In other words, starting an indoor skydiving business can be as buttocks-clenching exciting as free falling itself.
This article is a truncated version of the original that first appeared in SGEntrepreneurs.
iFly Singapore founder, Lawrence Koh
To do real skydiving can be expensive. Usually at $400 a pop.
Not many people have that kind of money to experience gravity first-hand.
So, last May, Singaporean Lawrence Koh built iFly Singapore, a five-storey indoor skydiving arena at Sentosa for anyone keen to test Newton’s law of universal gravitation (at about $80 for several minutes).
This is, at the moment, the world’s largest indoor wind tunnel with a five-metre diameter.
He secured S$25 million (US$19 million) in funding from one private and one institutional investor.
As a rookie entrepreneur, this was a humongous amount.
But his conviction, stemming from extensive planning and preparation, was what secured the investors.
You see, Lawrence was the officer in charge of a parachuting training school in the Army. So he’s not exactly a newbie trying to ace fun.
Koh said, “I’ve always come up with ten-year plans for my life. I chose to devote the first 30 years of my life — I know this sounds lame — to serving the nation. But after that, I knew I would move on to start a business.”
The largest wind tunnel is at Sentosa. Big enough to blow all bikinis off. Cleanly. Think about that. And weep.
The idea of starting indoor skydiving came about after a visit to the wind tunnel in the US.
That was when Lawrence met the founder of SkyVenture, the inventor of the technology that is used in iFly facilities around the world.
Years later, a call from the SkyVenture founder came with an idea: Why not start iFly Singapore?
Lawrence packed his chute, quit the Army and started the company armed with patent rights given to him for free.
And that was the beginning of trying to have fun.
Even if indoor skydiving can be buttocks-clenching exciting, Lawrence had to find some way to cater free falling to the masses.
This means, in spoken English, he needed a detailed business plan. It took three months to craft.
Lawrence visited wind tunnels around the world. Everywhere he went, it was the same: Indoor skydiving attracted the seasoned skydivers.
If he took that approach, he will be going for broke.
Which means, quite literally, he will be bankrupted because there aren’t that many seasoned skydivers to begin with in Singapore.
So, he shifted the target market from niche to mainstream: From seasoned skydivers to leisure skydivers.
Some dude even tried to do a wedding proposal in it.
And he struck gold.
These days, 50 to 60 percent of his revenue from the wind tunnel is now generated from leisure iFlyers, while 20 percent comes from corporate events.
Lawrence even had to turn down a unique, once-in-a-lifetime request: A popular lads’ magazine, wanted some girls to to do a photoshoot in the wind tunnel.
But Lawrence boo-booed the idea.
“The bikini would fly right off,” he said.
Lawrence, DAMN IT! That’s the whole bloody idea! The bikinis MUST be blown neatly right off!!!
But we digress.
The remainder of the revenue is derived from training stints by professional skydivers and millitaries.
In seven months, the revenue iFly raked in is about $5 million.
After deducting rental, overhead costs, this and that, it probably works out to be less than what ex-SAF regular Chan Chun Sing makes these days?
But we digress again.
So after experiencing weightlessness, skydivers can chew on synthetic things at McDonald’s, wonder if they also have the luck of the Irish at O’Briens or fuel the post-weightlessness high with some alcohol at Bora Bora Margarita Bar.
All of these are located on-site at iFly Singapore.
This Singapore version of iFly has so far been so successful so far, iFly licensees from other countries are ferried here just to see how the Sentosa facility is run.
And if the lad magazines overseas asked to shoot their girls in bikinis inside the wind tunnel, iFly licensees outside Singapore would say yes.
And it would be awesome.