Wade Eyerly: The Innovation Interview

Wade Eyerly, Co-Founder & CEO of Surf Air, responsible for developing the overall strategy and vision for Surf Air shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and the future of flying.

Prior to founding Surf Air, Eyerly worked in national defense, filling various roles for an intelligence agency. He served as a Senior Business Consultant leading Lean Six Sigma process improvement activities for the National Security Agency, and spent four years as an intelligence officer with the Department of Defense. Before leaving politics to work for the government, Eyerly worked on two Presidential campaigns, including time as a Press Advance Representative for Vice President Dick Cheney. Additionally, Eyerly served in Iraq from 2009-2010 where he built quantitative models that were used to predict conflict and help keep soldiers safe. He received the Secretary of Defense’s medal for the Global War on Terror, and the Civilian Joint Service Commendation for his work there.

In 2011, Eyerly and his brother, David, created a new business model for private air travel, a members-only service that provided travel between top United States cities. Surf Air was created to build a business service that would introduce the premiere experience of private flying to passengers who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.

Eyerly earned a B.A. in International Economic Policy and Cross-Cultural Relations from Central Missouri State University and a Masters in Public Policy and International Development Management from Brigham Young University – where he also earned a Global Management Certificate. In 2005, Eyerly received the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award from Central Missouri State.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

Innovation is taking what exists and making it better. We’ve been handed a world where flying on major airlines means being routed out of your way, stopping places not on your desired itinerary, cramped seats, long waits, and invasive security. If the industry was launching today – and you’d never seen a commercial flight before – you’d hate it. But, we’ve been conditioned to accept it for so long now, that we don’t dare ask for more.

Innovation means finding a way to deliver more.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Broadcast journalism, aviation, and publishing all make my list.

How about separating broadcast from journalism? Let one expert find the information and another deliver it. Why does one person necessarily need to be good at both skills? Specialization was all the rage in the industrial revolution – but there are still ways to apply it.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

Do it. Most people spend their days dreaming about what they would do if…or what they will do when… Successful people just do it.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

I got Kelli Skinner to marry me. I’m not kidding. She told me “No” the first four times I asked her out.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Physical. When I read I scribble notes all over the place. I like to jot down the ideas I have, the things that the book I am reading made me think, the thoughts that are triggered. Then I have to convert those into a document with citations, so that I can use them. I keep waiting for e-book readers to export your notes with citations in a usable format, but so far no one does it.

How has your experience working in the Government and on two Presidential campaigns influenced your management style?

I’ve been blessed to work on really fantastic teams. The value of a good team is tough to quantify, but it’s real. I spend a lot of time at Surf Air trying to make sure that we have a group of folks that love working together, whose skills and abilities complement one another.

What were the early days like when you and your brother David would sneak out to the car at family gatherings to brainstorm ideas for a new venture?

It was exciting, but easy. It’s always easiest to dream about a “someday” idea. It gets hard when you begin to put that plan into action. There are times when I remember how easy it was to say, “I’m going to do this…or that,” and I think – “man, I wish I could get back to that.” But, this is the part that pays dividends. Nobody pays you for having a good idea. They only pay you for making it real – for doing the hard work.

Were you influenced by the Netflix subscription model for Surf Air? Or was there another inspiration behind the All You Can Fly Private Air-Travel Membership?

Netflix is a great model. We really like the idea of applying models proven to work in technology to non-tech industries. JetBlue tried an all-you-can-fly pass once or twice, as well.

Are there plans to partner with a car rental/service company such as Silver Car to allow members access to vehicles at their destinations?

Yes. We are working with partners now. We’ve even considered bundling it into the subscription so that your complete experience would be smooth, end-to-end.

Forbes recently called Surf Air the “future of flying” and we agree. With such a high compliment from a well-respected publication, how are you going to ensure that your team stays hungry, humble and focused on building a world class airline?

Just keep working hard. The interesting thing is that you work as hard as you can, and think –“ if I can only get through this next hurdle things will let up” – but they don’t. They get harder, and it keeps driving us.