A plane is not like a car.

At the beginning of 2009, we get our first investment of €400K. Things need to go fast, because at the end of July, our client is expecting 40 flights.

From -€7K to € 1.5M (on the company’s account)

Mr. C’s investment allows us to finance the first investments. In addition, I repay my overdraft, I pay myself a 1st salary (€2000/month), I sell (in exchange for a current account) the software that I developed for the online booking website (shared with Mr. A. and Mr. H.) to Wijet.

Meanwhile, on the B.P.I.⁰ website, we discover the Financière Fonds Privés, which rides the wave of the TEPA law¹ and allows us to find €1M from 70 investors (the deadline to invest in the TEPA law was June 15, 2009); we get the funds on June 14….

Wijet now operates with very fragmented shareholders; the company is pre-money valued at €4M; 27% of the shares are sold.

In a few weeks, I go from -€7K of overdraft on my personal account (with the bank hooked on my phone) to a company with a bank account of €1.5M.

Our first plane arrives at Le Bourget

However, the plane costs $3.4M! A broker offers us second-hand planes at $2.4M, $2.7M.

The Cessna Citation Mustang is very popular: all the planes are sold until 2015. Competitors are flocking.

A lot of projects, at first very promising, sink suddenly (we will have to face it later).

No bank agrees to finance the first plane; we persevere.

Mr. C.’s banker, whom we already met, introduces us to one of his clients, Mr. L. He is a fan of car racing; he would like to buy his first plane, but he’s a bit afraid…

We meet him in June; the next day he sends us a proposition:

I BUY THE PLANE, YOU MANAGE IT.

The plane will arrive in September. However, our first customer has a tour of 40 flights starting at the end of July. That’s impossible!

Finally, we find second-hand planes that look like new; Mr. L. buys one at $2.7M.

We buy it; I’m 24 then. When we generally end school, when we’re happy to get a permanent contract, when we think that there’s still a long way to go, but that we’ve gotten off a good start (or not): “I” “own” my 1st plane.

It beautifully arrives on July 15, 2009, one day after the national holiday, on the tarmac of Le Bourget. I guess it’s like a car: we get the keys and we drive away. Not at all; first you have to register and do all the paperwork.

Guys, let’s get moving

On July 25, 2009, 2 days before the first flight of the tour of the famous DJ (an order of 40 flights), we don’t have the papers. I’m thinking of calling the DJ’s manager to warn him; I back away, bury my head in the sand. I have no idea how to explain him.

Stroke of luck: his manager calls me.

He tells me that the first 2 flights are cancelled, because the owner of the nightclubs where Laurent Wolf was supposed to play is in prison for tax fraud.

Years later, at a conference, a student at HEC Entrepreneurs stood up and said, “You actually have the luck of the devil!” I’ll say later what I think of luck, but clearly, I had nothing to do with it, and I had the luck of the devil.

I hide my joy and, in a very professional way, let him know that there will be cancellation fees. Really, a last minute cancellation.

The first flight is postponed to August 3.

What are those red lights?

Finally, the first flight will take place.

We prepare the catering² at the supermarket (and this will happen again!): drinks, snacks…

The aircraft is parked at the maintenance center: the opening checklist indicates a flashing red light. Cessna’s technicians can’t explain it; the plane is so new that they’re not used to it yet (actually it was only the backup battery that was discharged; it recharges in flight).

I do the 1st empty flight to Bordeaux; I welcome the client.

This first session is a success: the hotels were booked by Laurent Wolf’s manager; the pilots partied and had fun.

During a few months, we are feverish on the administrative level: we have to regularize our papers and obtain the AOC (Air Operator’s Certificate). We got it in November 2009.

Wijet ready for takeoff

One month later, on December 26, Les Echos published a first article about us: “Wijet wants to slash business aviation prices.”³ Just for the holidays, the timing is right. In January, requests from big companies flooded in.

A few months after the first plane, we already need a second one to meet the demand.

A $2.1M opportunity arises. We have €1.1M on our account, the beginning of turnover. I was on skiing holidays with my parents in Risoul (Hautes-Alpes). I sign an offer and I send it from the Tourist Office of the town. I can still remember the expression of the girl at the reception when she sees the amount: oh yes, not bad…

Despite the running of our activity, all the banks refuse to lend us funds. Except Crédit Agricole.

We plan to purchase at the end of January. On the D-Day, I’m on the tarmac of Le Bourget with the owner of the plane, but without the funds.

I call the bank; they don’t want to help us anymore.


THIS EPISODE IS PART OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES ENTITLED: “THEY DIDN’T THINK IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE, SO THEY DID IT.” YOU CAN FIND ALL THE ARTICLES BY CLICKING HERE.


 

Notes

⁰ BPI : Banque Publique d’Investissement, in French. Public Investment Bank.

¹ TEPA Act: Law in favor of labor, employment and purchasing power (in French loi pour le travail, l’emploi et le pouvoir d’achat), 2007.

² Catering: meals served to passengers during the flight.

³ Wijet’s first press article: https://www.lesechos.fr/29/12/2009/LesEchos/20582-040-ECH_wijet-veut-casser-les-prix-de-l-aviation-d-affaires.htm

 

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