At face value, 2002 was not the most auspicious time for three Swedish college students to launch an Internet-based service for the aircraft charter business, but with Avinode marking its tenth anniversary, history has proven to be on the side of the company founders Niclas Wennerholm, Per Marthinsson and Niklas Berg.
The trio’s teachers at Gothenburg’s technical university thought they were clueless. Prospective investors fled from them in the fallout from the then-recent dot.com collapse, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. threatened to stifle the whole industry. Then there were the charter brokers who thought, mistakenly as it turned out, that the charter portal would put them out of business.
Speaking to AIN ahead of this week’s EBACE show, Wennerholm confessed that Avinode had been barely 30 days from running out of cash in the early months, with only extended student loans standing between the fresh-faced entrepreneurs and the prospect of having to admit defeat. It’s a decade later and Avinode has completed a merger with its former rival, Charter X, and stands tall as the industry leader.
“We realized that we had to think globally from day one and that we had an opportunity to change the industry,” said Wennerholm. Avinode’s business model has since had to ride out the storm of the financial crisis that has left markets unsettled since around 2008-2009. “We were concerned by that too because if our clients stopped flying, they would have had to stop paying their subscription fees.”
Just a few weeks ago the separate Charter X applications were finally turned off, marking the completion of extensive efforts to merge the two charter portals. Next time you’re at the site, remind yourself that back in 2002 you were probably still sourcing charter flights using a phone book and a fax machine.
But for all its digital wizardry, the basis for Avinode’s success, according to Wennerholm, is actually quite old-fashioned. “I would hope that the main success factor is that we have been so focused on the customers,” he concluded. “Right back to the early days, we toured Europe talking to all operators and brokers, and when Niclas Berg moved to Miami [to set up Avinode’s U.S. operation] we had the same approach in the U.S., and as we do at shows like EBACE–bringing customers together to create relationships.”
Avinode’s product portfolio also encompasses the Wyvern safety audit provider for charter operators, as well as Web-based trip planning system SchedAero. Both services now are fully integrated into the Avinode Marketplace (see box).