Bespoke Air Charter: Alastair Badman

The entrepreneur on why he believes a transparent booking system and personalised customer-focused service will get his business off the ground

Name: Alastair Badman
Company name: Bespoke Air Charter
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 20/10/2014 
Website: www.bespokeaircharter.com

Tell us what your business does:

Bespoke Air Charter is a private jet and helicopter broker. Clients come to us looking to charter an aircraft and we go out to the market to find them the best machine and the best price available. We also offer bespoke helicopter tours throughout the UK, our trips including visits to stately homes and luxury country hotel escapes.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I am a qualified commercial helicopter pilot but my background before that was as a web developer. I saw an opportunity to combine both of these skills by launching the business.

How did you know there was a market for it?

Most private jet and helicopter jobs are transacted through a broker. Clients can go straight to an operator but, without the specialist knowledge of the industry, they wouldn’t always end up with the best machine, price or location for their specific trip.

Margins made by the brokers can vary from 2% to over 10%, with many customers not being told even what they are; my market research led me to believe that an open book policy would prove very popular and this has so far been borne out by the feedback we have had from our clients.

What were you doing before starting up?

I have been working as a helicopter pilot for over 10 years now. It is an incredibly hard industry to get a start in and the early years were mostly sweeping hangar floors in return for odds and ends of flying. I am lucky to have established myself fully in the last couple of years.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I enjoy the responsibility of being my own boss. At the moment it is just me and I am enjoying every aspect of it: from fleshing out the initial concept to designing and developing the brand and website. The focus from now on is going to be on marketing and PR as we start to grow the business.

How did you raise the money?

The business has been self-funded and I am lucky as the initial investment was small. I spent a few hundred pounds getting a logo and website concept designed. I was then able to take those initial designs and develop the full website myself. Additional personal savings are now going to be funneled into SEO for the website to try increase exposure.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Mostly we take requests from clients and find them the best priced, and most suitable aircraft, for their requirements. We then charge a small percentage of that trip as our margin.

For our bespoke helicopter tours there is a lot of work that goes into planning and booking each individual trip. Each flight is different and we charge a fee proportionate to the work involved.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Our biggest challenge is to rank well on Google. Search engine optimisation has moved on hugely and it is now all about user experience and the quality of the website so every day I am on the website, writing articles and information pieces about the services we offer and the exciting trips available for our clients.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Over the past 10 years I have developed a network of clients and, in no small measure, it is they who provided the catalyst to start the business. We have just taken a booking for a multi-day helicopter tour of some of the UK’s most prestigious stately homes for the summer of 2015. It was great to get that vote of confidence.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Make the most of your own skill set but don’t be afraid to bring in expertise when you need it. With my industry knowledge I knew that I could develop a good proposition. When it comes to SEO however I have engaged with an agency to help with what is a crucial part of the business.

The work I am doing with them to develop our online presence will hopefully give the business a solid platform on which to build upon.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

The UK is only a very small part of the demand for private jets and helicopters worldwide. If all goes well then I would love to see us moving into Asia, to tap into the burgeoning economic growth in that region.

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