The Lucky Titan

Uber for the Skies: One Man's Mission to Disrupt The Airline Industry With Mark Sellouk

November 30, 2021 Josh Tapp
The Lucky Titan
Uber for the Skies: One Man's Mission to Disrupt The Airline Industry With Mark Sellouk
Show Notes Transcript

Marc Sellouk, the president and CEO of Flewber, an air taxi service designed to be accessible to everyone. Flewber is a combination of Marc's passion for aviation and two decades of experience founding and leading a business. As the leader of his telecom company Transbeam, Marc spent countless hours shuffling through airport security for quick flights to meetings in nearby cities, only to go through the gamut once again on a same-day return trip. The experience led him to create an alternative. Flewber circumvents the inconvenience of airport travel by offering passengers an affordable door-to-door air taxi service.

Flewber is not Marc's first rodeo. He founded Transbeam, as a 20-year-old college student and then set to work growing the company. Initially, Marc operated Transbeam as a one-man show, navigating FCC regulations and serving as the sole customer service representative. Over the next two decades, the company grew by leaps and bounds, ultimately evolving into a multi-million dollar organization. Now, at age 42, Marc is leveraging his experience and the successful sale of Transbeam to self-fund the launch of Flewber.

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Josh: What is up everybody? Josh Tapp here again and welcome back to The Lucky Titan and today we're here with Mark Sellouk, did I pronounce your name right, Mark? 

Mark: Sellouk

Josh: Sellouk, okay, good. I was like mad. Like, I didn't even ask you that question before? Well, Mark, I'm excited to have you here and everybody should know that Mark is a multiple time entrepreneur, very successful guy, especially in the aviation and technology sector so this is going to be a really fun interview today, because we're going to be talking about his company flewber which I guess you can probably they the connotations, they're probably pretty, pretty apparent, right, uber, what so if we, if we get down to the crux of it that I'd like to talk to today with Mark about his accomplishments with his tech companies, but also, with this really disruption of an industry that is there a beast, he's fighting a really big bear right now and doing a really good job of it so Mark, first off, say what's up to everybody, and we'll hop in.

Mark: Good afternoon. Hello, everyone. Glad to be here. Thanks, Josh, for having me on and looking forward to our conversation.

Josh: Yeah, you bet. I'm stoked to have you here, Mark. So Mark, I want to give give you just a couple seconds here to give us the synopsis of flewber, what it is, and then we'll get into the story.

Mark: Well, we're bringing a breath of fresh air into the, into the travel industry and you know, oftentimes, you know, people associate private jets with the upper echelon of the marketplace, and only rich people can take it and, you know, we were stuck with taking commercial air travel, typical airlines, it's frustrating, it's annoying and so we're creating a new market segment, we're creating an alternative to commercial aviation, with private aircraft and we're bridging the gap, we're bridging the two together and creating, as I said, a new marketplace and so far, the receptive reception is tremendous and we're looking forward to having fun with it.

Josh: Yeah, I'd have to highlight something here for a lot of you because I know for a lot of you, you may be making 300 to 500,000 a year, and you're just like, private travel is still out of my reach, right but what's amazing is Mark company is bridging that gap, like it's completely providing that to a sector of people who probably previously would never have assumed they could have gone private so I'm really excited to kind of dive into that with you, Mark, so the first thing that I want to ask you though, is what was that epiphany moment for you where you realized, Oh, I love a the aviation industry but I see a an industry here that I know I can take on.

Mark: Right. So you know, I used to travel often to, you know, being in New York and having having been in the technology industry, in the telecom industry, specifically, and dealing with the, you know, some of the bureaucratic, bureaucratic bodies in DC, I still have to often travel to DC and, you know, for an 11am meeting, I used to have to wake up at five in the morning, get through the airline logistics, and the TSA and all that great stuff and it became a whole day ordeal and the only other option that I had outside of airlines was private jets and frankly, it was cost prohibitive so to me, I saw an opportunity where just like in the rideshare, and the terrestrial world, the rideshare, companies came out and created a product through an easy to use app and brought it to the mass, I saw an opportunity where the regional space, because the airlines actually don't want to be in that space, because they don't want to fly big 10 to you know, for our type flights, I saw an opportunity where we can bring this type of travel to regional cities and so far, the reception has been absolutely amazing, I mean, think about it, being able to download an app, booking a flight within a minute, half, two to three hours before your departure, and being picked up or drive to a local airport and drive up to an aircraft able to take off and be on your way within within literally an hour so it's it's actually I think it's a breath of fresh air that we're bringing into the AV in the world of aviation, and we're excited about it.

Josh: Yeah, one. And the question that just keeps popping in my mind is one of the questions I want to ask you pre interview is just like, how are you decreasing the price, right because that's, that's gonna be the number one argument I guess that your customers will have against us like what's, where's the price savings, how are you saving the money?

