Stratajet is disrupting the entire private jet travel industry. We met up with the London-based Founder & CEO, Jonny Nicol and got an exclusive insight into one of the hottest startups that will be attending the 2016 Web Summit in Lisbon.
Q: Can you please tell us about Stratajet and the specific challenge that you are addressing?
A: After a stint in the military I became a corporate freelance pilot, which included flying private jets. This led me to realise there were two huge gaping holes in the industry, not just in terms of the way the industry served its customers – although undoubtedly this was a problem – but more importantly, inefficiencies and wastage that were always going to stop the private jet industry being accepted by a wider audience.
So I set about trying to change this and Stratajet is the result. It’s a cutting-edge new technology that is reinventing the private aviation industry. It is the world’s first ‘real-time’ private jet booking platform, providing instant and accurate costs and availability of private jets and allowing you to book online there and then. The aim is to make private jet travel more accessible to the mainstream traveller.
Q: Please tell us a little about your technology that drives your platform?
A: Around this time last year we were finishing off the build phase of the Stratajet booking platform. Having coded the extremely complicated algorithms necessary to conduct a search, the further challenge we faced was getting the system to run fast enough to be a viable consumer proposition. The first time we ran a search it took us 20 minutes to search through 500 aircraft.
This struggle to build the technology meant that we took more time that we expected and at one point my whole staff had to work for three months without pay but we all believed in what we were doing and none of us were going to give up. We were inspired by the potential of what we were building to change an entire industry and the perception of that industry.
We’ve now got that search process down to 10 seconds, which in hindsight was a computer science miracle.
Q: What geographic markets are you focusing on currently?
A: The platform was ‘turned on’ in November 2015 after we’d undertaken a rigorous tour of Europe to bring aircraft operators onto the system and ensure there were sufficient aircraft on the system to offer it to customers. When this project, which I coined ‘Operation Long-Reach’, was complete, we then launched to the flying public in April 2016 (across 44 countries in Europe) via a series of media events which drove publicity across a range of media sectors. Coinciding with this we also underwent a major rebranding, bring the design of the brand in line with our vision to position private flying as a way for our customers to be more efficient with their time.
Q: What markets will you focus on in the near future and what is your plan to conquer them?
A: The next phase of the expansion of Stratajet – the launch in the U.S. market – is imminent, as we have undertaken a similar tour of aircraft operators in the States. At the moment we have nearly 500 aircraft on the system. In a similar fashion to Europe the platform will ‘go live’ in September, prior to being fully launched to the public in October via a series of events that will aim to provide exposure for the platform.
Q: What are the key user benefits and features of your platform?
Stratajet is the only platform in the world that can provide accurate costs of all available private jets for a given flight route in ‘real-time’. That means the traditional method of booking a private jet through a broker – which is hugely time-consuming – is made far more efficient. We we would like to cut through that old-fashioned perception of the industry and demonstrate that the booking process need not be so inefficient, ultimately changing the way people travel.
What’s more, our intelligent quoting tool, Stratafleet, is provided free of charge to aircraft operators and helps them streamline their business with more efficient tracking of jets. Stratafleet also has the ability to include empty legs in flight searches and adapt them to suit new flight requests, providing improved margins on flight bookings.
Most importantly, having succeeded in getting the search engine to run fast enough, it’s now infinitely scalable. So it doesn’t matter how many flight requests we get coming into the system or how many aircraft are on there, it will always take that amount of time to return the prices.
Q: Who are your competitors?
A: Importantly, Stratajet is the only new entrant of its kind into the market. We have no ‘competitors’ although the industry thinks we’re one of many. The reason for that is other companies make bold claims about being ‘online brokers’, but they’re not; they’re brokers who have a website. They do not have the technology to offer real-time, accurate costs of flights. So one of the biggest challenges we now face is differentiation and trying to make people realise that no one else has the technology that we have.
Take the idea of ‘empty legs’. Historically there have been some people who have tried to fix this by publishing all their empty legs in the hope that somebody will stumble across the one that they want. The problem with that is that it immediately breaks the private jet principle of the plane working around you. As soon as you’re told ‘you have to go from this airfield at a certain time,’ you’ve now got to adapt everything to go with the aircraft.
