JOE3223

The Challenges of Running A UAS Business

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I started my Southern California business one and a half years ago. I do all types of photography but focus on aerial and underwater (I’m a certified underwater photographer). As far as the drone aspect of the business I am currently waiting for the FAA to approve 3 airspace waivers. As a mentioned I operate in Southern California. 90 percent of the So. Cal. Beach area is controlled airspace. The poster initially asked for business challenges. My challenge is this. Even thought I will be the only wavered pilot in the So. Cal. Beach area, and I know this from the FAA approved waivers data, many real estate drone photographers are currently working as we speak illegally. I know this because the realtors tell me all of the photo people are flying drones. You can’t start a conversation trying to get someone’s business with “I’m the only legal guy”. They just don’t care to look into it and would never hire you. So finding a way in with all of the illegal operators is my challenge.

Edited by Kirk

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Hi Kirk...you're not alone....over 50% of my competition is flying illegally and I would think it's a safe assumption that all legal pilots are faced with this dilemma.....my old school knee jerk reaction is simply...education....you're not gonna change basic human nature....if an owner/operator doesn't care to cast off their ignorance you're most likely not going to be able to change what is probably a life time character trait. 

However, in my humble opinion you do have a few choices....one, move to a new market place that affords you a more level playing field. I had lived in So Cal for 40 years and am very familiar with the  beach areas and beach folk can be a "beach"....two, compete via low price specials, you need clients and if you are dead set on the beach areas then don't be dead in the water, force your competitors to meet your ridiculously low priced specials, perhaps that will get you in the door and you may be able to cultivate a client relationship....it's always about the money 1st and quality second (in my experience) even if your the best photographer out there....

.....and three....prepare a simple but informative flyer or brochure with FAQ's that will detail out the FAA regs and how it could affect a thriving business. "What they DON"T know can hurt them"....but you'll need to do it in person...mailers or the internet won't work....you'll need to somehow get the right persons attention, press palms, stroke egos and leave them with knowledge they didn't have....

Tedious, yes...hard work, yes...but either you educate those who care, price your competition out of existence or search for better marketing opportunities....There are probably more choices out there but I can't think of any right now, perhaps this humble post will get the creative juices flowing from some of the other members... 

I've notice that except for Alan and a few other long time members most of the dialogue under this post is from newbies like myself...I'd sure like to hear from some of the more seasoned owners re your post...

I come from what is commonly referred to as the 3M environment...You Move up, Move over or Move out!...But when all the rules of ethics and law are ignored, then it's time to be (legally) creative to exist in said environment...you gotta get tough....you gotta think outside the box....what are these illegals NOT doing that they should for their clients but you will when it comes to service or provide some kind of service they can't or won't...find a weakness...the "ART of SUN TZU"....it's corporate combat you're in right now and you'll need to learn how to employ the best combat techniques....know thy enemy....I don't know if I'm helping but I'll leave you with ...don't give up....find a niche, a service or something your competitors can't provide...perhaps that's the key?.....lc  

 

 

 

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I’ve done most of what you have suggested. Plus I have diversified. I shoot stock footage for sale on shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and Getty images. I’ve partnered with a local pro photography store and I teach a Drone Photography class. I have several sources of income for the business. There are many other ideas I have to branch out further but there are only so many hours in a day.

Edited by Kirk
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This is a great thread deserving of resurrection...

How have all of your efforts panned out over the past 10 months?

Aerial Alchemy is growing fast, we’re up to nine employees and looking to hire more.  Not that the number of employees equates to success.  But we’re certianly trending in the right direction. 

I believe our approach is similar to what many have mentioned in this thread.  Although we have had to build out a significant infrastructure it was our sales and engagement with customers first that necessitated it.  

It’s interesting that by taking a sales or customer engagement first approach we seem to have built in a lot of value into our technology and services.  We initially considered manufacturing and selling drones,  “but a funny thing happened on the way to the forum” commercial customers didn’t seem to want to purchase drones.  They kept offering us bigger and better opportunities to provide the service.  

Once we accepted that we were more likely to be successful as a service provider a lot of good things started to happen.  When about the time this thread started it was a struggle to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up,  now I can’t wait to get to work and think everyday is a great day to be in the commercial drone business.  

I hope everyone is trending in the right direction.  

 

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Hello AV8Chuck and all...

