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Our investment in BlackBird, the world’s first flights marketplace

Today I am excited to announce that NEA has led the $10M Series A funding in BlackBird. I’ve known the company and its founder, Rudd Davis, since I first made an angel investment in the startup in 2017, and have been blown away by the team’s ability to create a flights marketplace.

Here is what got me so excited about BlackBird. Entrepreneurs are remaking every part of transportation ecosystem, and NEA has invested in many of them, but innovation has come on either the short or long end of travel. For short trips, we can now get around the city on scooters, bicycles, Ubers, Lyfts, and eventually, autonomous or maybe even flying cars. For longer trips connecting cities and countries, entrepreneurs are working on long distance transportation options like supersonic flight.

But what about trips that fall somewhere in between? Single day, 50-500 mile travel is still largely a road trip. Trips in this range make up the majority of business travel, and Americans have been increasingly turning to domestic road trips as a vacation option. Yet not much has changed about the road trip since your parents were taking them in their station wagon. Autonomous cars could one day change the road trip, but we are still a long ways away from level 5 autonomy, and even then, you’ll still be sitting in a car for a while. Time is our most precious resource.

This is where BlackBird comes in.

BlackBird is the world’s first flights marketplace. Regional flights under 500 miles used to be common in the U.S., but have declined substantially over the past 50 years. With BlackBird, Rudd realized that personal aviation can be a realistic option for everyday travelers, and it does not require inventing a whole new mode of transportation. We already have everything we need, all that’s missing is the right business model. There are over 300,000 privately owned aircraft, more than 220,000 commercially certified pilots, and 5,000 general aviation airports in the U.S., all of which are vastly underutilized. Those privately owned planes are used a paltry 1.2% of the time, the majority of those commercially certified pilots do not have full time flying jobs, and our regional airports are operating far under capacity. The vast airport infrastructure in this country is a public utility that we all support, but has become largely inaccessible to most people.

BlackBird makes short, personal flights a viable option to replace driving by creating a marketplace that matches planes, pilots and travelers for trips between 50-500 miles. This wholly unique business model allows BlackBird to offer personal flights at a price that rivals driving, often under $100.

The customer response has been overwhelming—BlackBird is now serving thousands of rides every month, growing 10x in just the last six months.

I see many parallels in BlackBird to other great marketplaces. Tapping underutilized assets is how Airbnb, Lyft and Uber got started. BlackBird benefits substantially from network effects; as more demand and supply comes onto the platform, the utilization rate will increase, lowering the price for travelers, and allowing pilots to earn more as they fly more. It’s a virtuous positive cycle. BlackBird fits my thesis of behavior changing marketplaces, which though sometimes slow to catch on, often inspire the biggest shifts in consumer behavior. The company also fits into the Four Factors Every Marketplace Should be Able to Answer I have explored in writing previously.

We have only scratched the surface of how BlackBird can remake how we travel. I am proud to partner with Rudd and his team on this journey.

Marketplaces are still an amazing place to build a startup. Transportation is radically changing, and BlackBird is at the forefront of leading that change. Onwards and upwards!

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