"When you realize your whole financial life is dependent on the crazy airline industry," he says and then pauses, "it motivated me."
The pilot began looking for independence. He started a couple of businesses - an aviation consulting company and a photo-to-canvas business - but it wasn't until he saw a CNBC program called Planet of the Apps that he found the key to what he believes may be his early retirement from the airline industry.
"When you think about it, smartphones and apps and travel are just made for each other," says Stratman. "It's like a match made in heaven."
Plenty of travel apps already existed - and Stratman had them all on his phone. But he says those earlier apps offered just one or two features. Stratman wanted a comprehensive app. He decided to take his inside knowledge of the airline industry and cram it into a mobile app called Airport Life.
Stratman (along with RareWire co-founder Kirk Hasenzahl) is one of the featured speakers at Go Mobile KC Thursday, June 21 (from 7 to 9 p.m. at 1800 Baltimore, sixth floor). The mini-conference is part of One Week KC, the nine-day push to make Kansas City an entrepreneurial hub.
He knew the difficulties of airline travel firsthand. His pilot's uniform, he says, is "a magnet for frustrated, lost and confused passengers."
"The skies just aren't as friendly as they used to be," he adds. "There's just not that much fun anymore."
Stratman wanted an easy-to-use app for keeping track of an itinerary and a car as well as maps of every airport. He collected information from each airline, including rule and TSA information. But maybe most vital, Airport Life includes push notifications of flight delays, cancellations and gate changes.
"I've had my app go off and notify me an hour before [the airline] even calls me to tell me that my flight got canceled or my departure got delayed," he says. "It's really cool. It happens all the time."
Airport Life has so far been downloaded about 18,000 times on the iPhone. (It's not yet available for Android.)
Stratman estimates that he has spent more than $100,000 developing Airport Life, which launched seven months ago. Early on, he went through two companies before teaming with Twentyseven Global, a Kansas City-based software-engineering company that was recently named to Five Elms Capital's Flyover 50 list of the fastest-growing Midwestern tech companies. Twentyseven Global outsourced Airport Life's coding to a firm in Vietnam.
Stratman has also brushed up on his business skills. He has worked with the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Small Business & Technology Development Center, and he went through the Kauffman Foundation's FastTrac TechVenture program in January and February. The experience taught him accounting and marketing, and also provided lessons in business law and human resources. Stratman likens it to getting an MBA in two months. He left the class with a business plan, a three-year financial projection and an investor pitch.
"I feel much more confident now as a businessperson," he says. "I feel much more confident presenting my business plan to people like that. I know what they're looking for. I'm sure I'm a little biased, but I have exactly what they're looking for."
Stratman's goal is for Airport Life to be profitable by the end of the year. He's trying to broker deals with travel companies such as Travelocity and Orbitz to license the app and distribute it to their customers. He's also looking for hotel and rental-car sponsors. Meanwhile, the app is already earning recognition. The Global Business Travel Association has nominated it for a business-innovation award.
Now, Stratman hopes that his captain's uniform attracts investors rather than confused and disgruntled travelers.
"You've got programmers and developers wearing T-shirts, tennis shoes and jeans," he says. "And then you've got the people with the money wearing T-shirts, tennis shoes, jeans and a sport coat. And then me in my airline pilot uniform. It gets me a lot of visibility, a lot of attention."