In 2006, Joel Relova, founder and CEO of Whooshfly, was having breakfast with a few business school classmates at a small metropolitan airport in Glendale, Ariz. He couldn’t stop admiring a new Eclipse 500 VLJ (very light jet) that was being prepped for flight on the tarmac nearby. One of his classmates mentioned that this new class of jets had a price tag under $1 million dollars and would be game changer for the small aviation industry.
Joel’s interest was sparked, so he started researching private aviation – specifically how a new class of aircraft such as VLJs could trigger innovative new business models for a niche industry. He presented his findings in the form of a business plan, which he submitted to a contest hosted by Thunderbird Garvin Center of Entrepreneurship. Joel’s business plan qualified as a finalist out of several hundred contestants.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2014 and another airport (this time Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta), where Joel was awaiting his perpetually delayed flight home to Jacksonville. He bumped into his business school buddy, and the two started reminiscing about their days at Thunderbird. Eventually the conversation turned to the tiresome drudgery of modern commercial air travel, and Joel mused, “Wouldn’t it be nice if – in the midst of this sharing economy there was a ‘flight-sharing’ app for small airplanes, so we wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of commercial airlines?”
Joel had been working as a technology project manager at a transportation and railroad company where he learned about the many variables to consider when searching for the optimal route between point A and point B. Finding the right resources, applying sophisticated data-driven routing and pricing models, and integrating different technologies had become his forte.
Using his technical and logistical knowledge, he set to work on disrupting the aviation industry – and Whooshfly was born.