David Litwak:
Go Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us today for how I got here focus wire and Mozilla’s weekly podcast about travel and transportation startups. Today we’re joined by Rob wiesenthal of blade. blade is the first digitally powered short distance aviation company. They run helicopters from Manhattan to the airport went on to the Hamptons, seasonal schedule, Jet services and more. And I’ll let Rob explain more with it is the ROB we’d like to start every every one of these podcasts with the same exact question, which is for you to explain to us how you got here.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Sure, thank you for having me. I’ve had a pretty long career starting, actually going back when I was 19. In investment banking, where ultimately I was at a company called First Boston and ran what was then called digital media and entertainment and joined Sony Corporation in 2000, is Chief Strategy Officer and Chief Financial Officer and when I was at Sun They had an aviation department that reported to me. And within that Aviation Department they had a bunch of jets because it was a global company, you know, I think one in Europe, two in the US and one in Japan. And they all said one helicopter. And I What was interesting to me because a private aviation was something that I never really knew anything about or any in any interest in, in my in my prior life. What was interesting to me was the lack of branding, the lack of use of technology, specifically mobile, the lack of an emotional connection between one one particular any kind of company in that space and a consumer. The lack of customers consent concentricity centricity Especially with respect to what they now call FB O’s, which are these terminals that you would leave at, where you go into a terminal. And it’s kind of elementary school cafeteria lighting and popcorn machine and people behind the desk and try to find where your plane is, and some, you know, secondhand, you know, furniture or at least it would look like secondhand furniture, it for that for the amount of money that was being spent in this industry. It felt very b2b, you know, very business to business, the marketing, the advertising, all that. And then you look at a plane and a plane would have tail numbers and no brands on it. There is a lot of interest in make sense to me. And the thing that really kind of tilted me to saying, you know, I feel like there’s a business here was the fact on a helicopter side. It would cost $3,000 $6,000 to go 90 miles at the average utilization of a helicopter copters 1.7 people, even though they usually have six seats, so I really didn’t understand why you clinic aggregate over mobile technology, people going to common destinations at near common times. And that really was the impetus for blade and then also to take away the intimidation factor by getting that price lower because it was very intimidating in the sense that like you didn’t know really, who to call and it would seem like something that was really above you and as for CEOs, it was not really consumer products. And then how do you market that and create something that is really enjoyable because even though we cut the price down to the time to you know, $595 to go 90 to go to the you know, go 90 miles and ultimately, last year do $195 to fly to the airport or $95 with an airport pass. We kind of broke the Uber SUV barrier and pricing You know, we This was still a lot of money to the consumer, and how can you give them an experience that resonated with them. And that had it. And that’s why we started building our own lounges. we embraced mobile technology for booking. And we taught customer service to not only our people, but to pilots. And we learned about aggregation. And we spent a lot of time at dealing with redundancy, to make sure that missions go as smoothly as possible. And that really was the kind of the genesis of blade

Kevin May:
thanks so much for joining us, Rob. It’s We’re really delighted that you’re sharing the time with us. And I’m interested it’s it’s a it’s a fair leap to go from, dare I say the safe corporate world of Sony and entertainment in the music business to launching a transportation or being involved in a land transportation startup, what was your own code? Kind of personal thinking about that as a going from a corporate exec to an entrepreneur? How did you kind of get yourself into that zone?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Well, I guess there were two, two things.

