Clive Jackson: “At Victor we had a stonking year”
The last 12 months have been disappointing for the European business jet charter market. In January 2014 there was a lot of optimism, but by the end of the year this had gone. In its November figures, WINGX Advance, a business aviation data provider, showed that total European flights for the year-to-date were down by 0.6 per cent on 2013. That 0.6 per cent is 4,442 fewer flights than the year before.
But Clive Jackson, the CEO and founder of Victor, the online booking portal which launched in August 2011, is – characteristically – optimistic.
“At Victor we have had a stonking year,” he says. “Particularly when we see it against the backdrop of the European charter market, which has been disappointing. We have been on an upward trajectory all year.”
Jackson says that membership rose 290 per cent (although it is free to become a member, Victor does qualify them know your customer call) and charter bookings were up 260 per cent year-on-year. He says that customers appreciate the full disclosure that Victor gives in quotations. This includes giving the operator and tail number of the aircraft together with a flat booking fee. Jackson adds: “It is not unusual for customers to shop around for brokers, usually because they don’t believe they are getting the best deal, but when they find Victor is willing to lay everything out in black and white, I am not surprised that 80 per cent of our regular customers – customers with two bookings or more – stop shopping around once they have used Victor.”
This growth is not an accident. Victor has invested significantly in marketing ranging from a branded supplement distributed with The Financial Times to supporting events like The Ryder Cup, the Maastricht Fine Art Fair. It has also worked with Warner Music most recently flying Ed Sheran to make an appearance on the Band Aid 30 single.
It has also grown its marketing team. In June Victor hired Dan Northover as chief marketing officer from the Engine Group – his past agency clients included Rolls-Royce cars – and Saavik Abramov from VCCP. At the end of the year, Richard Gato joined from NetJets Europe where he was in charge of media spend. NetJets is generally considered to have one of the strongest brands in private aviation.
But by far the biggest cost for Victor is technology.
“As a basic rule, you need to continue to invest more than you originally spent building your web site and app every subsequent year.”
Jackson – who has launched other technology companies – says that companies like Victor need to keep re-investing in technology. “One lesson I have learnt in the past is that you cannot stand still with technology investment. If you are not constantly improving you get left behind. As a basic rule, you need to continue to invest more than you originally spent building your web site and app every subsequent year.”
Victor is to raising more funds to allow it to keep investing – especially as it expands in the US, the world’s biggest private jet market.
This will be its third funding round. Jackson – a serial entrepreneur – launched the company in 2010 with his own cash and in 2012 raised another £1.5 million. In early 2014 it closed a more formal Series-A round when it raised £5.5 million.
“The on-demand private jet charter space is really hotting up.”
It is raising funds at the same times as other online charter competitors. “The on-demand private jet charter space is really hotting up, with PrivateFly, Jetsmarter and StrataJet all vying to attract the next round of investors to drive global expansion.”
Jackson is keen not to overhype the sector. “Comparing private aviation with Uber is just not sensible,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities in this market but it will obviously never be as big as ground transportation.”
“Investors should not be fooled into thinking its easy money. Investors are looking for exceptional scalable technology and a defendable brand proposition – and above all a management team with the experience of taking a business global,” he adds. “Detailed due diligence is an absolute must for any potential investor, no-one wants to back the wrong horse. If anyone is serious about investing in this sector then they should get around to see all the players in person, if for nothing else it will help them develop a much more informed view as to what is aspiration vs. substance and I have no issue in someone wanting to do a deep dive into Victor.”
“I believe we are a strong front runner in the race to become the global winner.”
Jackson – once again – is confident. “I believe we are a strong front runner in the race to become the global winner. As Europe’s fastest growing on-demand private charter, tripling revenue every year since its launch in August 2011 and enjoying a 75 per cent win rate on all customer quote requests, and with 40 months of trading under our belt, we have made a promising start outpacing all other on-line providers in a race that’s definitely hotting up.”