How to maintain the startup rage when you’re a big(ger) fish

Luke Hampshire never wants Airly to move out of the startup phase.

“I think once you get out of that mentality, you expose yourself to being disrupted,” he told The Pulse.

“The startup way of thinking is how to scale en masse, to be agile and to experiment on a frequent basis to figure out what’s working and what’s not.”

The Airly co-founder will be at next week’s talk in Richmond on what to do when your startup isn’t a startup anymore at the Masters Series by WeTeachMe at Inspire9.

Hampshire describes Airly as “the democratisation of private air travel”, a platform that connects vacant jets and offers shared charter flights to reduce the overall cost of private travel.

He said the company is now out of the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) phase and is seeing solid revenues flow the business’s way. But in his eyes, it’s still early in its growth curve.

“We’re in that finessing part. We know what our cost to acquire is. Fine tuning that, finding new revenues, and doubling down on what we’re really good at,” said Hampshire.

“Whether we’re worth a dollar or a billion, we’ll always consider ourselves a startup.”

READ: What is a startup anyway?

But he doesn’t deny that the company isn’t defined as a startup anymore from the outside.

It’s executed a startup strategy, hustled its way to revenue and customers.

Now it’s an established business – but it took a while to sink in that Airly was successful.


The turning point


“What pissed me off,” said Hampshire “was that I was so I was so caught up in the business itself, didn’t really take the opportunity to sit back and go, ‘Holy s**t, we’re out of that MVP stage’,” Hampshire said.

After working on the project for three years and launching to market in July last year, Hampshire and co-founder Alexander were so stuck in the weeds they couldn’t see their success.

“It was just never good enough. Oh, we’ve got this number of members and this much revenue. Keep pressing,” said Hampshire.

Then the penny dropped when customers starting booking through the service of their own accord.

“It was when celebrities and wealthy individuals were signing up as members and booking flights without an incentive deal from us,” said Hampshire.

“If celebrities who may look for freebies or endorsement are then booking with us outright – that’s where I thought that we’re out of that MVP stage.”

When you’re an established business, it’s time to adopt new strategies to keep your foot on the growth accelerator.

So how do you marry the startup mentality with the sense of risk that there’s more to lose if you fail?


Think bigger


For Airly, the next big growth lever was international expansion.

Those markets were in mind, but building the business in Australia came first.

READ: Lessons from Etsy – going global from day one

While going global is for established businesses, Hampshire said the startup focus was central to pulling it off – especially since the opportunity to expand came out of the blue.

“I had a broker in Europe, who found out about us on Instagram of all places, contact me on our platform and say, ‘Why can’t I find any empty legs in London?’,” said Hampshire.

“That was unexpected, but we wanted to take that opportunity.”

That night Hampshire “coded like a headless chook” to get new airports and multiple currencies happening.

“So then I got back to them and basically said ‘Yeah, of course you can book UK flights. Check the link – it isn’t working for you?” he said.

While Airly’s now building out global expansion by building contacts glocally and taking a more considered approach, that initial opening needed a startup focus.

“I think that’s why I never really want to lose that mindset, to be able to pivot really quickly and take opportunities as they come up,” said Hampshire.

 

You can hear more from Hampshire and Yago Aldir on how they maintained the startup state of mind as their business grew at Inspire9 in Richmond on 9 May (it’s free!).