Excerpted from article by Brandon Formby, Dallas Morning News 9/24/15
For a monthly fee of $1,650 to $2,650, Rise members can take an unlimited number of trips on the company’s prescheduled flights to and from Dallas, Austin and Houston. The company started with a soft launch in May and went full force in July. It’s been offering 40 to 50 flights a week and will increase that to 92 a week later this month.
Rise plans to expand soon to San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans. Then, company officials hope to add flights to Tulsa, Shreveport and an Arkansas city to be determined.
Nick Kennedy was a health care information technology executive the first time he flew on a private jet. He admits that traveling amid the Gulfstream G550’s high-end appointments and roomy chairs felt like the “epitome of success.”
After just a few flights, the cool factor of such trappings receded. But the convenience of virtually hassle-free boarding and arrival didn’t.
The Dallas man said being able to fly around the country for work and still make it home to enjoy his wife and three kids became invaluable. That appreciation quickly became the impetus for a new business venture.
“I wanted to enable men and women to be where they wanted to be, when they wanted to be there,” Kennedy said.
So last year, Kennedy and a handful of associates launched Rise, a Dallas-based company that is taking the sharing economy to the skies. While Rise conjures the spirit of fellow technology firms like Uber and Airbnb, it actually works more like Netflix. At a higher cost, of course.
Company employees spent their first nine months securing approval for their business model from the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration. Kennedy believes they’re the first to do so.
Rise partners with charter flight companies to ensure members will have access to planes, pilots and flights. Kennedy said most private planes only operate at 20 percent of their utilization rate. He estimates that the private jets Rise partners with operate at 75 to 80 percent of their utilization rate.
The Rise-branded King Air is operated by Monarch Air, a Part 135 charter operator based at Dallas’ Addison Airport.
Company officials thoroughly vet the charter firms’ operations, financials, training processes and maintenance practices before partnering with them.
“If they meet our standards, then they get to fly our members around,” Kennedy said last week as he stood at Love Field next to one of the King Air 350 planes emblazoned with Rise’s logo.
Removing the hassles
Minutes earlier, the plane had brought six Rise members from Houston. One of them got off, walked a few feet from the plane, put his bags in his waiting car and drove off.
Cody Vicknair, an assistant vice president for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. in Houston, walked from the plane to the Jet Aviation building that serves as Rise’s terminal. Vicknair, who landed 30 minutes before he was scheduled to give a speech in Dallas, started using the service when it launched. He flies at least once a week.
The Houston man said the user interface, lack of long security lines and flexibility of flights attracted him to the service. Rise runs background checks on all member applicants and reserves the right to search passengers and their bags before they board. But with just a handful of passengers leaving from a private hangar, members aren’t subjected to the long lines most people face at commercial airline security checkpoints.
After landing in Dallas on Thursday, Vicknair said he wasn’t sure whether he would fly back later that day or stay overnight and catch Rise’s first Friday flight back to Houston. Either way, there was no cost difference.
“With this model and technology, they have pretty much figured out the work flow to accommodate us,” he said. “It takes all those hassles out.”
As Kennedy and his co-founders toiled at securing federal approval last year, they also went to investors to fund the venture.
“The feedback was ‘You’re crazy,’” Kennedy said. “But a lot of people said, ‘If you can pull this off, it’ll really be helpful.’”
Kennedy worried that people would be hesitant to share a private plane with other people. The opposite has been true, though. Kennedy said members enjoy chatting with other entrepreneurs and business executives on the flights. Sometimes they end up sharing rides home or to work appointments.
Aside from two pilots, there are no service crew members. Drinks are stored near one of the front-row leather seats, often making the person who sits there the de facto bartender for fellow passengers.
“They’ll be the ones kind of making drinks for everybody,” Kennedy said. “It’s very much a pass-the-cup mentality.”
Rise is privately owned, and Kennedy and chief growth officer Clynt Taylor are the company’s majority owners. Kennedy closed on a first round of successful funding last month, but isn’t publicly releasing figures. He said the company was profitable from the first day of full operations with revenues in the seven figures. He expects that to hit eight figures by the end of this year.
The company started off with nine employees but now has 25. That excludes the mechanics and pilots, who work for the charter flight companies. Kennedy expects Rise’s workforce to triple in a year.
Kara Goldstein was one of the first employees on board. She left a job at The Brinkmann Corp. to join the startup. She said it was cool to watch a Houston flight land at Love Field last week, less than a year after she began trying to get people to buy into the concept.
“We were selling something that essentially didn’t exist,” she said.
Company officials don’t release exact membership numbers, but Kennedy expects Rise’s client ranks to exceed 1,000 early next year. Right now there’s a waiting list to join. But more members will come on board as flights and routes are added.
“We build capacity based on membership,” said operations vice president Jeremy Kokenes.
Glen and Vanida Ragland of Houston purchased a corporate membership, which allows more people to fly. The consultants were attracted by the idea of being able to arrive at the airport just minutes before a flight. One of their employees, who lives in Dallas, uses the membership frequently to balance work and life between the two cities.
“He likes the ability to go home if he needs to,” Glen Ragland said.
Which, to Kennedy, is the entire point.
“If I can find a way to give time back to people, I’m selling them the most valuable commodity there is,” he said.
AT A GLANCE: Rise
CEO: Nick Kennedy
Cities served: Dallas, Austin, Houston
Cities planned: New Orleans, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Shreveport, Tulsa and a to-be-decided city in Arkansas
Membership: Monthly dues give members unlimited flights per month. Pricing tiers determine how many reservations can be held at any time. Corporate memberships are also available.
Express: $1,650 per month for two bookings; companion tickets $750 each
Executive: $2,150 for four bookings; 1 free companion ticket per month
Chairman: $2,650 for six bookings; 2 free companion tickets per month