The Bootstrap Diaries – Part 2. Attempts of the past, the Aerleasing story.

No work is wasted, it’s just carried forward into what you are doing.  For better or for worse you will always have access to history and you’ll always improve on what you did in the past.  The Aerleasing story, a few people have asked so perhaps it’s now time to tell the story.  In 2004 on moving back to Northern Ireland we found ourselves in the Belfast International Airport more times that I can remember, for two reasons: firstly the bookshop was better than all the others at the time and secondly Junction One was the only place with a Starbucks.  True.I bought a copy of the story of RyanAir and all it’s trimmings and nestled within the first couple of chapters is the fact that Tony Ryan started leasing out Aer Lingus 747’s during the quiet periods.  Brainwave hit almost immediately…. A quick look on the internet and there was a few sites full of listings but nothing like I was thinking which was realtime brokerage between lessors and lessees.  Plus the thought of all those brand new planes in the desert doing nothing, it would be good to get those in the air.Before I did anything I found the trade magazines: Airline Business, Air Transport World, Airline Fleet Network and Planning and Air Finance Journal.  I put calls out out to Airline Business and got a subscription based on the fact I was looking to advertise.  Turned out to be my goldmine, the listings of the top 50 leasing companies was staring me in the face two days later.  I spoke at Barcamp October past about not being a wallflower, I was one of them and it was really my wife that challenged me to phone one of them up and ask for advice.  I phoned the first one listed and to my astonishment the chap happily spoke to me.  Over three weeks I got the low down on the leasing business and by the end of it I “knew more than the banks do”.  All the time I was coding the system up and actually paid a good graphic designer friend to come up with the branding.When I got to a point of testing I was invited down to Dublin to have a look around a few things and got into meetings with various folk about the product.  I came back with a ton of feedback and then set about improving the system.  As a bootstrapping startup you are your own PR company, market research company, sales team and IT department.  The press releases were good but not great looking back, the Start A Business Programme was good but by no means relevant to what I was doing.Airline Business ran the press release and before I knew it people were signing up and the company names were flashing before me.  Air Transport World wanted to do a small interview and this was pretty important as it was with their main editor in the US.  He speaks and the industry takes note.  So from my little admin console I saw people adding aeroplanes and then one day someone actually put a sealed bid in.  Then the cracks started to appear, people were just treating it like another listing site desperate to get their phone number out there.  Brokers hated it for the fact that the chain of brokerage was essentially broken by an upstart programmer.  You live and you learn.About 18 months later I worked on an add on to Aerleasing called the Digital Broker, it could fire out a message to 350+ aviation dealers, end users and airlines with requirements from other airlines.  This would save the end user a good couple of weeks emailing and phoning around.  It was a lead generation tool and the airlines liked it.  The major coup was when Air Finance Journal offered to do a feature on the Digital Broker as the next step forward for the sector.  I was expecting a couple of column inches in the news section.  What I got was a full page, with screen shots…. the user base shot up.  From initial phone calls to getting the editorial took two years to secure, a lot of phone calls, talking to editors and generally having to sell the idea to them.  Once they got it, they wrote about it.All the time there was interest but not adoption.  There was talk of selling it to Boeing for $2m and there was various other talk by well groomed talkers.  It means nothing until the mandate is signed and the money is in your account.  Deals fall through, some salesmen talk rubbish, it’s all part of the rich tapestry know as startup.  I’m a lot more guarded now.So where is it all now?  Well Aerleasing just curled up and died really, users lost interest for the simple fact deals weren’t being done so people stopped logging in.  The real issue is what I’d call the “old boys network”, most of this stuff is done on the phone to the folk you know and trust.  Until the new wave come in then it will be hard to change the broker mentality.It taught me a lot, a heck of a lot about product, people, testing, beta customers etc.  And it’s something that I’ve carried forward for the next wave of madness.The story continues…. tomorrow night is Go For It programme night.

One response to “The Bootstrap Diaries – Part 2. Attempts of the past, the Aerleasing story.”

  1. Wow -pity it didnt work out! As you mentioned it truly is one for the boys…and rightly so i guess. much like the big players in the square mile those involved in the industry are all very friendly – (all at a very high tier level) anything else is just anti-establishment.

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