DALLAS — It’s a sunny Friday morning in Dallas, and Clynt Taylor is explaining the ins and outs of his new startup. He’s going over how the company attracted a client base, how it’s turning a profit before launch, and how members can save time and stress less.
At times, though, it’s difficult to hear him speak. Jets are taking off and landing just yards away, creating roars that drown out his words.
This certainly isn’t your typical startup HQ. Sure, it has an entrepreneurial vibe, fresh IKEA furniture, and branded swag laying around. But outside one window, personal jets of local celebrities sit parked in a hanger. Peer out another, and you can see planes taking off and landing at Love Field.
Taylor is inside a conference room at Rise, a new company based in Dallas that’s unique in many ways — from its office at the airport to a business model that could change how frequent travelers move from city to city.
Founded this past June, Rise offers a three-tiered monthly membership program that ranges from $1,650 to $2,650 and allows for unlimited flights between Dallas, Austin, and Houston. The company doesn’t own planes or employ pilots; instead, it partners with an operator called Monarch Air and brands the eight-seat, Beechcraft King Air 350 planes with Rise artwork. The model is similar to how a big airliner like United, for example, uses GoJet Airlines to operate commuter services under the United Express brand.
Monarch handles maintenance and staffing of the planes themselves. This allows Rise — which has raised $1.5 million — to focus on the back-end technology and membership program that is the secret sauce to the business.
Rise has built a web and mobile platform that allows users to easily book flights in just seconds. When you fly, there are benefits like concierge services, bypassing security lines — Rise screens every member with background checks — and a comfortable seat with legroom in the small jet.
The idea is to create a more seamless way for business travelers to get from Dallas, Austin, and Houston — and a way for them to have the experience of owning a private jet at a fraction of the cost.
“We call it private flight-sharing,” Taylor said. “Everyone is flying on a private flight, but you aren’t flying the plane yourself exclusively.”
Kennedy came up with the idea for Rise after flying more than 2 million miles on commercial jets while working at his past jobs. He also got a taste of the private jet life after working for a billionaire who owned a personal learjet.
“I kept thinking, if I had my own Gulfstream, life would be perfect,” he said. “I could have breakfast at home, do business in another city, then be back in time for soccer practice. But a Gulfstream costs $50 million, so it wasn’t feasible for me.”
Once Kennedy left his former job at eviti, he kept thinking about how the traveling experience could be improved.
“When you travel all the time, it takes a toll on you in every aspect — physically, mentally, emotionally,” he said. “It’s a lonely, lonely experience.”
Kennedy felt there had to be a way to “allow the democratization of private air travel,” as he puts it. The CEO ended up connecting with the founders of Surf Air, a similar membership-based air travel service that raised $73 million this past summer, and soon enough he committed to launching Rise in Texas.
Kennedy and Taylor, who have worked together for the past decade on various ventures, made it a point to find an operator like Monarch to partner up with. They didn’t want to be encumbered by the upfront capital required to buy planes.
“This allows us to grow and expand a little more quickly,” Taylor noted.
Kennedy said that this idea isn’t necessarily new. Four decades ago in Dallas, a new company called Southwest Airlines launched an airline that offered flights between big cities in Texas.
But aside from not having to own and operate planes — “we rely on experts for that,” Taylor noted — Rise’s innovation is the back-end software and an efficient front-end product that enables a private flying experience that won’t break the bank. The founders are quick to call Rise a technology company.
“We couldn’t do this if we weren’t able to understand how to apply technology to solve the problem,” Taylor said.
Taylor added that the timing is right for Rise’s offering. He noted how today, there are more people flying than ever, and that airlines have figured out how to optimize their flights.
That means if you don’t book at the right time or don’t have premier status with an airline, you might be stuck in a middle seat or end up with a poor travel experience. This problem, combined with tools that allow for rapid development of web and mobile software, “make now the perfect time for what we’re doing,” Taylor said.
There are other companies also getting into the private jet industry. For example, Surf Air founder Wade Eyerly — who sits on Rise’s advisory board — just launched a new startup called Beacon that offers unlimited private jet trips for its members to and from cities in New England.
One issue Arrow had was huge initial consumer demand, much like Rise is experiencing now. This forced the company to re-structure how it sold memberships.
Rise plans to limit the number of members in each city to “minimize the risk of members not being able to get on a flight they want,” Taylor explained.
“We also look at high-demand routes and the number of times our members fly, and we then build in excess capacity,” he added.
Rise has yet to fly a scheduled flight, as the company is still waiting for final FAA approval. But there is already high demand and Rise has pre-sold several memberships. In fact, the company already has enough members to turn a profit — even before the first official Rise flight.
Another value of a Rise membership, Kennedy explained, is the networking benefits. The Rise clientele is mostly made up of successful businessmen and women — many who currently opt to drive between the Texas hubs due to the hassle of flying commercial — that enjoy connecting on the plane.
“These people are doing deals on the plane,” Kennedy noted. “They like flying with like-minded executives. In some respects, the value of this will turn into a community. That’s what I’m most excited about, because you can build a platform off that.”
When you factor in the costs of flying commercial, a $1,650 Rise membership could certainly be worth it for those who are already traveling once or twice per week. But Kennedy pointed out that it’s more than just saving money — it’s the ability to travel more efficiently so people can stay home in the morning to send the kids off to school, or come back in time for a company happy hour.
“We don’t sell seats — we sell time,” Kennedy said. “We give people back time with their families and their friends, which is the most precious commodity.”
Editor’s Note: GeekWire has partnered with UP Global and Chase to cover four Startup Week events around the country, starting with Tampa Bay earlier this month, Phoenix from Feb. 23 to Feb. 27, and Dallas from Mar. 2 to 6. Tune in to GeekWire for more stories about the activities, and to learn more about this emerging startup hub.