We talked to Kanika Tekriwal of JetSetGo Aviation about making flying more accessible to everyone, and she had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Kanika Tekriwal: We are doing fairly well; COVID has entirely changed how I used to visit my family. Now I happen to meet my parents more often which earlier I couldn’t because of the work. My parents and I took the pandemic pretty well and also very serious and focused on how to use this adversity as an opportunity. As a family, we have probably spent more time than ever which actually helped me detox and filter the noise. During this time, most of our discussion led to brainstorming sessions on how to fix my business to stay afloat.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded JetSetGo.
Kanika Tekriwal: I first entered the aviation industry at the age of 17, hustling college and a full time job. For higher studies, I went to Coventry University (MBA, Finance) and graduated from Mumbai University in BA Economics. I also bagged a diploma from B.D. Somani Institute of Art and Fashion Technology (Diploma, Visual Communication Design) and attended school from The Lawrence School, Lovedale a day college. Belonging to a Marwari family, all my family members are involved in various businesses in some form or the other, which gave me direction and a purpose of building my own business.
I have always been very passionate about aircrafts and wanted to become a pilot whilst my parents wanted me to study a marriageable subject such as design and get married. So, I started working a full-time job in aviation and only going to college to give exams. Everything that I know about aviation I learned on the job; today, I can assemble and disassemble a plane blindfolded. My passion further translated into starting my own venture by witnessing the problems that existed in the market.
The determination for JetSetGo started with a conversation I had with a colleague in the U.K. I narrated an idea that I had about setting up a thriving aviation company, born in India. It was not aimed at making my colleague laugh out loud, but that’s what happened. Being Indian and adamant, I was determined to prove him, and everybody else that thought along the same lines, wrong. I chose aviation because it has been my passion. My passion for the industry, in many ways, is to make flying more accessible to everyone, not just cater to a niche segment.
Often referred to as the Uber of the skies, JetSetGo is revolutionizing the private aviation business in the region by redefining private flying through end-to-end control of the value chain with collaborative partnerships and technology at its core. We have managed to reduce costs, improve dispatch and increase air time of private jets without compromising safety, making them profit centers for owners.
How does JetSetGo innovate?
Kanika Tekriwal: With over a decade of hands-on experience in the aviation industry, we are redefining what it means to fly through JetSetGo, which currently manages and operates India’s largest private jet and helicopter fleet. Before JetSetGo’s inception, owning and managing a private jet was an expensive and inefficient burden. We fixed the two biggest problems in the industry, making private jets profit centers instead of cost centers for owners and at the same time reducing aircraft charter costs for charter customers.
Through intelligent use of technology, development of maintenance procedures, and SMART management (developed and property of JetSetGo), JetSetGo reduces maintenance cost, increases air time, decreases ground time, thereby making sure aircrafts are profitable. JetSetGo, at the same time, reduces aircraft charter cost enabling customers to fly more than they did before at the same money they spent earlier. Moreover, with the JetSetGo SMART management technique, maintenance prevention and prediction technology has been developed, providing safety and on-time delivery like never before.
Additionally, our differentiation to the competition is on various parameters; however, differences in operational metrics stand out. We conduct 29 additional charter checks in comparison to the average private jet provider in order to establish the highest levels of safety and security for every journey. Our advanced use of technology through a seamless backend and website and mobile app allows for effortless collaboration, thus creating a real-time marketplace. JetSetGo, without actually owning any airplanes, has led to operating India’s largest fleet by working with airplane owners, leasing out their airplanes, and operating them.
My focus is now on enabling urban air mobility in congested cities of India by using eVTOL’s. I firmly believe that everyone should be able to use an air taxi at a price similar to an Uber and is putting this vision to reality with JetSetGo’s SkyShuttle. Sky shuttle was launched in 2018 with an attempt to use the skies as the third dimension of transportation. Launched in 3 different routes, namely Juhu (Mumbai) to Tarapur and Vapi, Mumbai to Bengaluru, and Bhopal to Indore, Sky shuttle enabled the user to book a ferry ride at the cost of an uber and reach their destination with the same day return without any wait time.
JetSetGo pioneered jet sharing in India, enhanced ownership by demonstrating >30% reduction in ownership costs using technology, enabled urban air mobility, amongst others. The learnings from phase 1 sky shuttle testing empowered me to use eVTOLS in the next phase.
We are identifying lands for manufacturing drones in India and pitching to the government for tenders to start the facility again using eVTOL’s to enable the fastest connectivity to reach point A to B.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Kanika Tekriwal: Covid-19 has changed the world’s jet-setting ways in the blink of an eye. No industry has remained untouched by the COVID -19 crisis, but travel and aviation being among the first to be affected has incurred a brutal blow. However, the private aviation space particularly did see a ray of hope amidst the crisis. The pandemic ultimately resulted in the complete shift of consumer mindset and how they look at private aviation altogether; now, people are more concerned about their safety and well-being, unlike before, and opt for private charters instead. Because of this situation, we saw many first-time flyers sending their requests to travel with us.
