Experience Flight brings sky-high tours and activities back down to earth
Australia’s Experience Flight is a portal for tours-and-activities that are in the sky, from joy rides on private planes, sky diving trips and hot-air balloon rides.
Launched in April 2012, the site lets customers buy flight experiences from suppliers across Australia, either for themselves, or as a gift for someone else.
Funded solely by its founder at a cost of $25,000, plus a lot of free labor. The company hopes to make money by charging the organisations who list with it a small commission on the services sold.
Q&A with the incomparably named founder Heath L’Estrange.
How is the way you are solving this problem more special or effective than previous attempts you or the market has seen before and how different do you have to be to succeed?
We love flying! We are far more passionate about our industry than our competitors are. Unlike our competitors, who sell activities from lots of industries, we chose to focus solely on flying activities.
Currently, we only have about 5% market share. Within a year, we hope to have more flying activities on our site than our competitors have managed to source in 5+ years. Then we really will be the one–stop-shop for any flight experiences.
We will have more flight experiences on our site by offering our suppliers (flying schools) much better conditions than our competitors do.
For instance, if our competitors sell a flight for an organisation, and the voucher recipient doesn’t redeem the voucher, the competitor pockets the money (i.e. the flying organisation sees none of it). With us, the supplier gets paid out for the voucher regardless of whether the recipient redeems the voucher or not.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
We already offer a fantastic range of flight experiences (100+), but in time will have the biggest range of flight options in Australia.
The prices we sell flight activities for are quite often cheaper than going directly through the flying organisation, as we negotiate bulk rate discounts. Our prices are never more expensive than buying directly through the flying organisation.
We issue a digital (e-ticket) voucher immediately which can be customised by the purchaser if it is a gift voucher
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is the strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
We are investing heavily in online advertising. Google Adwords allows us to directly target people who are looking for flying activities we offer. We are working on our natural search engine rankings to bring in organic traffic.
We are also offering our clients fantastic service and follow up to ensure they are happy with their experience so we hope to see them again and that they will tell their friends.
What other options have you considered for the business and the team if the original vision fails?
We haven’t planned for failure. We are 6 months in now, and revenue is growing.
What mistakes have you made in the past in business and how have you learned from them?
I think what often holds a lot of companies back is the fear of success. Going into this endeavour with confidence is something that we knew we had to do. We have other ventures that while no doubt successful, could easily be more if we had more confidence to take them up a notch.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
I don’t think anything is wrong with the industry. In fact it is a very exciting industry which is growing, and there is room for smart services. The web allows people to make much more informed decisions about what they want to do, than has ever been possible until now.
Fortunately we saw an opportunity to provide a dedicated flight experience site, as flying is a passion of ours. What better thing to do than go into business doing something you are truly passionate about.
We can’t help being dreamy about the idea of flying in Australia, with glorious sights to take in—from reefs to roos.
Experience Flight has an advantage of a founder who is passionate about the topic, and that passion can be infectious.
We’re not seeing anything in the site that provides something new that users lack, other than presenting all flight-related options on a single portal instead of a subset of a broader array of attractions.
We’re also not sure if spending money on Google Ad Words will continue to deliver good results going forward. It’s the kind of thing that can start out with quick gains but not continue to provide good value as you scale up, depending on your industry and what your competitors are doing.
So many successful startups make something the founders needed or that people they know need. Did the founder really need a distinct website for air-bound tours and activities?
Our hope is that Experience Flight takes seriously talking to a few of its users and seeing if it can make at least a few of them love it, rather than simply try to process a lot of transactions.
It’s difficult to become an overnight sensation, so you have to either fully please of a handful of users, or satisfy a handful of the needs of a huge mass crowd. The first option is easier and it’s less likely to allow a founder to fool himself.
The metric for success here is how many users the company has making purchases within a year’s time. Is scaling up the volume of inventory enough? Or is it providing some kind of custom service that other competitors don’t provide that may be what a subset of users would truly love?
The founder loves flight, and knows what to ask for and expect in booking private lessons, hot air balloon rides, or sky dives. Helping to inform users of how to make a booking and things to watch out for might be a way to solve the needs of users in a way that other competitors are ignoring.
Not that we claim to know. That’s just an example of the kinds of ideas that could be tested. Superior customer service, lower costs per transaction, smarter up-sells (“If you bought x, you’ll love y”), or advice to pilots on how they can better price their services.
Sean O’Neill is a New Jersey-based reporter for Tnooz. He is also a daily contributor of consumer news to LonelyPlanet.com.
He used to work for BBC Travel, BudgetTravel.com, and Kiplinger's, and used to live in London, New York City, and Washington, DC.