Mark: Right. So So essentially, we're, you know, we're not really looking at the commercial airlines phase, we're looking at the private space, the private jets and private market and essentially what we're doing is we're honing in on a very specific market segment so we're not you know, we don't have aircraft and we don't our partners, you know, we're not looking for every type of aircraft that can fly anywhere, where the regional space, so we've procured and acquired the right aircraft for the right mission, and logistically have set up our operation to support that and when you standardize a certain product, and I'm certain of this business, from an operational perspective, the the cost of operations is a lot lower, and it starts to make sense so we're focusing on a very specific market and our objective is to penetrate that marketplace and become ubiquitous, ubiquitous with that space so that's kind of without getting into too much detail that that's kind of our, our positioning in that marketplace.

Josh: Right because you've really, like you said, it's like finding a specific flights and not, because because the big question I had, when we first had our conversation was like, are you like renting planes for somebody? Like, how are you making this work? Right? And that's really not the case, right? You're like, well, it's already an existing market, you're just making it more accessible, first off, which is huge.

Mark: So that, so you know, you would think and, obviously, folks that are not in the aviation space may not know this, but not every, you know, aircraft owner or pilot can get up and say, Hey, I'd like to take a passenger on today, and then fly them somewhere, you know, find them somewhere, just it doesn't work that way, there are licenses out there that are governed by the FAA and just like an airline in our world is called a 121 operation, there's also what's called a part 135 operation, which is an on demand air taxi and that's what we have, that's what we operate. So we not only leverage our own operator license, which is something that, you know, from start, when when I first started a business, one of the first things I did was acquire that license to become a part 135 operator takes years and years so you know, the first the first thing I needed to do was become that 135 operator and clearly I can wait the five years it took to get that license so next best thing was to buy the operator and sort of build a business from there so we have that operator, we're able to leverage that operator with our own aircraft, it allows us to operate aircraft that are governed and overseen by the FAA from from a safety perspective but we don't preclude any other operators that want to come on to the platform that want to be a part of the platform and so what that allows us to do is to scale and expand quickly and so there's a lot of interest there and that's what will allow us to not only, you know, serve certain cities locally, but expand domestically pretty quickly, and believe it or not, we're also going to internationally, so there's a lot of interest there as well.

Josh: Right? Well, and I'm just gonna unpack that a little bit to see if I'm understanding correctly as well for our audience so essentially, there's a lot of guys who have these licenses, but they're not getting a lot of time in the air, right, because they have specific things are doing, you're giving them that opportunity to pick up some extra fares, throughout the week.

Mark: There are regional operators, that you know, in this business, regionally, it's very seasonal. So what we're doing with these operators is we're giving them a consistent flow of business. So if you operate in New York, for example, the aircraft for this mission would be good for the Somerset, let's say, you know, from New York to Nantucket route, or New York to, you know, Martha's Vineyard. So in this case, once the season's over, they take their aircraft, and they position it somewhere else, say in the Caribbean, for example, where they can pick up some of that business when they're not busy here so we're able to come in and say, Look, we're going to give you a consistent flow of business where you don't have to move the aircraft to monetize it, right so that's the opportunity for them.

Josh: That's awesome. See, I love that. That's such a unique model. First off, and so the question for the marketers in the group, right is, what's the, hey, how are you attracting an audience to this because you've done a great job, I really think that's what been one of your biggest selling points is that you guys have done such a good job of educating, but the accessibility portion, so how are you attracting those clients to you?

Mark: Right, so we're, you know, we started with our soft launch with the app and, you know, it's we're taking a guerilla marketing approach to it so we'll be doing a lot of things. From a marketing standpoint, that will be very unique, very different and very exciting and extremely viral, I can't really divulge some of those plans right now because, well, my team our game over but I can tell you definitively that some of the things we're doing on the marketing approach will be going viral very quickly and in fact, as you know, there'll be some major media coverage with it so that will not only bring the brand, brand awareness, but it will also educate the marketplace on this new segment that we're introducing and thereafter, we'll be expanding into regional markets very quickly, I would, I would venture to say that that within the next six months will be at least six to seven markets.

Josh: That's brilliant. I love that. Well, and so, I mean, obviously, everybody can get access to that by going to, or download their app. It's such a spectacular place, I hope everybody will go look at that and say, okay, download it, look at it. I mean, maybe your next flight that you didn't think was even in your reaches, is on a private is a private flight so go check that out, for sure. So Mark, when it comes to, to your marketing campaigns, and everything as well, your positioning is has to be perfect because I mean, for you, right? You said you have a very specific niche of people so who is that customer, first off, I'm just kind of curious.

