Exclusive interview with Voom CEO Uma Subramanian

May 09, 2017

Traffic in the world's largest cities like São Paulo is bad... really bad.  You know the story - every morning and evening, there is a sea of red brake lights that stretch as far as the eye can see. You endure an exasperating stop-and-go journey, which can last for hours (even though technically your destination should only be 30mins away).

Now, imagine soaring over rush-hour traffic on your way to work.  Voom is here to make commuters' dreams a reality by letting you fly over traffic jams with the tap of a button.  Voom has built one of the world's first truly on-demand helicopter booking platforms that provides travelers with the ultimate in convenience and reliability, yet does so in the most afforable way possible. You can book a ride and take off in as little as 60 minutes - for up to 80% less than other helicopter services. We caught up with Uma Subramanian the CEO of Voom to get the inside scoop behind the newest disruption in transportation.

 

Tell us a little about your background and path to entrepreneurship.

As a kid, I was fascinated by space exploration. I went to Space Camp and met Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke. I even managed to land the Space Shuttle Discovery in a simulator! This led me to study aerospace engineering at university. My first job was working on the aft fuselage of the F/A-18 fighter jet. After that, I worked on Project Constellation, NASA’s Moon/Mars programme, which today is Project Orion. But I began to realise that space exploration was not viable unless it became more of a national economic priority. With that in mind, I went to get an MBA at Harvard in 2006. However, this was when mobile technologies were just exploding onto the scene, and well before ‘New Space’ became an investable arena – it just wasn’t enough of a priority.

Though Harvard Business School tempered my enthusiasm for space, the experience was eye-opening. I discovered that I love business, especially bringing sustainable ideas to life. I then spent a couple of years at a consultancy, exploring an array of industries, before working on mergers and acquisitions at Rolls-Royce. However, I soon decided that I wanted operating experience, and became European General Manager for TaskRabbit, an online marketplace for home services. That was probably the best training I could have had for my job at Voom. I was involved in everything, from consumer marketing to customer service to operations. If something didn’t work, I had to know why. Every early-stage business will break in a multitude of ways; success lies in figuring out how to triage the breakage.

Tell us about Voom, how did the idea come to life? 

Voom has built one of the world’s first truly on-demand helicopter services that makes the dreams of commuters and travelers come true... to fly over traffic jams with the click of a button. Voom is on a mission to elevate travelers’ daily lives by elevating their daily commutes.

It’s no secret that rush-hour traffic is unbearable for commuters in urban environments. It’s estimated that by 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities (5Bn people), a 10 percent jump from where we are today. The increase in urban population inevitably leads to an increase in congestion and traffic. São Paulo is a perfect example. The city set a new record in 2014: on the roads around the city, the rush-hour traffic stretched out for more than 130 miles/ 210 km. Moreover, these huge back-ups in São Paulo cost the Brazilian economy at least 31 billion USD a year.

As a solution, Voom is looking skyward to develop radical concepts that will relieve urban congestion today. Voom is ushering in an era of on-demand air mobility for all. We believe that urban air mobility should be affordable and attainable to commuters in the world’s most congested cities.

How does it work? Tell us a little about the technology behind it  

Here’s how Voom works. It’s super easy.

Log on to voom.flights.

Enter your starting and ending address and we will find the nearest helipad

Select your preferred departure time. Book and depart in as little as 60 minutes.

Arrive at the helipad 30 minutes before your scheduled departure time.

Enjoy the flight!

 

Voom has developed a proprietary “pooling” technology that allows us to provide the most affordable licensed helicopter service in São Paulo. Our riders can fly for up to 80 percent less than traditional helicopter services - about the cost of a private car service.  As a result, Voom is democratizing helicopter travel in the world’s most congested cities, giving more and more people access to a mode of transportation that was previously reserved for the ultra-wealthy.

What are the main safety issues and how are you addressing them?

Passenger safety is our #1 priority. All of the operators we partner with are all licensed RBAC-135 operators, certified by the Brazilian Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC). Our operators are best-in-class and place a huge premium on passenger safety. They fully comply with all safety regulations.
 

Who is your typical client? How much does the average flight cost? 

The target Voom customer is the time-strapped professional who is looking for a faster, more convenient and efficient, yet cost-effective mode of transportation to get across town or to the airport.

The cost of your journey is based on the travel time plus any ground infrastructure fees.  We present an estimate of the total cost to our riders upon booking.

Because of our proprietary “pooling” technology, we can provide one of the most affordable (if not the most affordable) helicopter service in São Paulo. Our riders can fly for up to 80 percent less than traditional helicopter services - about the cost of a private car service.  As a result, Voom is democratizing helicopter travel in the world’s most congested cities, beginning with São Paulo.  

The average cost for a flight from Blue Tree to GRU is R$400 compared to up to R$4,000 with other traditional operators.  

What were some of the biggest challenges in launching the company in Brazil and how did you overcome them?

We have learned a lot over the past year about launching a business in Brazil. As with any new launch, we’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. Our biggest learning to date is that operations take longer than you expect or hope. This is only exasperated by the fact that our team is separated by 6,500 miles (we have a local team on the ground in São Paulo and our corporate headquarters are in San Jose, CA).  This distance definitely posed a unique challenge but we’ve overcome with nearly every technological communication tool available.

How are you approaching the expansion? What cities will be next?

We are fully committed to getting São Paulo up and running. That said, we are eyeing expansion across Latin America, Asia and the US. The likely next cities are Mexico City and a couple of cities in the US.

Latam Founders is excited to have Voom's support at this years 4th Annual Latam Founders Awards Gala which takes place on May 29th in Sao Paulo.  Want a chance to win a free flight from Voom?? Make sure you register HERE today!

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