What’s the inspiration behind Zephyr Aerospace?
I was flying from New York to Singapore (then the longest flight in the world) and grew restless halfway through the flight. My body needed to sleep, but there was no comfortable way to lie-flat. I couldn't afford the 6x price premium for Business Class. I was convinced there must be a better way to provide affordable sleep, and change the status quo of air travel. The rest is history!
This is not your first time founding a company—what do you think is the most important skill founders need to succeed?
Patience and persistence.
You have to love what you do every day and be willing to persist even in the darkest of times.
How did your time founding flyClever prepare you for Zephyr?
At flyClever, I helped travelers save money on overpriced Business/First Class air tickets. What originally started as a side project turned into a full fledged travel management business. I helped medium to large companies rethink their travel policies/budgets, and individuals plan their dream vacations. Through that experience, I learned how to stay passionate. How did you meet your advisor Paul Wylde?
Paul was introduced to me by a designer who helped me sketch the first version of Zephyr Seat. Paul was the lead designer of the world’s first lie-flat Business Class seat for British Airways, the inventor of JetBlue Mint (voted the best U.S. premium product), and the creator of Air Canada Rouge (the low cost parent airline of Air Canada). Paul was the first person to endorse Zephyr Seat, pronouncing it as “love at first flight.” He has been instrumental in helping airlines see the potential in providing more affordable in-flight sleeping options to modern travelers.
How do you handle risk and competition?
I like to know everything about my competitors— what they are offering, their strengths and weaknesses, and what motivates them. I obsess over product differentiation and customers. I try to block out all the other noise around me and build little by little, each and every day.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
Raising money! Most investors think every idea related to commercial air travel will be too difficult or won’t grow 10x in 5 years, if at all! However, they all admit they would be customers of the product.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I have learned to be more patient and to take risks. When I first started this project, I wanted to start my own airline, but later realized it was more sensible to start with a new seat design to prove consumer demand. Now I am fully invested in a challenging, but fulfilling project that will permanently change the travel industry. Sometimes true innovation takes time.
You’ve participated in Meet the Drapers, Shark Tank and California by Design. What were those experiences like?
Each was a great opportunity to refine my pitch to a new audience. I learned to be humble, patient, and a better listener.
What’s your team culture like?
Completely transparent, open and honest communication, unwavering support, accountability, and shared common passion and goals.
What is your superpower?
I am very good at listening and problem solving. Not only does listening provide real-time feedback to an idea shared or an issue to solve, but it is also an opportunity to read between the lines and learn more about where a person is coming from. I love to hear things that aren’t being expressly communicated. It helps me learn more about my customers and colleagues.
What’s your kryptonite?
Failure to delegate. I struggle with handing over responsibility to others. I am a perfectionist and believe in having a hand in every part of the business. I am learning to surround myself with smarter people than myself, and learning all I can from them.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
I drink over 4 liters of water every day! And I hate to wake up early. To clear my head, I love to search Google Flights for air tickets online. It inspires me to think of new places to travel, people to meet, and how Zephyr can improve the travel experience.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I love photography, rock climbing, and hiking. I also love to collect frequent flyer miles/points. I currently have a balance of 102,034,802.
If you were to create another company in a completely different field, what would you do and why?
Fintech. Like aviation, the fintech industry has also experienced some negative innovation. For many people, sending and receiving money is still too expensive and time consuming. Finding ways to educate consumers and serve the unbanked are two exciting opportunities in this space.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Believe 0% of what you hear, and 50% of what you see.
How has Covid-19 impacted your business?
Covid-19 has forced airlines to provide a healthier, safer in-flight experience to revive air travel. This unfortunate pandemic has caused airlines to focus on innovation in order to survive in a new normal. Post COVID-19, airfares will increase and the status quo (for many travelers) will be just as miserable. Modern travelers will value privacy and personal comfort above all else. Zephyr sees a unique opportunity to deliver an affordable in-flight sleep solution to travelers, a more profitable way for airlines to differentiate, and a better way to fly for all travelers.