AUTHOR: Micah Lambert, CEO
So, you want to be a drone pilot.
I could start this blog with a whole bunch of lessons learned and tell you all the pitfalls of starting a drone service provider business. But I’m not going to. Instead I'm going to share what's going on in the industry and what's working.
First a little background. When I started my drone business a few years ago, it was a crazy ride. The tech has evolved from toy-like drones to something out of a sci-fi movie. In fact, 2016 drone technology is obsolete now. And drone legislation is evolving every day.
When I first started, I got paid stupid money to shoot homes and business all over the state. By stupid, I mean $1500 for a 45-second video and 10 HDR shots!
Today, you’d be lucky to get $200.00 for that kind of work.
My first year in business, I was commissioned to do things with drones that had never been done before. My drones read serial numbers on solar panels and generated maps of every panel via GPS.
I flew indoor marijuana grows to measure plant nitrogen levels.
I flew unpoured post tension slabs and mapped all the penetrations and cables in the pour before the concrete went in.
I had 380 billable hours under my belt within the first six months. That’s 63 hours of flying a month! I was flying drones about 3 hours a day and having a blast. It was all about to change. New software, new hardware, new clients.
I’ve witnessed massive change in the drone industry since 2016, much of it for the better.
The FAA implementing a waiver system that’s finally giving drones a little piece of the sky. Large firms and insurance companies using unmanned aerial vehicles and being positively impacted by drone technology.
I’ve personally used over forty pieces of software for DJI products alone that range from sublime to downright scary. All of this in 24 months. The industry is changing at a mind-boggling pace and being on the bleeding edge of it has been fucking amazing!
Over the past year, my partners and I have developed an excellent Part 107 training course that takes what we learned from the bloody days so we can pass it on to the new guys.
In every class I’m asked, “How did you start your business?”
I didn’t know how to explain my conviction that I’m on the cutting edge of an industry that’s about to revolutionize the world. But after lots of reflection, I realize the answer is FAITH.
I have faith that this industry is the next big thing and I want to be in it!
I’ve stayed flexible and agile. I’ve looked for innovative ways to use drones, then tried them.
When I started my business, I bought email lists and sent thousands of emails. I built up my LinkedIn account and connected to anyone who would listen to my message about using drones in their business. I worked hard. All day, every day.
I flew during the day, and marketed and sold at night. I wore all the hats. I lived the drone life. I learned a lot. I learned what worked and what didn’t, and then I stopped doing what didn’t.
I am not telling you this to make you think I’m a badass or to brag. I want you to know that I went down a lot of different avenues to so many verticals, here is a quick list.
Roofing and Builder associations
Realtors associations and offices (Cold calls and walk-ins)
Construction company walk-ins
Hundreds of LinkedIn connection invites every day for six months
Facebook and Instagram ads
Meetings with CEOs
Meetings with anyone that would let me buy them lunch
Some of these are viable ways to get exposure. I’m going to walk you through the ones that work so you can avoid the ones that are a waste of time and money.
The absolute most important first step is to get your Part 107 remote pilot certificate. (http://aeonunmanned.com/training.html) This will get the rules firmly planted in that brain of yours, so you can avoid loss of income and hardware.
I am not saying, do my course! There are lots of options out there right now. You could attend an online program like DartDrones or Remote Pilot 101. There is some solid data out there that online programs are just as effective as hands on and classroom study. And the cost is considerably less, No travel, No hotel, No car rental. Then you can go out and fly like a pro. Just pop up that new $2000.00 DJI Phantom 4 pro and cruise right up to the first job and go for it!
Not so fast.
Before you try to maneuver your pricey high-tech aerial vehicle you want to practice, practice, practice! And when you're done with that, PRACTICE some more!
You need to know what you are doing before you ever get a gig. And practice with a machine that’s not going to set you back thousands of dollars the first time you drive it into a tree. (Lucky for you, this is built into Aeon Unmanned’s Part 107 course)
Having your Part 107 ensures you make the right moves. If you go out and practice shooting post tension slabs and can map the penetrations and get them right, down to a 1/4”, every time then you have a product that is ready for market. It’s All about what you can provide to the end user or client.
You’ll have a solid foundation to generate a robust income with your drone. Any yahoo can take mediocre pics of a job site. But do you know how expensive it is re-pour an incorrectly laid slab?
It involves x-ray, locators, stamped engineer’s letters, coring crews . . . . The list goes on and on. Quality drone work saves contractors tens of thousands of dollars. And proper training ensures quality drone work.
One accurate drone flight will create data that integrates with AutoCAD and ensures everything is in the right place. Before the concrete is ever poured. This is pure fucking gold to construction companies!
So after you have your training and are insured, you can go out, request airspace (I’ll be showing you how in a future article) and fly practice missions on weekends. Then connect with project superintendents through LinkedIn. Ask them if you can give them a free DXF file of the map and then they can overlay that file and see how accurate you are. NO ONE SAYS NO TO FREE SHIT.
In this series, I’m going to give you some little nuggets that I have learned. I want to get you from dreamer to doer in the next 6 weeks.
Stay with me and interact. Tell me what’s blocking you from moving forward in this fast paced, ever changing, industry. Get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and help me help you.
CEO of Aeon Unmanned, Inc