There are two questions that I had an answer or two things that I really was driven to explore. Number one, in corporate jobs, there’s an old line that the status quo doesn’t like to lose its status. And which means that the way large corporations are organized the way people are compensated, you know, you’re not very rarely Are you rewarded to take any kind of measured or calculated risks in terms of new products, new ideas, transactions, things of that nature. Then also, it’s to the benefit of the larger organization or at least in the press. session that is the benefit to the large organization to keep people in their lanes. So if you’re a numbers guy, you don’t understand marketing, you’re a marketing guy, you don’t understand numbers, stay in your lane, stay in your lane, stay in your lane. And I felt that the time when I decided no i incubated late when I was still a chief operating officer of Warner Music. When I decided to join full time, you know, I felt saw the opportunity to use muscles that I really wasn’t given the opportunity to do to use in my former lives, and namely, you know, building brands, creating an emotional connection between consumers and your product. And to be able to make decisions quickly and with as minimal bureaucracy as possible. And, you know, I actually, am I, you know, I’m third generation entertainment to a certain extent, I send this forth And one thing about nominator spending a lot of time entertainment, you know, despite the fact that I was, you know, more financially orientated, business oriented, you know, the store, you know, a good song, or a good film or a good TV show. You know, it’s about the story. And a great story is what you, we tell stories and entertainment, but it’s a song or it’s a film or TV show, and I wanted to tell a story in a customer journey. So from the moment you first see a blade ad to when you walk into one of our lounges to the way our staff is dressed to the way they greet you, you know, to the way you experience on board, say played went to Miami, you know, for a long haul flight. So what happens when you land, you know, it was about talent, creating a narrative that resonated with consumers that created these unique moments that people would share because What I noticed was in especially when you think about the largest part of non commercial aviation kind of private jets, you know, no one ever says, Oh, you know, I chartered a jet with Atlas, I had an atlas jet charter last week, you know, I mean, they had a jet, but we turned blade into a verb, you blade it to Nantucket, you blade to the airport, and it meant something to people. And, and that was really exciting. And I think it was about telling that story and controlling the environment from the marketing side, the moment of booking to the customer experience in the lounge to whatever we can do in flight to what we can do at landing and what we do in terms of what we call recovery, which is when something goes wrong, and then how we can do use events and activations and social media to kind of galvanize that customer base to come up again and make it something people have an affinity with the brand and use it versus someone else. Because if you want to think about this world where everything gets commoditized The one thing that is difficult to commoditize is brands and to build your brand and our view is not only telling a story, but also to have sustained product differentiation. Yep, same product differentiation. So, along this journey, we’re constantly thinking about what can we do to to provide our customer with sustained product differentiation, because you can get a jet from anywhere you get a helicopter from almost anywhere, you get a sea plane from us anywhere. So we have to do something different. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom it’s going on Expedia and Stuart. Right. lowest the highest. Right, what and so you know, you think about, I’m looking at your notes here, I’m allowed to use the word otaa.

It says so, if you think about it, you know, when we when I thought about This is a wonderful opportunity to create a brand in aviation, we clearly we’re not going to say have the capital or take the risk of building a giant airline. But short distance aviation felt like it was an arena in which a limited amount of capital and a lot of elbow grease, we could really be competitive and so but I do I did think about the fact that when someone goes on Expedia and says they want to go from New York to Miami, they’re sorting lowest to highest and maybe by class of service and dependent maybe out if you buy lead outside frequent flyer miles. They’re not I really, I’m not convinced they really care that much if it’s Delta or American or united, or someone else. Yeah.

Kevin May:
It’s interesting what you say Bob about me know, large corporations being you know, to paraphrase you a little bit, you know, risk averse. I mean, you took this jump maybe jumps the wrong word. But you know, you took this kind of change in your career in your mid 40s,

for fear of working, Nigel.

Yeah, for fear of looking at your age on Wikipedia here. But, you know, that’s that’s kind of different to many of the entrepreneurs who listen to this podcast who are late teens, mostly in their 20s. I mean, how was there anything that you had to do with regards to thinking about going into a risky environment with starting a new business? Or did you feel supremely confident in the product, which is certainly sounds like you do, but it is, it is quite a leap for someone in their late 40s.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Now, it was definitely a jump. And I think that there are two things you know, in fact, there was an article, I was I was interviewed, I don’t know how long ago where I was somehow that title ended up saying that that employees at startups are not trained properly or something. I don’t know what it was a horrible but I think that I would not trade my early career for anything the level at mean in one of the things we decided to do we started late because I have people here from Microsoft from big law firms. I do have people from big companies here

