Clive Jackson is putting the hours in. When he launched Victor, the on-demand private jet charter marketplace, six years ago, he may have expected things to slow down by now. They have not.
“I have never worked harder in my life,” says Jackson. “This is the 14th company that I have launched – and I have high performing businesses in the past – but this is something else. We have grown nearly 1000% over four years. Things are going fantastically well. But this is hard work.”
The business moved office in New York eight weeks ago but he is yet to visit. He was too busy to fly to EBACE, the largest European business aviation exhibition. Jackson jokes that he no longer gets the fun jobs.
Victor is no longer a small company. It now has more than 70 employees in the UK and the US. It is still adding people, but he says the model is fundamentally not about adding staff.
“The big story is that between 2015 and 2016 we managed to grow – to a turnover in the region of $40 million – whilst dropping headcount,” says Jackson. “Last year we doubled our turnover and actually reduce headcount demonstrating the efficiency of our systems.”
Jackson argues that many businesses claiming to be online charter companies are still reliant on staff contacting customers by telephone or email. He says that you can tell this by the number of staff they are hiring in customer service roles.
He says that a significant number of Victor customers have never used private jets before: “We are definitely – 100% – bringing new people into the industry.”
Jackson is also frustrated with how many companies are also claiming to do what Victor does.
“In this industry there are a lot of players who are very good at banging the drum hard. But often it is a hollow drum”
“In this industry there are a lot of players who are very good at banging the drum hard. But often it is a hollow drum. Transactions speak louder than words,” says Jackson. “A lot of people are claiming to disrupt business aviation but you need to look at their numbers. We are in the Deloitte UK Tech Fast 50 and The Sunday Times Tech Track 100 and publish our numbers.”
Victor says it booked £30 million ($40 million) in charter revenues in 2016. In 2015 it booked £16.8 million; £7.9 million in 2014; £3.8 million in 2013 and £1.6 million in 2012.
Jackson is confident that the company will keep growing but accepts that Victor still needs to grow more. “Selling $100 million a year in charter gets you a seat at the table with Air Partner, ACS, Apollo and Sentient Jet – which are all well-run business that I respect,” says Jackson. “By next year’s EBACE in May 2018 we should be in that club.”
“There are lots of people who are good at making a lot of noise but are not growing. We are showing nearly 1000% real growth over four years and will be at the $100 million table next year,” says Jackson. “A lot of the people getting headlines are barely selling any charter.”
Jackson became a user of business aviation after an airline cut routes to an island where he had a holiday house. Having tried charter, he decided to use his technology experience to create a better experience for other customers.
“My tech background means I have had an unfair advantage over most people in business aviation”
“My tech background means I have had an unfair advantage over most people in business aviation,” says Jackson. “I came into this business not just as a customer but also someone with a lot of experience of building global platforms. My last company developed sites and apps for companies like Bentley, Jaguar, Sony Music and other brands. This experience is unique to Victor.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the companies he most admires in business jet charter are not rival online platforms but traditional brokers that have been around for many years.
“I have a huge respect for companies like Air Partner, Air Charter Services, Chapman Freeman and Apollo Jets,” he says. “They look after their customers well and have well respected brands. We are genuinely not looking to take their customers. We want to grow the market.”
This may also be because the traditional brokers are not competing for investors. So far, Victor has raised $24.45 million in funding and it is still looking for more.
“Like any high growth technology company, we are perpetually fundraising,” says Jackson. “I am concerned about some of the companies claiming to disrupt private aviation. I am worried about some of their models, their claims and the hype they seem to be generating. I just hope that investors in other business aviation companies make their decision after real due diligence. We obviously want our investors to do the same with us.”
“We have a technology and brand competitive advantage over most of the new entrants”
“We have a technology and brand competitive advantage over most of the new entrants,” says Jackson. “For investors we can also prove that we have a sustainable, scalable business model. I just hope we do not have investors put off the sector by a bad experience.”
Despite the hours, Jackson is not looking to slow down. “We took the decision two years ago to scale up and go for $100 million in sales. But that is just the beginning. We want this to become a very, very big tech business,” he says. “We are still a relatively small one but we want to conquer the world. We can also see a route to this.”
As a keen clay marksman he also knows how to relax. “Nothing calms you down better than firing off a few rounds from a shotgun.”