Bill Herp founded Linear Air in 2004 along with aviator Michael Goulian. Aimed at frequent travelers disillusioned by frustrating airline service and tedious driving, their goal was to create a personal alternative for regional travel.
In 2013, Linear Air launched the first Air Taxi marketplace, a revolutionary platform that connects hundreds of Air Taxi operators throughout North America directly to regional travelers. In partnership with Internet travel search sites such as Kayak and Hipmunk, we’ve continued our mission of making private air travel both affordable and accessible.
How did the concept for Linear Air Taxi come about?
Linear Air Taxi operates a marketplace platform business – similar to Uber, Lyft, and many others. We connect travelers seeking an alternative to worsening airline service and tedious driving for regional trips of 150-600 miles with thousands of FAA-approved, technically-advanced 3-8 passenger aircrafts across the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. Linear Air Taxi was born out of Linear Air, which started in 2004 as a commercial air carrier itself, with a strategy based on operating a fleet of new technology, 4-passenger ‘very light jets,’ or VLJs as they were known. Past tense ‘were,’ since our VLJ manufacturer, Eclipse Aviation, went bankrupt, requiring us to execute a pivot to the Linear Air Taxi marketplace model by leveraging the marketing, reservation, and CRM systems we had built as the foundational elements of the marketplace platform.
How was the first year in business?
We started slowly in order to test our theories on pricing, customer acceptance of various aircraft types, air taxi (in general), marketing messages, etc. in order to generate a proof of concept we could scale. Capital efficiency was key, in that our initial funding came from investors in our original business and they were very sensitive to achieving measurable results before adding to their investment.
What was your marketing strategy?
“Fish where the fish are and cast a wide net.” Meaning, in our case, connecting our marketplace platform with Internet travel search where the large majority of air travel transactions take place, and ultimately, offering the entire U.S., Canadian, and Caribbean air taxi supply in order to maximize the potential for a match with any particular travel search.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
From 2013-2016, our revenues grew 1,768%.
How do you define success?
Personal: Being able to direct my own life – how I spend my time, who I spend my time with, what we do with our time together, and having sufficient resources (money, experience, etc.) to take full advantage.
What is the key to success?
Timing – getting ahead on an opportunity, but not so far that resources run out before returns can be realized.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Time heals all wounds. I’ve been regularly surprised at both my ability to forgive and be forgiven. And related, time is finite, so you have to keep moving – I learned this lesson when my mother died when I was 10 and have been re-learning it ever since, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse!
What are some of your favorite quotes?
Business: Sell, Hire, Ditch, Delegate. Meaning that I try to focus on Selling (marketing, sales, investor relations) and Hiring (team building is critical for growth companies). If a task doesn’t fall into those categories, I try to Ditch it. If it can’t be ditched (like accounting, for example), I Delegate it.
Personal: Thoughts lead to Words, Words lead to Actions, and Actions produce your Legacy. I remind myself of this connection every day.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Delivering the news to our original investors that their $10 million investment in the Eclipse jet business model had no future – followed closely by delivering the same news to the 30 or so employees we laid off.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Having a passionate interest in what our business does. I have a passion for aviation that has pulled me through the tough times, affording me the opportunity to fulfill my personal goal to keep growing and learning as a pilot, achieving the highest-level pilot certification (Airline Transport Pilot), racking up 1,500 hours flying the Eclipse jet, and meeting the requirements to hold FAA-mandated management positions within charter air carrier operations.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Find a partner (or partners) who complements your skillset. When I started Linear Air, I was just a private pilot with no commercial aviation experience. So I partnered with Mike Goulian, a noted aviator (Red Bull Air Racer, Mike Goulian Airshows) and whose family business had been a respected pilot training organization for over 50 years. Having Mike as my partner allowed us to stand up our air carrier operation quickly, and importantly, gave the FAA comfort that we knew what we were doing.
2) Validate your business model by finding investors who don’t love you (i.e. not just friends and family).
3) Take money out from the start, even if it’s a below-market salary. It’s okay to invest some of your own money; just don’t let it only flow one way.
4) Get started!
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This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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