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The Right Way: Wicked Wingsuits Lets Humans Fly

By: Daryl Bernstein / Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Our new series “The Right Way” profiles RightSignature power users, revealing their success secrets and the technology tools they use every day.

Photo by: jeffnebelkopf.com / tonywingsuits.com
If you’ve ever dreamed of flying, meet Wicked Wingsuits – the world’s largest wingsuit rental service. It’s the Netflix of human flight. RightSignature’s Steve Stormoen caught up with Simon Repton, CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) of Wicked Wingsuits, to learn how this adventurous company spreads its wings.

Ok, first things first. What in the world is a wingsuit, and why are yours so wicked?

Simon Repton: Most skydivers jump out of an aircraft and fall straight back to earth. A wingsuit is a suit with a special material between legs and from the legs to the arms that allows you to fly by catching the air and generating a form of lift. It allows you to leave an aircraft many miles away from where you want to land and glide to your destination. You have full control over where you want to go, with a range of 3, 4, 5 miles from where you jumped.

So here’s the deal: a wingsuit has to fit you very well. And just like you don’t get straight into a Formula 1 car to pass your driving test, you don’t go straight to the top-of-the-line wingsuit. You start with your Mini Cooper model and move up to the Ferrari. Each suit costs about $1500 and has to be custom made. We rent the suits out so the customer can learn more about flying and different suits. Or, some people decide to order a high-performance suit, but it takes a few months for the suit to be custom made. In that waiting period they can rent beginner or intermediate suits, train, and become better pilots. We also get business from people who just don’t like making the decision or the commitment to buy a wingsuit. Just like some people would rather rent than own a home, we’re catering to the people who want to try new and different things, and that might be what brought them to wingsuits in the first place.

We rent the suits monthly. The service is like Netflix—we send you the suit with a return shipping bag. You keep it for a month or more, and send it back when you’re done.

What’s the story behind Wicked Wingsuits? How did you come up with the idea?

SR: I was travelling and I was at a skydiving event where I met a tall, big guy who bought an unmatched suit. Now, it might have been the right suit for him to own, but not the right one to learn on. There are lots of people in this situation, so what’s the good solution? I thought about this for quite a while. On a drive from Iowa to Oregon, I decided that the solution was renting suits out. I looked around to see if anyone else did it. There were a few local services, but nobody national, and not by mail order. So we started Wicked Wingsuits with 4 wingsuits. Once we rented those out, we bought 4 more, and 4 more after that, and now we have 100 suits.

We started our service only in the US and we still do most of our business in the US. But there’s a lot of demand elsewhere too, so we began shipping to Canada, South America, Europe, Australia, we’ve shipped to Morocco even. In the winter, skydiving slows down because of the weather, so we’re expanding to the southern hemisphere to keep our inventory circulating during the offseason.

Wicked Wingsuits looks like a niche market. How do you grow your business?

SR: It’s definitely a niche market, specialist market. There are over 30,000 registered skydivers in the US, though we don’t know how many are active. Here’s the cool thing about wingsuits, though: in order to fly a wingsuit, you have to have made 200 skydives. Every year the sport gets new people joining it, so every year there’s a new group of people who reach 200 dives and are ready to try wingsuits. We didn’t really know this would happen going into our business. This is our second summer of operations, and we’re learning something very interesting. So, we carry 3 types of suits, right? Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. People last year who rented beginner suits are renting intermediate suits this year, and the intermediates are renting advanced, and we have a whole new base of beginners.

Right now, the popularity of wingsuits is bringing new people to skydiving. You can see wingsuits on our YouTube channel, on National Geographic and TV specials, and fall in love with the idea. A wingsuit, you know, it fulfills peoples dreams of flying. It’s like a magic carpet. And we only need enough customers to keep our inventory out. Not everybody appreciates this approach—we don’t need every person in America to rent a wingsuit in order to make a profit.

You routinely jump out of airplanes, which seems from the outside like a pretty huge risk. What’s the biggest risk Wicked Wingsuits has taken as a business, and how has it paid off?

SR: First of all, jumping out of a plane is about risk management. Jumping out of an airplane and risking death is totally unacceptable. But if that risk is managed, if it’s mitigated, then the outcome becomes acceptable. Very, very few people die or get seriously hurt skydiving, because the risks are managed to an acceptable outcome. In that sense, you can apply that lesson of risk management to anything—driving a car, or meeting people. We definitely applied that lesson to Wicked Wingsuits. When we started out, instead of buying 50 suits, we allowed the demand to grow our company and buy more suits as we needed them. As it turns out, 50 suits might have been ok, but we had no way of knowing that before we started, and we made ourselves successful by how we managed risks. Second, in skydiving, you always have plan B. When you jump, you always have two parachutes. From day one, we had a bailout plan. Our bailout plan if the business didn’t work was to sell the inventory and forget about it.

Other risks like liability issues do come up, but we handle them the same way. We’re sending people an expensive piece of equipment with all sorts of liability attached. We have to consider theft. We have to be clear about what our terms are, about how our customers use their suits, and about their skydiving experience. Those are really the three things we have to know to protect ourselves from a liability standpoint and make sure our customers are protected as well.

So, a lot of communication goes on with the renter. Originally we had a faxed contract. That didn’t last long at all. We quickly figured out that we needed an electronic version of all this, and that’s when we found RightSignature.

Speaking of... can you tell us how you use RightSignature, and which other online tools you use the most?

SR: We primarily use RightSignature for this whole waiver thing we have, which is pretty cool. We keep the documents on Google Docs, and use the Google Docs integration to grab the newest version when we make a revision. I also use RightSignature for 1099 forms, non-disclosure agreements, basically everything I can. When we expanded into Switzerland, I needed to talk to people about proprietary agreements. I set up an Online Form, and used it to review and sign all of them up. Also, because we travel, we use RightSignature on the iPhone extensively, and we make use of the iPad In-Person Signing app to rent our suits out in person as well.

As for other tools, I have a background in systems management and database and development experience, so I had my own tools and I knew what I was looking for. We do try to do things in the cloud as much as possible—we use LongJump for our CRM and databasing, and for form-based notifications. It’s a great way to keep track of our work and take care of these legal documents in a form that’s centered around our lives and not our fax machines. Finally, when we test our users for their knowledge about key parts of skydiving, we use SurveyMonkey for an online questionnaire.

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