As Wheels Up continues its push to digitalize and democratize the industry, Chief Marketplace Officer Vinayak Hegde lays out a vision of what’s ahead
Wheels Up is continuing to add to its all-star executive line-up. As it prepares to become a publicly traded company, the New York-based private aviation services provider has plucked alumni of GE, Airbnb, Amazon, Hilton, NetJets, Grey Goose, and the Air Force. The latest addition, Vinayak Hegde as chief marketplace officer, brings more digital marketplace and public company experience.
“Vinayak is a true product, revenue, and technology expert with an outstanding track record at Amazon and Airbnb, arguably the most successful global marketplaces,” says Kenny Dichter, Wheels Up’s founder and CEO.
He adds, “(Hegde) is an incredible asset as we continue to build our app and marketplace capabilities. His ability to optimize multiple processes in order to grow our marketplace ecosystem supports our overall mission to democratize private aviation so more people than ever can experience private flying.”
Hegde brings two decades of experience leading global teams in the technology and digital sector. Most recently, he served as president and COO of Blink Health. Previously, he was the CMO of Airbnb for the company’s Global Homes business. During that tenure, the business grew to $4.8 billion in revenue and over $38 billion in bookings.
His experience also includes senior positions at Groupon. There he launched brand campaigns, growing the service to over 50 million customers worldwide with over 160 million app downloads.
Hegde spent over a decade at Amazon. He was general manager for Amazon Smile, Amazon Gold Box Deals and led product and engineering for Amazon’s traffic and marketing organization.
Priming Wheels Up for growth
Just four days into the job, during an interview with Private Jet Card Comparisons, he offered some insights into how we might see Wheels Up’s digital offerings evolve.
Hegde sees a host of opportunities to expand the market of private flyers. He points to Amazon’s roll-out of Prime. Much of the success was built on testing targeted offers for on-site users. He sees the same for Wheels Up, which just earlier this year opened its app to non-members. For now, non-members are limited to booking whole aircraft charters.
Streamlining payments is a small change Hegde says can have a big impact. For example, making it easy for customers to switch between payment cards and accounts for business and personal flights.
“In the first four days of coming here, everything I look at, I see massive opportunities. Many of the techniques we used (at Amazon, Groupon, and Airbnb) are techniques we can use here. I see opportunities in every screen,” he says.
By converting more lookers into bookers and getting current customers to buy more – or save money, for example, prompting them about opportunities to reduce costs by sharing seats they don’t need, Hegde says, demand will push the supply side.
Improved tools that help owners and operators understand when to make their airplanes available and at what price will give “suppliers more earnings out of their assets,” he predicts.
On his LinkedIn profile, Hegde offers a quote in the header that reads, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
Hegde will work alongside Greg Greeley, appointed as chairman of the Wheels Up Marketplace in December. Both report directly to Dichter. Hegde will oversee the strategy and execution of initiatives across all aspects of the Wheels Up Marketplace, including revenue accountability, product strategy, technology development, business strategy, sales, and member experience.
Gail Grimmett, chief experience officer, says Wheels Up can match knowledge it captures about customers, such as where they went to college and hobbies, to more targeted offerings similar to mega-marketplaces like Amazon.
Wheels Up is expected to complete its merger with Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle by the end of this quarter. It will then be a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol UP.