A high flying entrepreneur

A high flying entrepreneur

When entrepreneur Jonny Nicol came up with the idea for a private jet chartering app, he knew he was onto something special. So too did his small team of engineers, who went unpaid for three months to help bring it to market. Now, after raising US$14m, the team are reaping the rewards…

London start-up Stratajet, a real-time private jet booking platform, is looking to bring private jets into the mainstream.

The company is the brainchild of former fighter pilot and military officer Jonny Nicol who started working on the idea back in 2011 after his stint in the military came to an end.

After serving his time, Jonny sought a new challenge and took up a career as a corporate freelance pilot, specialising in flying private jets.

It was during this period that he realised the industry, like so many others, had a series of flaws and was beginning to stagnate.

“Working as a corporate freelance pilot led me to realise there were two huge gaping holes in the industry,” Jonny told BQ, “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.”

One of these flaws in particular was the low profile of the industry and the companies who operated within it not embracing new technologies.

With the likes of Skyscanner, a Scottish tech unicorn taking the commercial aviation industry by storm, Jonny spotted a gap in the market for the private jet sector.

As a self-taught computer scientist, he decided to go about solving the problem, and started working on his own platform to change the industry for good, and Stratajet was born.

“Stratajet is a cutting-edge new technology that is set to reinvent the private aviation industry, making private jet travel more accessible to the mainstream traveller,” Jonny added.

“It is the world’s first 'real-time' private jet booking platform, providing instant and accurate costs and availability of private jets and allowing our customers to book online there and then. 

“As a project it has been five years in the making. I began working on the concept six months before I actually started the company, so it was very much just me in the early stages.

Stratajet App

“As I continued building the platform, I hired a handful of people early and we continued to fluctuate in size, from just me to a handful, and up to 14 people during our big data gathering exercise, which was between four and two years ago.

“From here we shrank back down to six people when realised that we were struggling to build the technology. This was the case until May 2015, when we received a big round of investment, and we are now at over 60 staff – across technology, finance, business development, customer services, etc.”

Although other industries, such as the commercial flight industry, had previously gone through similar transformations, Jonny was inventing something completely unique for his sector.

As with any invention however, it came with a series of challenges and headwinds which made it quite a turbulent journey at times. But like any successful entrepreneur, Jonny kept his head down and battled through it.

“The trouble with inventing something – by the very definition that you’re doing something for the first time – is that you don’t know what the challenges are and how long it will take to overcome them. You always start off with an element of the unknown – you can’t have a full idea of what’s going to be involved until you go out and actually do it.

“On day one I asked myself why this has never been done before. And now it’s obvious! What we’ve done is invent a serious piece of technology with complicated algorithms. I knew building the system was going to be very challenging but never in my wildest dreams did I think that the technology would take five years to build.

“Once the algorithms were built, 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!”

Working alongside his team he knew the website and app needed to be improved and there was plenty of work to do in order to get there.

This even involved some of his staff going without pay for three months – but their determination to succeed and faith in the project saw it come to fruition.

“If you can inspire your staff to work and go the extra mile and enjoy what they’re doing you will get them to pull out all the stops and do something really special.

“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.

Stratajet Flying

“We were inspired by the potential of what we were building, we knew it had the potential to change an entire industry as well as the perception of it.

“We’ve now got the search process down to 10 seconds, which in hindsight was a computer science miracle, but one that we achieved.

“It is now also 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.”

The teams hard work certainly didn’t go unnoticed and the company went on to raise a total of US$14m from some pretty big name investors.

This helped give the company the final push it required and after five years of development, Stratajet finally went live in April this year – and Jonny has ambitious plans for the future.

“We launched to the flying public in April and are now live in 44 countries in Europe with similar plans underway to expand into the US market later in the year.

“We’re really looking into 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!”

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