In this article, we will guide you through a series of Thought Exercises to help you figure out how to choose your niche as a drone startup. We may not succeed in narrowing the possibilities down to one single option, but we will certainly emerge with a better understanding of what type of work will give us deep satisfaction in our career as a commercial drone pilot.
Drones are amazing machines with nearly infinite use cases. In fact, people are discovering new ways to incorporate drones into their daily lives or business operations every day. The potential is high, and the sky is the limit.
The sheer volume of possible use cases can be daunting for a new drone pilot with a drone startup business. Most drone pilots put great thought into selecting their drone equipment, but fewer put the same amount of thought into what types of work they intend to do, and whom they intend to work with.
Grab a pencil and some paper. Really, do it. We are going to do some writing.
Thought Exercise 1: What do I enjoy?
Being an entrepreneur should be fun, and the best way to ensure this is to build your business around something that you enjoy. Would you perform some task as a hobby? What if you could monetize this hobby? That would be an ideal business idea.
Write down 5 things you enjoy doing that have nothing to do with drones. Go ahead, do it. We are warming up our creative minds. Perhaps you enjoy playing an instrument or a sport. Maybe you love cooking Indian food. Write them down.
Next, write down 5 things you enjoy that have some relation to drones. This could be photo editing, FPV racing, route planning, or even linear algebra (useful in some 3D modeling scenarios)!
You should now have a list of 10 things you would do as a hobby or recreational activity. As we go through these Thought Exercises, we will decide how to choose your niche as a Drone Startup and try to build a business that includes some of them.
Thought Exercise 2: What am I skilled at?
Everybody is good at something. If you think you have no useful talents, then you are mistaken.
If you are more skilled at a particular task than at least one other person, then you have one potential customer. The better your skills and the more customers who need them, the greater your market share is.
For this Thought Exercise, write down 5 things that you think you have some skill in, that have nothing to do with drones. Are you a master Call of Duty sniper? Or perhaps you make the best burger in your neighborhood (and everybody agrees)?
Next, write down 5 skills you have with some relation to drones. Do you have an impressive command of airspace regulations? Do you fly the smoothest profiles? You do not have to be the best or most qualified at a particular skill, you just have to be a little better than most people.
You should now have a list of 10 skills that could add value to somebody else. As we go through these Thought Exercises, we will decide how to choose your niche as a Drone Startup and try to build a business that includes some of them.
Thought Exercise 3: What types of customers would I like to work with?
Let’s face it: some people are just fun to work with, while others can be less so. We definitely do not want to build a business that forces you to constantly interact with people that you would prefer to avoid; that is a recipe for professional misery.
Some people thrive on interpersonal interaction with extroverted people, such as marketing professionals. Others prefer to have intellectual discussions with introverted people, such as engineers. Maybe you have a strong religious background and prefer the company of clergy? If you have strong feelings for a particular cause, you may prefer to associate with volunteers of a charitable organization that supports that cause.
Here is a list of some generic types of customers, and you should feel free to add your own. Select at least 5 customer types that you would be proud to partner with and write them down.
- Small Business Owners
- Sales and Marketing Professionals
- Data Analysts
- Charitable Organization Workers
- Youth Sports Coaches
- Construction Managers
- Public Safety Professionals
- Emergency Services Officials
- City Planners
- Infrastructure Maintenance Staff
- Agricultural Professionals
- Wildlife Conservation Supervisors
- Park Rangers
- Medical Support Staff
- Event Organizers
- Public Venue Custodians
- Media Producers
Putting this a different way, which organizations’ Annual Dinner would you like to attend? Whose booth would you like to sit at during the County Fair? Whose ribbon-cutting ceremony do you want to attend? These folks are not just your customers; they are your business partners, and members of your professional family. This is a rare case where you actually can choose your family!
You should now have a list of 5 types of people you would like to interact with. As we go through these Thought Exercises, we will decide how to choose your niche as a Drone Startup and try to build a business that includes some of them.
Thought Exercise 4: How far am I willing to commute?
Being a drone pilot combines the excitement of going to a job site with the comfort of a desk job: we get the best of both worlds.
Commuting to the job site is a reality that we accept; the good news is that as the owner of a drone startup business, you get to select the job sites! More specifically, you have the freedom to only accept projects that fit with your commuting objectives.
In this Thought Exercise, we will attempt to define two geographic areas: your Local Area, and your Extended Area.
Your Local Area is the distance or region that you would accept as a daily commute, as if you were going to work. It might be a 30-mile radius around your home, or it could be the confines of a city or county. You should be willing and able to take jobs within your Local Area without charging travel/transportation fees to your customer. Go ahead and write it down, or draw it on a map.
Your Extended Area is the distance or region that you would accept for periodic travel, such as 1-2 times a month. It will take longer to get to the job site, and a large portion of your day will be spent in the car, so you do not want to make this commute very often. This could even entail an overnight stay for a multi-day project. You should consider charging the customer a nominal travel fee to make the trip worth your time. Go ahead and write it down, or draw it on a map.
