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Funding on the fly
Paul Sykes, the managing director of FlyFunder, a new online marketplace created by AirFinance, reveals how the platform connects buyers of business jets with financiers
How does FlyFunder work?
There are two sides to any transaction: you’ve got one party looking for financing and another that can provide it. If you need financing, you sign up to the FlyFunder website as a member, then provide some non-sensitive information about the transaction – where it is, the type of business jet, whether it’s an operating lease or a loan. FlyFunder then announces that opportunity to a private secure network, where financiers can browse the live deals and connect with buyers. The financiers will have declared a list of preferences, so they only see the opportunities applicable to them.
So it simplifies the process for both sides?
If you needed financing, the traditional method is to go around asking banks, but it takes time. Some might refuse you right away, while others make you wait and come back to you. What we’re doing is introducing two parties already willing to work with each other. It cuts out a lot of the legwork, making financing more accessible on the buyer side and easier to find on the transaction side.
But you’re bringing people together from all over the world…
Absolutely. We had a deal go on from Namibia in Africa today. We’re very much tapping into the international markets at the moment. I originally had the idea for this because I had to travel all over the place to find transactions, when really it made sense to build a platform that could connect the willing parties online.
How do you ensure that everybody signed up to it is legitimate?
What we make very clear is, we’re not recommending anybody: we’re not recommending the buyer to the bank, or vice-versa. It’s up to those involved to do their own due diligence and work out whether they have been presented with a party they want to do business with. There are some basic checks – I get flagged if somebody tries to sign up with a Hotmail or a Gmail account, so then I do my own checking and ask them to confirm who they are, perhaps pointing me to a website or LinkedIn profile. In certain countries, like Africa, legitimate businessmen still use Gmail accounts.
AirFinance founded FlyFunder, but other financiers get to use it too. Is that right?
Yes. In theory, we are in competition with other financiers who are using FlyFunder, but really we’ll be looking to do the deals that no-one else is picking up. That’s one point to make. The other thing is, we did think about launching it purely as an AirFinance product, but because we’re a niche market and people tend to know who we are, it lost that sense of being neutral. We’ve used different branding to separate FlyFunder from AirFinance – it’s beneficial to us, but will be to other financiers as well.
You don’t even work on it in-house either…
We didn’t want to have to bring in programmers, designers, all that sort of stuff, so instead we outsourced it to a company in Manchester to handle all of that, and they came up with the design, taking our business model and turning it into what you see now. The company is actually owned by [former England footballer] Gary Neville. The website is partly funded by myself and partly by AirFinance, but this keeps our in-house costs down.
Why hasn’t anybody tried something like this before?
When you look at our industry, we’ve been slow to adapt to the modern age. But in other markets, there are online platforms that let you search for anything, from flights to insurance, so it seemed like a logical thing to do. It’s been a challenge, but we think we have something that is really effective, and the feedback so far has been great. We haven’t really gone that heavy on the marketing, but we’ve already got over US$140m-worth of deals on there, including manufacturers like Airbus and Gulfstream. We’re not intending this to replace people talking face to face, it’s just another tool for the armory.
More info at www.flyfunder.com
November 30, 2016