As founder and CEO of PrivateFly, no day is ever the same. Private jet charter is an exciting business sector to be in, especially for someone like me who is truly a fully-paid-up aviation geek. I count myself exceptionally lucky to be able to combine a genuine passion with my business life. I was obsessed with aircraft as a young boy, and this spark turned into a flame at Edinburgh University, when I was given the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force Air Cadet Squadron. I fell in love fully with flying and, after graduation, joined the RAF. There I spent ten years flying the C130 Hercules, including time spent in active service with the Special Forces. Military life was a fantastic experience for me, and taught me a lot about self-discipline, resilience and teamwork – skills that I now draw on every day in business. Moving into private aviation after I left the RAF, led me to see how fragmented and inefficient the industry was. I remember one occasion when I was in Nice, after flying passengers from London City airport. I was due to fly the aircraft empty back to London, to reposition for another flight later that afternoon. I got chatting to a captain from another company who was preparing to start his flight, taking his passengers to London City. Both sets of passengers were paying twice as much as they needed to. It struck me how our industry could become so much better at matching up supply and demand. That was the seed for PrivateFly, and since 2007, that has been my core focus. I had a lot of negative feedback from within the industry in the early days, told that “no-one will ever book a private jet online”. But as consumers, we were all increasingly using online price comparison technology to book other travel products, so why should private jets be any different? Now a successful business model with sustained sales growth of over 50 per cent every year for the past five years, I am delighted to have proven them wrong. Building PrivateFly is an all-consuming journey. Nobody goes into running a business expecting it to be easy, and it certainly hasn’t been that. But it is exceptionally rewarding too. Not only do I get to live and breathe aircraft every day, but I have the satisfaction of having grown the business from just a startup, run with my wife and co-founder Carol Cork (we sold our home to raise the first seed capital), to a successful SME, now forecasting sales of £20m this year and employing a team of 35, with offices in both the UK and USA. PrivateFly is growing and changing very rapidly, and this fast-moving environment creates many rewards and challenges including: opportunities to travel, recruitment and retention of my fantastic team, building customer loyalty, winning awards, board and investment decisions. choosing the right suppliers to fuel our rapid growth and much more. PrivateFly’s growth story is one that’s set to continue and I look forward to sharing some of it with you here.
This article is part of a wider campaign called Founders Diaries, a section of Real Business that brings together 20 inspiring business builders to share their stories. Bringing together companies from a wide variety of sectors and geographies, each columnist produces a diary entry each month. Visit the Founders Diaries section to find out more.
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