As a first-time entrant into the business of private aviation, Dichter knew he'd need access to planes. Rather than raising massive capital to buy them, he wanted to partner with someone already in the game — someone like Richard Santulli, the founder of private jet company NetJets, which is now part of Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. He had to "convince them that they should be in business with people like me," he says.
Santulli's New Jersey NetJets office was just a 40-minute drive from Dichter's, so the young entrepreneur set out to meet the titan and pitch his idea for the Marquis Jet Card, a service to allow pre-paid leasing of private planes.
Dichter and his Marquis co-founder, Jesse Itzler, had already sold Alphabet City, their sports-marketing and music business, for more than $4 million, "so we had a little bit of street cred," Dichter explains.
Still, it took the pair seven or eight meetings in as many months to convince Santulli, the OG of private aviation, to partner with them. "You need to be gritty" to be a successful entrepreneur, says Dichter. "You have to be willing to just keep moving forward, willing to take advice and most importantly, you need to be a flexible thinker," he says.
Every meeting Dichter and Itzler had with Santulli, "we took away a nugget or an idea," says Dichter. "We didn't know it at the time, but he was helping us shape our proposal so that ultimately we could go together to Buffett and he could get a blessing from Warren.
"Every meeting we listened, which I think is key," he says.
Each time, Dichter and Itzler made the tweaks Santulli suggested. Then, in February of 2001, Santulli called them to Woodbridge, N.J., for a sit down with the Oracle of Omaha himself.
"We shook hands on that day and got the business going," says Dichter.
"Working with Warren Buffett is like playing basketball with Michael Jordan," Dichter says. Over the years that followed, he studied Buffett in action. He says he learned three main things from the iconic investor.
First, Buffett taught him to "keep it simple." In fact, Bill Gates says that same advice is some of the best he's ever gotten from Buffett too. According to Gates: "His ability to boil things down, to just work on the things that re ally count, to think through the basics — it's so amazing that he can do that. It's a special form of genius."
Buffett also showed Dichter that "reputation and integrity are everything," he says.
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently," Buffett has said.
Finally, says Dichter, Buffett made clear that you have to "work harder than everyone else."
Dichter did just that for a decade. Then after selling Marquis Jet to NetJets for an undisclosed sum in 2010 and seeing the company through the transition, he was ready to get back to being an entrepreneur.
In 2013, Dichter founded Wheels Up, which offers private jet memberships. Dichter likes to say that "Wheels Up is more Netflix than Netjets," and he also compares it to Amazon Prime. "We're a subscription business," he says. (NetJets is fractional jet ownership.)
With this business model, Dichter says Wheels Up increases the addressable market for private aviation from "a couple of hundred thousand to a couple of million."