....While I appreciate you reaching out, I must apopogize because I'm not sure I really have anything to contribute at present....If the question is  "How's Business"?....we're doin OK...Still writing black ink but I'm just a one horse operation...if the number of employees did equate to success, I'd be failing!...

....Being an "Old Schooler" I've already put in 30+ years (managing over a dozen employees in the process) so I've never really looked toward expansion and the responsibilities and effort that goes with it in this new start up....I just wanted a fun vehicle that would allow me to generate a revenue stream that would help enhance a dwindling retirement portfolio..... so, my marketing efforts were basically confined to surgical strikes on selected potential clients that I refer to as "the elephant" ....because if you can bag that elephant when out on a prospecting Safari, you can eat for quite awhile....

....For example, I'm in the process of completing a weekly assigment that started on 8.1.2017...It was a simple construction progress reporting assignment on a $25M Behavioral Hospital build and it should conclude in about 4-6 weeks....In said example, the mission will last 13-14 months...a long time to feed on one kill....

...However, we did not lay dorment during that period...we knew the assignment would eventually end and we needed to prepare for another Safari...We have been creating a data base of varied potential clients connected to the construction and real estate industry....not just construction companies or real estate brokers but attorneys, insurance companies, equipment brokers, ad agencies and so on....there are several componants connected to a new build and just as many ancillary busineeses to service those separate componants....

....We also decided that we cannot be experts in every assignment scenerio...so....we only take on construction monitoring and real estate tours working towards being the best in either discipline so to speak....if called upon of course we would report for a first responders call and/or law enforcement/community support....

...We did try to diversify, I pursued and was accepted in the Droners.IO and PresicionHawk platform, Helo and a few others ....However, while I have found them to be ernest in their intent.... for the most part, they are "all sizzle and no steak"....for example, nobody is paying attention at Droners.IO....I sent off a missive to upper management trying to explain that if the tempreture is 95 degrees at sunrise (4:45 am in AZ) what do you think the temp will be at 9 am, let alone 4-5 pm?...lights are on but nobody is home....Try climbing onto a house roof at 2, 3 or 4 pm (closest to the hottest time of day) that has been sitting in 115 degree temps for hours and see how that works out for ya and for all of $82.50.....

...Anyway, I wish there was some new or revolutionary way of conducting business or secret sauce that I could share but unfortunately all I know is that only hard work, complete focus and dogged determination will get you thru...for me it has always been about problem solving....whatever it is that you're lacking or needing, you have to find a way to get the issue resolved...pragmatism plays a major key in success...

...In my experience I've seen that it sometimes doesn't matter how much money you have in the corporate war chest or how good management is or dedicated the employees are...if there is an obstical that interferes with your ability to move the business forward you need to adapt and overcome .... interestingly enough,  I have also witnessed that in many cases the only obsticals we have, are the ones we put in front of ourselves.... 

...I'm not sure any of the above can help anyone but whoever does read this entry, at least they know they are not alone in enduring the time, effort and energy it takes to get any business off the ground, drones notwithstanding....  

 Clear skys and safe flights to all.....lc

 

 

 

 

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On 7/28/2018 at 11:13 AM, Av8Chuck said:

When about the time this thread started it was a struggle to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up,  now I can’t wait to get to work and think everyday is a great day to be in the commercial drone business.  

@Av8Chuck — that's so great to hear. Glad we could catch up at XPONENTIAL earlier this year and congrats on the success.

On 7/28/2018 at 3:01 PM, L&L DRONE VIEWS said:

Anyway, I wish there was some new or revolutionary way of conducting business or secret sauce that I could share but unfortunately all I know is that only hard work, complete focus and dogged determination will get you thru...for me it has always been about problem solving....whatever it is that you're lacking or needing, you have to find a way to get the issue resolved...pragmatism plays a major key in success...

...In my experience I've seen that it sometimes doesn't matter how much money you have in the corporate war chest or how good management is or dedicated the employees are...if there is an obstical that interferes with your ability to move the business forward you need to adapt and overcome .... interestingly enough,  I have also witnessed that in many cases the only obsticals we have, are the ones we put in front of ourselves.... 

...I'm not sure any of the above can help anyone but whoever does read this entry, at least they know they are not alone in enduring the time, effort and energy it takes to get any business off the ground, drones notwithstanding....  

@L&L DRONE VIEWS — I can't tell you how many times I've felt stuck since we got things started back in 2014. I can definitely relate to these words, thanks for sharing.

