This week is AIRDAT’s 15th Birthday and Charles Cardwell, AIRDAT’s Founder & CEO recalls how the company came together.
15 Years – That’s quite a milestone in this day and age, considering the number of companies (particularly those in tech and aviation) that seem to come and go in the blink of an eye.
I’d love to tell you our longevity and success is down to some grand strategy formulated all those years ago that has finally come to fruition – but in actual fact, much of why we are here today is based on:
- A passion to make things better
- The possibility I had found the holy grail of not needing to get up early in the morning!
As we celebrate the company getting through flight-ending volcano eruptions, global market crashes and a pandemic, I wanted to share a little of how all those elements came together to help create the company that AIRDAT is today.
Back in 2006 I was an idiot. I’d somehow managed to gain my frozen ATPL, but having qualified just prior to the September 11th Attacks, I’d had to find alternative means to, well, eat and keep a roof over my head. I had a mix of jobs – delivery driver, flight dispatcher – through to operations positions in AOG, Dangerous Goods & Film logistics companies. Work as a flight instructor at £20 per flight hour in the winter probably wasn’t going to help me much.
One night, I arranged to grab dinner with a colleague of mine who at the time was managing Airside Driving at Gatwick Airport. He was late arriving, starving and flustered. In addition to training, he had spent most of the day manually marking multiple choice tests, sticking passport photos to cards cut outs, manually laminating them and updating and cross referencing two huge spreadsheets as he went.
This was crazy! I could not believe there wasn’t a system in place (even back then!). As we spoke it became clear the costs of getting a system together were just too prohibitive. By the time we got to coffee, I had decided I wanted to do something about it. I offered to build the system at no cost and with no requirement for the airport to use it. If it worked, it worked and they could pay per use and if it didn’t, it didn’t and they could walk away. The following week, I was at the bank signing papers for a £15k loan against my house.
As I say, I was an idiot. I was naive. I didn’t know about the testing process that would follow, the procurement nightmare, the politics, the ‘that’s not how it’s done’ brigade… Thank goodness I didn’t – I would never have offered.
Naivety is an incredibly powerful tool. Each day as a company, we make sure we question how we do things – not by analogy, but first principles.
You’d think getting a winning business idea over a coffee was already pretty lucky. Well, we have enjoyed a lot of it over the years. AIRDAT would be NOTHING without the team that have helped build it. 4 years in and I was getting lonely. What’s amazing is the first six people that joined the company, we never advertised for, they just ended up falling into the business. They are all still here today too and an integral part of the company’s success.
The most notable of those chance encounters – Rupert Willis. Rupert is now our COO. I met Rupert…(drumroll)…on a stag do in Germany. A friend of a friend. He was training as a teacher at the time and wasn’t particularly enjoying the process. Forward on a few months and Rupert is weighing up a job offer to become an IT administrator at a local school.
Having done a bit of contract work with AIRDAT already, it was clear he knew his stuff and I loved working with him… but we were a small company and I wasn’t sure if we could afford it. I distinctly remember a dinner out with my girlfriend wrestling with whether or not to give him a call and convince him to take a chance on us over the ‘dead cert’, stable school job.
In the end, I picked up the phone late that night. Within a few seconds, I got a message back. He had been having exactly the same conversation with his wife. It was meant to be, and nearly 8 years later, Rupert has helped to lead the company through its most testing times.
A lot of people will tell you you make your own luck. Maybe that’s a little true, but it certainly helps to have some along the way and acknowledge it.
Passion to make things better
If you’re going to do a job, do it well. My mum used to say this constantly (as did her dad). It stuck. It annoys me when things aren’t done right, or could be done more efficiently. You’ll see it in our systems, our services and our support teams. This is really what drives us.
It is a key attribute we look for in our team and there isn’t one of them that isn’t dedicated to consistently improving and making things better.
Not losing the passion to make things better, is what helps us build great products and the support alongside it and forms part of the key to our success.
Not getting up in the morning
Unfortunately, I have not found the holy grail. Sorry guys, but it seems you DO have to get up (most) mornings to make things work! The thing is, it’s never as bad when you enjoy what you are doing.
You’ll be pleased to know that we do have a little more of a strategy in place now, whilst trying to keep the ‘startup’ mentality around our innovations!
We are looking forward to working out how we can make the next 15 years even better for everyone and for those who have supported us, both internally and externally, THANK YOU!