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Perhaps the elevator pitch “Uber for private jets” sounds vaguely familiar? Sure it does, as Dutch startup Jetwise went bankrupt both epically and publicly not long ago. Now, a young Dutchman named Ruben Portz is flying into the same space, with his Berlin-based startup JetEight. They quite recently joined the Startupbootcamp Smart Transport and Energy accelerator program. An interview with Founder and Managing Director, Portz.
Ruben, as a young lad from Groningen up north, why did you decide to start your company in Berlin?
Berlin, as you know, is a great startup hub today. I came here to get a degree in Business at a Germany’s leading business school – European School of Management and Technology (ESMT Berlin), met my co-founder there and decided to launch here to be exposed to the Berliner startup scene.
What is JetEight? Can you tell a little bit about the business model behind it?
JetEight is a members-only airline making air travel fast and democratizing private aviation. JetEight operates like a regular airline but uses business jets and private terminals to save its members significant time. Arrive 15 minutes before departure and walk straight to the aircraft. For a fixed monthly fee a member of JetEight gets access to our flight schedule.
Who are the founders, what did you do before?
As I am an “aviation guy”, as people like to say. I have worked before my studies at KLM and Boeing in both operational as strategic departments. My co-founder, Lisa Makarova, has more of Business Development background. In the past years, she’s been trying to get exposed to as many things as she could, so in the end she seems to have good understanding of every business aspect: she worked in such areas as Tax&Legal, Corporate Banking, Management Consulting, as well as she used to be a Finance & Operations manager for a startup, so she just gets it all. She even worked as a freelance photographer and has quite some expertise building websites and coding, so we decided she’d have a title of CXO, X – representing the range of capabilities. She also speaks 5 or even 6 languages.
How is it different from Jetwise, a similar startup that failed earlier?
I am not sure why Jetwise failed. Nevertheless, they got the concept off the ground and made a new audience excited about the benefits of private aviation. The company has proven that there is quite some interest for such an offering. It is key to find the right operating partners, aircraft as well as sufficient funding and time the launch of operations right. We’re not sure whether the pricing model of an annual membership fee like Jetwise is the best, but they have proven that there is enormous potential.
What kind of clients do your serve, and how do they use the service?
What JetEight is offering is actually private jet flights for a business class price. This is something currently not offered in Europe (except maybe for empty leg flight providers, but those flights pop up days or hours in advance of the flight and are unpredictable). We believe there is a great market potential for scheduled private jet flight avoiding the hassle of larger terminals. From top-tier consultants going to the client premises, to people traveling to art shows and fashion weeks. Who does not want to arrive just 15 minutes before departure and walk through the private terminal in seconds off to the aircraft.
How is Startupbootcamp?
About three weeks into the program, I must confess – it’s been just great. I am really happy we decided to join the program. The first three weeks are aimed at being exposed to as many great minds as is possible – we have spent some days meeting more than 10 mentors of the program to brainstorm together on what the best way for JetEight is. Each one of them has a great story to tell, as well as very interesting suggestions. The mentor network comprises the whole spectrum: from startup founders to innovation managers at large corporates, as well as investors, CTOs, and many other great people. Some days you just feel like you’re in the hall of fame, literally. Now, in the second phase of the program, we have to implement all the great ideas and accelerate the business.
What kind of funding do you need, in the foreseeable future?
The company is mostly founder-funded to date, with further investment from the Startupbootcamp. We are always open for angel investment, in the end of the day the more money we invest in our marketing engine, the faster we get enough members to get off the ground. We will be also raising a seed round at the Demo Day of the Startupbootcamp program, the event where hundreds of potential investors come together to meet the teams from the current batch.
What’s the future, beyond being the “Uber for private jets”?
Well, to start with it would be great to become anything like Uber. The company is currently valued at some $70B so getting anywhere close to this would be a dream already. More than that, Uber is an interesting concept to use as an example, because they are getting a lot of drivers on board, and that would be the long-term goal for us, as well, to convert as many operators as we can. In the end, you might be even competing with Uber and their helicopter business. It’s our vision to remain the platform and help operators increase their aircraft fleet utilization. The average utilization lies around 150 flight hours per aircraft according to the European Business Aviation Association, which we think can definitely be 8-10 times more with our concept.
business woman leaving a corporate jet plane image by Shutterstock