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SPECIAL REPORT: 20 IN THEIR 20s

LABJ

By Francisco Vara-Orta Los Angeles Business Journal Staff

The Business Journal’s annual report on young entrepreneurs, some of whom entered the working world while in their teens.

Ben Marcus and Cyrus Sigari met at age 12 at Santa Monica Airport while serving as cadets in the Civil Air Patrol, a U.S. Air Force-sponsored program that educates youth about aviation.

Their penchant for aviation-related business was first apparent when the two drew up their first business plan at age 14 – a charter flight service to Catalina Island.

“Once our parents found out, they told us to stop and hit the school books instead,” Sigari recalled. “They were right, but we had the itch to get into aviation as soon as we could.”

Ten years later, after both graduated from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., the two created JetAviva, a company that brokers the sale and acquisition of light jets. The company also manages the factory acceptance and training of owners of light jets, mainly wealthy pilots who fly the planes themselves. Light jets are less expensive and smaller planes than the corporate jets that dominate the market.

“There are other aircraft brokers out there, but we like to focus on owner-pilots who fly their own jets,” Marcus said. “But we do more than just buy/sell.”

The milieu is a good match for them, as they can talk pilot to pilot.

“It’s a market that we know has the potential to take off,” Marcus said. “And we love seeing people get to experience private travel like we have.”

Since JetAviva began in 2006, Marcus and Sigari, both 27, have done transactions involving about 100 jets with a total value of more than $300 million.

But the path there wasn’t a direct flight nor was it a smooth ride.

After they finished college, they worked at separate companies, then reunited in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2004 at Eclipse Aviation, one of the first manufacturers of VLJs.

The seed for JetAviva was planted there, as the two saw how many people who were buying light jets.

Sigari and Marcus left Eclipse to come back to California to set up JetAviva in February 2006 and spent a month back at Sigari’s parents’ home devising a business plan. They pooled all their money and sought other investors.

But a shipping executive told them not to go the investor route, that way they could be their own bosses. So Sigari and Marcus took out about $250,000 on credit cards to get the business rolling. They were able to gain the trust of local high-income pilots, many coming to them for light jets through word of mouth, and the orders started to roll in.

The duo said the company will survive the slow economy because their high-income clients are wealthy enough to withstand the downturn; they’re usually company executives and retired aviation enthusiasts looking for a new thrill. But they said they know how to weather a storm if it happens.

“There were days that Ben wanted out and days I wanted out,” Sigari said. “But we counterbalanced each other: when he was down, I was up, and vice versa. So our friendship helped us survive and will continue to.”

FAST FACTS:
    – Cyrus Sigari and Ben Marcus, both 27, co-founders, JetAviva, Van Nuys
    – Business: Light jet sales/acquisitions, factory acceptance, and pilot training
    – Employees: 6
    – Financials: Would not disclose details
    – Fact: The two JetAviva founders have been friends since they were 12.

*Article edited for brevity.

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