Head in the clouds, feet on the ground. Unlikely as it sounds, that’s one way of describing the business model that has earned Glenn Gonzales plaudits for disrupting the elite travel industry.
As a United States Air Force instructor, he’s literally had his head in the clouds for many hours. And some thought he was still in thin air when he came up with the idea of Jet It, offering private flights to the well-heeled at reduced rates.
But the company he founded in 2018 with partner Vishal Hiremath has taken off, with inquiries about the hybrid or “fractional ownership” program fueled in part by the way the coronavirus pandemic prompted interest in private aviation to spike.
Jet It’s model means you can fly to multiple destinations in one day at a cost of just $1,600 per flight hour. “That seems like a lot,” Gonzales acknowledges, “but if you take four people with you, now you just paid for four round-trips, not even first-class seats.” A traditional one-eighth share in a private jet would give someone around 100 hours of flying time a year, while with Jet It has a one-fifth share that delivers 55 days of use.
The innovative approach has earned Gonzales and Hiremath a regional Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award (previous enterprises honored include Starbucks and LinkedIn), and a Harvard Business School case study spotlight even though the company is still very young. “Other companies are already starting to try to imitate and replicate what we’ve been doing, so we’re flattered,” Gonzales says.
That success hasn’t come about on a wing and a prayer, though. It is rooted in careful study and preparation. Gonzales spent two years building a solid business plan before pitching the idea to investors, drawing on his post-military service experience in aviation sales.
Don’t mistake his attention to detail for apprehension, however. He is big on aiming high. “If I had the mentality that I have to see someone doing it in this industry, it wouldn’t have been done,” he says. “My thought was, Well, why not me? I’ve been blessed to have flown fighters in the air force, to have attended the Air Force Academy, to fly Gulfstreams around the world. And then also to have the academic background with an MBA and a number of other things: Why not me? Take the opportunity if it’s there.”
At the same time, he says, you need to think strategically. He cites his love of basketball, which he played at the Air Force Academy. He never daydreamed about playing in the NBA.
“The goal was to have basketball pay for school,” he says. “The percentage of people who actually have the opportunity to play in the league, that have the luck that goes with it and the skill that goes with it… the odds are just not in your favor.
“That’s not to say it can’t be done. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be pursued. But you should always have another goal in mind. I was a great athlete. I was a solid basketball player, but that was never my goal. My goal was always with the understanding I can do a lot more beyond being an athlete as a businessperson, as an executive, as a military officer, than I thought I could as an athlete.”
Jet It is disrupting a niche market. “People with means are looking for autonomy and efficiency,” Gonzales explains. “They want to be able to leave when they want to. They want to be able to get directly to their point without having to stop. If you’re flying on the airlines, you’re beholden to when they say you’re going to leave. If there’s a stopover, like a bus stop you have to wait and do what the airlines tell you. You lose that efficiency. You lose that autonomy. With Jet It we give that back to individuals.”
And in a way that appeals to people’s budgets as well as their schedules. “The return on investment, the return on your time, is just unmatched. You cannot beat what we bring to the table. And that’s because of our business model, because of the asset that we operate and because the market has been looking for a tool like ours.”
Gonzales offers what you might call a 3D guide to success: dreaming, details and discipline.
“You have to dream big or just don’t sleep,” he says. “There’s no reason to spend all of your time dreaming about the next thing. Go make it happen, get out there and dig in.”
Having a vision is one thing, but it needs to be turned into reality. So “the next thing you’ve got to do is do the research. Take your time to understand what resources are available to you. How has it been done before? Who’s done it? Get the data.”
And finally, “you’ve got to just be disciplined; put your nose to the grindstone, make the sacrifices. You have to be determined.” While doing that, he adds, be discerning—know the difference between springboards and anchors, things that will move you forward and things that will weigh you down and hold you back.
Sometimes those barriers come from others. “We allow society, we allow our family, and other experiences that we’ve had in life to hold us back.” A big Jill Scott fan, he references a number in which she sings that just because you have a nightmare doesn’t mean that you stop dreaming.
“And just because society might say that you can’t or shouldn’t, or won’t, doesn’t mean that you are restricted to that,” Gonzales says. “We should never view ourselves as being boxed in. It’s just a situation, and every situation you can walk through it, you can get up and walk out of it, you can climb out of it. You can work your way through it.
“If this is something I want and I believe in, I’m going to go get it, and this is how I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to walkthrough. You say, ‘Why not me? I’m going to dream about it and make it happen.’”
For Gonzales, that take-a-risk decision point came when he realized he wasn’t entirely happy in his previous work situation. “You get to a point that I liken to a number of the movies that you see where you’re being chased by something and as you get to this point, you either jump off the cliff or you turn around and face whatever is there.”
He chose to jump, believing that his flying and business experience gave him “a high probability of success because I believed that in the business model that I put together. And so far, it’s been working; we’re on the right side of zero and we’ve been successful and expect continued success.”
One unlikely piece of advice he offers is to “receive the bad advice as well.” Because he explains, “it helps you recognize that you’re on the right path.” But most important, he says, is to stay true to your values and believe in yourself and that things are going to work out if you are disciplined about your game plan.
“We talked about college basketball,” he says. “If you’ve got a team designed for running and gunning and shooting threes, you don’t throw the ball into the post. You need to play your game.”
From an interview with Louis Carr