Aviation has always been Marc Sellouk's passion. He recalls gazing at airport runways for hours when he was a child, memorizing the tail numbers on the different planes as they landed and took off. However, when he launched his telecom company, Transbeam, flying would soon become a hassle. Twenty years later, after the sale of Transbeam, Sellouk would take the harrowing experience of traversing airports and combine it with his passion for aviation to launch a new kind of company.
What is Flewber?
Flewber is Sellouk's vision to make private flights a reality for the everyday traveler. As a business executive, Sellouk frequently contended with crowded airports and lengthy security lines just to travel to a nearby city for a business meeting. That experience was not only stressful, Sellouk said, but counterproductive.
"I used to fly commercially quite often when I ran my telecom business," Sellouk said. "From a cost perspective, it was challenging, but from a timing perspective it was even more challenging."
For example, an 11 a.m. meeting in Washington, D.C., required Sellouk to book an 8 a.m. flight out of JFK, he said. To make that flight, he'd have to wake up at 5 a.m. even though he lives near the airport. The logistics of navigating a major airport become not only a headache, but a time-waster, he said. That's where the idea of Flewber's regional air taxi service comes in.
"Today in business, time is money," Sellouk said. "So, what if we set up an environment where you don't have to arrive hours in advance [of your flight]? You get there 10 minutes before your flight, get to your meeting quickly and efficiently, and then book an on-demand flight back from your meeting."
Flewber combines a mobile application with private flights, allowing users to book a same-day flight and order airport transfer services as well. For $600 round trip, a car will pick passengers up and bring them to the airport, where they can directly board a private flight and head to their destination. There are no crowds, no security screenings and no baggage fees.
Turning passion into a business
While Sellouk has long been passionate about aviation, he said that was not enough to launch a successful business. Understanding the realities of a business model, as well as contending with the onerous regulations facing the aviation industry, were key elements to making Flewber a success.
"I have my passion, which is one thing, but identifying a need in the market for a product and then putting a model together that makes the business viable – and executing that plan – is a very different thing," Sellouk said.
His experience founding and running a telecom company has been indispensable in bringing the Flewber vision to life, he added.
Still, passion has given Sellouk the necessary insight to prepare for significant obstacles facing the aviation industry. For example, FAA regulations require that flight operators and brokers (the entities that schedule and sell flights) must remain separate entities. Sellouk's passion for the space helped him prepare a business model that addressed that regulatory reality, a nuance that might be lost on someone who had not spent years studying the industry. Flewber serves as the broker, and a separate company also owned by Sellouk, Ponderosa, is technically the operator. The two are aligned but separate, satisfying the FAA regulations while still providing scheduled flights.
"Historically, the aviation business has been known as a loss leader," Sellouk said. "Airlines themselves aren't a super attractive business. Finding a model that's actually viable and profitable is a very challenging thing in the aviation business … but we have a unique model that marries an operator and broker together."
Lessons for combining passion and business
While passion can be a key motivating factor in keeping entrepreneurs driven in their pursuit of founding a company, it can also lead them astray from best business practices. Passion is a good guide toward what you will enjoy doing, but there is no substitute for business acumen. Sellouk's business experience has helped to temper his passion, keeping him in tune with the realities of founding a business.
"You can have a passion for something, but you have to put a model together that works in the marketplace," he said. "My advice would be to partner up with the right folks in order to navigate through the different challenges that present themselves."
If you're prone to flights of fancy, especially as it concerns something you're passionate about, consider finding partners that keep you grounded in reality. Sometimes pushback and challenges to your vision are valuable tools for a business plan that truly creates value, so surround yourself with people who push you to flesh out the finer points of your plan.
For Sellouk, doing so has helped him create a company that combines his passion with a model that fills an unmet need in the aviation industry.
"We've identified a void in the market," he said. "Private flying today is associated with wealthy people, but it doesn't have to be. It can be for regular folks, and it will be for regular folks."