December 17, 2020

Breakingviews: Chopper deal, like SPACs, is for aspiring moguls

by Breakingviews.

Blade is rotating into the public markets in a fashion its aspiring-mogul customers will admire. The helicopter-transport firm that shuttles wannabe one-percenters to and from the Hamptons is spinning into a special purpose acquisition vehicle, Experience Investment, with help from a kettle of plutocrats including music and media moguls Barry Diller and David Geffen. They know the value of a chopper on a Friday night over the Long Island Expressway – and are unafraid of Blade’s $825 million price tag.

The New York startup has a juicy equity story to tell beyond shuttling rich people to nice places. It plans to switch from old-school helicopters to electric vertical take-off and landing, or eVTOL, taxis “as soon as they are ready for use.” So, it checks the new technology box. It wants to transport more human organs, too, and is currently the leader in the U.S. Northeast. That’s the social purpose box. And Blade, citing Morgan Stanley, pegs the total “urban air mobility market,” for which it charges some $795 to travel up to 100 miles, at $650 billion over the next decade. And voila, the “total addressable market” box is ticked.

Moreover, at first glance the deal, which has an enterprise value of $450 million including the cash on the SPAC’s books, doesn’t look too outlandish at a multiple of roughly 1.1 times 2024 estimated revenue. The trouble is that valuation assumes revenue will grow 16 times from its expected $25 million this year. That’s down from $33 million in 2019. It is targeting an astronomical $875 million by the end of 2026. Presumably, that’s the Jetsons singularity moment.

Sky-high numbers aside, Blade will probably take off without much turbulence. Its underlying business shares many of the speculative characteristics that have launched SPAC deals, from nudie-mag Playboy’s return to the markets to pot-finder Weedmaps’ debut in the frothy market of 2020. And unlike some companies taking flight through blank-check deals – such as British electric-van company Arrival – Blade at least has revenue, and an aspirational clientele rooting for its success.

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