JetSmarter, backed by Jay-Z, attracts $105 million to bring jet-set lifestyle to the merely wealthy

The JetSmarter app.
The JetSmarter app.

JetSmarter’s growth plan is hitting cruising altitude, powered by a large round of new funding from high-profile investors.

On Monday, the Fort Lauderdale-based private jet marketplace announced that it raised $105 million from existing and new strategic investors.

Existing investors in the new round include the Saudi royal family and celebrity rapper Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. New investors include an Abu Dhabi-based growth equity fund; strategic partner JetEdge, a large-cabin private jet operator; KZ Capital, a London-based venture capital firm; and a Qatar-based private equity fund. The Series C equity financing round is still open and the company will release additional details when it closes, founder and CEO Sergey Petrossov said.

In venture-capital speak, the new funding makes JetSmarter a “unicorn,” a private company valued over $1 billion. JetSmarter says the new funding brings it to a $1.5 billion valuation.

JetSmarter was launched in 2013 by Petrossov, a 2009 University of Florida graduate and native of Russia. Much like Uber lets consumers use their smartphone to summon a vehicle, JetSmarter offers a mobile app that lets users charter an entire jet, travel on a private jet shuttle or create their own shared charter. It doesn’t own jets but works with a network of charter companies. Annual membership fees start at $11,500.

The additional capital “will enable us to continue domestic and international growth and expand our member community. It will allow us to gain access to more inventory and carrier partners around the world, in addition to launching new JetShuttle routes in key cities that are crucial for our members. We remain dedicated to making travel fun again,” Petrossov said.

Specifically, Petrossov said JetSmarter plans to go into India, China and South America. JetSmarter already flies into cities in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, and will also be expanding to more cities and adding routes in those regions.

In addition, JetSmarter plans to start a social network so members will be able to talk to each other and do things together in cities where they travel, Petrossov said. That will include ground experiences developed by JetSmarter.

“We are building out curated experiences for our members at restaurants, lounges and hotels, all done through additional experiences. The way I like to describe it is the future country club... The country club of the future is coming to you,” he said.

JetSmarter has about 6,700 members and aims to grow that by three times in 2017, Petrossov said. “We’ve had over a million downloads, and have a half a million users registered that are waiting around for new cities and flights to go live.”

The company offers four flight services, both scheduled routes and on-demand, where members create their own flights on their own schedule. Most innovative is its shared services for both customized, on-demand flights and its scheduled JetShuttle services on 50 routes on three continents. (The most popular route is Florida to New York, with 25 flights weekly.) The company also offers JetDeals, last-minute flash sales that pop up on “empty legs.”

“The majority of our flights are member initiated,” Petrossov said.

To be sure, JetSmarter isn’t flying solo. In the past couple of years, variations of the jet-sharing business model have launched, aimed at bringing the world of the super rich to the merely wealthy. Wheels Up, for instance, runs a membership-based private airline from Miami and other cities, including recently offering service to Havana. NetJets pioneered fractional jet ownership. Some companies, such as West Palm Beach-based BlackJet, whose investors included celebrities and an Uber co-founder, have already been grounded.

JetSmarter has expanded rapidly in the last two years and now has about 260 employees worldwide, with about 110 of those in South Florida, Petrossov said. The company’s website currently lists 17 job openings, including a vice president of engineering, and most of them were based in Fort Lauderdale.

JetSmarter moved into new headquarters in the Broward Financial Center in downtown Fort Lauderdale this fall. It also has offices in London, Dubai, Zurich and Moscow.

In February, JetSmarter announced it had secured $26.1 million in funding from existing investors, including the Saudi royal family, and announced earlier this year that former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge had joined its board. Last year it raised $20 million in financing and $6.2 million before that, according to venture capital database Crunchbase.

Along with the new financing round, JetSmarter has appointed Bradley Stewart, XOJET president/CEO and senior adviser to private equity firm TPG, to its board of directors. The announcement comes off the heels of JetSmarter’s recent partnership with XOJET, designed to expand its private jet offerings for members across North America.

Nancy Dahlberg: 305-376-3595, @ndahlberg