Sergey Petrossov ran a lemonade stand as a kid, not unlike many children.
But the difference between the entrepreneurial spirit of those kids and this one is that a few years later, Petrossov started his own IT company ‚Äď one that would go on to become incredibly successful.
At 18, he ran the business from his dorm room at the University of Florida.
He sold the company when he graduated and pocketed some cash ‚Äď enough so he could afford to charter jets for fun with friends.
While flying private was rewarding, the chartering process was a hassle.
‚ÄúThe way you could book a private jet before was the same way you‚Äôd buy stock in the ‚Äô80s. You had to get a broker, spend hours on the phones, sign documents,‚ÄĚ the 26-year-old says.
What if, Petrossov wondered, there were an Uber for jets?
He took the idea and ran with it. Today, the JetSmarter app he founded two years ago allows its 300,000+ users to book a private jet by pressing a few buttons on their phone.
Flight prices range from $1 (yes, really) to $2 million (yes, really). Flights are available to JetSmarter members and non-members, but most of those dollar flights are for members only. Being a member comes with a yearly price tag from $7,000 to $9,000 ‚Äď but it also means major discounts and perks, including invites to VIP events like the Oscars.
Petrossov hopes to compete with big airlines by making private jets affordable to the average American.
And with unsold, empty-leg flights sold at an uber-discount, the idea might not be that crazy. Group bookings where friends can share the cost also help ‚Äď a $3,000 flight, for instance, split between eight people becomes a $375 flight.
‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs a United first-class ticket cost? We‚Äôre not far away from that number,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúHere, you‚Äôre going to get your own seat. It‚Äôs comfortable. Nice. You‚Äôre not sandwiched between two people like a sardine.‚ÄĚ
But its users don‚Äôt need convincing ‚Äď the company expects to do up to $30 million in revenues this year.
Petrossov seems nonchalant about this success. He reflects on how he would have reacted if, as a child, someone had told him how far he would take his career. ‚ÄúI would say ‚Äėcool,‚Äô‚ÄĚ he says, shrugging.
Sitting in his Boca Raton office today, his slicked-back hair frames his babyface. Wearing a baby-blue button-down, pristine navy suit and black leather shoes, he‚Äôs dressed like someone who spends his days communicating with high-net-worth individuals twice his age. He looks young, but his ambition rivals that of some of the country‚Äôs top executives.
‚ÄúWe believe in the next five years, JetSmarter is going to be one of the largest companies in the country,‚ÄĚ he says.
If that happens, JetSmarter may become as much of a household name as Apple and General Electric. Every American would check JetSmarter before they even considered booking through an airline.
As for Petrossov ‚Äď who travels every other week ‚Äď he admits he‚Äôs been on commercial flights this year. With the price tag on international jet charters still through-the-ceiling-high, sometimes flying commercially is unavoidable.
‚ÄúSometimes it is ironic if I end up in commercial airports,‚ÄĚ he admits. ‚ÄúBut I try to put on my JetSmarter hat and hide my face.‚ÄĚ
If the success of his company keeps up, Petrossov may soon be able to afford those expensive international flights ‚Äď and probably find a way to make them affordable for the rest of the country, too.