As children we all have dreamt the impossible of all dreams, mostly inspired from the movies we watch, the songs we listen to and the books we read (Being an astronaut topped the list for many). For Rudra Bhanu Solanki, it was skydiving, in America. It was a dream that lingered in his mind and chased him as he grew older.
The student of Political Science is today India’s youngest skydiving coach and the Founder of Skyhigh, India’s first international skydiving dropzone.
Getting a Licence to be India’s Licensee
Solanki wanted to pursue his education in the UK, but his father persuaded him to stay back in India with a promise that he would sponsor his MBA. But, for Solanki, there was only one aim — to learn skydiving. “When I was looking at the opportunities for skydiving, what bothered me the most was that even in a big country like India there was no facility for a common man to try it. As I spoke to people about starting a skydiving dropzone in India, I was told that I should learn it first and get a license. So, I went to Arizona and even surprised the people there because my intention was to learn and not just experience,” he said.
Adapting in India
After having flown half the way across the world to gain a license, a successful Solanki decided to come back to India to start Skyhigh. But it was then he discovered that there were short-term permissions available in India and no specific regulations. “One could gain short approvals for 15 days or so.
But our idea was to do something more permanent. I met people at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). But this being a new concept, they asked our help to formulate the policy. I went back to the US, attended world dropzone meets and discovered a completely different side to skydiving, one ridden with policies,” he said.
He kept deliberating with the government, going back and forth. Making matters still worse, there was a fatal accident in the sport in 2014, which slowed down the process.
“One of the biggest challenges we faced was under what CAR – Civil Aviation Requirement — which is a bible or a blue book to abide by, will they give us an approval? We formulated Standard Operating Procedures and in February, 2016, we started our journey,” said Solanki.
Skyhigh is a foreign affiliate of the United States Parachute Association (USPA), which states that their licensing is in sync with the USPA guidelines, and if someone acquires a license from Skyhigh it would be valid across the world.
The experience after that wasn’t one without troubles. “We had many teething issues. We had to familiarize the ground personnel, the staff with how everything works. We had to make sure everyone was following the SOP,” he said.
Where’s the Money?
Solanki started the bootstrapped venture but went on to raise a small seed funding to run operations. But when he does go to investors, the questions are the same. “They are mostly surprised and ask me, “how did you make this happen?”, “How is this even happening here?”, whether the country is ready for it and, of course, is it safe? But we show them how there are a large number of Indians going abroad to try this out,” he said.
Their Marketeers – their Jumpers
Guaranteeing all the experience of a lifetime, Solanki stressed that their marketing mainly relies on social media and word of mouth advertising. “People go for a jump and they upload their videos on Facebook, that’s how the word spreads. For every jumper, we definitely get at least two more. We get at least 30-50 phone calls per day,” explained Solanki.
The bookings haven’t stopped. From ad to film shoots and even a mention in India’s Got Talent, the team is on all time high and as Solanki puts it, “they haven’t stopped jumping.”