The below is a guest post from Kevin Mukai, co-founder and COO of NVdrones, whose mission is to help commercial drone operators manage their fleet through hardware and software. You can learn more about NVdrones by visiting their website or checking them out on Instagram / Twitter.
As drones become easier to fly seemingly by the day, the industry is seeing an increasingly popular trend: recreational pilots turning their hobby into a profession. In fact, I can’t name many drone service providers who haven’t told me, “I just thought flying drones were cool and then I figured I could make money by doing it.” Even some of the biggest drone players come from humble recreational beginnings.
However, this does not mean opening a drone business is easy. Opening any business is a treacherous path and opening a drone business offers its own unique set of obstacles. If you are considering turning your hobby into a profession, you should be well-versed in the steps you need to take in order for your drone business to be a success. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things you should think about for starting a long-term successful business.
Differentiate Yourself From Your Competition
Three years ago, flying a drone proficiently would turn a lot of eyes and get you just as many customers. In today’s market it’s a different story. Getting the baseline aerial shot has become a commodity. So, how else can you separate yourself from your competition?
- Consider industrial applications. Industrial applications have a clear ROI for your customer, instead of aerial photography where the result is less tangible. Agriculture, construction, and inspection, are all waves of the future. The startup costs are higher because they sometimes require a higher skill-set and advanced sensors, but the payout is often worth it.
- Become an expert at the data analysis/post-production in addition to the data collection. You’ll hear many industry leaders say that it’s not the data that’s important, it’s what you can do with it. For aerial photography, this means getting the shot then editing it into a cohesive reel. For agriculture and construction, it means stitching the data together then telling your client what they should do based on what the data is telling you.
- Offer faster turnaround times and more responsive customer service. It’s not just about the product, it’s about the entire experience. Imagine a scenario where two companies offer and execute on the exact same product: one company rarely responds or executes in a timely fashion, while the other is very responsive and reliable. Who do you think will have more repeat customers?
- Run a professional and safe operation. Many customers are still hesitant to use drones because they are not familiar with the technology. Having the right documentation, the right insurance, the right operational procedures, is a big selling point to ease the minds of your customer. If a food establishment avoided their health checks, my first thought would be: What are they trying to hide? They could be the cleanest restaurant in the world, but not complying with the rules could be a big turn-off for many customers. Speaking of compliance….
Get the Right Documentation and Proper Insurance
- If you don’t already have your 333 exemption, the answer isn’t necessarily to rush to apply. The FAA has made it easier now than ever to receive your 333 exemption, especially if you are flying with common UAV’s for common applications. However, it can still be a costly process (in the thousands of dollars if you hire a lawyer). Plus, needing a pilot’s license is a huge hurdle most people don’t want to deal with.
The good news is that Part 107 (333 exemption version 2.0) is in our midst, which means a dramatically lower barrier of entry. By some estimates, Part 107 could replace the 333 exemption as early as mid-2016, but that date isn’t set in stone.
- Cover every commercial flight with the proper insurance. Drones are by-and-large extremely safe, but accidents can and do happen. The age-old Murphy’s Law says, “Anything that can go wrong, will – at the worst possible moment.”
A few years ago, many drone service providers had to get actual airplane insurance to insure their drone! Those days are (thankfully) long gone. There are a handful of very respectable companies who make it as easy as ever to insure your drone operations. There really is no excuse for not getting insurance for your commercial ops.
Get the Necessary Hardware and Software to Help You Manage Your Fleet.
If you are an airplane pilot, you know the necessity – and the pain – of logging everything you do. Logging every time you fly, make minor changes to the aircraft, etc. takes time, energy, and mental bandwidth. Luckily, we are in the digital age, and there is an app for that.
- Digital logbooks ease the pain in a way pen/paper and spreadsheets can’t. Once your business grows to have multiple pilots doing multiple jobs at multiple locations, things get out-of-hand very quickly.
However, even a digital logbook doesn’t necessarily make the logging process less time-consuming. You must still either manually input all the flight information in the database, or spend time “pulling” the flight logs off your aircraft. Especially if you are flying multiple different types of aircraft, forget about having a standardized workflow across your fleet.
- If you are flying multiple drones, a GPS tracker can help save time and hassle.
SenseMe (shameless plug warning) is the easiest and fastest way for you to automate your flight logs for any drone. SenseMe is a lightweight, self-contained, vehicle-agnostic GPS tracker designed specifically for commercial drone operators. All you need to do is mount it to your drone, turn it on, and press record. SenseMe will record your drone’s telemetry and automatically create a flight log – no integration or hassle necessary. You can use our desktop or mobile software to easily push these flight logs to the cloud to our various digital logbook partners. For many of our customers, SenseMe is also a symbol of transparency that can be used to ease the minds of clientele.
If you are a commercial drone operator looking for an easier way to log your flights, you can purchase SenseMe at nvdrones.com. Or, you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Be Persistent, Stay Hungry – You’ll Need it When the Going Gets Tough
There is a lot of work to be done in running a drone service business, but being a part of a fledgling industry is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you have the passion and put in the necessary due diligence, there is more than enough room to succeed. As a cranky, drunken, softball manager once said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
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