—How it all began for the 29-year-old JetSmarter founder, and his take on the future of private aviation.
It’s not every day that you see a 29-year-old at the helm of a billion-dollar company. But for JetSmarter Founder and CEO, Sergey Petrossov, it’s just another day at the office (or in the skies). Awarded Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Consumer Technology, Petrossov is an entrepreneur by trade and has taken JetSmarter to heights no one would have imagined — no one but himself, of course. What began as an idea in 2012 has now become the world’s largest private aviation travel and lifestyle community.
The Russian-born Florida resident aims to change the landscape of private aviation by making it more attainable and efficient than ever before. Ultimately, JetSmarter allows those with a lower net worth the ability to book private flights. But it’s not just about the brand. For Petrossov, his vision is one that goes beyond mere name recognition and service. Instead, his focus is on creating a world-class, hospitality-driven experience.
Petrossov launched the JetSmarter app back in 2013 and never looked back, it’s even been referred to by some as “Uber for private jets,” moving more passengers annually than anyone in the industry. He believes in the potential growth of the industry and apparently so do his investors, including the likes of Jay-Z and the Saudi Royal Family. He has a clear vision for what flying private should be, and he won’t stop there. VUE caught up with Petrossov to learn more about his journey, the future of the industry and perhaps a tip or two on how to turn a simple vision into a billion-dollar reality.
What was your background prior to JetSmarter? Your education and upbringing?
I was born in Moscow, I moved to the U.S. when I was four, and I’ve lived between California and Colorado and South Florida. I moved to South Florida when I was 11 or 12. I went to the University of Florida and studied finance. When I was 18, I wasn’t really into college that much — I was more interested in getting out of college — and I got involved with my first startup. It supported chat for audio and video for website customer service. I wasn’t the founder but since I got involved early they called me a co-founder. That was my first experience working with engineers and I learned with technology how much value you can bring in a short amount of time. I knew then that I wanted to start companies and tech was the field I wanted to be involved in.
How did the journey with JetSmarter begin? What was your vision?
In 2009 when I began flying private, I quickly came to realize that the private jet industry was very archaic; its brick-and-mortar process of picking up the phone, waiting hours and speaking to numerous different people in order to charter a jet was outdated and inconvenient. In 2012, I spoke to the carriers I had established relationships with and discussed how large of an impact an app to charter a private plane would have on the industry. In August 2012, I made it a reality and created the beta version of JetSmarter, sharing it with an exclusive group of industry experts and frequent private jet users. In March 2013, JetSmarter launched globally. JetSmarter’s goal is to make private jet travel accessible to the masses, and more than just the privileged .01 percent.
Where and how did you raise capital for the company?
We have raised funding from private sources including the royal family in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, A-league executives, music moguls, and more. We have also announced our series C funding raise of $105 million, at a $1.5 billion pre-money valuation, from existing and new strategic investors. We used this funding to expand our JetShuttle offerings and continue to expand globally.
How do you source your planes, staff and pilots?
We’re currently partnered with 800+ carriers across the globe, who work with our team to provide our app users with around 3,200 aircraft and 4,000 free flight hours each month. Our partners can use the same app as our customers to manage their inventory in real-time from any mobile device, and fill their flights instantly. The partners that we have cover a large number of international destinations, to enable our customers to be able to fly worldwide within as little as six hours from booking their flight.
With businesses like Uber becoming the norm, how do you see the private aviation industry changing in the near future?
In the private aviation industry, many are familiar with jet cards or fractional jet ownership, where a light to mid-sized jet card can cost one anywhere from $130,000 to $150,000 a year for 25 hours worth of flying. JetSmarter’s starting point is $17,500, so they’ve essentially lowered the entry point for private aviation, allowing many people with a lower net worth to fly privately when they never could before. Also, today, in the tech age, luxury is transcending past brand to experience. It’s no longer about the brand, marketing and brand association. It’s about personalization and what I call predictive hospitality. With the price point and appeal of the luxury experience, the private aviation industry will grow enormously.
What was your vision for the mobile app? What’s your marketing strategy?
The aim of the mobile app is to make travel fun, easy and convenient for our members. Members are able to book private jets in a matter of minutes, right from the palm of their hand. With JetSmarter, you’ll no longer have to go through the TSA lines with unreasonable wait times, or have to deal with uncomfortable airplane seats – we’ll get you to your destination with comfort and ease.
In terms of our marketing strategy, our business wouldn’t exist without word-of-mouth. The hardest thing for a disruptive company is getting people to try it out. If a friend says JetSmarter is the best, the trust factor goes up. We spend a lot of time asking members to spread the word. Also, the mass affluent are looking for experiences tailored to the lifestyle they want to live. We just launched within the app an events and experiences section that allows members to book curated point-to-point experiences that can’t be found elsewhere. We offer travel experience packages, ranging from experiences with luxury brands like Dom Pérignon, to exclusive access to VIP events. We think about three pillars: how you get there, who you meet and where you go. Mass affluent want a one-stop-shop for all three, and that’s what we strive to offer. This tailored approach seems to be working. Our average user visits JetSmarter 12 times daily.
What are the main differences between JetSmarter and its close competitors?
The main difference between JetSmarter and its close competitors is that JetSmarter gives members the flexibility to create flights on their time or find seats on flights created by fellow members – all with the year-round reliability, efficiency, and service that are synonymous with flying private. JetSmarter has essentially redefined the entire industry with one, clear mission: to reimagine aviation as it was meant to be.
What are JetSmarter’s expansion plans for the future?
We are continually looking at ways and means to expand our offerings within the region, and globally. We plan to continue our global expansion, and we’re currently focusing on expanding in the countries where there is enough supply to satisfy demand, and are continuing to partner with carriers across the globe to offer users more inventory daily. Our goal is to one day make all air travel private.