By Chelsea Sektnan
Ben Marcus grew up just 300 feet from the Santa Monica Airport. As a boy he would stand by the fence near the runway for entire afternoons and watch the local planes take off and land.
As a teenager he joined the Civil Air Patrol where he met Cyrus Sigari, just four days apart in age, whose head was just as full of flight. The pair soon grew inseparable, moved on from the air patrol and became best friends. They even went to college together at Purdue University.
It was an unusual paring by appearances. Still is. Marcus comes from Jewish decent, Sigari Muslim. Marcus is more business oriented, Sigari more out-going. But the differences soon grew to strengths, especially in the professional world.
In 2006, at age 24, the pair founded jetAVIVA as business partners. The company sells high-performance private aircraft all over the world. Both are very hands-on and personally familiarize the buyer with their high-powered purchase. They even hand deliver aircraft across the globe on occasion.
Barely 30, the pair has broken into an industry usually reserved for the well heeled and well connected. That they’ve succeeded on an international level, selling airplanes to the biggest titans of industry, says as much about their hard work and commitment as anything.
And they’ve been able to do it right in their own backyard. Their office, like Marcus’ childhood home, lies about 300 feet from the Santa Monica Airport runway.
“We’re complete opposites personality wise,” Sigari says. “Neither he nor I would be able to build this business alone. His strengths are my weaknesses and I have areas I’m stronger in. We’ve been able to leverage off each other to grow.”
While Marcus is the thoughtful and organized one, Sigari is more extroverted; more of an adventurer and daredevil. He competes in acrobatic air races around the country. Even their backgrounds couldn’t be any more different. Ben is Israeli and Cyrus’s family comes from Iran.
“Cyrus and Ben are have always been united by a mutual love for aviation. In fact, its the cornerstone of jetAVIVA,” says Farhoud Meybodi, childhood friend and marking/branding manager for jetAVIVA.
Sigari recalls the oldest picture he has of himself with an airplane in hand. When he was old enough, Sigari delivered pizzas, walked dogs and did everything he could to pay for flying lessons.
“Some people want to be policemen. Some people want to be firemen. I wanted to be a pilot,” Sigari says. “And it just so happened that I met Ben and that we were perfectly matched to be best friends at a young age.”
It all began with a love for flying. Early on, Marcus says he realized that if he wanted to own his own airplane, he would have to think like the pilots he flew alongside.
“I quickly discovered all pilots with their own planes were entrepreneurs,” Marcus says. “And if I wanted an airplane I’d have to be an entrepreneur too.”
For both men, becoming a pilot wasn’t a question of if, but when.
“It was clear to my parents early on that I had an interest in airplanes,” Marcus says. “They agreed to let me fly one hour a month if I kept my grades up at school.”
The incentive served to be a strong one for a kid transfixed on the magic of airplanes. His grades never faltered.
“I just fell in love with airplanes watching them taking off and landing all day long,” Marcus says. “I kinda got excited about it and started reading about them when I was five. I took my first flying lesson when I was 10.”
To be around airplanes more, Marcus started volunteering for Angel Flight, a volunteer organization that arranges free air travel for hospital patients, helping to coordinate pilot and patient missions.
“Occasionally I got to be a co pilot,” Marcus says. “Obviously I wasn’t a licensed pilot, but they would allow me to be a ‘mission assistant’ to help the pilot with the patient. My first co-piloting mission with Rob Ross, and we remain really good friends still today. He was kind of my hero in the day.”
They both first soloed the second they were legally able to fly alone at age 16.
“It was amazing, I remember taking off and going over the golf course and looking over and my instructor wasn’t there,” Marcus says. “I was a little freaked.”
Sigari finds it hard to explain how he feels when he flies.
“It’s a level of freedom and adventure provided to you by use of these fantastic magical machines,” Sigari says. “If you really stop to think about what an airplane does, it’s pretty spectacular.”
By age 18 they were instructing other eager hopefuls.
“We shared everything and by virtue got smarter,” Sigari says. “We always pushed the other person.”
Looking back it wasn’t necessarily the airplanes that kept this business interesting and their hearts pumping above the clouds.
“I love the people,” Marcus says. “I’ve met so many amazing people, people who do so many amazing things. From Fortune 500 companies to NGO’s, [they’re] just amazing people… A lot of my clients become my mentors.”
“We get to learn from them as much as we get to do business with them,” Sigari says.
Throughout the changes in altitude, the two have still managed to stay close.
“It’s very rare for two young guys to come in and revolutionize the business,” said Meybodi. “Their success in such a short period of time has really rocked the aviation industry.”
The two come down from the clouds, they enjoy a life of successful young men. Sigari lives in Manhattan Beach, with a rumored penchant for women in aviation, and Marcus lives in Marina del Rey and is in the middle of planning a summer wedding.
“The most special thing is my relationship with Ben and the fun we’ve had along the way,” Sigari says.
To learn more about jetAVIVA, visit jetAVIVA.com