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One challenge I am beginning to experience more frequently is the negative reaction of the public while capturing footage for clients. Pretty sure it’s just drone paranoia but it seems like other Part 107 operators who I speak to in my area don’t necessarily have the hostile experience I seem to be attracting. Here’s one of the experiences I actually captured on video:

 

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That sucks.  I wouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out stupid. This guy is a liberal idiot who will use any excuse to argue his rights are more important than yours.  You handled it great.  

Unfortunately this is happening more probably not so much becuase your operating a drone, and I’d like to think not because of your race, but because for some reason people in the US seem to feel empowered to tell everyone else how to live their lives.  

I found the video very aggravating so I didn’t watch the entire exchange but it was clear from all that I watched that you kept your composure and that the police, both on the phone and in person did exactly the right thing.  I agree that the frequency of these kinds of encounters are increasing, but hopefully that means law enforcement is also reacting similarly more often as well.  

Curious, did anyone ever ask to see your 107?  It’s also interesting that after informing that idiot over the phone that you weren’t breaking the law they sent a police car to your location and they ran him off.  That was for the protection of your rights and safety, not his.  So as annoying as that pinhead was this was ultimately a good thing.  It’s not going to dawn on that idiot that his safe space doesn’t extend to you, but he’ll go and tell his dad (what a millennial) and his friends how you and the police trampled his right to privacy into the ground and maybe, just maybe, they will clue in that he was wrong, not everyone else.  I doubt it but we can hope.  

Where are you located?

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3 hours ago, AeroEyez said:

One challenge I am beginning to experience more frequently is the negative reaction of the public while capturing footage for clients. Pretty sure it’s just drone paranoia but it seems like other Part 107 operators who I speak to in my area don’t necessarily have the hostile experience I seem to be attracting. Here’s one of the experiences I actually captured on video:   https://youtu.be/yrlCf0HLlh0

I work in the South Bay Area. People are always very talkative when I’m trying to fly/work. Have had some unhappy spectators. I usually wear a high visibly vest with my company logo on the back. I wear a necklace holder with my UAS license and drone registration. I also have a notebook with all of my business docs. If anyone has a question I’m ready!

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Like you I have all that with the exception of the high vis vest. I got a lanyard to hang my certificate from and have always had my business docs close by. I think the high vis vest gives off the “official business” look and will prevent this like this from happening in the future. Thanks for watching!

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3 hours ago, Av8Chuck said:

 Curious, did anyone ever ask to see your 107?  It’s also interesting that after informing that idiot over the phone that you weren’t breaking the law they sent a police car to your location and they ran him off.  That was for the protection of your rights and safety, not his.  So as annoying as that pinhead was this was ultimately a good thing.  It’s not going to dawn on that idiot that his safe space doesn’t extend to you, but he’ll go and tell his dad (what a millennial) and his friends how you and the police trampled his right to privacy into the ground and maybe, just maybe, they will clue in that he was wrong, not everyone else.  I doubt it but we can hope.  

Where are you located?

People have asked to see my “paperwork” in the past but I usually respond with, “I’d be more than happy to show it to law enforcement or to any FAA official” but otherwise I don’t want to give too much because of the personal info on the certificate.  This particular exchange, nobody asked and  I don’t usually have an issue but it’s starting to be more and more frequent here in Southern California. 

Edited by AeroEyez
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....For what it's worth AeroEyez....you did the right thing and should be applauded...We have all at one time or another taken one for the team....you have a contract with a firm to shoot their build and there is always the unspoken/unwritten condition that comes with that contract and that is.... to protect the best interest of the client...

...Imagine if you had lost it and gave this guy what for....the optics would be terrible...he becomes the victim, you chance disturbing your client relationship by exposing your client to possible bad press.....your rep is now in question.... plus, possible assult charges, court costs, attorney fees and on it goes....so a lesson for us all is to follow your example...be cool under fire if at all possible for your rep, your clients rep and possible personal freedom are all at stake...and all because of an uneducated, self centered jerk!....It's a behavoral fact that man fears what he doesn't understand....

.... I agree with Av8Chuck that folks seem to be emboldened more today...I've seen it first hand just standing in a check out line at a grocery store....I suspect the current political landscape and confusion of the body politic that appears to be turning more toxic and more divided each day, is definately playing a major part....suddenly it's "OK" to be confrontational.....the only answer I see is education and hopefully in time folks will learn....although history says different...

