How a woman entrepreneur built a Rs 150 crore turnover aviation company starting on Uber model
Vol 12 | Issue 35
When you dare to dream big, you join the rank of high flyers. Kanika Tekriwal’s real life story illustrates this point like nothing else. Nine years ago a 24-year-old girl Kanika, who had just survived cancer, ventured into the Indian aviation industry without owning a single aircraft.
Her plan was to build a charter aircraft business using an aggregator model like Ola and Uber.
|Kanika Tekriwal launched Jetsetgo as an aircraft aggregator in 2012 (Photos: Special Arrangement) |
“I invested Rs 5600 and built an app to book chartered flights. For the first two years I took advance from clients and credit from vendors to run the business,” says Kanika, founder of Delhi-based Jetsetgo Aviation Services Private Limited.
“I also offered consultancy and advised people in buying airplanes according to their needs.” In 2014, Sudheer Perla, a chartered accountant and an Oxford management graduate joined the company as a co-founder.
Today, Jetsetgo has grown into a Rs 150 crore turnover company with around 200 employees and offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Last year the company purchased its own fleet of eight aircraft.
“In 2020-21 we handled 1 lakh flyers and operated 6000 flights. Our clients are mostly corporates, celebrities, politicians, and people of importance. We offer a range of charter flights, from a six-seater to 18-seater plane,” says Kanika.
“Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai- Bengaluru, and Hyderabad-Delhi are our most flown sectors. Around five per cent of our flights are used for medical emergencies.”
The company has been growing despite the overall negative impact in the economy due to the pandemic. “We didn’t layoff people or reduce any salary during the COVID lockdown. Since we don’t share our profits (with our employees), we have no right to cut their salary,” she reasons.
|Kanika survived cancer and bounced back by launching Jetsetgo|
Kanika’s concern for her employees was evident when she had to take a break from the interview she was giving us to attend to an employee who had fallen off an aircraft. She personally took charge of the situation and returned only after ensuring that the employee got the required medical attention.
Jetsetgo is seeking first mover advantage in the fledgling urban air mobility with its eVTOL (electrical Vertical Take-Off) aircraft service. eVTOL aircraft are capable of vertical takeoff and landing and are predicted to play an important role in urban mobility in the near future.
“It will be a shuttle service between two points within a city. We have recently started this service in Mumbai and the charges will be as cheap as an Uber ranging from Rs 1000 to Rs 2500 depending upon the distance,” says Kanika.
“A helicopter is used for this service. We are testing for feasibility and pushing it as we believe air taxis will become the norm in the future.”
Kanika has fought many battles to reach the position she is currently in. She was born into a Marwari business family in Bhopal. The family owned Maruti dealerships across the country.
After the family business got divided, Kanika’s father Anil Tekriwal started a real estate business. Her mother Sunita, is a housewife, and she has a younger brother, Kanishk.
|Jetsetgo purchased eight aircraft in the last year|
Kanika was admitted to Lawrence School, Lovedale, Ooty, in Class four when she was just seven years. It was a residential school and she was the youngest child in the Class.
“I had gotten a double promotion and so I was the youngest in the Class. I felt all alone, left to fend for myself. Back home, a maid would take care of all my needs,” says Kanika, of her days at the boarding school in Ooty, a hill-station in Tamil Nadu, located about 1700 km from her hometown.
“I never really liked being in boarding, but knew that my parents would think the best for me.”
After Class 10 she returned to Bhopal and completed her Class 12 in commerce stream from Jawaharlal Nehru School in 2005. She then went to Mumbai to pursue her Bachelors in Visual Communication and Designing from BD Somani Institute (2005-08).
“Mumbai was easy because hostel life had prepared me for the worst. Dad gave me little pocket money as he thought if I got too much money I would get into drinking, smoking and drugs,” she says, laughing.
“I became my own person in Mumbai, and learnt to board a bus for the first time in my life since until then I was used to chauffeurs driving me around. I became a street smart person, and more humane.”
She also took up part-time work. “At 17 I emceed at a Disney event and got a payment of Rs 300. It seemed like great money at that time, as my pocket money used to be pretty low,” she says.
“I gave that money to my mom, because the event organisers gave me Disney goodies which I loved and it was more precious to me than the money.”
|Jetsetgo employs around 200 people including pilots and crew|
While in college, she also had a stint at the designing department of India Bulls’ real estate division. She was later shifted to the company’s aviation section, where she got an opportunity to meet many people from the aviation industry.
“I purchased three airplanes and one helicopter for the company. I looked into every aspect of the deal, be it zeroing in on the right plane to buy, or figuring out the technicalities of the deal or negotiating the final prices,” Kanika recalls of her experience in the company that gave her the first look into the aviation business.
When she finished her graduation in 2008, her parents told her that she could either pursue her post graduation or get married.
“This happened in December, and in January 2009 I joined Coventry University, UK for a one-year MBA program,” she says. “I feel that my parents have always propelled me in the right direction, even if sometimes their decisions seemed harsh at that point of time.”
In UK, she continued her relationship with aviation industry and found a job at Aerospace Resources, even as she simultaneously pursued her MBA.
“I learnt how things work in an international aviation company. I feel I over delivered here, as I gave in more hours of work, just to be able to deliver the best work,” she says.
“I over performed, because being an Indian, there was always this insecurity and feeling of inferiority. Everything I know about aviation, I owe it to this place. And it was in that company the idea for Jetsetgo was born.
|Kanika believes air-taxis will be a major market in the near future|
“I went to college to just give the exams, as teachers there understand that you are your own responsibility. Surprisingly I always scored well.”
She stayed back in the UK after her MBA. In 2011, though, a big shock awaited her when she discovered she had cancer. At that time she was just 23.
“I came home at once since I wanted to be with my parents,” she says. “They were very supportive, played nurse to me, and made me their priority and it is because of them that I survived.”
“Once I made up my mind to put up a fight, I started reading motivational books by Lance Armstrong, a professional cyclist who fought testicular cancer and was back on track.
“His words really motivated and got me going. I underwent 12 chemotherapy sessions and one year of radiation and became alright.”
Soon after her recovery she started Jetsetgo. “In the future we will continue to lease airplanes as well buy planes, because we need to build the infrastructure of the company,” she says, sharing her plans to be part of the exciting air-taxi travel that is predicted to take over cities in the near future.