Disruptive transportation technologies

But first I note in today’s (January 5) Jerusalem Post an article on the Shake Shack IPO – a restaurant venture that harnessed the public’s long penchant for hamburgers and milkshakes. If you’re in NYC outside of winter, check out their first location in Madison Square Park.  The Shack became the center of a great sense of community for the locals.   The news though is that LYFE Kitchen has replaced my patronage of the Shack. The first LYFE opened in Palo Alto three years ago promoting healthy diet menu items.  They’re not afraid to post salt/calorie values. Ex-McDonalds executives started LYFE. The Palo Alto location serves as the laboratory of their theme. LYFE is expanding to new US markets including New York City (Times Square) and Culver City (Los Angeles).

Sometimes it isn’t the technology, but rather a new approach to a problem, the results in a begin change.  Case in point would FedEx – originally an idea in an MBA thesis, which hub-and-spoke connections, created serious competition for existing package delivery.

More recently Uber (followed by GetTaxi and Lyft) upended on demand taxi service.  They created a compelling technology not only for convenience of ordering and billing, and but also by vetting the driver and passengers.  At least originally. (I’ll ignore for now competitive tactics.)

But how do you upend air travel? How do you improve the experience and make a trip less stressful – short of buying your own Gulfstream 5? Something I’ve thought about for years.  For the past year and a half a company called SurfAir came up with an “all-you-can-eat” membership and subscription travel model - clearly targeting Silicon Valley executives. Studying business traffic patterns in California, SurfAir limited their audience to those who commute between the Los Angeles area and San Francisco.  This is accomplished by


  •  Using small aircraft (the 6-7 passenger single engine Swiss Pilatus);
  •  Serving general aviation airports closer to business destinations rather than major airports;
  •  Short routes of about 1 hour flight time;
  •  Operating as charters which place the service into a different federal regulatory category; and
  • Receiving the order of $1500 per month subscription per member-passenger 

SurfAir routes started with San Carlos (near SFO) to Santa Barbara and San Carlos to Santa Monica. This is a lifestyle service. I have two clients who use the service.  One client lives in LA and takes Surf Air to San Carlos.  He keeps a car at the airport, and sleeps on a boat docked in a local marina. As the general aviation airport could lack the security of commercial travel, passengers undergo background checks as part of their membership application and must be pre-screened as ‘Trusted Travelers” by the US Transportation Security Administration before they can walk onto the tarmac.

SurfAir is not without issues – but so far this seems limited to noise – they are trying to alter their approaches in clear weather.  SurfAir is still expanding its routes and seems to have no lack of investors.