...Kirk's high res vest tip was a great idea....I might add that I retain a copy of FAA regs when it comes to who is the absolute authority re air space (anywhere) and any State Commentary re any local flight regs on my phone along with any prove up docs re the mission....this way, if I'm pressed hard by an on the spot legal inquiry while on a mission, I can argue my case with documentary proof and hopefully logic will take over from there .....and I won't have to request my "one phone call"

.....At the end of the day, this scenerio should be a wake up call for us all....a timely reminder that unless forced to literally defend ourselves,  when confronted (most often by ignorance than by uncalled for harassment), we need to make sure that our emotions don't override our good judgement....we can posibly turn an ignorant approach to a positive encounter, because that's a teachable moment if the individual(s) will engage....well it's a thought anyway.... fly safe...lc 

 

 

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I should add that with my book of paperwork I carry a copy of the FAA reg that states that any person interfering with a pilot is in violation of law.

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This thread is amazing.. Thanks Chuck for the resuscitation.

 

I've been a licensed drone pilot for over a year and a half.

 

I got in wide eyed with my P4 thinking I'd revolutionize the real estate industry out here in a town that had booming real estate and large properties! That.. Wasn't the case. I went and shook every real estate agents hand in the county, I got ONE client.. 2 months later. And a referral the month before that by a friend of a friend.

 

I realized I needed to hit the books and learn a thing or two about life and business. (was 20 and this was the first business I thought would take off, I've had two others before this) But I didn't really believe in their growth potential. I went and did travel blogging for a bit more than 6 months, learned a bit about life, and decided to come back to my drone business with a new vision and hunger.

 

I devoured books daily on marketing, and connected with as many as I could. I talked to 7 and 8 figure business builders.

I tried new school tactics, such as clickfunnels, facebook advertising.

I learned to cold call.

I learned to cold email.

I went out to every agent sales rep in the town, I pitched to whole audiences.

 

Now, I'm honestly starting to think I'm crazy or there's something completely off the mark. I'm now reaching out to all the successful drone business owners I can find online to see what broke the water for them. Because after 1,000 hand shakes, 100's of calls, multiple pitches, and 100's of dollars in marketing. Without a clue more than I started with.

I'm feeling like Edison with a light bulb dream.

I know that once I start getting clients, it will snow ball.

I know that I am ONE flight away from that.

Getting that one flight however...?... No clue how to do that without ruining the integrity of the business as it stands. I'm going to continue my efforts not on outbound ideas, but to connect through modes such as this. 

 

I'm not sure If I'll keep 'in' the real estate niche. Man, writing this out is a bit hard seeing all the resources that have gone into this so far. Time mainly. But I know this service is invaluable, and I don't think I can stop until my teeth truly sink in. 

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Holy batman, I finally watched @AeroEyez's video.

You handled that like a champ. Kudos to you for having the headspace to pull out your camera and record for others.

We can all learn a lot from this situation.

Virtual high-five for being a great example for the sUAS industry.

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@AeroEyez, That was Crazy man ! You were great, You did loose your cool or start cussing and yelling at him. Thanks for sharing. Thanks to the cop too. 

Fly high !

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On 8/11/2018 at 9:45 AM, AeroEyez said:

One challenge I am beginning to experience more frequently is the negative reaction of the public while capturing footage for clients. Pretty sure it’s just drone paranoia but it seems like other Part 107 operators who I speak to in my area don’t necessarily have the hostile experience I seem to be attracting. Here’s one of the experiences I actually captured on video:

 

Chris, thank you for posting this. That was totally ridiculous on that individual's part. I hate to say it but we know his issue was not really about drones; pretty sad. Kuddos to you though on staying controlled. That would have been hard for me especially when he was disrespecting and profiling you. Anyhow, keep up the good work bro. 

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New members start threads about topics that have been previously discussed at some length.  A lot of topics get conflated in a single thread so it’s not not easy searching for the the answers new members are looking for. 

Instead of starting new threads about the same topics, occasionally it’s probably a good idea to resurrect threads that have had some traction in the past.  Also, after previously breathing life back into this thread some people said they didn’t have much to add to the conversation. Even if things might not have changed much, that can be very useful information over time.  

As an example, we have grown considerably and I’m very proud of the quality of work and what we’ve accomplished. However, we’re really struggling to scale.  Not necessarily a drone related problem but like to hear from others in this industry who might be experiencing the same thing and what your plans might be for growth.  

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