you know, the

house, how do we take the best of those big companies and leave behind the things that really we found detrimental to our you know, if not our career progression, or how much we enjoy our jobs. So let’s we want to try to limit grok bureaucracy have a little bit more of a radical transparency type view to reduce politics. But also, when it comes to financial discipline and analysis, that was something with these big companies were great at the companies I am, right. Um, you know, risk managers Financial Planning and analysis. Were all great skills, how to write, how to stay organized at a project, manage. Those are all skills that you have in a big company to be able to take those skills and be an environment where you can make a decision. Where are there aren’t nine layers of decision making and where the safe answers always do nothing. Right. Right. That was the big opportunity. Like that’s what we wanted to create. So I felt very blessed to have that experience corporately and have the maturity to see things to do lots of transactions and buy companies and integrate them. Some deals that went well, and some deals that didn’t go well. And to and at 49 I felt that was really my last chance to if I was either going to do it now or I was not going to do it. And I felt that was my moment. And yes, it was it was absolutely terrifying. And it’s a different type of pain and stress. It is not all roses. And also, I was lucky enough to have a long enough career where I felt that I had enough financial ballast to really work on this for a very long time, you know, at, you know, let’s say called realistically at a fraction of what I was earning before, right with the idea of creating wealth for our boys and our investors. Yeah. Okay, great.

David Litwak:
Well, I wanted to turn a little bit more to the kind of the business model. So I’m from California. And so the kind of first urban aviation company I heard it was actually surf air about, I guess, five or six years ago, and I’m not fully aware of exactly how that turned out, but I don’t think it turned out as well as they were hoping. And I think that There’s got to be a lot of behind the scenes reasons for you know, why would a subscription work or not? Or what what airports Do you fly into regional versus, you know, international versus local hell helicopter? Could you give us a little bit of insight into how you thought about this from a really nitty gritty business perspective? Or how to make it actually like that the the the fixed costs would line up with the amount of money we’re needed to charge for this?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Sure. It’s a great, great question. And very interesting, comparable because, and I’ll use some analogies from the entertainment business which really, they’re in there a lot of them believe it or not, which is kind of amazing to me, that I see from the business that I was in in the business world today. corollaries. So you take a subscription model, like Netflix, you know, you’re paying your 10 bucks a month or whatever it is. You watch Spider Man 20 times you know outside bandwidth which is negligible. Sony who owns that movie is not getting paid 20 times, it’s not costing Netflix any more money the first time you see it than the 20th time. So, because they’re buying the content on long term deals, okay? So there’s no incremental cost of washing, a lot of content or very little content. Okay, they own it, and they can play it as much as they want. Every time you step in a plane, or an aircraft, that costs a lot of money. So, the subscription model when it comes to aviation, say serve their, you know, you’re essentially inviting the hungriest people to the all you can eat buffet and there are they are going to eat a lot. And unlike Netflix, every time that plane gets in the air, it’s costing you money. So I didn’t want to be in a situation where I had to hope that people didn’t fly us. Because if you think about a subscription model of aviation, you’re really guessing on breakage. It’s almost like the health costs, you can call it, you know, not even not even the health club model because, you know, that’s more of a capacity issue. You know, it’s almost like you know, discounted gift certificates to something and you hope they expire, people lose them or whatever. Like, that’s not the way I wanted people to fly. And we wanted to earn their trust every time and not have them be beholden. So we felt the best model at least for us was, you know, pretty simple. We’re going to come up with a fair price to to for you to fly. And we’re going to reduce friction in your travel and cut your travel time by by a lot and give you an enjoy and a really enjoyable experience. But it’s going to be done. You know, our cart, you know, you pay us we fly you it’s it’s pretty simple. The subscription models You know, really didn’t seem to make sense for us. And also, unlike surf air where there are a lot of long term leases, we don’t own any aircraft or lease any aircraft. What we do is we have long term relationships with operators where they decide to become on our platform. And the reason they come on our platform you know, once in once they’re approved for a platform based on safety and diligence type of equipment and pilot hours, you know, their backgrounds on with respect to the FAA in terms of their any incidents or the records they have to use are our operator dashboard in terms of logistics, which is a big part of our technology platform both. It’ll be kind of go from consumer to cockpit. They no longer really have to have marketing departments because we’re marketing the flights. They don’t need customer service because if you fly with blade, and you’re upset because your flight was delayed for weather, They don’t get a phone call blade gets the weather, it gets the phone call. If you dispute something in your credit card, it was charged us we got to do it. So all of a sudden we found them. They’re getting rid of the customer service departments are getting rid of their or their of their marketing departments. Their accounting departments are going down because we pay in five days, and there’s an accounting dashboard. So all of a sudden, there was a reason to let us have a lower hourly fee than they would generate on retail. Because we are giving them certainty of volume. And we were giving them giving them large volume and some certainty because you know, the track record that we had, and putting money behind, you know, behind it to get people to fly. And so in the beginning, it’s interesting not unlike the days of apple and iTunes, a lot of the

company’s you know, seaplane companies and helicopter companies and other turboprop companies said let’s get together and build our own app. Why is Getting this business we can do that. And I remember being at Sony when we got universal and Warner and we decided to start something called press play as a competitor to iTunes. And you know, what you found is it took someone on the outside to bring people together. You know, before Netflix, it was something called movie movie fly. But all this movie studios got involved. It didn’t really go anywhere, either. And it’s very difficult for incumbents to create a platform, it takes someone on the outside to create that platform. And I think that was part of, you know, going back to you know, what are you you know, what you learn in your day job, or how does this relate to what you did, that’s something that I saw very quickly, which was how do you get these providers on your side, show them that you’re providing them value, and be the one to bring everybody together because it’s like, it blade on helicopters. tell you right now, play would be a helicopter company, it wouldn’t wouldn’t people aid.

David Litwak:
So that’s funny. So, you know, mozia operates in the ground transportation world. And we’ve done a lot of analysis of, you know, what made Uber succeed. And what I found fascinating about Uber was they knew exactly how deep to go. It wasn’t just working to plug into any API. It was they actually said, we’re gonna have our own drivers, but we’re also not going to own the vehicles and that’s where they drew the line. And it sounds like you do a fairly similar line. We’re like, no, we’re gonna have the lounges. We’re gonna have all these different things, but you drew the line at kind of, you know, actually owning and flying the helicopters. Is that a fair characterization?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah, I think I think it is, but I think what’s easier for us um, and saying Uber, but you know, there obviously cost to that which is you can see them incredible massive scale that they’ve enjoyed, is that we can insist on a consistency of service. Okay? Because The peep the pilots who fly you are employees, that health insurance of full time employees and not only had to file file FAA guidelines, they have to file guidelines that are operating at the file guidelines of blade. So the quality of the experience that you get that now that the pilot the experience, the cleanliness of the aircraft, the hours in the aircraft, that type of aircraft are going to be consistent. Whereas, if you get into a ride sharing car, drivers can have different senses of direction, different command of the English language, different types of cleanliness, hygiene, all these issues, there’s so much variation, but because instead of having hundreds of thousands of drivers, we have 29 operators, and so we need to do is harmonize 29 operators, who then have full time employees and are not members of the gig economy. So it’s not like someone you know, all of a sudden you know, they’re out there, you know, it’s the weekends they know how to make a couple bucks and they take their cell phone, put a suction cup in their helicopter and do a couple runs for Blake. No, that’s not the way it works. These are full time, salaried, you know, highly paid, you know, pilots and the same thing with the people that the operators as well.

David Litwak:
So that actually brings me to, I think a topical story. I’m sure you know, Kobe Bryant’s death, you know, brought a lot of scrutiny around, you know, helicopter standards and stuff in it. I read something. The thing that stood out to me despite being a lifelong Lakers fan, and being a tragic event overall was that, you know, it apparently the pilot wasn’t trained properly for fog or something like that. I vaguely remember this and how do you think about community safety standards here among those 29 operators?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah, so I’ll set you know, it could be Brian situation, you know, he was an IFR pilot, but his company did not have the conformity for that aircraft for instruments. So he was capable of flying under instruments he was not flying under instruments. I would say you know, we operate in LA our plant, our helicopters are grounded and La Patty’s helicopters are grounded. We would deem that not flyable whether he chose to fly, um, you know, clearly the result was tragic. And, you know, they the minimums for flying without instruments or even with instruments were not met. So it really was a decision made, whether it was something where a pilot was pressured, whether it was actual pressure by by because the passengers or the pilots decided on his own. The decision was made to fly in what we view is unflyable weather. So it was not, I think it’s pretty clear that it was not a mechanical issue. But you know, was a result of the decision that was made to fly it off. But going back to your question about, you know, safety. You know, I think that we like to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the FAA. In terms of, you know, things like inclement weather, you know, one of the things we’ve tell tell passengers, you know, it’s kind of very difficult sometimes we’ll leave New York, you’ll see New York, it’s a sunny day today, and someone wants to fly to the jersey coast. And it’s zero visibility over there. And they say, it looks beautiful over there. And we’d say, Well, on that route, it’s actually very bad weather. And it’s very difficult sometimes for customers to see situations where their flight is canceled or delayed. But you know, our view is that we would rather have you on the ground, yelling at us about why you’re not in the air, then in the air, you’re gonna spy why you’re not in the ground. So um, you know, we tend to err you know, Beyond and the side of caution, and one of the things we do to minimize the pressure that either a passenger will put on themselves or that our company executives do, we typically have a all weather guarantee partner, you know, it’s been Cadillac in the past. We’ve had Porsche before we’ve had Mercedes one year. And what that does is in the event of inclement weather, we essentially put you in a car, the same way you would have gone in that car is waiting and it goes to the airport you would have gone to and relieves a lot of that pressure. And also, when it comes to things like Monday morning commutes where people have to get to the office where they really feel under a lot of pressure, will we’re likely to cancel flights the night before. And you know, make a judgement even though you really can’t say whether it’s dynamic and you really can’t make a judgment before that. So you know, Whether it’s something that we can make our own decisions about to fly or not fly, but the ultimate, you know, in terms of once an operator has made a decision, so, we are not an operator. So the ultimate decision maker is a pilot. But whether or not accept submission, now blade can say, we still don’t feel comfortable enough to fly, but we can never, nor would we ever choose to fly or put a pilot in a situation where they felt uncomfortable, because ultimately they have to make the final call. And then when it comes to other types of safety, like mechanical safety, you know, everything from hours of the aircraft to pilot hours

to, you know, maintenance records of the past, these are all things that we, you know, look towards to make, you know, we have a head of safety, who’s former military and homeland security who does audits on a quarterly basis of our operators. And these are all things things that go into alchemy, but whether to continue a relationship, and they’re also things that are not safety but give visual cues of safety. So sometimes you can go on an aircraft, a small plane, and there’s weather stripping that seems to be falling out or a tear in the seat. And those are bad visual cues for customers. Because someone saying, well, they won’t take care of that tear in the cedar. I hear wind coming from this door because the weather stripping is falling apart what’s happening in terms of the mechanicals of aircraft. So sometimes we’ll pull a tail number out of a fleet and say we’re not using this aircraft because on our standards, it’s even though it’s flyable, and it’s safe. It’s too old. It needs to be refurbished, especially from a passenger perspective. And so we very, very sensitive to visual cues that lead people to thinking about safety even though it may not have a direct impact on it.

Kevin May:
I’m glad that David bought off the The, the Uber comparisons, you know, many of the entrepreneurs tuning in today will will note those comparisons, you know, you’re an Uber asset light businesses, you know, you are essentially technology companies. But the the investment that you’ve both taken or a polar ends of the spectrum, you know, who was a point 1 billion yourselves, according to crunchbase is 44 million. I mean, the flippin question is what could you do with 8.1 billion, but I suppose the more the more the more interesting question perhaps is, you know, why, what why are they so different? I mean, what was the difference in the in the process around mass investment that they’ve been that they took on before they listed and you’re kind of, arguably more modest efforts?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah, I think that there are a couple things. Number one, there’s, I don’t say there’s a whole

menagerie of for lack of a better term of companies that you’re well aware of certain vintage, where the VC community helped them basically achieve scale at all costs. I mean, that’s a fact, you know, winner take all scale at all costs. You know, I have a financial background, the idea of taking on cap is so much capital, and then using that and having that be the basis for your investment and having that have your early investors have to exceed that or your employees in terms of your capital stack, you know, that, that seems, you know, seems extremely, you know, risky and not very lucrative, you know, mean to many of the people lower down the stack, especially with common stock. But also, you know, there’s, I was told I’m allowed to curse and you know, in the world of software, there’s this line, bucket ship, if you remember that line. There’s no fucking ship in aviation. You know, we put souls in the air every day. So the idea Have growth at all costs. And aviation. You know, we wanted it to be on a measured basis, the fastest growing short distance aviation company out there. We fly more people in at city centers than any other company in the country. And I said measured growth, because you can’t grow in a way that provides the level of service that we want to provide those safety that we want to provide the integrity that brands with deploying so much more money than we’ve already deployed. It would be in our view of irresponsible

Kevin May:
it Some might say that it’s your experience in the corporate world. And, you know, harking back to, you know, being in an organization that was arguably as you said, risk averse, has given you that hindsight that maybe growing in a more measured way, is the better way.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Well, I think you know, also been looking at you know, What was Mark cap right now? $40 billion. I mean, I don’t something like that 33 I’m not sure what the exact number is, I think it also goes back to this VC mentality of, I’m going to throw so much capital at these companies and one of them is gonna be an absolute home run, that’s going to be 100 to one return, and everything else is going to be a Wipeout. We don’t have a I don’t have a portfolio approach. You know, I am all in on blade. Okay, all in. All right, you know, I’m down to take, you know, a meager salary. I’ve been working at this now for six years. But at the same time, if you think about it, you know, our first round was at, I don’t know, $22 million valuation, where we come from in a more of a New York based mentality. If the company you know, ends up, you know, selling at 750 million or a billion dollars. That’s called a home run. That’s called a single in Silicon Valley. Right? So but you know, our investors are perfectly fine, going from 25 million to a billion or 50 million to a billion. So, you know, everything you have to take in context. And I think in the world of aviation, just because it’s not going to be a trillion dollar company, or a $200 billion company, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be a great company. So I think we’re very comfortable. You know, given our, you know, what are the what the market size is for our opportunity? how fast we have to grow where our competition is. And luckily, we’re not competing with VC funded companies that much better growth at all costs, albeit Uber was competing with us in the airport business. My understanding is they’ve now decided to pull out of New York and not return for at least two years. But that’s just what I’ve been told. I don’t think they ever made any official announcement. So that was a little bit I would say, scary. Never less a word of concerning that you had a company call this capital that was literally offering the exact same service you were.

And that was flying from New York to the airport.

Kevin May:
Yep. Just before David takes over just a point of order, it was actually three times the eight that they raised, it was 24 billion. So that’s a mistake on my part. So that’s even more money.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah. We’ve raised 58 million, but not that it really moves too much for your analysis. David,

David Litwak:
yeah, no, it’s funny. I think it’s one of the biggest things that I give entrepreneurs advice on is like you don’t like your VCs are going to encourage you to be this billion dollar multi billion dollar company and if you know, selling for 15 to 20, could make you a millionaire and make you very happy and don’t forget that and just make sure you know what you’re getting into. But I you mentioned over there, and there’s you know, A lot of talk about oh is Ubers economic model sustainable and a lot of people, you know, who are savvy say, you know, they’re basically banking on last thing about autonomous vehicles and which brings me to, you know, flying cars and, and your, you know, big view viewpoint on this. And you know, you are a speaker of ours at the mobility and travel conference that we put on in January before all this went down at the Explorers Club in New York. And I, you were on a panel with another helicopter company boom, and also with an Joby or jabi, aviation about, you know, kind of autonomous vehicles. And I’m curious how you view your network and the ground, the groundwork, no pun intended here. You’re laying now to how that’s going to, you know, really kick into action over the next five to 10 years, when autonomous vehicles become more of a reality.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah. So since then, boom is shut down, as you probably know, and some others have, which hopefully, now we knew there was gonna be some kind of cleansing of the system. But the way we look at you know, the name of our company which is played around ability and not in life, I think the right analogy and I keep going back to media, you know, Reed Hastings called Netflix Netflix, despite the fact that the time he was putting DVDs in bags and sending them by mail. And that’s kind of where we are right now with helicopters. So in other words, we have the technology, the strategic infrastructure, the user base and a brand. So we have the entire stack that’s necessary for a VTOL and at some point is going to be an equipment swap, where those helicopters are going to be swapped for you know, vehicles that are quiet, that are more cost effective. Have an you know, and quiet more cost effective and probably hopefully smaller noise, noise footprints and actual physical footprints. And so, the thesis we have is rather than say, US investing in one vehicle and having to win again against you know the Airbus is the Boeing’s, the even Jovi’s of the world. And William and, you know, neither I think there are 135 manufacturers right now people trying to do AV top that we could be in a situation where we can decide what is best for our customer and actually help define who the winners are of that race without building iron. Because that’s not our core competency. You know, we’re not great, you know, aeronautical engineers. We’re great at customer experience with greater logistics were graded the technology platform required for, you know, to make all this happen, but leaving let’s leave it to other people to decide what that right iron is in the future. But until then, let’s have a profitable business using conventional aircraft as a bridge to get to the top.

David Litwak:
And just to clarify for all this is a tall order Electric vertical takeoff and landing, right?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Yeah. So yeah, so called Eric, you can call them air taxis or next generation helicopters, you can also call,

David Litwak:
how do you so I mean, you know, Ubers big, you know, thesis, right, is that they’re gonna establish the, you know, supposedly the network effects. And I think those network effects have been proven to not be really strong these days. But, and but, you know, to prep for that autonomous vehicle feature, how do you view, you know, expansion and, you know, your network effects? And do you feel like you’re creating this mode right now? Or is or how do you view that?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Well, I think, you know, where,

you know, really early on, we decided that you know, there in our in our, in our neck of the woods in terms of aviation, the conventional wisdom was, go out, raise money or given and give a presentation and show us show a map of the world and put red dots and every big city and say, here’s my expansion plan. You know, we believe blade works and maybe nine cities in the world. And at the end of the day, what we thought was the most important thing was if we could be number one in the largest short distance corner in the world, which is that new northeast New York area, Atlantic. Wow, that would be fantastic. And then we can start working on some these tertiary things. And then we looked at blade one, which is our, what we call our enhanced aviation product, which is the white space between a private jet saver $15,000 to Miami, and a first class seat for 800. We’re sitting around 2500 we quickly realized that the number one charter and commercial jet destination or route in the world city pair is New York, South Florida. by a factor I mean, billions and billions of dollars. That is the most highest revenue route in the world. All right, both for commercial and for Jetsons. I’d like less, pick this one. low hanging fruit. You know, let’s not do Tulsa Chicago just right now. Okay. So I think that’s the way we look at it. And so when but however, when the cost comes down, and the noise footprint goes down, now you have an opportunity to land in more places, right? Because what’s holding back landing zones is essentially noise. And also to a certain extent, you know, cost because you don’t have the volume. So at the cost structure we have now and we’re blessing if you think about Manhattan, the idea that Manhattan has an East Side hella Porter, West Side, heliport, a wall street heliport, a an amphibious seaplane base, all with blade lounges, so you’re talking about four places to land, urban air vehicles in an island like Manhattan 13 miles where you have 10 million people. That’s incredible effect. that people can have a choice Eastside Westside downtown amphibious seating, it really is, in fact that where we are right now on the west side, across some Hudson Yards where we have 50,000 people who work and live or will soon be 50,000 people work and live 1000 feet away from a verta port. That is the V tell story that is, you know, the idea of transportation coming together to serve that population. So this was a perfect nursery to build this company and hopefully transitions we tell when the equipment is there.

David Litwak:
So you can just quickly one clarify that to kind of some rapid questions here. It seems almost like part of your mode is these lounges. These is almost like the, the physical real estate here that you’re planting yourself into, and you’ll be able to scale up from there. Is that a correct characterization?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Correct. I mean, right now, because you know, the again, the idea is that blade is right now a high end product. And so we started with this really high end product. We’ve now I’ll come down to, you know, $195 at the airport, which is essentially call it our $25,000 Mercedes. And we think it’s easier to start with a higher brand and work your way down then with a lower end brand and work your way up. And that’s where we’ll know why we think the brand will resonate with a detailer right now, there’s no way to fly into New York City without either going into or around a blade lounge, which will eventually be a terminal they’re called lounges now, but the slowly moving away from this kind of leisure market type place that’s kind of high end to much more functional as it becomes much more of a community product.

Kevin May:
Last couple for me if I if we can rob and I’m quite interested, you’re a mentor at TechStars. And tell us a little bit about being you do have a very different kind of perspective on things. You know, going back to this risk averse nature almost that you’ve kind of brought with you With with regards to fundraising, things like that, do you find that you’re at odds with some of your fellow mentors when you’re working within that kind of startup advice kind of community? Because you arguably had to have a different perspective?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Um, yeah, I think I think I have been, you know, I don’t really view it more of a TechStars thing, but even when I speak to other co founders and such, you know, there was definitely we did a series B worries $38 million. And it was definitely, I would say on call pressure, but a Greek cores are saying, Why aren’t you spending more money? Why aren’t you, you know, pushing harder, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, which I think is, you know, the pendulum has shifted a bit. Um, so, that’s something that I think definitely relates to, you know, our past and I felt, you know, even the idea of unit economics, you know, the, you know, as we all do it We say that, you know, we don’t want to be in the business of, you know, building canoes for $10 and selling them for eight hoping to make it up on buy. So, the that’s something definitely at odds, but there are varying views on that. I think also, one of the things that people maybe have questions, you know, I do believe that people leaving college, having two to four years of experience in a big company, learning financial analysis, learning how to write, which is seems to be a little bit of a lost art that I say, Ah, I think that could be as much more as so important and can reduce the risk profile dramatically for people who want to go out and start companies, you know, the idea of leaving college with a liberal arts education and just going, jumping headfirst into doing your own startup without having at least some generalist background in various disciplines such as marketing and finance, and, you know, business in general. I think that’s really difficult. You know, I mean, obviously, some people have done it brilliantly, probably more than the risk of suicide. But I think, you know, these are long journeys. And so, you know, I guess when you’re my age, the idea if I started a company at 22 versus 25, like, to me that’s meaningless. People should explore some of these opportunities where they can actually build real strength in terms of their repertoire in terms of skill sets. You know, my I never got an MBA. my MBA was at first Boston where I learned financial analysis and I learned how to value companies and I learned about p&l and

basic Business Economics.

Kevin May:
Okay, this won’t be the most hard hitting question you’ll get, but it is our last question of the of this week’s episode of the podcast. I’m curious, which is more time terrifying is it starting a business like blade? Or is it performing at Madison Square gardens with Roger Waters?

Rob Wiesenthal:
Say in the moment, there is nothing more there’s nothing more terrifying than being onstage masker Garden and being a an amateur ukulele assist. That is a moment I will never forget and I can never be more grateful to Roger for letting me enjoy two nights at Madison Square Garden with outperforming the wall.

Kevin May:
Great, thank you. Thank you very much for joining us. They are the founder and CEO of blade. Really appreciate your time some really excellent insight there. So thanks again for David and I.

Rob Wiesenthal:
Great thank you for your time.

Kevin May:
Okay, and thanks so much for everybody for tuning in. This is another episode of how I got here. That’s mosey on focus wise, weekly entrepreneur interviews with those behind innovation, transportation and startup. So thank you very much to everybody for tuning in. Thanks so much from David and I will see you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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