Where did the idea for Mirai Flights come from?
Working in business aviation, I understood that the industry had to switch to digital solutions.
We watched several projects that tried to implement this solution and saw that their apps were already getting downloads from potential users.
I didn’t invent anything, I was just watching the trends. The trend shows that the luxury segment is the last to digitize. And digitizing aviation in a service format is not an easy task to pull off, because a number of factors have to come together. The first one is a good understanding of the industry from the professionals who have been in aviation for many years and who know how it all works from the inside. The second is the existence of payment systems that enable you to quickly and promptly pay for service. And client service, of course, which also requires post-sales support.
The idea was born after I saw this kind of service in the US, but I realized that they were making mistakes that made it impossible to achieve the goal.
My cofounder Evgeny Chuprov and myself originally discussed the idea of using just our own aircraft and producing an app that would service our own fleet. But later, when the pandemic-related lockdowns were introduced all over Europe and the world, we pivoted. We realized that by buying three or four planes, we wouldn’t get the project off the ground and satisfy the market’s demand for private jet travel. So we removed the part about our own fleet and just restructured everything into an application that would aggregate the whole market. We gave all the airlines an opportunity to get into this app and reach the consumer directly through this channel. This can be both B2C and B2B.
In other words, we didn’t reinvent the wheel. We simply bore in mind our colleagues’ mistakes, and restructured the “wheel” a little bit into the format that we have today and tht we continue to improve.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually get up, eat breakfast, and go to the gym. I train three times a week at 9 am. Then, at 10:30 am, I am already at work, and I have all the meetings related to my group of companies called Aim of Emperor. Each company has its own specific block of time, which is fixed, and during that time, I work on issues related to that company. Obviously, there may be additional meetings with clients and strategy sessions. Evenings are for the family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There’s an old computer game called PacMan where the Sun walks around and eats fruit. For me, any project, any startup is a game. It’s as if you create a certain path for yourself, how you walk along it, and this path becomes convoluted. You hit a wall, you turn around, and then you move on. And that’s how all the companies in our group gradually form. Obviously, I know what I want to have as the end result, give or take. But to say that I have a clear, definite vision with steps A, B, C, D – no, I can’t claim that. The path is always transforming, even though there is a general strategy. It’s like a living organism.
Speaking about Mirai Flights, I clearly understand that in five years I want to see this company in the position where it can have an IPO. I believe that we can bring the whole global jet industry together and somehow bring it to a common denominator. At the moment, it’s all very fragmented. Bringing it together is the main objective of our app. This is especially true of the aircraft leasing service, whose consolidation will profit not just the operators and broker, but the end users as well.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am closely watching products like AirBNB and Booking.com. They are the biggest systems for booking accommodations, and it is a giant market that has made the transition from offline to online. And I can see that the airline market could just as well restructure and be on par with the players like Booking.com and Uber. Our price ranges are somewhat different, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there are customers who have our service on their smartphones, and it makes it easier for them to organize any and all of their travel.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very pedantic. You could even say fussy. But in a work format this quality is very valuable, because you notice those little things that help to create the overall picture. Some people may draw in large strokes and see the picture in general. On the contrary, I always take small details out of the general picture, because these details ensure that a client gets the maximum comfort at every stage. And also, when people say that something is “impossible,” I always reply that “nothing is impossible.”
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I try not to be a contrarian, but I am an adventurer by nature – and adventurers are people who understand that there are no unsolvable or hopeless situations. Only by expanding your horizons can you reach your goal.
If I wasn’t adventurous, I wouldn’t have a group of companies today. Sometimes you have to take risks. And for any entrepreneur, the first and foremost risk is related to believing in what they are doing. If you believe in what you are doing, you will definitely succeed. You don’t sit down first and say, “It’s complicated, I don’t know, I have to weigh everything.” That’s not the way. Sometimes I get into a story first and only make decisions later, as I go along.
As for people disagreeing with your objectives that may sometimes sound delusional or impossible, you have to infect your team and your partners with enthusiasm and show them that you don’t simply believe these concepts in name only, but that you live and breathe them. And if you really believe in what you preach and put your money where your mouth is, you actually achieve the results.
There used to be these lamps with wax inside. And that wax gradually melted from the heat and floated up in the lamp. I think that any business, any project is a substance that is constantly changing its state due to the temperature, or the heat of passion, or some changes in legislation and market trends. Just this plasticity and the ability to adjust to today’s realities is very important for anyone engaged in business. If you don’t change or readjust, if you don’t anticipate any events, even unlikely ones, if you agree with the way things are and give up, you’re better off not doing it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I really appreciate both the past and the present, and I believe in the future, so I guess the advice would be to stay the way you are.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
The strategy is very simple: I do what I know. And I just repackage it. Basically, I approach an existing project that is already a part of my group of companies. I never buy unfamiliar businesses. That’s the golden rule, because you have to know the whole process thoroughly. I get a lot of offers to invest in this or that field next to aviation, but I don’t go in there because I don’t know it from the inside.
