I’m an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certified pilot and have been in the aviation industry since 1992. I’ve watched closely the birth of the recreational and commercial drone industry as it has always intrigued me. Drones have evolved from innovative toys, to a complex, all weather tools used to assist in precise inspections and capture beautiful cinematography. As a pilot, I was fascinated by the abilities of drones and how they shared some commonalities with flying fixed wing aircraft. While I have a long history of interest in the drone industry, I have an even longer interest in being an entrepreneur. My mind is always thinking of ways to solve problems, improve processes, and earn money while doing things I enjoy. Therefore, it made sense to take the leap in the drone business. I went out and purchased my first drone and took the FAA drone pilot exam. While the exam and drone pilot’s license (also known as the pt. 107 license) is not required to fly a drone, the FAA requires a pilot to obtain a UAV pilot’s license in order to make money operating a drone.
Initially, the jobs were small and suited for the less sophisticated, entry level drone I had at the time. Those smaller jobs only pay $100-$200 per gig, but are invaluable in learning the capabilities of both the pilot and the drone itself. After completing several jobs and feeling confident in my new skills as a drone pilot, I decided to take things to the next level. In order to make more money per job and to start flying more sophisticated missions, I had to purchase a much nicer drone. I wanted a drone that could be flown in more adverse weather conditions, and have the ability to carry payloads (cameras) that scan using FLIR/infrared, as well as a be swapped out for a multitude of other multi-spectral devices. Those jobs pay up to 10-20 times that of what I was flying. For a nice, high end, FLIR/infrared equipped drone the price averages around $20,000. That’s a huge leap from the $1,500 price of most entry level commercial capable drones.
With that being said, I made the business decision to make the leap from flying drone jobs as an individual entity, to creating my company,Crosswind Analytics, LLC. As I was forming the LLC, I went through the UAS Level I Thermography Course offered by ITC, and purchased a $20,000 drone equipped with a FLIR/infrared camera. Having the Level I Thermographer certification is huge because it enables me to interpret the infrared images and video I shoot to better inform my customers about potential damage or issues.
The idea to start Crosswind Analytics was validated because the drone industry is in its infancy, and there’s a huge demand for drone services, especially technical drone services such as infrared scanning. Adding to the validity of my idea is the fact that I created a nice professional website, I carry generous amounts of liability and workman’s comp insurance, and I have the professional training that only a small portion of drone pilots obtain. For those reasons, I get paid more for the work I perform for my customers.
How did you get your first three customers?
My first customers came through third party service companies that put potential customers looking for various drone job requests in touch with certified drone pilots across the country. After doing many of those various types of jobs, I then moved to a more traditional way of acquiring customers. I created a website, attended industry trade shows, and networked a lot.
Have you raised any money? How much?
No, I haven’t had to yet. This venture has been all self-funded. My initial funding was $30,000. That bought me the expensive thermal drone setup, LLC formation, insurance coverage, website creation, and various other startup costs. If the need arises in the future, I have a contact for private equity funding.
I don’t have cofounder/founding team right now, but I’ve lots of contacts in the industry.
Who is your target demographic?
My ideal customers are those in which I utilize my expensive thermal drone setup. Those customers consist of building or property managers, construction companies, and law enforcement. Drones for real estate are also very hot right now, but they just don’t pay that much.
What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?
I had a customer inquire if I could do a “gender reveal” via drone. So, I took that as a challenge and figured out a way to do just that! On one of my drones I figured out a way to fly in and have a delivery system drop food grade, non-toxic pink or blue powder. This is the same powder that you may be familiar with being used in the Indian festival of colors. I’m still perfecting that service and am almost there. It will be rolled out soon…
Any tips for finding first employees?
I highly recommend attending trade shows in your industry. That is really the only way to meet like minded and similarly skilled individuals from your industry. You’re able to put a face with a name and gather first impressions that are invaluable.
Did you run any companies prior?
I started a successful swimming pool service in the Chicago area years ago.
I’ve been motivated to start my own business with the uncertainties in this world. I love to work hard, I love innovation, and I love controlling my own destiny. In this uncertain world, it’s nice to have some form of control by being your own boss.
My family and friends thought the idea was great. The drone business carries a bit of mystique to most, so for that reason they all thought it was pretty amazing.
When things go wrong? What is the end goal?
It’s inevitable in my industry that you’ll lose a drone/s by unintentionally crashing it in a tree or body of water. That’s pretty demoralizing and could get pretty expensive. But that’s why you purchase the proper insurance, practice a ton, and take classes to make you a better pilot. The tools used in this business are expensive, but they bring in good income that justifies continuing on, even after damage or loss. My goal is to learn from my mistakes and mitigate my losses by not repeating them.
For someone just starting out, I would recommend starting slow. You can get into many entry level drones for under $1,000. Then take a couple classes to hone your pilot skills even more. That will help protect your investment and more importantly will keep the public safe. Safety should be your number one focus every time you operate a drone. It’s what the FAA and the public expects from you. As far as starting and operating a business, I have a business degree that taught me the skills I use to create and operate my company. If you don’t possess those skills, they can be learned over time, or better yet, partner up with someone who already is business savvy. That way you can focus on the technical and operations part of the business.
What has driven the most sales?
Definitely the word of mouth and attending the trade shows have brought about the most business. My website would be second. And, the social media a distant third. This is due to the newness of the company. I anticipate social media playing a much bigger role as my business matures.
Lack of manpower and equipment stopped me from being 3x the size I am right now. In order to grow to that size, I would need an additional $50,000 of drone equipment, and enough to fund at least two more salaries. There’s also an FAA regulation working it’s way through the bureaucracy called, Remote ID. This proposed rule could have drastic and potentially crippling effects to the commercial and recreational drone industry. Until that cloud of uncertainty blows over, I won’t grow much bigger.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
That’s hard to do. The best way I’ve found to do so is by purchasing the very latest and best drone equipment on the market today. That allows me to capture images and do things that my competitors can’t. There’s also a little education that needs to take place with the customer to explain why using me over my competitors is a better choice because of the equipment I use.
What makes you a better choice compared to your competitors?
By offering an amazing product to the customer first and foremost. Secondly, I’m very communicative and articulate. My customers appreciate clear and honest communications. Honesty, integrity, and professionalism are very important to me and it’s what sets me apart from my competition.
What are the top 3-5 apps that Crosswind Analytics LLC could not run without?
I use the FLIR Tools program to process and analyze the thermal infrared images I obtain. I can show and make notes as to the areas of potential damage right on the infrared photos. I use the Dronedeploy program to create mapping and 3D modeling missions. They also process the maps and 3D models in a beautiful presentation for my customers. I use the Airmap app/program to check and obtain FAA airspace authorization. I use Adobe LightroomandDavinci Resolve to edit cinematic photos and videos
All of these programs assist me in creating the end product that I deliver to my customer. Without them I would just have the raw images and data that are useless to my customers in their current form.
What are your favourite books and podcasts?
My favorite books are The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and The Power of Broke by Daymond John.
The best, most informative podcast in the industry is the Ask Drone U podcast. I can’t say enough good things about the hosts Paul and Rob. They are consummate professionals
What are the next products you’re working on?
I’d like to start doing optical gas detection with my drone. That requires the purchase of a separate payload module that is very expensive. I need to justify that the business is there before I purchase it. I am also considering LIDAR scanning via drone. That payload is also very expensive
For now, the gender reveal drone service will be available soon.
In five years, Consulting Analytics is the #1 thermal/infrared inspection drone company in the Midwest and Florida.
What is current revenue? If you don’t mind sharing.
Less than $100,000. I would consider selling only after I grew the company to the point that added much more valuation.
|Company Name:||Crosswind Analytics, LLC|