Four months after Wheels Up became publicly traded under a transaction with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle, founder and CEO Kenny Dichter is encouraged that its investors have the vision needed for significant growth.
The private aviation charter and aircraft ownership services company has remained on course for a run rate of close to $1 billion, Dichter told an audience at the Corporate Jet Investor Miami 2021 conference on Tuesday. He added that its investors “want a much bigger business in the future. They’re willing to allow us to grow.”
Dichter acknowledged that some companies have to pursue short-term profitability, but “if we have an opportunity to become 10 or 20 or 50 times bigger than we are today in the future, that's really what our investors are looking for and that's the investor we're looking for. And that's the game that I want to play.”
He added that his ultimate hope is to “build a great big platform, democratize the [business aviation] space even further.”
Dichter likened his business to Amazon, comparing the company’s foundational aircraft type, the King Air, to the “books” with which Amazon began. “I think that investors, in our case, bought into…an Amazon-like story,” he said, noting that Wheels Up began with a single aircraft type and expanded into others and new businesses. The company then expanded its reach through acquisitions, including Mountain Aviation, Gama Aviation Signature, Delta Private Jets, and TMC Jets.
Building on that, Dichter said, Wheels Up wants to expand its reach to become a third-party portal as Amazon has. To do so, Wheels Up needs the right technology, he said, noting that the industry largely runs on 1980s and 1990s technology while Uber is only 12 years old and Airbnb is 13 years old. Both can match pricing to demand.
But in business aviation, “there is no technology that can advance the mom-and-pop operator. There is no Open Table in our space,” Dichter said. “Our technologists tell me, ‘Wow, this is such an incredible white space.’”
He added that if technology would be developed to support the industry and make it more efficient, “then there's an unbelievable opportunity, not just for Wheels Up, but really for the whole space.”
Dichter further said that recruitment is another factor in running an Amazon-like business. ‘We're now recruiting against the Microsofts, the Amazons, [and] the Airbnbs,” he said. Wheels Up brought former Amazon executive and Airbnb and Groupon chief marketing officer Vinayak Hegde on board and then last month named him president. Hegde last month outlined a vision to build a more customer-facing technology, such as what Amazon has.