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Gathering meaningful data worth it despite lack of immediate commercial value

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Juggling priorities is a challenge for many fast-growing businesses. There’s so much you want to achieve, and finite resources and time. So with ambitious sales targets to hit, inevitably the projects that take priority are those which have a clear path to commercial value, while others have to go on the back burner for a while. But a long-awaited project, utilising meaningful data, finally took flight for us last year and it’s something we’ll continue developing in 2017.

We are still unusual in our sector in offering online search and booking. When PrivateFly launched in 2008 we were the only online platform that linked private jet customers with available aircraft, giving instant pricing and online booking. That’s not the case any longer and competitors have arrived, but it’s still certainly not the norm.

Our technology has continually developed since, from our first generation mobile app in 2010, to a number of API integrations with industry software providers – which enable to us to exchange information with our supply chain automatically.

Of course the main reason for our tech approach is to offer customers a faster, more efficient and better-priced service. But in the process, we capture multiple points of interaction with a very fast-growing number of online visitors, customers and suppliers. And while we analyse this data for our own day-to-day business reporting, we knew more of this rich and meaningful insight could also be useful to the industry as a whole as well as the wider travel industry, media, analysts, investors and many others.

While there’s solid regular reporting around aircraft and destination demand in business aviation (notably offered by intelligence provider WingX Advance) there’s still little meaningful data about private jet customer demographics and behaviour. It’s a pretty closed world to many and plenty of assumptions and preconceptions make the headlines, but very few data-driven insights.

So we saw the data’s potential, but the challenge has been how to efficiently process, interpret and present it. We’ve looked at this many times over the past eight years, but it’s a big task and growing as fast as we are, other more immediate priorities have always been greater.

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But by the end of 2015 we’d reached a size where our data was statistically significant – including over 900,000 annual flight searches on our websites (this year it was over one million). Plus by then, we also had the resource in our highly-skilled marketing team to turn a huge amount of far-from-pretty but meaningful data into a digestible and insightful publication, Private Jet Charter Trends. Our first edition was in the spring last year, and we’ve gone on to produce this quarterly, with the team just finalising Q4 2016 now, along with a summary infographic that looks back over the whole of 2016.

Insights include booking behaviour (over the whole year, 57 per cent of customers booked and flew within a week), age (average 41) and gender (71 per cent male). This meaningful data has been very well-received by the industry, and by the media, and we have a growing distribution list.

It can sometimes feel hard to justify projects which don’t have immediate commercial value but I’m proud that we’re now able to use and share our meaningful data in this way. It’s a project that makes me realise how far PrivateFly has come as a business, and excited about where we can take it from 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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