By Neal Ungerleider, April 14, 2015
After speaking by phone with Clive Jackson, the CEO of a travel company named Victor, he emailed me a discount code I could use to test out his service—that is, to book a fake trip on a charter jet—for only $1.
That's lucky, because otherwise I would have had to fork over a few thousand bucks for a one-hour flight. Victor, which offers on-demand charter jet booking, is just one of a number of apps serving a very lucrative user base—the ultrawealthy and corporate teams willing to pay for convenience.
Victor bills itself as a product that "makes comparing, booking, and managing private-jet charters easier and faster than ever before." According to Jackson, the app’s target audience are corporate customers flying teams from destination to destination on short notice, and "successful ultra high-net worth entrepreneurs" traveling for leisure. The company, which raised $8 million in funding earlier this year, is one of a number of entrants in a crowded book-a-private-jet-by-app space that also includes upstarts like BlackJet and NetJets.
The app itself is rather seamless. When I tested it out on my iPad, I tried searching for a flight from the nearest private jet-friendly airport to my house, the Van Nuys Airport in the suburbs of Los Angeles, to Oakland. It took less than a minute to bring up multiple price quotes for a one-way trip two weeks in the future; the cheapest option was $4,600, while the recommended flight—aboard a lightweight Phenom 100—would've cost me $5,100. Booking the trip, which I didn’t ultimately take (despite the fact that a quick trip for dinner at Hawker Fare would have made my week), took less than 10 minutes and, in terms of effort, fell somewhere between hailing an Uber and buying airline tickets on an app where my personal info is already entered.
One thing I learned while researching Victor and other apps for the 1% came as a surprise: while the rich are, to borrow from Fitzgerald, most certainly different than you and me, their app desires are not. But all that extra scratch does change business models for entrepreneurs.
Take Addepar, which I wrote about last year (and was named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies 2015). It's a real-time dashboard designed for wealth managers to have control over their clients’ substantial portfolios. At its core, it is a very souped-up version of Quicken’s investment products, or the mobile options of Fidelity or any other number of financial management companies.
Although no one I spoke with from the flying-to-Switzerland-on-a-whim world wanted to go on record about their use of Victor, the refrain I heard wasn’t too different from patrons of companies like delivery firm Postmates and Uber riders: these apps are convenient, and save them and their assistants time that they could put towards more urgent concerns. Any extra fees are outweighed by the fact that it frees up time—time that can, ostensibly, be used to make more money.
Christian Madsbjerg is the co-author of the book The Moment Of Clarity and a senior partner at ReD Associates, a consultancy that frequently works with what he calls "high-net-worth individuals" who live in a "very different world from most of us." He sees two distinct groups of ultrawealthy people: old money and younger players, primarily from the finance and tech industries.
Perhaps not shockingly, it’s the latter group that's mainly interested in these apps, Madsbjerg explained. The old-money crowd, which he identifies as "wrapped up in services," simply has enough assistants not to bother with too many apps. This goes double, he emphasized, for any products having anything to do with finance. Because high-net-worth clients are the holy grail of the finance industry, banks and investors will often court them with perks like a dedicated full-time liaison, in some cases. "You know, it’s hard as a tech company to compete against a dedicated economics graduate from Princeton who comes to serve you," Madsbjerg notes.
But these apps are out there, even if they’re more oriented around lifestyle than finance. Savant’s Truecontrol is like Nest for the Davos set: A Jetsons-like product that lets users adjust the lighting, turn the fireplace on and off, and flick through home-security cameras on their smartphone. Onefinestay is essentially an Airbnb for the 1%, offering "handmade hospitality" in luxury housing for visitors to London, Los Angeles, New York, and Paris. Alfred, which charges $99 a month, is designed to offer users on-demand butler services such as grocery buying, dry cleaning, and home cleaning through an app.
Some of these apps are even accessible to, well, let's just say more normal citizens. Boatbound is a service for quickly booking boats for the day, and the app for Tesla’s Model S is a science fiction dream come to life, letting car owners operate every non-driving aspect of the vehicle, from turning on the lights to unlocking the doors, to preheating or air conditioning the car, remotely.
And, most importantly for the folks behind the tech, there appears to be a market for these apps—especially outside the U.S. According to data provided by AppAnnie, an app metrics provider, BlackJet’s biggest user bases are in Venezuela, Panama, and the Dominican Republic; Savant TrueControl is especially popular in Iceland, Mauritius, and the Cayman Islands.
All of which suggests that—and we're borrowing again from a top-shelf wordsmith—apps like Victor are more or less free to those that can afford it; very expensive to those who can't.
This article originally appeared in Fast Company