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                           10 golden Rules on How to Start a
                           Budget Airline (or Any Other Business)                                               by Lim Phay-Ling


                                    When Tony Fernandes first told his wife that he wanted to start a budget airline,
                                    she laughed at him and said he would be better off starting a roti canai (roti
                                    prata) stall. Today, Asia’s first low-cost carrier, AirAsia, continues to fly high,
                                    serving 75 destinations on a total of 102 routes since it first took to the skies
                                    in 2001. And yes, the Best Low Cost Airline in Asia 2007 and Airline of the
                                    Year 2007 does serve roti canai on board. Dato’ Tony Fernandes, Founder
                                    and Group CEO of AirAsia, shared some useful tips at the recent ACE BlueSky
                                    Forum. Here are his 10 simple golden rules for starting any business:

1. You don’t need experience to          (42 cents) and took on its US$11 million          7. Do not listen to anyone for advice.
start a business. You just need an       (S$15 million) debt.                              See rules 1 and 2 again.
idea.
The former Time Warner music             6. Invest in the brand: One Brand,                8. Rent – don’t own – Technology.
executive never dreamed he would         One Culture.                                      AirAsia used technology to score
ever start a business. But he was        This means putting all your marketing             many firsts. Mr Fernandes proudly
inspired by an idea which he chased      dollars into marketing one consistent             listed AirAsia’s many technology
for six years. He believed in the        image only. “Use marketing during a               achievements, including being the
unbelievable and dreamed the             recession to increase your profile,”              • First Asian airline to offer e-
impossible dream.                        he said. AirAsia trebled its ad spend                 ticketing and dispense with paper
                                         during the SARS outbreak while its                    tickets
2. Prepare to be laughed at.             competitors lay low.                              • First Asian airline to offer online
A lot. And never take “No” for                                                                 booking – Internet bookings
an answer.                               Mr Fernandes also chose to flatten                    currently make up 65% of sales
Bureaucrats on both sides of the         the organization structure to create a            • First airline to offer ticket purchase
Causeway, he said “all thought we        culture where all staff treated as equals             via mobile phone.
were smoking drugs” when he first        and not afraid to speak up and realize            Its website airasia.com also scooped
approached them with his idea of         their dreams. He flashed pictures of              accolades, including:
launching Asia’s first budget airline.   a Thai stewardess who also became                 • The Number One travel website in
                                         Miss Thailand and later qualified as a               Asia (Google)
3. You get so much information           pilot.                                            • Biggest e-commerce website
from the Internet.
                                                                                              in Asia (AC Nielsen) with 2 million
Nearly everything can be found on
                                                                                              monthly unique visitors and over
the World Wide Web. Enough said.
                                                                                              1 billion hits
Also see rule 8.
                                                                                           • People from over 200 countries
                                                                                              surf airasia.com which is available
4. Hire a good accountant.
                                                                                              in six languages
His first business decision in 2001
was to hire an accountant to help
                                                                                           9. Be a media slut
him and his partners put together a
                                                                                           ”We’re very accessible to the press
viable business plan for AirAsia. And
                                                                                           and journalists,” Mr Fernandes advised.
the rest, as they say, is history.
                                                                                           “Use them and save tons of money.
                                                                                           We had to – we had no money.”
5. You don’t need a lot of money.
So claims the entrepreneur who
mortgaged his house to raise funds                                                         10. Never lose touch with the shop
                                         AirAsia allowing people with great attitude and
in 2001. Then he bought an ailing        multi talents to thrive….from Cabin Crew to
                                                                                           floor no matter how successful you
airline for the token sum of RM1         Cadet Pilot to Miss Thailand/Universe 2005        are.
                                                                                           The maverick founder of Asia’s first
                                                                                           budget carrier still rolls up his shirt
                                                                                           sleeves and regularly does counter
                                                                                           check-ins and hauls baggage at the
                                                                                           airport so he is in constant touch with
                                                                                           what AirAsia “guests” (rather than
                                                                                           passengers) want.
                                                                                           Bottom line is, Mr Fernandes
                                                                                           concluded, “Don’t be afraid of failure
                                                                                           – or you will never get started. If it
                                                                                           doesn’t work, just try again.” ET



                                                                                                         	Enterprise	Today	•	Sep/Oct	2008   
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