By Fred Grier
Meet Arnel Guiang, a mobile application entrepreneur and UC San Diego alumnus who aims to help today’s super commuters gain back their time.
If you live anywhere in Southern California you know the nightmare of bumper-to-bumper gridlock traffic during rush hour. Imagine a life where you could safely rise over traffic and get to your destination at a fraction of the time. That’s where the transportation startup, FLOAT (Fly Over All Traffic) comes in.
Guiang came up with the idea during his 20s when he was spending roughly two hours commuting to work each day in Los Angeles from his home in Diamond Bar to work in El Segundo. One day, Guaing’s co-worker who was an instructor pilot, flew him across town in minutes. This novelty experience led him to launch his airline company 15 years later.
FLOAT, known as an air shuttle service, is essentially a taxi that uses existing general aviation airports to fly super-commuters to work. Float’s mission is to shatter the myth that sitting in hours of traffic congestion is an unavoidable way of life.
We chatted with Arnel Guiang, Co-Founder and CEO of FLOAT, about his experience of being a UCSD entrepreneur and the journey to successfully launch his startup.
Year Founded: 2018
Headcount: 15 full-time employees and 25 contractors.
Headquartered: Pomona, Los Angeles.
San Diego Service: FLOAT will serve the San Diego market through the Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport.
Funding: Undisclosed angel investors.
Technology: Guaing, who has over 15 years of experience in building mobile applications, explained that FLOAT provides an Uber-like experience.
“We want it to be more of an app-based experience than just a traditional print out a ticket and scan. We created an app where you can make payments, receive notifications on your plane’s arrival, view a map of the entire city, and track your plane in real-time — all which can be done through your phone,” Guiang said.
The Need: Particularly in Los Angeles, the city is considered one of the worst places to commute in the nation. To date, there are four million people living in about 500 square miles of land.
Team: FLOAT’s leadership team includes tech entrepreneur Tom Hsieh, and former Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines President Rob McKinney. Guiang shared why he believes his team is uniquely positioned to tackle Southern California’s mounting traffic problem.
“I’ve been an entrepreneur for the last decade. I built a chat messaging and a rental classified app, even before the iPhone came out. Our Co-Founder Tom has worked in telecommunications. Neither of us had the pilot or airline skillset, but we brought people around us that knew the industry. That’s how we found our third Co-Founder, Rob; he heard about what we were doing and ended investing in us.”
Target Market: Currently, FLOAT is targeting Southern California’s “super-commuter” market which include regular workers who travel more than 50 miles or 90 minutes one way.
“Our goal is not to fly executives and rich people to show that they can afford a luxury option,” Guiang said. “FLOAT is targeting regular workers in the hope to make it as cheap as possible.”
Customers: More than 1,000 people have expressed interested in using FLOAT’s service, which officially launches in January 2020. Building up a highly anticipated waitlist, people interested are commuting from as far away as northern San Diego County to Los Angeles, Guiang said.
“Our first target was to go after SpaceX since they were located next to Hawthorne Municipal Airport. They had a big list of employees detailing which cities they commuted from: 200 from San Diego, 200 from Ventura, and 200 from surrounding desert towns,” he said.
“From that meeting, we were able to validate that there were enough people interested in working with us. Once we realized they were a good target, we decided to go after regular people, instead of businesses,” Guiang said.
Competitive Advantage: A unique advantage is that unlike traditional airlines, the service never flies planes unless every seat is pre-sold. Additionally, Guiang shared that companies are interested in using FLOAT as an incentive to retain top talent executives.
“For example, let’s say you live in San Diego and you want to work in Los Angeles. If you’re that talented person they really want, recruiters can now offer FLOAT as a packaged benefit and that person won’t have to necessarily relocate,” he said.
Overcoming Challenges: When you have a big new concept, skeptics will usually find ways to break it down, which was an early challenge FLOAT had to overcome.
“A year ago, no one thought we could do it. They told us there were too many regulations, the infrastructure isn’t set up, and that it’s too difficult,” Guiang said.
“When we found our third Co-Founder, Rob, we realized we really could do it. He was an airline executive himself and he believed it was the most brilliant idea.”
What’s Next: FLOAT plans to conquer all of Southern California before entering new markets.
“We want to expand to the Bay Area and then we’ll figure out where we want to go after that. The U.S. Olympics is coming to Los Angeles in 2028; by then I want the City of Los Angeles to be known as the place that people fly rather than drive to commute,” he said.
San Diego Ecosystem: Guiang agreed that the San Diego ecosystem is growing into a sustainable tech and entrepreneurial hub. Although, he advocated that an entrepreneur can start anywhere.
“The San Diego ecosystem has been growing ever since I left there. There are more venture capitalists and more money being focused now than there was before. But I’d also say that any entrepreneur can start wherever they want. Whether it’s at home, in your garage, or even your bedroom, you can make it all happen there.”
Entrepreneurial Advice: When giving advice to startup entrepreneurs, Guiang offers practical business advice.
“If you are a young entrepreneur, find some good mentors that can really guide you along the way. But if you’re an older entrepreneur, just believe in yourself. You’re probably more right than other people, until you absolutely fail at it.”
Triton Proud: During his time at UC San Diego, Guiang studied Computer Science where he spent a majority of his time programming and working for The Guardian newspaper. To pay it forward, he also served as a mentor to student entrepreneurs at The Basement at UCSD.
Tacos n’ Tech: When asked to pick his favorite spot when looking to satisfy his taco cravings, Guaing prefers Santana’s Mexico food located in San Diego.
Off the clock: When Guiang is not busy building his startup, you can find him spending time with his wife and two kids.
Editor’s Note: Welcome to Triton Tech, original series on UC San Diego created by Fresh Brewed Tech that showcases the innovative ideas born in the halls of academia that are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond.