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.
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. ~