If you don’t know Franz Gerschwiler, there’s a good chance you’ve jumped at his DZ (Skydive Tecumseh has been around for 50 years), or you’ve used his software, Burble.
Franz has taken his passions for tech and skydiving and turned them into successful business ventures. A true entrepreneur, Gerschwiler has tasted success, but by no means rests on his laurels. Both his DZ and Burble continue to evolve to become better. My interview with Franz Gerschwiler.
You’re the owner of a 50-year-old DZ and the founder of the most used manifest software solution with Burble. So, what’s the Cliff’s Notes version of how you got here and started running two companies?
I’d retired from being a programmer for a merchant bank. I had been traveling around the world skydiving for a couple of years with no real plan for what was next just knowing I wasn’t going back to banking. A friend invited me out to jump at Skydive Tecumseh for what was originally meant to be a couple of weeks. I fell in love with the place, and the vibe was fantastic, so I bought a trailer and stayed for the season. Of course having a trailer there I couldn’t, not return the next summer.
That’s when my life changed, I met my amazing (and incredibly patient) wife Shannon at the local bar, and Tecumseh became my permanent home.
Still kidding myself, I was retired when I was offered the opportunity to buy the gear store on the dropzone. I grabbed it as it would be somewhere air-conditioned to pack. Little did I know the trouble I was letting myself into. The story is a bit more complex than this but long story short, the DZ owners ended up asking if I wanted to buy the drop zone as well. “Sure – why not??”
As I proceeded to build up Skydive Tecumseh with new facilities I came to realize how bad the software available to dropzones was. So then I officially came out of retirement and set up a team of programmers to develop Burble for Skydive Tecumseh. It soon became apparent that other dropzones were interested in what I’d created and thus Burble Software Company was born.
Let’s go back for a minute. What was your early interest in computers that would have given people a glimpse of what was to come?
My mother bought me a Commodore +4. Yep, that’s the one nobody remembers. It taught me to program, though. I played with machine code but wasn’t quite geek enough to enjoy it beyond hacking a few things.
In general, I enjoyed the learning process. I soon became frustrated with the clumsiness of computer interaction and fixing the user experience became my primary interest when I took computer science at the University of London.
What attracted you to skydiving and where and when did you make your first skydive?
A friend I worked with had a brochure for Skydive Deland and was always talking about us getting over there to go through AFF. Eventually, I got bored waiting and got our secretary to turn a business trip to New York into a skydiving adventure in Deland on the way home. Within a couple of weeks, I had my A license.
Skydiving in Britain can be a challenge at best. How were you able to stay in the sport for so long? What kept you going?
The people. My home DZ in England was Headcorn. We may have waited all day for one jump, but it was always a good one, and the wait was never dull.
What’s the most fun skydive you’ve ever made?
Aren’t they all? I honestly don’t know if I can pick one. I’ve jumped in some stunning locations I’ll never forget and done some crazy shit I’ll never forget either. But the ones that stand out are all the check dives; nothing beats the look on a student’s face when they get their A license.
What do you love about your businesses?
Creating solutions that make a DZO’s life easier. It’s a tough job that needs every bit of help available.
What do you enjoy least about your businesses?
Nothing moves as quickly as I would like I have so many new things lined up for Burble and as a DZO I want them all now.
As a DZO, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Don’t take things personally and focus on the positive people. I wouldn’t say I’ve learned, but I am learning. It can be tough sometimes when you hear sport-jumpers grumbling about this and that when you are busting your balls to make it possible to jump out of that turbine. There are so many positive characters in our sport that make it what it is – listen to them.
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to in the skydiving industry? If so, who is that and why?
I look up to any DZO that works to promote our sport. I have a ton of respect for what Rook Nelson has done over at Skydive Chicago. He is a massive promoter/ambassador/savant for our sport.
If you could share a piece of knowledge with someone looking to start their own business for the first time, what would that be?
9-5 may end up looking terribly attractive at times!
What is something about you that few people know that many people would be surprised to learn?
I do sleep sometimes.
What’s your prognosis for the current health of skydiving around the world and do you have any predictions for the future?
I think our sport is becoming far more accepted and mainstream which is great, but I think dropzones could do better at retention after the first jump. Some are becoming savvier and embracing technology and marketing, while some of the coolest dropzones out there are getting left behind as they cling to the past. When they do that, they leave the door open for a guy with a clapped out 182 and a couple of Vector tandems to look like the biggest drop zone in the region. I think eventually we may need more regulation to avoid subpar outfits running dirt cheap daily deals from destroying the image of our sport.
Our sport is getting more exposure than ever before from the incredible stuff people are doing as they continue to push the boundaries. I think the future is bright and exciting, but you’ll need a tight grip to hang on for the ride.