Blade, the Uber for helicopters, raises $6 million at a $25 million valuation from execs like Eric Schmidt to fly wealthy people extremely short distances
Two years ago, Warner Music COO Rob Wiesenthal set out to change that. He had been at Sony Entertainment for 13 years when he got the idea to bring a mobile app like Uber's to the chopper industry. He partnered with Steve Martocci, the co-founder of Skype-owned GroupMe and music service Splice, to launch Blade last Memorial Day weekend. Like Uber, Blade is an operator and logistics manager; it doesn't own any air crafts. Instead, Martocci and Wiesenthal partnered with Liberty Helicopter and offered flights for New Yorkers to and from the Hamptons. Uber even partnered with Blade for a 4th of July weekend promotion.
Blade was an instant hit among the 1% last summer; it powered 800 trips to the Hamptons in just 16 weeks.
"We launched Blade with $50,000 and it was immediately profitable," Wiesenthal tells Business Insider.
The app has since been downloaded more than 20,000 times. Bookers can either select a future flight that's already been scheduled (it's $575 per seat one way to the Hamptons or Fire Island from New York City), or they can create a flight for anytime they want. But if they book a whole new flight, they have to pay for the entire air craft up front. Blade will then try to fill extra seats with other Blade members who will offset the cost. A trip to the Hamptons, which normally takes a few hours, takes just under 45 minutes with Blade.
Blade's service now extends beyond the Hamptons and Mohegan Sun. Its members can fly to Fire Island via a new seaplane service, Blade Aqua. Melissa Tomkiel, who was President of Fly the Whale -an aviation company Aqua partners with - is Aqua's new CEO. Wiesenthal and Martocci are advisors.
Users can also book flights for about $650 per seat to either Martha's Vinyard or Cape Cod from Manhattan. Blade
And, if you have a flight taking off or landing at any local New York City airport, Blade's Bounce service can get you from your jet to the city in just five minutes. Blade Bounce will pick you up at JFK, Newark, Teterboro, Westchester, or LaGuardia and have the chopper waiting to bring you home within 20 minutes of booking for $800 to $900.
The price point may sound steep considering you can take a cab from the airport to New York City for just $50. But for Blade's affluent audience (the company advertises about 17 times per day on CNBC's local network, aiming their services as business executives), it could be considered a small price for convenience.
"For $895 we position it so the helicopter can land 40 feet from your jet," Wiesenthal says. "It's a 45 min drive to JFK. If you're spending $100,000 on a jet, the extra $895 really isn't going to count."
Blade also prides itself on its luxury lounges and amenities onboard the choppers. It has three lounges in Manhattan on West 30th street, East 34th street and 23rd street. It offers passengers rosé in sippy cups, and Wiesenthal says customers will arrive early just to hang out in the boarding area. But Wiesenthal insists that just because his customers are wealthy, that doesn't mean they're arrogant jerks.
"These people aren't assholes saying, 'I'm some banker flying above traffic and screw you," he says. "They're people who view it as a fun luxury to them. 70% of people had never flown in a chopper before. We're making it really easy to do, and it's completely done from your app."
Wiesenthal says his service is much different than BlackJet or SurfAir, which allows customers to fly as much as they want locally for a set monthly fee. Instead, Blade wants to own all flights for distances under 200 miles.
"Unlike things that have failed like Black Jet, you really don't want to have a swinging bathroom door hitting you; that's a little too intimate," Wiesenthal says. "The alternative is, 'Let's just fly first class and no one bothers me.' Blade can take a 3.5 hour trip and make it 30 minutes and that could be worth $575 to somebody."
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