Getting a helicopter can be a pain. You call an operator, get the tail number, then have to email or call the operator back and forth until you get ushered on your flight. Often, you’d be better off driving. And chopper services certainly don’t work like Uber, picking you up at convenient locations whenever you want.
Two years ago, Warner Music COO Rob Wiesenthal set out to change that. He had been at Sony Entertainment for 13 years when he got the idea to bring a mobile app like Uber’s to the chopper industry. He partnered with Steve Martocci, the cofounder of the Skype-owned GroupMe and the music service Splice, to launch Blade last Memorial Day weekend. Like Uber, Blade is an operator and logistics manager; it doesn’t own any aircraft. Instead, Martocci and Wiesenthal partnered with Liberty Helicopter and offered flights for New Yorkers to and from the Hamptons. Uber even partnered with Blade for a Fourth of July weekend promotion.
Blade was an instant hit among the 1 percent last summer; it powered 800 trips to the Hamptons in just 16 weeks. “Blade was launched with $50,000 and it was immediately profitable,” a Blade representative tells Business Insider.
The app has since been downloaded more than 20,000 times. Bookers can either select a future flight that has already been scheduled (it’s $575 per seat one way to the Hamptons or Fire Island from New York City) or create a flight for anytime they want. But those who book a whole new flight must pay to fill the entire aircraft up front. Blade will then try to fill extra seats with other Blade members who will offset the cost. A trip to the Hamptons, which normally takes a few hours, takes just under 45 minutes with Blade.
After its success last summer, Blade set out to launch new services and destinations, and it has raised $6 million at a $25 million valuation from some big names in business. Investors include Google chairman Eric Schmidt, Discover Communications CEO David Zaslav, IAC’s Barry Diller, Alex von Furstenberg, Raine Ventures, and iHeart Media chairman Bob Pittman. Both Pittman and Schmidt have licenses to fly helicopters and jets.
Blade’s service now extends beyond the Hamptons and Mohegan Sun. Its members can fly to Fire Island via a new seaplane service, Blade Aqua. Melissa Tomkiel, who was president of Fly the Whale—an aviation company Aqua partners with—is Aqua’s new CEO. Wiesenthal and Martocci are advisers. Users can also book flights for about $650 a seat to Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod from Manhattan.
And, if you have a flight taking off from or landing at any New York City airport, Blade’s Bounce service can get you from your jet to the city in just five minutes. Blade Bounce will pick you up at JFK, Newark, Teterboro, Westchester, or LaGuardia and have the chopper waiting to bring you home within 20 minutes of booking for $800 to $900.
The price point may sound steep considering you can take a cab from the airport into New York City for just $50. But for Blade’s affluent audience (the company advertises about 17 times a day on CNBC’s local network, aiming its services as business executives), it could be considered a small price for convenience.
“For $895 we position it so the helicopter can land 40 feet from your jet,” a Blade representative says. “It’s a 45-min drive to JFK. If you’re spending $100,000 on a jet, the extra $895 really isn’t going to count.”
Blade also prides itself on its luxury lounges and amenities onboard the choppers. It has lounges in Manhattan on West 30th Street, East 34th Street, and 23rd Street. It offers passengers rosé in sippy cups, and the company says customers will arrive early just to hang out in the boarding area. But Blade insists that just because customers are wealthy, that doesn’t mean they’re arrogant jerks.
“These people aren’t assholes saying, ‘I’m some banker flying above traffic and screw you,’” Blade says. “They’re people who view it as a fun luxury to them. Seventy percent of people had never flown in a chopper before. We’re making it really easy to do, and it’s completely done from your app.”
Blade says it is much different from BlackJet or Surf Air, which allow customers to fly as much as they want locally for a set monthly fee. Instead, Blade wants to own all flights for distances under 200 miles.
“Unlike things that have failed like BlackJet, you really don’t want to have a swinging bathroom door hitting you; that’s a little too intimate,” Blade tells Business Insider. “The alternative is, ‘Let’s just fly first class and no one bothers me.’ Blade can take a 3-1/2-hour trip and make it 30 minutes, and that could be worth $575 to somebody.”