November 22, 2016

What The CEO Of DroneDeploy Taught Me

"Well, you should start with what you know." said Mike Winn, the CEO of Drone Deploy.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

Of course. It's extremely simple and makes so much sense. A bit more on that later.

We had been standing in line to grab barbecue ribs at the 1st annual Drone Deploy Conference.

What is Drone Deploy?

If you haven't heard about Drone Deploy, they're a software startup based out of San Francisco that has software to fly your drone, collect collect images, then generate orthomosaics, 3D models, and terrain models.

The three areas Drone Deploy software works.

How the Drone Deploy works. (Source: www.dronedeploy.com)

November 3rd, 2016 was a user conference in their office, with speakers in a variety of industries (agriculture, surveying, construction, and service providers).

There were over 80 in attendance, not including the 20+ Drone Deploy employees helping and leading the event.

Conference in the Drone Deploy offices in downtown SF (November 2016).

Conference in the Drone Deploy offices in downtown SF (November 2016).

Industry Breakout Deep Dives

If you're reading this, you're most likely a "service provider". That means you don't have any particular experience in one of the big industries that are currently using drones:

  • construction
  • agriculture
  • surveying

These industries have already been using drones to replace expensive, time-consuming, or unsafe manned operations.

In particular, the construction and agriculture industries are highlighted to be responsible for over $23 billion in market opportunities over the next 4 years (Goldman Sachs).

Construction and agriculture projected to be 74% of the $23+ billion commercial drone industry over the next 4 years. (Source: Goldman Sachs)

Construction and agriculture projected to be 74% of the $23+ billion commercial drone industry over the next 4 years. (Source: Goldman Sachs)

To put that in perspective, those two industries alone are predicted to account for nearly 74% of the commercial opportunities over that same time span.

That brings us to our first lesson.

Lesson 1: Drones to Solve Problems Industries Already Pay For

As someone who is absolutely excited about the possibilities in the drone space, I needed to take a step back.

See, I have been thinking about how to use drones as a side-income for me. Something on the weekends, and maybe make an extra $500-$1,000 per month.

But I've been more focused on ME. And more importantly, how I can apply drones TO an industry.

Really though, it should be how drones can substitute tasks that industries already pay for.

Drones are just like any other new technology that disrupts industries. They are tools to reduce costs companies already have.

Software is the best example of this: everything from email (snail mail) to payroll (pad, paper, and countless hours) have been made more accessible and cheaper for companies.

Drones are just like that.

So instead of thinking up a "brand new way drones can be used", the approach should be how can drones be used to solve problems that already exist.

This type of thinking was was a huge shift for me during the conference.

Which leads us to the second lesson I learned.

Lesson 2: Pick and Industry and Become an Expert

We had a group of about 25 people in our "deep dive" discussing service providers.

Essentially it was a group who are enthusiastic about drones and the technology, but have no real idea where we can apply it and make money.

Understanding the problems of an industry can be very complex. Knowing what deliverables a drone can provide that saves a company a 5x return on cost is also difficult.

For an industry outsider.

That's where the advice from the Drone Deploy CEO comes in: start with what you know.

There's a reason most new drone operators decide to do real estate videos and photos: it's simple to understand.

Drone real estate videography and photography are simple to understand. (Photo source: https://droneandquadcopter.com)

Drone real estate videography and photography are simple to understand. (Photo source: https://droneandquadcopter.com)

From the surface, the problem (showcasing the area and uniqueness of a property) and the deliverables (short video and photos) are as straight forward as they get. Additionally, who you need to talk to (real estate agents) makes sense.

That's not the case with these other big industries.

Do you know who would be responsible on a construction site for approving drone operations? What is a drone service deliverable for a construction site anyway?

That's why almost everyone flocks to real estate. Understanding.

The advice to start with what you know makes a lot of sense for me: I was a project engineer designing photovoltaic systems for residential properties in Hawaii for over 1.5 years.

I have a good idea of how drones can be applied (surveying, thermal inspections), but more importantly I have an understanding of the industry. And connections to talk with companies to learn more about the problems they face.

Thermal image of a ground-mounted solar farm (source http://adtsgroup.com/).

Thermal image of a ground-mounted solar farm (source http://adtsgroup.com/).

Think about your background. Think about your network. What knowledge do you already possess? Who do you know that you can ask about their industry?

Next Steps

So what should you do next?

  1. Brainstorm industries you already know
  2. Run through your network and begin asking questions about the biggest problems they face in their industries, and how drones could be used.
  3. Reach out to companies in your local area (construction, agriculture, survey, and inspection)  to being asking these questions of industry professionals.

In conclusion, we are at the forefront of the coming tidal wave of drone technology, and it's important to find your niche.

Countless other people have the same question you have ("what industries should I choose to offer drone services").

And we're all trying to figure it out!


5 comments on “What The CEO Of DroneDeploy Taught Me”

  1. I find myself asking just these questitions, but in real estate not just aerials but what about doing the whole video presentation.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Dustin. Great insights. As I have just lost my full-time job, I want to make drone video my new full-time job as soon as possible. I have many years in the golf industry and have some good contacts. I plan to offer some great aerial perspectives. I'm always trying to learn more about my new trade. Any tips and advise are welcomed.
    Thanks again,
    American Flight Brothers

    1. That's the right attitude! Definitely reach out to those golf industry contacts you have - learn where the biggest frustrations are in the industry, and where they spend a lot of time and money. My biggest tip and advice to is just listen, and continue to ask questions!

      I don't have enough knowledge about the golf industry, but drones can help with mapping, planning courses, checking soil grades and elevations, checking the "plant health" of the grass...in addition to promotion aerial photos and videos.

      Let me know how it goes!

  3. I am so new at this, I really do not know where to start. I am getting my FAA license and practicing as mush as I can on flying my drone and learning what the phantom 4 pro can do. I'm retired so I have the time to learn and travel. I really enjoyed your webinar.

  4. Very good perspective. I've been looking into droning as an additional income stream that I hope will one day replace my full time job. This article really helped to expand my perspective on whats possible.

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