PrivateFly bets the house


There are many ways of reducing risk when you start a new business. You could test the concept while staying in your job or find investors and use other peoples’ money.

The other extreme might be to sell your home and use the proceeds to bootstrap your venture. Then, increase your family’s exposure by choosing your marital partner to be also your business partner.

This is what Carol Cork and her husband Adam Twidell did when they launched PrivateFly, an online business-jet charter platform, 10 years ago. At the time many people in the industry where very sceptical about the whole idea. One well-known UK operator disparaged them saying: “We do not want our fleet listed on your eBay for jets.”

But the two were confident. They also had complementary skills. Cork had worked in marketing for titles like Conde Nast Traveller and had seen the rise of digital travel marketing. (One rival this week described her as: “Carol is without doubt one of the best marketers in the industry”). Twidell had worked as a pilot for NetJets and consulted for business airports so had seen the inefficiencies in business aviation first hand.

They knew that selling the house was the right decision when family summer holidays were ruined by customers contacting them to book. Another validation was when the same UK operator called them to add his fleet to the system and became a huge evangelist. In 2011 they raised £2 million ($2.5 million) in seed funding, partly because they realised that more competitors were coming. After that they re-invested profits to grow.

This week PrivateFly was acquired by Kenn Ricci’s Directional Aviation – validating their business even further. Not only have they become the first online business-jet charter platform to go from launch to exit, but they joined a group of companies – including FlexJet, OneSky, Nextant, SkyJet and Sentient Jet – owned by one of business aviation’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs.

“We are delighted to welcome PrivateFly to the OneSky and the Directional Aviation family,” said Ricci, principal of Directional Aviation. “Adam and Carol are true innovators who recognised early on how important mobile capabilities and on-demand digital bookings are in the charter space, and they will continue to play a critical role in the company’s future. Pairing PrivateFly with Skyjet, OneSky’s current digital on-demand charter broker, brings together two unique, innovative companies that are in different geographies to support OneSky’s vision of a world-leading on-demand charter operation.”

Andrew Collins, the president of OneSky’s on-demand private jet charter company Skyjet and jet-card provider Sentient Jet, also highlights the cultural fit between the two companies. Although PrivateFly will stay as a stand-alone company, Collins is excited about how the two businesses can work together like other Directional companies.

Neither side has disclosed the price that Directional has paid. But it is enough to buy a nice house.