We have now identified your Local Area in which 90% of your jobs should be, and your Extended Area for the remaining 10%. You should strive to accept only periodic jobs outside your Local Area, and should rightfully charge a small additional fee for the travel time that you could be spending doing something more productive. Your customer could rightfully be reluctant to pay an additional fee, in which case you might not be the ideal drone service provider for that particular job. Both parties (you and your customer) should be satisfied that you are being adequately compensated for your troubles to support their requirement.
Thought Exercise 5: What type of work is in my area?
You could be genetically predisposed to be the best crop dusting drone pilot in history, but this does you little good if you live in downtown Manhattan. Sometimes, Fate has a way of telling you what type of drone work you should do, by placing you in a certain area. I find that one of the best ways to see what Fate is offering is to look at a map.
Using your favorite mapping site or app, look at some satellite imagery of your area. What type of jobs do you see that Fate is offering you? Scroll around and zoom to get some appreciation for the terrain, man-made features, and venues that may have some work for a drone pilot. I have placed some examples for ideas throughout this article on what you could be looking for as you decide how to choose your niche as a Drone Startup.
Putting It All Together
In an ideal world, you could make a Venn diagram of all your Thought Exercise results, and find a clean overlap that makes the decision very obvious. If you happen to be one of these lucky few pilots, then congratulations, and we wish you all the best for your new Whale Research Photography business (or whatever niche market you discovered)!
For the rest of us, the decision is still a bit murky, and we’ve done little to narrow down the possibilities. That is just fine, and the entrepreneurial journey will take you on many twists and turns as you go through phases of self-discovery.
Go back through your results, and try to find 2-3 different career paths that are supported by your wishlists. Write them down: the type of work, some typical customers, and where the job sites would be. Once you have a few ideas in place, you can start doing some market research.
The most successful ventures are those that can learn and adapt the most effectively. For your drone startup business, this means testing the market to validate its potential for profit before making significant time and financial investments. There are few things more discouraging to an entrepreneur than to discover that you have wasted your entire savings to build a service that your customers do not need!
Here are some areas to explore when determining if your ideas have merit.
- Contact your potential customers, and ask them if they would be interested in this type of service. Prepare a value proposition that demonstrates how their lives or business operations would benefit from your services. Can your drone turn their 8-hour task into a 2-hour task? Can your drone improve the quality of their work? Can your drone enhance their addressable market share? Call or email them and ask for a commitment-free 15-minute discussion.
- Search job postings or “help wanted” advertisements for this type of service. If people are actively asking for it and willing to pay, then they are sending you a very clear signal.
- Post some advertisements for this type of service, and see how many hits you get. There are plenty of no-cost and low-cost job boards that you could run advertisements on to test the waters. As you get responses, try to determine the customer types and locations to see if they align with your wishlists. Obviously, you do not want to oversell your ability to provide a service, so you can simply notify the potential customers that you are unable to take their particular project at this time, and will contact them when you are set up to actually perform the work.
- See if other drone pilots are already performing these types of jobs, whether in your Local Area or your Extended Area. Maybe search in other cities similar to your own. Contact them to ask how business is going, and if they learned any lessons they would be willing to share with you. Most drone pilots are friendly and willing to help out a colleague–there is plenty of work for all of us! You might even be able to form a partnership with other pilots, in which you share resources or refer customers to each other. Small businesses working together creates a beautiful ecosystem to serve the community.
If you feel confident that you have picked a niche role with a realistic chance of profitability, start experimenting before you fully commit. See if there is potential to perform a simplified version of the job before you take out a loan for exquisite equipment. For example, if you intend to pursue multispectral agricultural inspection, try a few jobs with an RGB camera first–this still provides some value to the customer while gaining valuable feedback on your business processes and piloting techniques. Or instead of carrying a 5-pound drone delivery load, maybe start with a 1-pound load. You should offer these limited services as a “trial period” or “proof of concept” at a deep discount to the full price. Explain to the customer how the full version will be even more useful, and why they will be satisfied with the product. Chances are that they will be very excited for you to return to complete the job.
This is an exciting time to have a drone startup business! The type of work you do as a drone pilot is limited only by your imagination, and the possibilities are endless. This article gave you some tools to narrow down what might be most meaningful and satisfying to you. As you develop your business, you might find that market conditions change, and even your personal tastes could change. This is exciting! You will have many opportunities to refine or redefine your specialty throughout your drone career.
We wish you the best of luck as you start out on this journey and pave your own path. Please share your success stories with us, and help guide the next generation of commercial drone pilots.
How To Get Your FAA Part 107 Pilot Certification
If you are serious about making money with your drone, whether it be Real Estate, Aerial Inspections, etc., then you will need, from the FAA a 14 CFR Part 107 certification.
The best source for your training can be found by clicking on RemotePilot101. Jason Schappert is a pilot and author of 8 best-selling aviation flight training books. While studying and taking tests is not the most fun, Jason breaks it down into 10 easy to follow (at your own pace) video lessons. These lessons are straight and to the point giving you the exact knowledge, nothing less, nothing more than what you need to pass the exam. Additionally, he is continually updating the training to keep it relevant to any changes to FAA regulations. This membership is a 1-time subscription – for life! So when you’re 24 month renewal comes around, just sign in to RemotePilot101 and refresh your training.
Just remember, if you are flying commercially, you will need your Part 107 certification. It’s not hard, you can do it!