aerial photo | Meet the 30,000-User Startup Leading the Drone Revolution

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Image courtesy of DroneDeploy

The drone industry has reached that minor level of maturity when investors are gearing up to find excellent opportunities, market predictions are through the roof, and new and hopeful drone companies are springing up like weeds in a field.  It’s more than an industry, it’s a revolution in workflow for many traditional sectors like agriculture and construction.  Like any revolution, however, the start can be bloody: moving into verticals like agriculture and construction as a technology pioneer isn’t easy.  As in any new industries, many of those hopefuls don’t make it past the first market test – customers.

That’s why a 5 year-old start-up with 30,000 users in 180 countries, mapping over 30 million acres and scoring partnerships with industry giants like McCarthy in construction and John Deere in agriculture is worth writing about.  How did CA-based drone mapping platform DroneDeploy make its way to the top so quickly?

The Future of the Industry

The answer, says DroneDeploy spokesman Devon Tackels, is simple: Drone Deploy understood early that software – not hardware – was the future.

It’s one of those ideas that is elegantly simple, but not easy – as proven by a long list of major drone companies who have switched between offering hardware and software.   Software allows for flexible innovation, easier delivery, quick changes.  Hardware is challenging, even for big players: we’ve had many opportunities to quote Parrot’s Henri Seydoux when he predicted, two years ago, “a bloody year” for drone manufacturers.  Pricing wars, manufacturing difficulties, and distribution channel issues have caused major names like GoPro to concede the battle: other well-known companies like 3DR and Precisionhawk have shifted their offerings away from hardware over time to focus on software.

DroneDeploy, however, has never changed their vision – or their leadership.  DroneDeploy’s soft-spoken and brilliant CEO, Mike Winn, is also the company’s co-founder.  Winn’s talent for integrating complex ideas into a cohesive picture – and selling them – got the company off the ground five years ago when few people really understood what a “cloud-based drone platform” was.  DroneDeploy’s CEO envisions “a drone on every worksite,” and he’s been building a viable path directly towards that goal from the start.

DroneDeploy Advances – Fast

With a single vision, DroneDeploy has been able to keep pushing the boundaries of what drones can accomplish with their solutions.  In five years, both technology and adoption has come a long way – DroneDeploy’s been able to lead the charge.  They’ve shortened the processing time of usable maps to their current real-time offering: at last year’s DroneDeploy day in their south-of-Market offices in San Francisco, we saw a demonstration of the Live Map product which allows farmers to improve their entire workflow to be more efficient and cost effective.  The product was delivered to customers only months later. They have focused resources heavily on good development: DroneDeploy issues improvements and enhancements to the product regularly.  Each new development keeps them out in front, leaving their competitors to play catch up.

The Whole Drone Ecosystem

One of the challenges that new technology companies face is the confusion factor.  Many major enterprises don’t like to piecemeal a workflow – it’s too difficult for staff who are subject matter experts in their own field to figure out what will work best.

But DroneDeploy’s laser-focus on software allowed it to build out an industry-leading ecosystem comprised of more than 70 apps spanning 10 industries.  They can accommodate small specialty providers who have their own niche industry, but their partner companies also include well known and respected industry names like Autodesk, John Deere, and Box.

DroneDeploy’s app market has been a significant driver to their growth.  Enterprises already using John Deere’s solutions for agriculture find it easier to integrate the additional functionality of drone mapping – without the app, they’d have to figure out how to patch the workflow together on their own.   Businesses already familiar with Box for file sharing and collaboration find it easier to access map data across the enterprise.

They’ve Added Strategic Skills

Mike Winn has kept the single vision that has helped DroneDeploy reach the top – but he hasn’t slowed them down by trying to do everything.  The company’s rapid growth also has included strategic additions to their executive team, drawn from California’s elite talent pool. With John Botros joining as CFO (formerly at Paxata), Matt Hunter as CPO (formerly Tubular Labs and App Annie), and Wade Tibke as VP of Marketing (formerly Tableau), the company has the depth and business expertise which should keep it on top for a long, long time.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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