During the pandemic, we entirely changed our SOP’s and reinvented ourselves, aligning to the new normal. At JetSetGo, we work under a SMART management program which basically translates into agile, flexible operations, allowing us to adapt and change to circumstances very quickly and swiftly. Each and every point was mapped across the delivery process. Various mock drills were conducted to study the effectiveness of the SOP’s, and corrections were made accordingly. We had prepared ourselves on how we are going to facilitate guests, their baggage, their catering, aircraft interior, etc. Our teams have gone through internal training to sanitize aircraft personally before and after every flight. Our priority has always been our guests and their safety along with comfort, which is going to be our main focus. Instead of consistently dictating the way we operate, we worked with our guests to know how they would want to travel with us, what are their expectations as well as what makes them feel the safest. Our SOP revolved around our inputs from our guests as well as some of the country’s best medical practitioners.
Additionally, during the lockdowns, we came up with JetSetCare, a service catering to travel urgencies of persons above the age of 55 and children under the age of 10 during the lockdown. Since we are non-scheduled operators, we were selling the balance seats, costing between INR 50,000 – 1,50,000 per person. The elderly and very young people being the most vulnerable were our priority group; this also includes persons with preexisting health conditions.
Even with the ongoing scarcity about travel from the red and containment zone, we have remained operational. Our services have seen the most travel requests from Mumbai and in between several coronavirus hotspots cities. At other sectors, namely Kolkata – Ahmedabad, Mumbai – Hyderabad, Mumbai – Kolkata, Delhi – Pune, Kolkata – Ahmedabad, Vijaywada – Delhi, Mumbai- Shamshabad, we saw a hefty number of travel requests that were fully addressed and brought into action.
There was a big surge in requests from people who had sick parents or adults stuck in various parts of the country.
Since 25th May, JetSetGo has flown numerous people from one location to the other. Knowing that we were able to help families in dire circumstances and many others through our services has been a morale booster for our entire team that has not shied away from their responsibilities, taking actions often beyond their call of duty.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Kanika Tekriwal: Initially, it was very difficult for me to make people believe in me and my business idea. Being a woman and into the aviation industry was not taken too seriously. The fact that I myself have received far too many backhanded compliments and prejudiced comments that have all implied that I don’t belong in this space. When I started JSG, no one wanted to invest in the business citing the small business size, lack of scalability, etc. I single-handedly challenged the status quo and bootstrapped the business with an investment of INR 5,600 only. I then went on to find a co-founder later and raised USD 2Million. We then formed our team with CFO, who is now the oldest in our company, and then moved forward in aligning other team members – COO, CMO, etc.
Being a woman myself, I always try to empower more women and believe that change starts from within, so in 2017, we decided that we will have one woman pilot in every cockpit. Initially, we did not even get enough applications for the same, but gradually we enabled it, and today we have more women in our cockpits than any other private aviation company in the country.
In 2018 we took a stand towards changing how the engineering team works. Women were never offered roles and, more often than not, did not even reach interviews. We decided that the company will have 1 woman engineer for every male engineer, and we can proudly say that we have enabled this today.
In 2019 we took an oath as a business to be gender-neutral by 2022, and today about 30% of our team consists of women, especially in critical roles. These may not be earth-shattering achievements, but by enabling one woman, we believe we are giving her the power to enable another 10 and so on and so forth.
Whether it’s equal remuneration for equal work or the removal of barriers that inhibit the participation of women in the workplace, we ensure that our spaces are inclusive, inviting, and intellectually stimulating for all.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Kanika Tekriwal: Earlier, owning and managing a private jet was an expensive and inefficient burden. Owing to the lack of usage, tedious maintenance upkeep, and when considering ad hoc charters, the lack of trust and transparency within the customer-aggregator relationship, private jet owners and flyers alike often felt cheated. This complex and disorganized structure dissuaded other Indian private charter aggregators from aggressively entering the market, but we like to think that we took the challenge head-on to become the critical link between aircraft owners and those looking to fly private. We fixed the two biggest problems in the industry, making private jets profit centers instead of cost centers for owners and at the same time reducing aircraft charter costs for charter customers.
Through intelligent use of technology, development of maintenance procedures, and SMART management (developed and property of JetSetGo), JetSetGo reduces maintenance cost, increases air time, decreases ground time, thereby making sure aircraft are profitable. JetSetGo, at the same time, reduces aircraft charter cost enabling customers to fly more than they did before at the same money they spent earlier. Moreover, with the JetSetGo SMART management technique, maintenance prevention and prediction technology has been developed, providing safety and on-time delivery like never before.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Kanika Tekriwal: We don’t have any government grants in our business.
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