What A Real Big Idea Looks Like

by Holland-Mark | January 14, 2011

Had fun at last night’s panel for the Harvard Business School Association of Boston. A big part of the reason was a very colorful character named Kenny Dichter.

Kenny is the Founder & CEO of Marquis Jet, a business he started from scratch, and sold recently to Berkshire Hathaway in what VC’s call a “nice exit.” More than that, getting bought by Warren Buffett is kind of the Good Housekeeping seal of entrepreneurship. It means Kenny built a hell of a business, as judged by one of the greatest investors and richest men in American history.

And what was that business?

In 2001 Kenny was reflecting on the brilliance of NetJets’ new business model, which was to enable fabulously rich people to pool their resources and buy fractions of a private jet in the same way less rich people buy timeshares. Pooling those fractions enabled NetJets to acquire planes and handle all of the service details, and gave clients access to the flying time they needed in any given year without the capital expenditure and overhead associated with jet ownership. Smart.

In addition to being a NetJets fan, Kenny was a Starbucks card holder. One day he had a thought: What if you could buy private jet travel time in the same way you buy Starbucks credit? A company – which he called Marquis Jet “because it sounded fancy” – could buy a fractional share of a NetJets airplane, then sell time on it to the much larger universe of rich-but-not-fabulously-rich people in the form of a simple but very exclusive loyalty card. Very smart, indeed.

When agency people talk about big ideas, I often feel like they’re referring to “Have It Your Way,” or Speedy the Alka-Seltzer guy. But I think big ideas for the 21st century have less to do with jingles and taglines, and more to do with insightful product and business innovations that knit existing assets together in creative ways, to solve problems and create new markets.

Kenny is a big-idea man for the 21st century, and it was fun spending time with him. Here’s a bit more of his story, to give you a taste of what he’s like:

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