps along the path to fulfilling AirProxima’s vision for revolutionising and disrupting regional air travel.
The first step has been to build the AirProxima Operator Network — this is the supply side of our marketplace. We have signed up dozens of Operators, with hundreds of planes, and millions of flights customers can buy today.
The next stage is to turn on the AirProxima Publishing Engines, leveraging our extensive experience in digital marketing to find customers through social networks and sell them private aviation charter flights online. The end game is to predict customer demand and dynamically move planes within our network to service the demand, selling luxury, private aviation flights by-the-seat, on-demand.
What do you believe are the company’s key strengths?
Technology. Marketing. Operations. I have decades of experience building teams and technology, like Amazon Echo and BitGravity Live Broadcast, that disrupt industries and bring significant value to customers. Haley Hebert, our Chief Marketing Officer, has a decade of go-to market experience with startup companies and also worked with Fortune 500 brands like Microsoft and Intel to effectively use modern digital marketing for sales. Dave Madaras our COO has over a decade of experience building and running high-frequency trading systems for global currency markets, providing customers with accurate and reliable on-demand services.
What makes you optimistic?
With a small team of dedicated, highly capable people, you can build products that disrupt even the most entrenched and heavily regulated industries. Uber and Airbnb did this for ground transportation and lodging. AirProxima is going to do this for regional air travel.
What do you admire in others?
Honesty. Integrity. Philanthropy. Industry.
How has your life experience influenced or provided the foundations for AirProxima?
My first startup company was Reed Hastings’ [CEO of Netflix] first startup company, Pure Software. He instilled in me the desire to build great products that deliver real value to customers. After almost two decades, I had a similar experience with working with Jeff Bezos and his executive team at Amazon — the relentless pursuit of building the products that customers truly need and that will fundamentally change their lives.
What do you think the future hold for mainstream aviation?
The US has spent decades subsidising the commercial-aviation industry, building incredible infrastructure along the way. In order to bring down prices, the commercial airlines have developed the “hub-and-spokes” model to efficiently move large groups of people across the country. Regional air travel doesn’t fit this model, and the commercial airlines have all but abandoned short-haul regional air travel. The sharing economy that Uber and Airbnb have pioneered will eventually extend into aviation, and AirProxima intends to be the leader in this space — revolutionising regional air travel with luxury, on-demand flights starting in 2017.
What has been the most exciting moment of your career?
Watching a live video broadcast of SpaceX’s first Falcon launch — live streamed on BitGravity’s live broadcast system (a previous startup mentioned). Seeing the entire launch from a camera on the rocket, then seeing it enter orbit and eventually go far enough around the Earth that we lost the real-time camera signal was one of the most surreal and exciting moments of my career.
Another one was standing next to Reed Hastings when the first trade came over the speaker for Pure Software’s IPO. This put me squarely on the path of building my own startup companies.
I’m sure I’ll have more exciting moments to share as we build AirProxima.