May 23, 2024
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How a Binghamton grad helped launch a private jet company

Aaron Wilson '11 co-founded Approved Jets by first picturing himself in the passenger seat, focusing on customer experience

Binghamton University School of Management graduate Aaron Wilson '11 helped found Approved Jets in 2019. Binghamton University School of Management graduate Aaron Wilson '11 helped found Approved Jets in 2019.
Binghamton University School of Management graduate Aaron Wilson '11 helped found Approved Jets in 2019. Image Credit: Provided.

If you ask Aaron Wilson ’11 how he helped launch a private jet company with a reach that extends from one coast of the U.S. to the other and as far as London and parts of Africa, one that managed to draw eight-figure revenues in just three years of business, he’ll give you a simple answer.

He started by picturing himself in the passenger seat.

“When people are chartering an aircraft with you, there’s a trust factor involved and what passengers remember most is the quality of experience from the time they board to being in the air all the way until the time they land,” said Wilson, a Nassau County resident. “We’ve overcome our challenges by putting people first and remembering that, at the end of the day, it’s about the lifetime value of our client – not just thinking about our bottom line.”

Guided by that philosophy, Wilson and his business partner, Kelvin Mensah, launched Approved Jets in 2019. Their private aviation brokerage company, which has access to more than 1,000 aircraft globally and has provided more than 1,000 chartered flights since its inception, is also distinguished as a Black-owned aviation business.

“We used our own money to start this business, so we don’t have any investors, and to be honest, private aviation is an industry where there are high barriers to entry,” Wilson said. “But it’s especially challenging as young men of color trying to do something in an industry where there aren’t many people who look like us.”

How exactly does one begin building a private jet brokerage? For Wilson, it began with his career in finance.

After earning an undergraduate degree from Binghamton University’s School of Management (SOM) in 2011, Wilson worked at JP Morgan Chase in New York City. He later took on human capital consulting and recruitment positions for several other firms in the city, but eventually, his interests shifted toward exploring the emerging technology landscape.

Wilson and Mensah worked together at Vomos, another private aviation brokerage, before deciding to pool their resources and expertise to carve out their own niche in the industry.

Using their previous experience in the field to form the building blocks, they approached Approved Jets as though it were a technology startup, with a growth strategy akin to those adopted by Uber or Airbnb, in which the primary focus lies in market share.

“I’m a firm believer that once you have the market share, you can adjust your business model or incorporate additional features or ways to make money from that client base you’ve already built,” Wilson said. “By treating this like a rapidly changing startup, as opposed to a traditional brick-and-mortar brokerage similar to some of our counterparts in the private aviation space, we’ve been fortunate to try things out until we could figure out what worked.”

The company flies its clients out of Van Nuys in California to Teterboro in New Jersey and from there to Miami-Dade County in Florida. Their transatlantic flights travel to London, West Africa and Nigeria.

“We’ve been fortunate to grow our top line revenue by over 30% year over year since inception,” Wilson said. “If you’re able to keep your customer acquisition costs very, very low, and you’re able to keep the lifetime value of your customer very high, you’re always going to win.”

But, according to Wilson, the long-term growth strategy behind Approved Jets won’t just center on air travel. They’re widening their reach by developing a mobile application that allows clients to also book lodging, car rentals, and even vacation excursions, all through their company’s digital interface.

“Nine times out of 10, the person who wants to rent the car or book the jet also wants to book the villa. Or they want to charter the yacht,” Wilson said. “So, why have this person operate across multiple platforms and make it a cumbersome booking process when we could streamline that into one easy mobile application? We’re hoping this will change the landscape of what it looks like to connect with like-minded individuals based on common interests.”

Wilson credits the lessons gained from his years at Binghamton, some of which took time to crystalize, with fostering his entrepreneurial spirit. A relentless determination to seek out opportunities for success, even if you feel those opportunities are beyond your reach, is a mindset he hopes current and future Binghamton students will embrace.

“Apply for everything. That internship they tell you requires a certain GPA; apply for it. Find the person hiring and send them a message on LinkedIn, find their email address and reach out, or find their number and call them. Call the corporate office, speak to the person who manages the switchboard, get that person’s extension, and leave them a voicemail,” Wilson said.

“Be tenacious, be bold and never settle.”

Posted in: In the World, SOM