In the AI Startup of the Week, the editorial staff of ai.nl is featuring promising AI startups, their innovations, solutions and challenges. In this twenty-second episode, we are taking a look at California-based AI startup Flyr Labs. This American startup, founded by a Dutch entrepreneur, wants to rethink the way airlines work and the way they project their revenue.
At the onset of the pandemic, one of the industries that came to a complete halt was the aviation industry. There were pictures after pictures depicting grounded aircraft at airports, leading to costly maintenance and diminishing revenue. While the industry was going through a turbulent period, a startup was plotting to become a unicorn in this very industry.
Flyr Labs, a startup based out of San Francisco, California, is unlike any other startup in the aviation industry. It develops the Cirrus Revenue Operating System that helps airlines make informed decisions. It relies on AI technologies like Deep Learning and end-to-end managed data infrastructure to help airlines unlock their full potential. It is so far ahead of the curve that the startup is a unicorn.
Flyr Labs was founded in 2013 by Alexander Mans, Cyril Guiraud, and Jean Tripier. Alexander Mans is the Dutch co-founder with his entrepreneurial roots beginning in his birthplace of Weert in Limburg. In an interview with MT/Sprout, Mans told that he taught himself to program from the age of ten. He said the Montessori school there allowed him to finish his homework in school and use the computer at home.
Mans started a software company as a high school student and raised his first growth capital. The startup aimed to secure networks but failed to secure a future.
“My most important lesson was how to recognise parts where you still have to learn. I could build a product, but the operational side was another story. That realisation, that you have to attract expertise in the right areas, became very important later on,” Mans says.
From Limburg to Silicon Valley
After failing to get his first startup started, Mans moved to Silicon Valley where he combined his “love for algorithms with his fascination for aviation.” He says that he can recognise an aeroplane by the sound of the engine. Initially, Mans and his co-founder targeted regular consumers offering a service that allowed them to set the price of their ticket.
However, the smart software soon came under the notice of the US airline JetBlue, and it invested in Flyr Labs via its investment branch. The startup was selected from hundreds of startups as the first participant. “This gave us access behind the scenes of JetBlue. And we realised that there is very little software for better planning and determining prices,” says Mans.
Mans and Flyr Labs now count the likes of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, Jeffrey Katzenberg, founder of DreamWorks and investor with WndrCo, and WestCap, an investment fund of former Airbnb CFO Laurence Tosi, among its investors. In September last year, it raised $150M in equity financing, became a unicorn, and even opened an office in Amsterdam for dozens of employees.
SaaS for airlines
The success of Flyr is not just owed to the industry it caters but also the vision of its founders. The startup pivoted to become a SaaS service for airlines and added Air New Zealand as a launch partner. However, it was soon faced with an unprecedented challenge of the pandemic and an aviation industry that entered a deep crisis.
Mans, however, says pandemic drove airlines to realise the need to plan better and understand that they must set prices reactively. With pandemic forcing airlines to become cautious with their spending, Mans says the company has pivoted to a new business model. He calls it the “gain share model” and it means the company integrates its software for free.
It does this to ensure airlines see an increase in turnover with A/B tests. “If a company works with Flyr, the startup only earns a percentage of the 4 to 5 per cent extra turnover the service can generate,” Mans told MT/Sprout.
Flyr now counts ten airlines as its customers, and they use Cirrus Revenue Operating System. The platform is purpose-built software that is a departure from old methods used for revenue management. The Cirrus platform applies the latest AI innovations to maximise revenues by offering true continuous pricing that determines the revenue-optimal selling price.
It also offers a dynamic interface with hundreds of performance metrics and aggregation from a single flight to a complete network. The revenue forecast platform also helps with directing analyst attention and offers access to forecasts of revenue and bookings for the entire sales period.
The software platform is being used by JetBlue to optimise its capabilities with accurate, real-time decision intelligence and analytics. With Flyr Labs, JetBlue gains accurate forecasts and insights that leads to improved revenue performance and efficient experience for its customers.
“We’re known for disrupting our industry and the legacy processes that came before us. Collaborating with FLYR, a pioneer of AI-driven revenue optimization software, is another example of how we can amplify the ‘JetBlue Effect’ – keeping fares as competitive as possible without compromising the customer experience – an ethos that is mirrored in FLYR’s partnership approach,” says Dave Clark, head of revenue and planning at JetBlue.