The "Uber for private jets" has introduced a bizarre policy requiring journalists to sign an agreement promising to provide positive coverage of its services, or agree to pay $2,000 (£1,633) instead.
In exchange for taking a test flight across the US and back on a private jet with JetSmarter, journalists are being asked to provide their credit card details and sign an agreement agreeing to publish a positive review.
And if the journalist cannot publish said positive coverage within five days of taking the test flight for any reason – illness, changing editorial priorities, World War Three breaking out – then JetSmarter will still charge them $2,000.
This policy, which is illegal in the US due to the passing of a federal anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) law in May 2015, has come to light after The Verge decided to out the startup rather than take the trip.
The agreement received by a Verge reporter stated:
" Upon the execution of this Agreement, Journalist shall provide Company with a credit card and a copy of an ID of the credit card holder ("Credit Card") and shall authorize Company to charge the Credit Card in the amount of $2,000 should (i) Journalist cancel the trip on the date of departure of the outbound flight or in the event that Journalist fails to arrive at the departure location at the scheduled departure time or other unforeseen delays or (ii) in the event Journalist fails to post the article described above on the first page of this agreement."
JetSmarter even specified what sort of article they wanted from the journalists that took the trip – it had to be a "full-feature article on flight and positive experience with JetSmarter, highlighting the concept and services".
JetSmarter was founded in 2013 by Sergey Petrossov, 28, a technologist who saw an opportunity in providing rides on private jets, which can be a poor investment if they spend too much being grounded or fly empty on many occasions.
Large conglomerates often need to fly executives to meetings around the world quickly and the idea is that using an Uber-like service could be cheaper than maintaining a private jet all-year round. However Petrossov told Forbes that he plans to expand the service to become a sort of "country club that follows you around".
His idea garnered support from several high profile investors including Jay Z and the Saudi royal family, and in December JetSmarter gained an epic $105m in financing, which puts the company's current valuation at $1.5bn. Membership to the service costs $15,000 and the firm currently has 8,000 members and is transporting 20,000 people across the world each month.
However, the startup has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons. In February, JetSmarter's president Edward Gennady Barsky had to resign after being arrested in Florida for embezzlement, and the company's chief financial officer have also changed three times since the company began.
It is surprising that JetSmarter didn't think about the negative coverage it might receive from press-ganging the media into signing unfair agreements, especially since chief executive Petrossov has been telling anyone who will listen that Barsky's arrest has no bearing on JetSmarter's business. And given that the company is based out of New York and has offices in London, Zurich and Dubai, it is amazing that no one in the company thought to think about whether it was legal to do this.