I also have to be interested in what I’m doing. If I get enthusiastic about something and see some value in it, I fire up the people around me as well.
One of my business partners once said to me: “You have this habit. A new project for you is like a new baby – it comes along, and you switch your full attention to it.” I agreed with him and he continued: “But that’s to say that you leave the other kids behind.” “Yes, but I leave those kids in the hands of my partners. You know how to continue raising a child based on the DNA that’s embedded.”
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The first one is actually my step-in. After completing my studies in England, I returned to Georgia with an idea for a delivery service. I was impressed when I went to a bank in England and then I would get a bank card in the mail and a PIN a day or two later. In different envelopes.
I had pretty extensive connections with banks in Georgia, so I went into each one and made a presentation. I said: “We are creating company X that will remove your headache of delivering the bank cards to your customers.” Everybody loved the idea, and we signed five or six banks up. At the time, each bank was issuing about 5,000 cards a month, and they were paying about $1 for each card. But then the volume of orders dropped. And I realized that it was necessary to expand this project with the delivery of SIM cards from mobile operators, as well as advertising mailings, bills, etc. It was time to scale up, but we didn’t have enough people, we had to take them out of other projects and devote all of our time to this delivery service, and that was unrealistic at the time. If you do something, you have to devote yourself completely to it, it’s very important. Besides, Georgia was a small market for me, and I wanted to go to Europe to build bridges between Europe and the ex-Soviet countries. I realized that I could not grow and become a big player if I remain in a small market with a small check and a small market volume.
The second failure story happened when I was working for a big company. I really believed in it so much that I dragged everyone I could there. Unfortunately, at some point the company went into receivership, it began to fold. I did not control the process, but as a salesman I lost the trust of my clients, and they were wealthy people who believed in me and gave me their assets to manage.
That’s when it clicked. I went to them, and there were 15 of them, and I said: “I will pay you back this money.” I had no idea where I would get this money from. At that time, a sum of six-seven million euros was a huge amount for me, as my salary was 60 thousand pounds a year.
They asked, “How will you pay us back?” and I said: “I brought you to this company and it folded. Things happen. It’s a business. You have to believe me again. You’re coming with me. I’m going to build my own system, my own airline, my own management company. And I’ll close the deficit you have today within a year.” Out of those 15 people, 10 believed in me.
For me, that was a failure, because I had no influence on the process (although in the end, the story was a successful one in the long run). Today, I only do things where I can influence the process. If you don’t control the business you’re running, if you’re not the one making decisions, it’s apriori a fiasco.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I have one idea that I want to implement. Today, Mirai Flights today enables you to book a jet right now. Of course, it would be trivial to say, “And tomorrow you will be able to book drones to fly people through this app.” But this is one such service that could be integrated there at some later point, and we are already in talks with drone developers.
I’m also looking into the problem of infrastructure for small aircraft and drones. And there are already interesting solutions, such as mobile stations for receiving small aircraft, helicopters, and drones. These are like little hubs that can be deployed all over the world. And in hard-to-reach places, you will have the ability to transport both people and cargo.
I think that soon, within a few years, we will see such projects in Singapore and the UAE.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
There are charity foundations that I just give money to. I never keep track of it, because when you participate in something like this in terms of money, I think you shouldn’t boast about it. And there are people who spend their time on it – that’s real help. I’m also more than happy to give money to street musicians. I love walking the streets in the winter. One day I was walking, it was cold. And a frail old woman was playing the violin. It was so enchanting: it was snowing, and she was playing this violin, and it permeated the whole scene, her music was somehow physically warming. I left $100 to this old lady, so that she, too, would feel warmed by my attention.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Today we have several platforms where we communicate. If we’re talking about the management team and people working with aviation projects, it’s Trello. The aviation software we use is Leon. Also for sales, we use Salesforce.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I liked “Hard Management” by Dan Kennedy a lot. I often reread it and put it into practice. Also, I recommended it to all the members of my team.
What is your favorite quote?
There is a funny saying in Georgian that translates as: “It would be good to live well, if it weren’t so expensive.”
In all seriousness, it is important for me to do something for the people. Clearly, I won’t be Mendeleev or Hawking, who once said: “Look at the stars, not under your feet. Be inquisitive. No matter how hard life is, you can always find a cause in which you can excel.” So it’s very important for me to do something that will remain after I’m gone.
- To develop a business, you have to scale up.
- For me, it’s important to do things that will change the world and people, change the industry, and to be useful in developing services, products all over the world. At the same time, one must never forget that projects have to be profitable.
- Time is a very expensive resource. Some people might do something just for the sake of doing it – such approach is not for me.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.