- Kelvin Mensah is a private jet broker, luxury lifestyle specialist, and cofounder of PJKev Approved LLC.
- His clients include music industry titan Mr. Sean Combs, or Diddy, the Kardashians, soccer superstar Neymar Jr., and corporations like Forbes.
- Mensah shared how he went from an ambitious teen in the Bronx to running his own chartering business and making a substantial income in the luxury sector.
- Networking and providing top-notch service have significantly contributed to his success.
- He advised other entrepreneurs to not be afraid to spend a little more on better quality marketing or service to keep clients coming back.
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Though celebrities are often spotted on commercial flights, many stars take to the skies in private jets to avoid being bombarded by fans and travel in style and comfort. Those flights are often chartered, arranged by private jet brokers who handle booking and other details.
For the past seven years, Kelvin Mensah has been climbing to the top of the luxury lifestyle industry, arranging private flights for high-profile clients. From celebrities like music industry titan Mr. Sean Combs, or Diddy, to business moguls like the Kardashians and soccer superstar Neymar Jr. to corporate clients like Forbes, Mensah’s Rolodex is impressive.
But Mensah isn’t only impressive for his client list. At just 29, he’s one of the youngest African American private jet brokers and luxury lifestyle specialists in the world. In 2019, he cofounded his own company, PJKev Approved LLC, and chartered more than 300 jets.
Mensah shared the story of his meteoric rise from urban life in New York to flying himself and his clients across the world in high-end aircrafts.
From the streets of the Bronx to international skies
As a teen living in the Bronx, Mensah held an array of jobs in retail and food service, but said he felt the call of entrepreneurship when he noticed how often bureaucracy, nepotism, and “red tape” limited opportunities for growth and success.
After reading books like “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” Mensah made it his goal to build a business that would grant him financial independence. His leap into the world of high-end offerings came when an acquaintance introduced him to the luxury real estate industry in 2013.
Eager to give himself every advantage in the world of luxury sales, Mensah began working with a multilevel marketing company in 2015 to develop his fundamental sales skills. From there, another colleague told him about a company that was selling chartered jets. On the advice of his friend Justin Combs (whom he met through renowned NYC DJ Webstar), Mensah moved to Los Angeles shortly after.
“My first time in LA, I remember going up to the hills and looking at all these mansions,” he said. “That opened up my vision and mentality to how it’s possible to acquire these assets and build wealth for your family. I said, ‘If I could find a niche of close associates with a high-net-worth business, I could make a lot of money from a small percentage.'”
Even then, Mensah understood the value of a strong network. In fact, it was because of his relationship with Justin Combs that he landed his first high-profile private jet client, popular rapper French Montana, at age 21.
Mensah admitted that he made major errors on that first booking, chartering a light aircraft instead of the mid-sized jet Montana requested because of limited availability. But because of the sound rapport Mensah had built with Montana, the rapper continued to trust him to deliver. Mensah didn’t disappoint, going on to meet and exceed Montana’s expectations on future bookings.
The booking that moved the goalpost
Mensah has continued to make excellent customer service and fair prices his calling card. But it wasn’t until he was chartering a flight for Brazilian soccer phenom Neymar Jr. that he realized he could strike gold as a luxury lifestyle specialist.
“It hit me that if people of that caliber can contact me, then I know that I’ll have to take it seriously to go to that next level and continue acquiring more high-net-worth clients,” he said.
Mensah poured most of his earnings back into his business, leveraging his network and establishing a standout brand. He branded himself as PJ (“private jet”) Kev, a nickname given to him by acclaimed music industry exec Zoe Young. That name has since become synonymous with luxury lifestyle in many circles.
In the last eight years, he’s established a client list of more than 300 people across high-profile industries like entertainment and sports. When those clients call, Mensah and his team handle every detail. With the support of the PJKev Approved team — cofounder and business manager Aaron Wilson, strategic advisor Mo Kanu, and director of operations Diamond Santos — Mensah ensures client requests are properly fulfilled, including chartering the jet, vetting the flight crew, and ensuring all key amenities.
“The job is not done once the passengers are in the air,” he said. “The job is done when they are in their cars on their way to the destination. So, anything from A-Z when it comes to arranging the flight, setting up ground transportation and catering, and arranging accommodations when they arrive at their destination.”
A ‘pandemic-proof’ industry
It’s a big job with many moving parts. It’s even more complicated with the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Safety has been at the top of Mensah’s priority list this past year. In addition to the other responsibilities his team usually manages, he’s also ensuring that all surfaces are wiped down and sanitized between flights, masks and hand sanitizer are on board, and clients are completing the mandatory COVID-19 health declaration. But Mensah’s business flies on despite it all.
The pandemic hit commercial airlines hard, with airlines having to reduce capacity by 32% to observe social distancing rules. Demand for commercial flights has also plummeted. On December 3, 2020, TSA recorded 738,050 travelers. On the same date in 2019, the number was three times that at approximately 2.2 million passengers.
But many private jet companies have reported that they’re operating at nearly pre-pandemic levels, and Mensah has noticed a similar pattern in his business.
Though he’s brokered fewer private flights this past year (about 90) because of travel restrictions, he’s seen his clients expand from primarily celebrities and corporate clients to more entrepreneurs and middle-class travelers. Mensah noted that people who traveled first class pre-COVID-19 have been seeking out private flights instead to limit their time in airports and exposure to fellow travelers.
Lessons for success at any altitude
But that’s not the only reason Mensah’s business has continued to thrive at a time when so many others have struggled to stay afloat. Mensah attributes his ongoing success to a few simple strategies:
You can’t make money pinching pennies
Mensah noted that in private aviation, quality comes at a cost, with more expensive options like the Global 6000 (nicknamed the “living room of the sky”) offering a far more luxurious experience than a light jet. But it’s a cost he’s willing to pay to ensure his clients have the premium experience they expect. Mensah acknowledged that this truth applies in any business.
“Sometimes, the best choice might be more expensive, but always go with the option that has the best feedback and high quality,” he said. “Whether it’s PR, brand management, photography, whatever, always try to work with the best.”
Building a network takes persistence
Mensah’s story is full of proof of the value of a good network. Mensah acknowledged that it’s easier than ever to reach out to potential partners, mentors, or clients thanks to social media. But if that door closes, it’s no excuse to quit.
“Find another way to reach out,” Mensah said. “It’s not only social media. You have emails and telephone numbers. For me, if I want to reach out to someone, I’ll find the three people closest to them and reach out to them first.”
Small details keep people coming back
For Mensah, the secret to high revenue isn’t getting a lot of clients; it’s retaining the ones he already has. To make that happen, he puts excellence first at all costs. Sometimes, that comes from the smallest things.
“If a jet holds eight people, I’m not going to put eight people on the list,” he said. “Instead, I’ll upgrade the client to a jet that can fit nine, so the eight people can have a little bit more leg room.”
Grounded in a bigger mission
Mensah recently co-authored a book titled “How to Get Funding for Your Startup” that outlines effective strategies for raising capital.
But his goals to give back also extend beyond entrepreneurship. He’s joined forces with an organization called KJM Foundation that provides clean water and education supplies to villages in Ghana, the country where his parents were born. He’s also eager to use his experience in the travel sector to grow Ghana’s tourism industry.
“My heart is committed to going back to Africa and leaving a mark,” Mensah said. “I want to be remembered as someone who gave back to his community and his people.”