Fear factor: How Nir Davidson got iFLY Australia off the ground

Noted philosopher Bear Grylls once said that being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Instead, he said, “being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.” 

That’s certainly been the case for Nir Davidson, the latest guest speaker at Brisbane Business Hub’s On The Couch With program. As the Founder and Managing Director of iFLY Australia, he’s become the face of skydiving in this country – despite the fact that he’s terrified of heights. 

“A good friend of mine decided that we should all go tandem skydiving for his birthday,” Nir remembers. “I wasn’t going to do that. It wasn’t on the cards. I was petrified of heights, so forget about it – I’m not jumping out of an aeroplane. Then one of my other friends pulled out, and through a lot of peer pressure, they somehow got me on this plane to take his place. 

“I remember being pushed out of the plane – I didn’t want to go, so they pushed me out. But in free fall, my eyes just lit up. And I found myself thinking, ‘Oh god, this is the most amazing thing’. I still remember it like it was yesterday – I landed, and I immediately turned to my instructor and said, ‘This is incredible, I need to do this. Where can I do this?’ 

“He gave me the name of a school, and that was it… I’m still petrified of heights, but I’ve done thousands and thousands of skydives since then and I’ve learned to deal with it.” 

Leap of faith 

Crowd asking questions at Nir's on the couch with event

Nir soon became determined to turn his new hobby into a career. He left his safe corporate career behind, took out two credit cards, returned to the small shipping container in Melbourne where the skydiving centre that ran his first dive was based, and bought the company. 

He then grew that business into Victoria’s largest skydiving centre operator, with three locations, 40 staff, five planes and a turnover of more than $3 million. 

That’s when he decided to move towards indoor skydiving, and make the experience of flight more accessible for the average Australian. Indoor skydiving utilises vertical wind tunnels to give visitors the sensation of floating on a smooth cushion of air, with no planes required, making it a more inclusive activity for would-be skydivers of all ages and abilities.  

But getting his indoor skydiving business off the ground proved to be more difficult – and that’s when he realised that success in business, much like bravery, isn’t about the absence of challenges, but the ability to push through them. 

“When I said I wanted to get into indoor skydiving, most people I spoke to said, ‘What? What’s indoor skydiving? What are you on?’” he laughs. “People were saying, ‘What’s wrong with you? You’ve already got a great business, why would you want to do that?’” 

But Nir was determined, and he went about attracting investors, honing his pitch through hundreds of knockbacks. 

“The big thing that investors wanted to see I could deliver was execution,” he says. “Passion is one thing, but could I put a team together that could execute and deliver on that passion? Could we make this thing profitable?” 

In tandem

Nir and Miriam on the couch with event

After enlisting a Chief Financial Officer to help him get his Profit & Loss Statement up to scratch, Nir sold his first skydiving business and put the funds into his indoor skydiving dream. He also found a major investor who believed in his vision – international indoor skydiving company iFLY, who opened their first wind tunnel in 1998, and have gradually expanded to more than 80 locations worldwide since then. 

With their backing, Nir opened iFLY Australia, the country’s first indoor skydiving centre, in Melbourne in 2009. A Perth location followed, and then, in 2019, he opened iFLY in Brisbane, 10 kilometres north of the CBD at Westfield Chermside. 

“You need to believe in what you’re doing, and I believed in it,” he says. “And because I believed in it, I kept on pushing and pushing and pushing until I found someone else who believed in it and was willing to give me money to open my first location, then a second, then a third, and continue to grow it. 

“There are challenges in business everyday. I got knocked over a hundred times with that first location in Melbourne – with the leasing, with the construction, with permits – and what should have been a simple 12-month build ended up being a seven-year build. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. But it’s about what we do with ourselves when we get knocked over. I was passionate, I was driven, I was hungry, and nothing was going to stop me seeing it through. 

“Now we’re opening our fourth location [in Sydney in 2023], because it’s scaleable. Australia has the potential to have 10 iFLY locations, because there’s such a demand for it here. We’ll just keep growing and growing until there’s saturation.” 

Nir’s iFLY locations now turn over $15 million a year in revenue, employing 60 staff. More importantly, they each give roughly 40,000 visitors a year per location the ability to achieve their dream of flight. 

“That’s 120,000 people a year who might never have thought about skydiving before,” he says. “Then they’ll come back to us again and again and again. And after they’ve done it a few times, they’ll turn to their instructor and say, ‘Hey, you’re a skydiver, where can I learn how to do this?’ So we’re seeing the growth that comes with that.” 

Greater heights

While iFLY continues to grow, Nir always has other businesses on the go. Among his many endeavours and investments, he co-founded the Locl App, which was the first Australian marketplace app to compete with the likes of eBay; sold Wet’n’Wild Buggy to Village Road Show in 2018; and recently began work on a new development in Byron Bay. 

“I’m always starting new businesses,” he says. “I love business… iFLY is one business, but there are thousands of other opportunities that I look out for every day.” 

As Nir has expanded his portfolio, iFLY CEO Simon Ward has become a key mentor in his life. 

“I knew that I needed people to help me navigate through the hurdles,” he says. “Whether that was to look at a problem or a business model from a different angle, or to open doors, or more importantly, to open my mind. 

“I catch up with Simon Ward every Thursday night, religiously. He’s my mentor. Sometimes we’ll talk about nothing but personal stuff, and sometimes we’ll talk about business. But it’s an ongoing relationship, and I think everyone should be doing that.

“I think the most important thing with mentoring, and it took me a while to learn this, is that you need to be open and able to take on new information. At first, I thought I knew everything. But I didn’t, and I still don’t. There was a switch for me, where one day I found myself thinking, ‘You know what? I’ve got my opinion, but what this person is saying is actually the right path.’ 

“And the second I could do that, the second I could drop my guard and be open to another perspective, it changed everything for me. And I do that in every part of my life now. Personal, business, everything. I ask, ‘What’s the best path?’, instead of just assuming I already know the best path.” 

That’s why Nir now finds himself jealous, as an entrepreneur who’s been in the game for a long time, when he sees the mentors and connections that start-ups and scale-ups can access at the Brisbane Business Hub. 

“It’s really simple,” he says. “You have the best resources here, so just come in here and learn and ask questions. ‘How can this help my business? What connections can I make? Who can I sit down and have a coffee with? What doors can I open?’ 

“This Hub… man, if I had a Hub like this when I started, I would have done it all a lot faster. I had to go and create my Hub. I had to go and create my connections. But now you can just come here, and there are so many ways for you to learn and connect. Brisbane’s lucky to have this.” 

To book a free one-on-one mentoring session with one of the experts and thought leaders who are available to help you build your business across every industry and sector, visit businessinbrisbane.com.au/mentoring

Join us at the Brisbane Business Hub for our next On The Couch With session with Matt McKay. An Australian soccer legend, Matt is now the Co-Founder of eCommerce business Freddy & Co. He’ll talk about his experiences on the World Cup stage, and how they prepared him to run a successful family business. Register for your free ticket now

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