Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

People Behind Uber Want to Do the Same Thing for Private Planes With BlackJet

BlackJet launches today a way to book seats on other people’s private jets.

If it sounds like the black-car service Uber for planes, that’s exactly what it is. The company comes from Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, who is leading product development and is the lead investor in a funding round worth single-digit millions.

Along with Camp, Uber investor Shervin Pishevar is in the deal, plus celebrity types like Ashton Kutcher, Roc Nation, Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, and 15 more of Camp’s Silicon Valley friends (the list is so long, I’ll put it at the bottom).

BlackJet isn’t the first start-up to try to democratize private air travel — another one currently in the market with venture funding is called Surf Air — and, in fact, the Camp-backed company evolved out of a previous start-up known as Greenjets. It actually still has the same CEO, a longtime aviation guy named Dean Rotchin.

BlackJet wants to appeal to people who are sick of commercial air travel’s delays and hassles, and are willing to pay to escape the security lines and crying babies. The company won’t own its own planes but will help match pilots and passengers, a la Uber.

Promo image from Greenjets, the company that was restructured with Camp’s funding to become BlackJet

The service launches today for reservations for Nov. 15 and after, with flights between New York and Los Angeles and New York and South Florida. It will fly through smaller airports. Bookings are made online — a mobile app is coming.

Camp said in a conversation on Thursday night that San Francisco will likely be the next destination, which makes sense, given that it’s where Uber first launched, and his investors alone could fill up more than a couple private jets.

Users will pay a membership fee of a couple thousand dollars to start, and then $950 for each short flight and $3,500 for each cross-country flight. The service will be invite-only to start.

Until May of this year, Camp was CEO of StumbleUpon, the company he started and sold to eBay and bought back. He started Uber on the side in 2009 but never ran it, handing off those operational duties to co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick.

Camp estimated that in the U.S. there are something like 4,000 business jets seating six to 12 people, and 4,000 commercial planes holding 100 or more — but the private jets are used one-tenth as often, and charge $20,000 to fly coast-to-coast.

But let’s be honest, Mr. Uber Dude. After you “democratized” and “disrupted” black cars to make people feel fancy getting across town, now you’re moving to the even more elite and expensive private jets? I hear you telling me about this “excess capacity” problem, but is this just about a status symbol for your friends?

Garrett Camp

Camp told me he doesn’t look at it that way. “I don’t think of it as luxury at all, I think of it as saving time,” he said. “Yes, it will start at a premium level, like Uber. But we’re spending so much time in transit, and these planes are already flying around empty.”

Here’s the investor list, which Camp said he expects will be even longer before the end of the day, as people return their paperwork: Garrett Camp, First Round Capital, Shervin Pishevar, SV Angel, Ashton Kutcher, Guy Oseary, Michael Birch, Naval Ravikant, Rick Marini, Noah Goodhart, Thomas Ryan, Josh Spear, Jay Levy, Peter Pham and Mike Jones from Science-Inc., Dan Rosensweig, Stephen Russell, Tim Ferriss, Matt Mullenweg, Ryan Sarver, Steve Jang, Shakil Khan and David Ulevitch, Precedent Investments, Josh James, Overbrook Entertainment and Roc Nation.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik