The near-ubiquitous Southwest Airlines just turned 50. It has been profitable for 47 of those 50 years. It took a global pandemic to bring the airline to its knees. It is an amazing (and all too familiar) startup story — nasty incumbents, maverick founder, executives brimming with chutzpah, and Texas-style ambition. The tickets were sold from “Love Machines,” snacks were called “LoveBites,” and headquarters were dubbed “Love Field.” Their flight attendants wore gogo boots. All of this is a far cry from the stodgy, no-nonsense, and efficient airline of today.
When you read this story, you will find what seem to be all the familiar startup tropes: seat-of-the-pants fundraising, the idea of customer personas, move fast-break-things ideology, losing money to attract customers and the all-important need of repeat customers. Despite what you might have read in the nearest Substack, Silicon Valley didn’t invent all these ideas. SouthWest even had their own fake back-of-the-napkin birth story. Put “Hot Pants, Love Potions, and the Go-go Genesis of Southwest Airlines” on your must-read list — it is amazing reporting, colorful writing that captures the spirit of what was (and still is) at heart a commuter airline.