1. the male of the honeybee and other bees, stingless and making no honey.
- an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control or beyond line of sight:
the GPS of a U.S. spy drone.
- (loosely) any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely:
a radio-controlled drone.
3. a person who lives on the labor of others; parasitic loafer.
4. a drudge.
The saved draft for this post is over eight months old at this point. I hit the “add post” button way back then to write about my idea of starting a business. Then the business got rolling and though I had every intention of returning to this post and… actually writing something… there was always something more pressing to do. I think maybe 3-4 months in I came here and added that definition of “drone”. Then it sat idle again, while I did anything but. Now I find myself racking my brain to figure out how to properly recap an extremely hectic eight months.
Going way back to when I started this blog, I had made clear that the way forward to getting what I wanted out of life was to cut expenses. The blog itself was about living cheaply and not worrying about the typical American mentality of “keeping up with the Joneses”. That mentality hasn’t changed, but somewhere along the way I decided to also pursue another avenue as well. At this point it’s lost to me exactly when, where, or how I came to the decision to pursue a drone services business, but in retrospect I can now see that the building blocks were being laid for years.
This business idea was something I had had in the back of my mind for years, back 3-4 years ago when multi-rotors were coming into common use, but before “drone” had become a household word. It was obvious that a ripe market for diverse uses was ready to be tapped, but I was busy working 60 hour weeks and doubted my abilities to successfully run a business. Fast-forward to late last year and there is at least one strong catalyst to this endeavor that I can clearly point out. I’ve had the book Good to Great
by Jim Collins sitting on my bookshelf for at least five years now – anonymously inter-officed to me by someone at work. The title made it sound gimmicky and self-helpish, exactly type of book I don’t like, so there it sat on the shelf for quite a long time. I actually nearly threw it out a few times when cleaning. Then one day I needed some reading material while relaxing in the pool, so I brought it and read the preface and immediately realized that the book was not at all what I had pegged it as, and that I had been missing out on something genuinely great (pun maybe intended) all these years. The book contains a lot of very in-depth research about what makes great companies great, but one observation that Collins made really stuck in my mind. It was the idea of what he called the “hedgehog concept”. Put simply, Collins said that all companies that sustained greatness had a very solid understanding of what they could
and, equally importantly, could not
be the very best at. It was also something that excited them, something that was worth getting out of bed for and something they felt strongly about. Equally importantly, it was something that made economic sense – something there was a market for. This idea stuck with me and remains clear and present to this day.
Sometime late last year I decided to dive in. I spent a few weeks studying for my Part 107 sUAS pilot certificate and passed with a 97% in mid January. In the meantime, I had ordered a couple of DJI drones to get things started. That’s right around the point at which I started this post with nothing more than title. Things progressed rapidly from there and there’s no reason for a play-by-play recap, nor was that ever the intention of this post. What is worth mentioning is the one theme that has stood out along the way. When running your own business, you are your own everything: marketing department, sales department, social media coordinator, operations manager, financial controller, customer service, etc. I have had to learn website building, search engine optimization, online marketing, social media management and many other aspects that go with running almost any business nowadays. More important though, is what I haven’t had to learn and how it ties into my belief that the groundwork for this venue has been slowly being laid for years. Thanks to exceptionally diverse professional experience as well as years spent in personal study, I already had a thorough understanding of outside sales, market analysis, operations management, managerial accounting, and operations efficiency techniques – and I knew how to fly RC aircraft. These skills and areas of knowledge became a significant competitive advantage in what turns out to be a very supply-flooded market.
At least in Colorado, drone service providers are a dime for ten dozen. The Part 107 test is easy to pass and relatively cheap to take. Combine this with low startup costs (literally all you need is a $499 refurb Phantom 3) and suddenly there’s someone on every block becoming a drone services provider. However, a certificate only makes you legal and owning a drone only gives you potential to fly. Combining those two things does not automatically give you a viable drone services business, let alone a successful one. Through social media and professional groups, I’ve watched myriad other operators flop and flounder trying to make headway in a flooded market. The market may be flooded with “providers” who have a certificate and a flying camera, but the vast majority lack direction and the necessary business acumen to create something successful. It was this observation that brought me back to Collins’s hedgehog concept. I may not have the startup capital to have the equipment necessary to shoot commercials for BMW. I have neither the time nor desire to become a professional enough video editor to compete with video production companies that also utilize drones. But I do have the business skills, knowledge, and experience necessary to be the very best at providing high-value, basic drone services.
As Collins recommended, I have stuck to that hedgehog concept religiously, taking only actions in line with it for the purpose of furthering it. It has been incredible to watch, over the course of only half a year, the business go from doing freebies, to doing sub-contractor work, to having a few organic jobs per month, to having a few organic jobs per week – which at this point is essentially the capacity I can handle while still working a full-time job. Feedback from customers continues to validate my business approach and my hedgehog concept, as does the rapid increase in work we’re receiving.
Now I find myself rapidly approaching a crossroads. If I want to fly drones for a living rather than be one, I have to make the leap to a full-time business. But when is the right time? Hopefully it won’t take me another eight months to update this blog and answer (or at least mull over) that question.