Similarly, a number of providers are now offering monthly membership fees, for which you can fly ‘privately’ as often as you like, but only on scheduled flights on specific routes and with other seats on the aircraft given to strangers. That is not private jet travel.
Q: What advantage does your platform offer in contrast to your perceived competitors?
A: Our perceived competitors do not have the technology to do what Stratajet does. Nothing is stopping a competitor doing something very similar but they would have a mountain to climb behind us – Stratajet is the culmination of five years of hard work and research by an incredibly smart team to build an extremely complex pricing engine.
As well as customers being able to book a private jet in a mere two minutes, the benefits also transfer to aircraft operators. Other ‘online brokers’ simply inundate them with quote requests, which take time to produce manually. With Stratajet, operators don’t get quote requests, as we generate accurate and real-time prices electronically on their behalf, so the passengers are able to book directly. Our pricing engine is 100% accurate and it’s instantly bookable.
Q: What makes your platform stand out?
A: Stratajet, no matter what else we do, will always be the company that took the last form of transport that was yet to be online, and made it available online. Private jets, until Stratajet, were not accessible online. It was the end of an era – and the end of how a very old-fashioned mode of transport conducted its business.
So we’re looking at the potential of Stratajet. We hope to make private jet travel more accessible to the mainstream traveller. If it all goes well we’ll have a watershed moment in private aviation when people will say there was private aviation before Stratajet and private aviation after Stratajet – it’s a total game-changer.
Q: Tell us about your team?
A: Until now, the old-fashioned nature of the industry has prevented it from progressing, which has in turn affected the customer base but also the attraction for talented, young graduates coming into the sector. It’s very indicative of the industry in that there is a shortage of technological expertise outside of pure aviation coming into the industry.
However, Stratajet is bucking that trend through its technological innovation, paving the way for advancement as aircraft operators benefit from improved margins due to fewer man hours spent producing quotes and less wastage in the form of empty flights. This is allowing the whole industry to progress, in turn opening the door for brighter, younger talent to make their mark on the industry. I’m proud that 25% of the Stratajet team is under 25 years old, while we also have a wealth of experience from across the aviation industry and other sectors to bring different perspectives into the business.
We are now at 60+ staff – across technology, finance, business development, customer services, etc – in our Farringdon office. We are also opening an office in the U.S. to drive that expansion.
Q: How will you succeed in such a saturated market?
A: As mentioned above we have the benefit of a unique product – a product that is well ahead of anything out there in the market and one that has the power to revolutionise the industry rather than being one of a number of similar providers.
Q: How many users do you have?
A: Since our public launch in April, we have seen growth well ahead of targets (including a 190% increase in flights booked since April) and customer registrations (now numbering over 4,750). In fact, in the short time since ‘going live’ we have been able to generate an unprecedented four million private jet flight quotes, without the aircraft operators having to lift a finger, proving how effective our system can be at giving a wider range of travellers access to the private jet industry.
Q: What is your focus for the next 6-12 months?
A: We will maintain our focus on growing the platform in Europe and U.S. and will add a French and German language website to the service offering. We are also examining plans to open a new market – the Middle East.
Q: Please tell us about the market and market opportunity?
A: The fact that the bookings have increased month on month shows that fliers are accepting Stratajet as a valuable innovation, whereas private jet travel is traditionally a very old-fashioned industry. The average booking through the App is £6k, demonstrating that there is scope for a wide range of people to have access to private jet travel, backed up by the fact that 30% of our customers are first-time fliers.
Q: How much has your company raised until now?
A: We have recently secured a $8 million round of investment (led by Octopus Ventures, with participation from existing investors Playfair Capital and JamJar Investments), bringing our total funding to $14m to date, which has helped develop additional functionality in the platform’s quoting tool and will help us drive forward the U.S. expansion. Looking forward we have sparked interest in further investment from four major venture capital firms in the U.S.
Stratajet will be exhibiting at the Web Summit in Lisbon this November. Make sure to go check them out while you are there.