By Clive Jackson, CEO & Founder, Victor.
As is most often the case with entrepreneurs, when confronted with frustration we see opportunity.
In 2011, when the British Midland flight service from Heathrow to Palma was abruptly cancelled, I was left without a simple and easy option to reach my second home in Majorca. It was then that I began to look into charting a private jet and quickly learnt that it was a very opaque and challenging experience. As a consumer, there was no visibility as to what aircraft type you would be flying on, how much it was really going to cost you and you were always having to go through a middleman, with no guarantee of service quality.
Victor was my first involvement in aviation, but was founded out of a belief that there was a better way for the industry to serve it’s consumers and operators. The core principle was not the actual flying experience, but the process of finding and chartering a private jet. This has traditionally sat in the hands of intermediaries (middlemen) who, in the case of aircraft charter, were completely unregulated.
Having spent a decade or more developing and managing the customer engagement strategy for brands like Aston Martin, Bentley and Jaguar I felt it was time to develop a customer journey that was totally transparent and that in doing so, we could deliver more control and value to the consumer.
Eight years later, Victor is the fastest growing private aviation in company in Europe. In 2014, we expanded into North America and now have 80 employees globally who speak nine languages. We’ve been listed in The Sunday Times Tech Track Top 100 fastest growing British companies for five years running, FT 1000 and Deloitte’s UK Tech Fast 50.
So, what do I attribute our success to?
Disruption drives growth. Be clear from the outset how the business will disrupt and revolutionise the sector. Since the very beginning, Victor’s mission was to disrupt an inefficient and opaque market. We were the first jet charter provider to disclose to the end user at the point of quotation the supplier name (operator) as well as actual photos of each aircraft option and floor plans side by side so they could make an informed decision. We coupled this customer-centric approach with investment in technology so that our consumers could experience the fastest and easiest customer journey. Our internal client services teams were able to service more clients and at a higher level than our competitors.
In a crowded market, we focused on short haul on demand jet charter as opposed to jet cards and partial ownership. We’ve disrupted scaling up capabilities to the point where we can compete with any provider in the world despite not owning any of our own aircraft.
It’s a simple product offering that has been paired with market-leading customer service. We’ve always been at the forefront of innovation for our sector. We were the first to have a booking platform in an app, we launched the first meaningful loyalty programme and most recently we led the way with carbon offsetting. Today, we are working with industry bodies to define a set of sustainability standards not just for business aviation, but for the entire civil aviation industry.
Transparency creates consumer & supplier trust. Victor’s value proposition is providing choice, transparency and immediacy to the consumer. For us, transparency means allowing the consumer to know details of the specific aircraft and supplier before booking, so they can see the air safety certificate, insurance coverage and every aircraft in their fleet by the tail number.
Within the Victor platform, we show the floorplan, the layout, height, and dimensions of each aircraft; and its age, when it was last refurbished and certified to fly. Our transparent approach was and still is radical in an incredibly opaque industry. Initially we expected many customers to go behind our back and book directly with the operator. Over time, however, we’ve seen that the trust that build with customers and their willingness to transact online has led to a breakage of less than two percent. We’ve always remained confident in the product and our mission behind it.
Invest in a brand story for the long run. For a rapid growth business which is constantly evolving, establishing solid brand values which you can maintain as your business scales is essential. Victor had a strong brand story from the outset which immediately resonated and continues to endure the test of time. The name itself, ‘Victor’, resonates in 27 languages – an intentional choice that speaks to our global clients and partners. For a high value product like Victor, the most powerful lead generation is through word of mouth referrals which comes from brand visibility in the right networks. Building a global brand invariably requires significant investment and patience as it is important to understand both the emotional and practical drivers behind the behaviour of your target audience. Don’t be afraid to spend money, but ensure you are constantly tracking and measuring success as well as failure. Failure is one of your best teachers.
People are the DNA of the business. From your board to your sales agents, the diversity of your team reflects how you build ideas and approach problems. As a founder, it’s important to delegate. It shouldn’t always be down to you to solve everything and it offers a breadth of perspective. Retaining talent and upskilling those already in the company is the leanest and most rewarding way to develop the team. Don’t underestimate the talent in front of you. If you keep them inspired with the vision, the purpose and nurture their personal development with opportunities, they will be your most valuable asset. As for shareholders, more than 80% of Victor’s are flying customers and are thus embedded in the DNA of the business and serve as great ambassadors for the brand.
Using technology to augment human expertise. Automation is essential to the capability of scaling up, but don’t lose sight of the power of organic customer service and human interaction. Smart businesses use technology to empower human expertise, not replace it. Victor delivers value to the consumer through a combination of hi-tech, high touch customer service. Our digital marketplace enables clients to find the perfect aircraft for any trip and book it in a matter of minutes online or in the app.
Behind the scenes, we assign every customer to a personal account manager who is available at the other end of the phone whenever required to ensure that, regardless of how they interact with us, they are consistently receiving the best-in-class customer service.
Growing responsibly: purpose beyond profit. Growing one of the fastest growing private aviation companies on the planet has brought new responsibilities and challenges, particularly when we consider our impact on the planet for future generations.
As CEO, it’s a difficult pill to swallow when you think about private jets emitting up to 20 times more CO2 per passenger mile than a commercial airliner. We cannot take away consumer choice to fly, whether commercially or privately which is largely for the security, comfort and time-saving benefits, but my mission is to influence how they do it. Victor pioneered carbon offsetting in business aviation several years ago and we formalised our leadership position on environmentally responsible jet charter earlier this year.
Since July 2019, every Victor booked flight is offset by no less than 200%, paid for by us. At the same time, we’re encouraging our customers to match our contribution out of their own pocket and fly 400% offset. Partnering with industry bodies, biofuel suppliers and flight mapping software service provider, we’re working to define a sustainability benchmark for the entire aviation sector.
Beyond aviation, my ambition is to encourage a behavioural switch amongst consumers and business leaders alike where CO2 emissions are introduced into the decision-making process. Launching the #BeyondOffset movement, I’m calling for other CEOs and business leaders, no matter their sector, to go beyond carbon neutral and set a bold sustainability standard for their industry. To avoid criticism and to be authentic, it must be transparent, it must be measurable and it has to hurt (i.e. be big enough in the context of turnover).
Without transparency and a willingness to be measured by the results, we can never improve.