Risk Without Fear: How U-M Alum Andy Matthews Jumped from Links to Aviation
Andy Matthews (‘02 Kinesiology) is a competitive innovator who is not afraid of following his passion. He’s not afraid of heights either, and has the pilot’s license to prove it. After spending nine years as a professional golfer, Andy co-founded iFlightPlanner, an Ann Arbor-based company that provides aviation weather and cloud-based flight planning resources for private and corporate pilots. He recently met with CFE’s M Engage Michigan Director Eric Bacyinski to talk about how taking risks have taken him around the world, why he turned his passion into a startup, and why Grand Rapids is an epicenter of entrepreneurship.
Tell us about yourself…
From as early as I can remember, it was all about golf. I started playing when I was 5, and it was what I did as often as I could. By the time I was 11, I knew it was something that I would try to make into a career.
My dad is a graduate of U-M. Growing up, Saturdays in the fall were reserved for Michigan football. Being familiar with the reputation of the University and its standing in the sport of golf, making the decision to become a Michigan man was easy. Michigan just felt right. Being a student athlete was an amazing experience. I was named Big 10 Freshman of the Year and was able to play alongside people that I was watching on TV. During my college career, I played in the PGA TOUR’s Buick Open and the Canadian PGA TOUR, along with playing seasons in South Africa. When deciding on a major, Sports Management seemed like a perfect match for me.
How did iFlightPlanner come about?
With the encouragement of my father, I began aviation training at age 26. After my father pointed out that I was spending double the amount of time planning for my first flight than I would actually be in flight, I decided to develop a more strategic process for my training. I turned to my business partner and college friend, John, who managed my golfing website. John graduated from University of Michigan’s College of Engineering in 2002 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. With his help, we formulated a plan for perfecting flight training. When discussing my aviation training dilemma, we recognized that there was an opportunity to develop a comprehensive flight planning solution that could make the process safer, shorter, and easier.
The idea for the company was conceived on a napkin at a bar in Ann Arbor. The week the company was launched, I was playing golf in Columbia, still dedicated to the pursuit of a professional golf career. As the company started to grow, however, I found myself devoting more and more of my time working on the development of iFlightPlanner. Eventually in 2013, I made the decision to make the company my main priority. Just like playing golf, I took a chance knowing that failure was possible. But I took a risk and discovered that that there was in fact a need and a market for I was creating. From there, I plunged ahead.
What is your typical day?
Besides checking out the news to track industry, each day I take advantage of every opportunity to interact and learn from our clients about their use of our software. iFlightPlanner thrives from stewarding customer relationships. I also try to squeeze in some type of physical fitness.
What entrepreneurial mind-set/skill set do you wish you would’ve learned as a student?
First thing that comes to mind is that it’s possible. We are lucky to be part of such an entrepreneurial culture that nurtures the growth of ideas. Anyone can have an idea, and it’s possible for an idea to grow and manifest itself into something that makes a difference in the daily lives of others. This is what is so rewarding about entrepreneurship. My idea went from a napkin to a website, then to an app, and finally it became a business. Looking back, I wish that I would have realized all the opportunities and resources that are available to students at the University like the Center for Entrepreneurship, and within the larger community.
Why locate your life in Grand Rapids?
I’ve traveled the world and chose to be back in Grand Rapids full-time. While the company is based in Ann Arbor, I call Grand Rapids home. Both cities are similar in the sense that the people are passionate about their city. But the cities differ because Ann Arbor is primarily a college-town that ebbs and flows around what is taking place around the university. The energy in Grand Rapids is more consistent. Like Ann Arbor, both entrepreneurship and philanthropy is part of the culture and the people share a collective pursuit in nurturing their community.
Why stay connected to the University?
I am passionate about the University, as well as grateful for all opportunities that have come from being both a student and alumni. I am at a point where I am able to offer my time, talent, and resources to the place that gave so much to me. As an alumnus, I also feel privileged to have the opportunity to bring the University to Grand Rapids. I get fired up, because there are so many cool things that happen here.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as an entrepreneur?
One of my favorite golf quotes is – “Every moment in golf, like life, is in some way unique and unrepeatable”. The same is true for entrepreneurship. It is essential to really enjoy whatever you are doing. Whether I am spending time with family, playing golf, or traveling the world, I try to take in every experience whether good or bad; you can learn something from it all. Entrepreneurs are risk takers, continuously learning from the good and bad. They also move fast, but it is important to make sure you enjoy the process of your journey and not focus solely on the outcome. It’s crucial to pick your head up and see what’s going on around you. By keeping your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in and around your industry, you will be able move quickly when the opportunity presents itself to take the next big chance.
What was the hardest lesson to learn as an entrepreneur?
People move slower than you think they should. When entrepreneurs come up with ideas, they want to move forward quickly. While you need to be diligent, you also have to be patient. In aviation, like many industries, there is a lot of bureaucracy and change comes slow. Sometimes, new ideas need to nurture persistently and strategically.
What is your favorite band?
Dave Matthews Band…always brings me back to my days on campus.
You’ve traveled the globe, what city/country is most memorable?
The six weeks I spent in Australia and New Zealand, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, playing on some of best golf courses in the world, and fly fishing was one of the greatest experiences. While there I received an invitation to play the Australian Amateur with my friend and business partner, John. It was an amazing time.
Who’s the newsmaker you’re watching most closely right now?
I’m basically following all of the presidential contenders. It’s just too hard to stay away from it right now.
What social media channel are you most active on?
I am on Facebook because of the presence of our iFlightPlanner market. I recently heard about Makkar and I am planning on checking it out.
How can we learn more about iFlightPlanner?
To learn more about Andy, you can follow him at @MrAndyMatthews.