Fostering New Pathways for Women to Enter the Drone Industry: An Interview with Elena Buenrostro, CEO of Women Who Drone
BY Zacc Dukowitz24 January 2018
Since launching, Women Who Drone has gathered an impressive following in a short period of time. We sat down with Elena Buenrostro, CEO and Co-founder of Women Who Drone, to learn more about her goals for the company and where she sees things headed for women in the drone industry.
About Women Who Drone
Women Who Drone is a community of female drone pilots, enthusiasts, content creators and innovators. Their mission is to be the number one online destination for female drone pilots, and to encourage women to expand their presence in the UAV industry by learning, creating, and supporting each other’s drone endeavors around the world.
About Elena Buenrostro
Elena Buenrostro is a video producer, photographer, social media consultant, and a Part 107 certified drone pilot. As featured in The Washington Post for her aerial photography, Elena’s passion for flying drones stemmed from her trip to the Great Wall of China. In addition to her work with Women Who Drone, Elena teaches drone lessons both online and in person.
Elena Buenrostro, CEO and Co-Founder of Women Who Drone
Please describe what Women Who Drone does in one short sentence.
Women Who Drone educates, inspires, and encourages women to learn more about drones and to fly drones.
What makes Women Who Drone unique?
We’re very much content oriented, both regarding images and videos captured by drones but also regarding content that helps people understand how they can get into flying and shooting aerial videos themselves.
I have a background as a filmmaker and photographer, and flying a drone gave me this amazing new medium to further my creative skills. I found that capturing images and video from the sky provided this incredible, new perspective, and as I flew and posted videos I started getting women from around the world reaching out to me and asking for advice.
It turned out there were a lot of other women with a creative background, like me, who wanted to get into drones but weren’t quite sure where to start. Our goal is to merge this interest with information.
As you know, there aren’t many women in the drone industry, or in the film industry either. We want to provide resources and content that will help make it easier for women to get into using drones, whether they want to fly as hobbyists or as professional drone pilots.
We’re also interested in helping women understand how STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] studies can tie into working with drones, and supporting women who have an interest in working in STEM fields, whether it’s working directly with drones or otherwise.
The we can help women cross that gap and start flying, start filming, start studying and working in STEM subjects, the more we will know that we’ve succeeded.
How did Women Who Drone get started?
Some friends and I were on our way to a drone barbecue, which really just means that we were going to fly our drones on hobbyist-type flights from a rooftop here in New York City.
I was with Laura Chukanov, our Co-Founder and COO, my boyfriend, and my friend Matt Emmi*, and we were talking about how there aren’t many women flying drones. And right there we decided we should start a community for women who fly, and someone—I think it was Laura—blurted out “Women Who Drone”!
It was that simple. Once we thought of it, we started featuring the name on Instagram and got thousands of followers really quickly using the #womenwhodrone hashtag. It all came together very naturally.
[We interviewed Matt about his experience flying at Burning Man last month—read the interview here.]
Elena flying in China
What is your background, and how did it lead to an interest in drones?
In college I studied film and video, and also taught a weeklong filmmaking camp to Girl Scouts once a year (it was called GEMM—Girls Empowered to Make Movies). Those experiences gave me a passion for video production, and also for teaching. This translates to the work I’m doing now with Women Who Drone, where we’re interested in teaching different aspects of how to fly and shoot with drones.
After college I taught video production to high school students for a while—we covered shooting, editing, the whole production process. From there I became a producer for a travel show, which allowed me to travel and be involved in shoots at exotic locations. Unfortunately we didn’t have any drones during those shoots—that would have made the show ten times better, now that I think about it!
After working on that travel show I started working for a media company, which allowed me to learn a lot about social media and how video works, both in that realm and other online forums. I was making very short form videos, and the main audience was women.
Most recently I was an online class producer and director for a company called Brit & Co, where I made videos for classes specifically for female millennials.
So I had all of this experience with shooting and directing, but it wasn’t until last year that I finally bought a drone.
What prompted you to get your first drone?
The Great Wall of China.
Seriously. I’d always wanted to take a trip to see the Great Wall of China, ever since I was a kid.
And last year I was finally planning the trip—a trip I’d wanted to make my whole life.
I knew I wanted to make a film about the trip, and before going I saw a YouTube video of someone flying a drone over the Great Wall. And it clicked. Right away I knew that I needed to buy a drone, so that I could capture the whole experience from the air.
So I went out and bought the GoPro Karma. After that, I was hooked.
Elena’s video from her trip to the Great Wall of China
What drones do you fly and what cameras do you use?
These days my travel kit is my Mavic, my Osmo, my filters (I like Polar Pro for those), and my Katana, which lets you turn your drone into a ground camera.
What do you see as some challenges for women trying to enter the drone world, either professionally or as a hobbyist?
The main challenge right now is that there isn’t a huge presence for women in the drone industry.
When you look at advertising for drones, or on community forums or social media, anywhere you might look if you were curious about drones, you don’t really see women represented.
So the initial challenges are just trying to get women to enter the industry and educate them about drones. When women see other women flying and using drones in video production, or in other applications, we’ll really see adoption start to grow.
To illustrate this point, a little while after I went to the Great Wall a reporter from the Washington Post got in touch and asked me to comment on an article about drones. At that time I’d released some videos on YouTube—I’d filmed in places like Thailand, the Fiji Islands, and Bangkok—but I was kind of surprised to be contacted for the article. I figured there must be other women out there who had been flying for longer, with more videos, but the reporter told me I was the only woman she could find that was flying drones.
Now, I know this isn’t entirely true. Woman And Drones, for instance, does a great job talking about women who work in the drone industry. But it did indicate that there was some kind of need for a greater community for women who fly drones, and for a way to help women get more involved.
And we’re already starting to see a lot more drone groups for women popping up. I’m part of one on Facebook called Girls Love Drones, and there are more being created all the time.
What helps is for women who do fly to tell their stories. I’ve met so many women who are kind of curious about drones, but have a fear of diving in for one reason or another. When I talk about how much fun it is and how passionate I am about flying, you can see their interest sparked.
You’ve been creating a community of ambassadors from all over the world. Can you tell us about that?
As I mentioned before, after posting my Great Wall video I started getting messages from people who live in all kinds of different places.
Out of those contacts grew our Brand Ambassadors program. The idea is simple—if you’re traveling somewhere in the world and want to fly, we want to have a community of pilots big enough that they can support you.
So if you want to go to the Philippines and fly your drone, for example, we have someone who lives there who can give you insider advice about the law, where to go, and other things to keep in mind.
But it’s about a lot more than just legal advice. It’s about building an international community.
Right now we have about 20 ambassadors around the world, and we’re steadily growing the group.
Can you share any inspiring stories you’ve heard since starting Women Who Drone?
I’ve met some incredible women drone pilots through my work with Women Who Drone.
Recently we published a piece on a few of our ambassadors, and some of the stories about how they got started were just incredible. One videographer specifically, Merr Watson, has an amazing story.
She’s originally from Australia, and she decided to quit her job and travel the world while flying her drone, and she’s had a lot of success. Every time I turn around she’s flying in some new, incredible place.
But Merr is just one example. There are so many impressive stories like hers—check out the blog we wrote highlighting our ambassadors for more stories like hers.
Here is a video of Iceland Merr created—find more of her work on her YouTube channel
Want to see more of Elena Buenrostro’s work? Check out this reel she created, which features footage from her travels all over the world: