Stratos Jet Charters Inc.

How My Dad Inspired Me to Start My Jet Charter Company

Joel Thomas

My dad inspired me to build Stratos by telling me I could build a better jet charter company.

Joel Thomas

Founding a jet charter broker company was actually not in my plans, though, looking back, it should have been. Just after college, I was an Investment advisor building my career establishing 401k’s for small businesses. My dad was a pilot and owned a V-tail Bonanza, so I spent a lot of time hanging out at the airport talking airplanes with him and his friends. A friend at the time needed help to arrange a private jet rental for her boss. I happened to be at the Orlando Executive Airport and I was able to connect my friend to a carrier, and we put the trip together. I had inadvertently brokered my first private jet flight.

It was my dad who said to me, “You know what Joel? You could build a better jet charter company than this.” Those few words changed the course of my life. I spoke with a friend who was working in private jet charter services and he affirmed that some people in the industry were just out for themselves, and because I had a deep understanding and passion for what the ideal private jet experience could be, I realized I could raise the bar. With some money from the house I owned and a loan from family, in 2006, I founded Stratos Jet Charters.

Flying privately is a travel option for a certain demographic of people who fly for pleasure or for business, but what we’ve come to learn is that the clients we best connect with are the ones who also put a priority on safety. From day one, my focus has always been expanding clients’ margin of safety, so our private flight advisors and I always recommend the safest options—safest aircraft and air carriers with a long track record of excellence in operational history. Sometimes that meant we lost sales, but I knew we were doing the right thing.

We had some great agents in the beginning, and some agents whose values didn’t align with ours. Both of those challenges pointed us toward really articulating our values and investing in the processes that would allow them to better manage their time with relationship tasks rather than tasks that could be automated.

Did you run any companies prior?

Stratos Jet Charters was my first venture into owning and building a company. The motivation came from the gap or opportunity I saw in being able to provide a service that put clients’ needs first—and also my passion for aviation! I now have my pilot’s license and get to see first-hand what this experience can and should be.

My dad was incredibly supportive. I probably leaned on him a little too much in the early days, asking him what he thought about this decision or that. One day he said, “Joel, you’re the CEO!” C-E-O. That was a mindshift.

What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?

When things get really busy (as it is right now with the coronavirus) or we’re introducing new technology or new people to the team, I come back to our vision: To provide a jet charter service that educates our customers and helps them make informed buying decisions.

We’ve set ourselves apart and kept so many of our loyal customers (including our very first customer) because of this vision and living it everyday, which means we offer fair pricing and honest advice. I’m proud of this and it makes our team feel good about what we do and our future.

What I would say to someone just starting out is to have a clear understanding of your values, what you stand for, and then articulate those all the time with your team and base your decisions on those values—and the people you surround yourself with.

We are actually in a growth phase right now and it’s an exciting time because we are growing our team and we have some unique technology that automates many of our processes so customers enjoy an exceptional travel experience. I will always look for ways for us to grow with intention so we can continue delivering our promise to our customers.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

We definitely have an eye on what our competition is doing, and we have some unique technology and safety leadership (for example, we are one of the few ARGUS-certified brokers in the industry and we’ve created our own system for approving vendors and having critical safety checks performed)—but I would actually love to see more jet charter brokers follow our lead in prioritizing client safety. This would make a tremendous difference in our industry, but it’s not the easy way to go.

What are the top 3-5 apps Stratos Jet Charters Inc. could not run without?

We would not be where we are today without Salesforce. We first adopted this CRM in 2012 to help our sales team and expand and build on their client relationships. Later, we realized we needed to get better at supporting those sales agents so they could focus on sales activity, so we created a Trip Support team. Over the years, we created a custom build of the Salesforce platform—and recently took this a step further with an end-to-end SaaS marketplace (Stratos Marketplace) that connects customers and air carriers, and provides unrivaled access to aircraft availability and transparent quoting. We could not live without those two internal apps!

External apps: Cirrus Insight is a third party app that syncs our email with Salesforce. Documenting our communication with customers and carriers is essential. Another service we use is called Pardot. One of the golden rules of building a successful business is to know your customers. As our team builds relationships, we document what we know in the travel profile section of Salesforce. Pardot allows us to send meaningful communications that are unique to each customer based on what’s logged in their travel profile

What are your favourite podcasts?

Absolutely, I follow a lot of authors who focus on leadership. The Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast is one of my favorites. He regularly interviews CEOs of major corporations like Horst Schulze of Ritz Carlton and Frank Blake from Home Depot. I have also taken an interest in Patrick Lencioni who really helps companies form high performing teams.

What are the next products you’re working on?

One of the challenges I’ve faced in growing Stratos is that my industry is unlike any

Other. There isn’t a pool of knowledgeable private flight advisors just waiting for an

opportunity. We have to find them and train them. To be successful at anything in life, you must provide value. This has been a huge impediment to growth. Now that Stratos has fully defined our processes, developed technology that automates the natural flow of the customer journey, my goal for the early part of 2020 is to build Stratos U. An on-boarding process that ensures that our new hires quickly gain the necessary knowledge base to help our clients make an informed buying decision.

Are there any releases you can tell us about?

Yes - Stratos launched the first ever Saas marketplace for private air charter. We are building connections to the scheduling software of the world's most reputable air carriers. These connections allow us to instantly identify the best positioned aircraft for any travel date and routing. In addition to improving our aircraft sourcing capabilities, these connections simplify the booking process by eliminating transcription error for all parties involved.

In 5 years, Stratos is the greatests place to buy and sell air charter. It will be the home for agents who seek to honor their clients, respect their air carrier suppliers and customers who want assurance that they are properly cared for.

What is current revenue?

As this first quarter comes to a close, we are on pace to exceed 18 million

Would I ever sell? I am not money motivated. I am motivated by fulfilling the charge my dad established for me. To build a better jet charter company. To this point, I have not achieved my goal. If it takes outside investment to help me realize my vision, I would be open to it.

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