Mark: So we want to take that in, you know, it really, it's, we're looking to take that traveler that travels regionally right so if you're going to a business meeting, for example, and you have to be back the same day, we're looking for that traveler, you know, the major airlines used to have a shuttle going from regional cities, right and that's, I remember, I'll avoid the airport, there was that one hour shuttle, that delta used to have gone from New York to Boston every hour, and they cut that down so the type of customer we're looking for is the type of customer that needs to be on the go and back at the same, same day, same week so we're looking for that demographic, obviously, because of the type of aircraft that we utilize, we don't have to land at major airports, we can land at much smaller airports so that gives us the flexibility of catering to folks who need to get to local type cities, and they need to get there quickly so whether you're visiting family or going on a, you know, short vacation, or just on a quick business trip, I mean, it's really it opens up the market to a wide variety of demographics. 

Josh: right, as well as things that you kind of mentioned Uber stories kind of that same, same story, you know, as like, well it start regionally and work our way up and like I said, get into multiple different markets. Now, just to clarify, are multiple different markets, different countries or is that different regions?

Mark: we're going to take this globally. So our ROI is to, we're trying this on a global scale, we're not looking to, you know, this is not going to be small, we're going to get some, some good traction on it in terms of what our platform does, how its marketed, and the reception really is going to drive its success and so far so far over the last couple of weeks, the success that we've had, has been tremendous so we're we're we'll take this global.

Josh: Yeah, I love that and when did you guys start this, by the way, I was kind of curious about that.

Mark: I’m sorry, August 2018. 

Josh: Yeah, so you've been around a max three years.

Mark: Just now. 

Josh: That's, that's awesome. Well, you've made some great progress already and that's, that's when you know, a you've, you've tapped the market, right, you found a really good, good space. So I'm gonna ask you this. What's, what's the next step for Mark? What's your next big, big thing coming for you? 

Mark: you're talking about it.

Josh: Going Global.

Mark: That's it, you know, it's all you know, I, you know, this is not my first rodeo, I've done this before looking to bring on good people, build a team, build a company, build revenues, really build something that's going to make a difference to everyone and that that's, you know, for that you need all this to really come together and you know, that that's, you know, that's what we're looking to do it's it's not only it's all about your customers, it's about your business, it's about attracting good people and, you know, we're laser focused on that.

Josh: Right and I love that one of the things that was unique to me, and correct me if I'm wrong on this, but you have bootstrapped this entire company with your own money, correct?

Mark: Initially, initially, yes. Thankfully, I had, you know, I built the business over 20 years and was able to sell it to a public publicly traded company in 2017 and I followed my passion, I felt my passion in aviation and it's one thing to have a passion, it's a completely different challenge to build a business out of it, right and so far, I attribute it to the, to my team and to to the experience to have it all come together but you know, it's it's it's been an interesting road and fortunately, over the last six months, we're able to attract some, some good venture money and we're capitalized pretty well, right now when we're poised to trajectory is great, from a capital perspective where we're on the right track and the being you'll be hearing some good news, hopefully soon.

Josh: I love that it's proof of the pudding that people came and found that a couple years into business and you've, you're getting this venture money, I was just curious of that, because it's such a capital intensive industry, I guess it's crazy to me, if you had actually completely bootstrapped it, am I something that's even possible in that industry?

Mark: Well, I, you know, I've been fortunate enough to, you know, thankfully, I've done well, in my past business life, but I'm still very shrewd, when it comes to investments, I, you know, I took a took a risk, it's a risk well taken, and I roll up my sleeves, I'm, you know, I make it happen. So, it's not about you know, not only making investments, it's about rolling up your sleeves, and working hard, and not letting anything get in your way believe me, when I tell you, I've had folks that came to me, and they told me, you know, the first thing about aviation was, you know, how do you make a billionaire a millionaire, you know, get them into aviation, right so, that's oftentimes what you hear, but I'm really bringing in the technology aspect into this, and I'm bridging a really interesting marketplace together, and I think post pandemic, some of the things that you're hearing right now, I think that's just, you know, bringing more, you know, it just basically proves the model even more and as I said, we're really excited about it and the reception just keeps getting better and better.

Josh: Well, and hopefully this podcast expands the reach even further because I really do think that there's going to be such an interesting business to watch grow because I think it's going to be one of those ones where 10 years from now it'd be like Oh yeah, did you flew over here right? No more that Expedia garbage in our googling your flights right.

Mark: I like that it's got a good it's got a good ring to it

Josh: I love it says it says the owner right. I love it man. Well, Mark, I really do appreciate this conversation. I'm gonna give one final shout out to everybody to to make sure that they go download the app, Flewber, so that’s Flewber are so flew ber right, pretty straightforward or to make sure you guys go check this out. Go look, maybe there's a flight that you've been taking forever that you could be doing privately. You can dodge all those annoying fights on the planes, as Mark was saying, you know, it's Coronavirus, time we get it right or what they call commercial flights are not a great place to be right now. So, Mark, I want to ask you though, one final thing, which is could you give us one final parting piece of guidance for our audience?

Mark: Wow, I always look forward to a challenge and don't let anyone bring you down and stay focused, don't be a jack of all trades, because you'll always be a master of none and, you know, you build your own success and just, you know, don't let anyone ever take you down.