In May of 2013 Franky Zapata, the Father of Flyboard, shared a little bit of the Flyboard’s back story with Burke Adams of Capital Network Magazine. There sites focus is on interviewing start-ups and entrepreneurs. I’ve got many different questions and look forward to doing an interview with Franky Zapata soon but for now enjoy learning a little bit more about how our favourite sport came to be:
You are the CEO of Zapata Racing, a jet-skiing company, and the inventor of FlyBoard, a revolutionary product that converts a jet ski into an air or underwater propulsion system. Where did you get the idea for the FlyBoard?
I always had the dream of flying one day and the idea was to combine all my passions. We are currently working on a new project that was the initial idea. The Flyboard was a step to analyze the feasibility of my first idea. We can’t tell you anymore about it at the moment.
How did you fund the development and manufacturing of the FlyBoard?
We started with almost nothing. The Flyboard development and studies cost less than 20000€ ($27,612) to get a functional product thanks to our expertise in the jet-ski. The video launched on Facebook attracted investors and distributors which allowed us to finance the tooling and a part of the development. For the rest, we put our belongings for bail. The suppliers accepted terms to be paid 30 days after the order which allowed for the product to launch while we took all the risk. Banks didn’t believe in our product.
FlyBoard is a truly remarkable product that has generated nearly 6 million views on YouTube (As of Aug 4, 2013 Flyboard Family Official has over 10 million views). Have these videos been an effective marketing tool? Have they helped you increase your client base?
Absolutely. The videos gathered more than 25 million views within a year which created quick recognition and helped generate all the sales worldwide. It impacted our turnover by multiplying it by 7. It was indeed an efficient tool.
The Flyboard has been created with the human reflex in mind and therefore the time it takes to become comfortable on the board is very short. The Flyboard is very intuitive; it just requires a minimum equilibrium. A novice rider needs approximately 10 minutes to stabilize him/herself in the air.
How have you managed to stay on top of the increasing demand for the FlyBoard?
It took us working more than 14 hours a day and we kept that up every day. Thanks to my experience in facing urgent situations and tight deadlines, I succeeded in keeping the company alive.
What does your typical day look like?
It’s hard to describe because no one day looks like another. I spend a lot of time on product development. I can spend long hours with the engineering office developing pieces, then long hours on meetings for the manufacturing and the tests in the water (between 3 and 4hours a day). In general, I have to manage my company by staying in the office with my employees. Finally, I spend a lot of time with my attorneys dealing with issues that come from the Flyboard’s success. I have to fight constantly. I have to impregnate myself with a world that is far removed from mine and so I’m learning every day how to become an international manager.
I manage our supplier relationships by being close to each of them. It’s rare that I negotiate the prices with the factories because I am in favor of the principle that everyone must make a living. If the price doesn’t fit with my expectations, I consider that I must change the process instead of using our notoriety to put pressure on them. It makes the business fair which allows us to be reactive, well served and manufacture our parts mostly in France (99%).
When I’ve got time, I try train to stay in shape in order to be able to test my products and push them to their maximum potential.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
Hard to say because 5 years ago, I wanted to stay at the top of the competition as a jet-skier. From 2008 to 2011, I have done everything to make my presence felt as a jet-ski builder. What is sure is that I will try to push the Flyboard and make it even more famous. I think I can say today that I’ve found my vocation which is working on innovative products and projects. No one can say where my imagination will lead me.