The High Life
JetSetGo has redefined luxury in the private jet space.
The meeting with Kanika Tekriwal, Founder of private jet operator JetSetGo, started almost 20 minutes past the scheduled time. Although she reached on time, she was attending to a call from a high-profile customer who was flying on one of her jets that evening. At the meeting venue, a cafe in South Delhi's Safdarjung Development Area, she grabbed the chair and went straight into conversation about herself and the start-up she had founded three years ago. She said she would put her phone on flight mode, otherwise it would keep interrupting. "Between 10 am and 6 pm, my phone is on steroids," she says. "We have a big servicing team but customers still want to talk directly with me. They start planning trips at 6 in the morning, and that's when I get calls. If I'm not always available, what's the difference between me and other operators?" she says, adding that her customers include top politicians and industrialists.
JetSetGo is replicating the luxury hotel model in the skies. But that's not how it started out. When e-commerce was gaining momentum a few years ago, Tekriwal started an online aggregation business for private jets - something like Uber - where passengers and private jet owners could transact. "Customers always said that booking a private jet was like rocket science. They got cheated, planes broke down, pilots didn't show up. We thought we would bring transparency and convenience. I was wrong," she says.
Taking the business online didn't solve the problem as JetSetGo was just an intermediary. The poor service of private operators hit JetSetGo's reputation as well. Then, Tekriwal saw that many aircraft owners were selling their planes due to losses. She took over some planes. Now, JetSetGo could control service, delivery, quality and customer experience. At present, JetSetGo's fleet of 22 aircraft - with average seatings of 10 - includes Falcons, Hawkers and Legacys, all of which are taken on management contract from aircraft owners. It has smaller planes and helicopters for back-up; it claims to have the largest fleet in the private aviation space in India.
Tekriwal says not many believed in experiences two years ago. "How many people went on exotic vacations? The luxury market has grown in the last two-three years. Private aviation till recently was marketed as a necessity; we are adding the element of luxury," she says.
In most cases, the company, after adding an aircraft, refurbishes its exteriors and interiors. At present, it is doing the interiors of a helicopter to add a television, a refrigerator, and a galley for crew to serve. Other touch points, too, enhance the luxury quotient. Take toiletries. Barring JetSetGo, private jet operators don't provide things like moisturisers and perfumes. Then there is food. JetSetGo was early to realise that of the two things flyers remember, one is service quality, while the other is food. JetSetGo set up a big in-flight department that can serve seven-course meals and even do food & wine pairing for passengers.
Tekriwal says a leading retail industrialist was upset with some operators for serving non-vegetarian food despite his secretary informing them about his choice of food in advance. There were occasions when he had to wait at the airport gate for too long; even pick-up cars were dirty at times. "For customers paying `15 lakh for a trip, consistency and reliability are important. He used to fly 8-10 hours a month. With us, he's flying at least 50," she says.
Harry Dhaul, a power sector veteran, says he has been flying in private jets for more than 10 years. "It's about improving efficiency. I do my meetings in the plane and fly to multiple locations on a single trip. Their service delivery, including training of crew and food, differentiates them from others," he says.
JetSetGo has taken a leaf out of top hotels' book. It keeps a dossier on its 240-odd regular customers capturing their likes and dislikes, including the kind of towels, bed sheets and perfumes they prefer. If a customer tells cabin crew that he likes two drops of lemon in his tea, or prefers a particular type of dark chocolate, this will be recorded for future reference. At the end of every flight, crew members are required to report whatever new information they find about their customers. "It's a Bible for us. If we know that a customer doesn't like red colour, we remove everything red from the plane," says Tekriwal. Doing all this can be challenging under tight deadlines, but the company has a separate quality department whose job is to supervise standards and update the preference list. It was during one such call than an industrialist wanted 19 types of tea and four types of omelettes for a one-hour flight from Delhi to Lucknow. Then recently, an international celebrity wanted a particular kind of water, which had to be sourced from Harrods in London. Otherwise, the `2.5-crore contract would have gone for a toss. That is not all. "Sometimes, when a couple is not talking, we ensure that there are enough entertainment options for both. We even maintain dossiers on children, their favourite toys, movies, books, etc., because if the child is not happy, the game is over for us," says Tekriwal.
To ensure good customer experience, the company has had to invest in on-ground facilities, too. For instance, an airport at Cuddapah in Andhra Pradesh, had one ground handler who could either file the flight plan or handle bags or guide passengers. JetSetGo has set up its own handling facilities at 29 airports.
Tekriwal says their relationship with customers has gone way beyond regular selling. "If I want to sell them a house, a hotel or a car, I can do that. They are not just customers any more. We know so much about them. All sales are through word of mouth," she says.
Last financial year, the company did 4,691 hours of flying, more than any other private aviation company, with a dispatch rate of 99.2 per cent. The average global dispatch rate is 74 per cent.
JetSetGo has been profitable since early days and has attracted two marquee investors - cricketer Yuvraj Singh-run YouWeCan and Puneet Dalmia of Dalmia Bharat Group. "We never went out to raise money. It took Yuvraj 40 minutes to convince me. I wasn't sure if I needed the money. Yuvraj is a customer-turned-investor. So is Puneet," says Tekriwal.
"The private jet industry is bound to take off in India. We are impressed by the passion of the promoter and feel this business has a chance to win and create value in the long term," says Amit Garg, who looks after business investments for Puneet Dalmia.
Nearly 60 per cent business comes from metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. It can fly across the world, yet the international demand is largely restricted to Europe, Africa and the Maldives. JetSetGo makes money in two ways - from customers and aircraft owners. The average per hour rates are `1.85 lakh, but charges depend on the duration of flight and customer profile. It pays owners on per-hour basis, but takes a share of their profits. It has turned loss-making private jet companies profitable. For instance, a private jet firm that it took over in December 2015 was losing about `40 crore at the EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) level. In the last financial year, it registered a `18.2 crore EBITDA; it also reported a small net profit.
"I have invested only `5,100 till date. We are targeting `300 crore turnover this year. I don't understand the idea of Flipkart and Uber losing millions in the hope of earning some [in the future]. I have to earn money in my lifetime and pay it back to my investors," says Tekriwal. An economics undergraduate with MBA, Tekriwal comes from a business family. The penchant of this 28-year-old first-generation entrepreneur for profitable growth could be documented into a management masterclass for a host of Internet start-up founders. ~