Posts from drones

10,000 Commercial Drone Flights

Two years ago, on January 30th, 2015, Dronebase founder Dan Burton flew a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ drone over a quarry in southern Orange County California and captured a TNT explosion in the quarry that turned big rocks into little rocks.

Dan was paid $300 by the quarry owner to do the mission.

And thus, our portfolio company Dronebase was created. USV invested a few months later as Dan and his partner Eli were doing Y Combinator.

In a remarkable coincidence, two years later to the day, a drone pilot in Boston named Michael K completed Dronebase’s 10,000th mission, flying a DJI Inspire One Pro drone over a construction site.

The first 100 missions took eight months to complete, the next 900 flights took nine months to complete, and the last 9,000 flights took 10 months to complete. As I told Dan over email yesterday, I am expecting the 100,000th flight before year end. He groaned. Growing at log scale is hard. But that’s what they are doing.

The key insight that Dan had was that a network of freelance drone pilots all over the world working on a platform designed to to get drone pilots working within hours of a job coming in would drive that kind of scale. And it has. In addition, Dronebase is committed to delivering commercial grade drone flights at prices that customers can afford.

If you are paying more than a few hundred dollars for a commercial grade drone mission, you are paying too much. By driving down the cost of drone missions, Dronebase has brought a lot of work to its pilots an has paid them over $1mm over the last two years and that number is now scaling rapidly. Driving down the cost of drone missions also opens up applications that are not cost effective at higher prices. And that scales the size of the available market for drones.

It’s the classic story of the power of networks. Dronebase is a network of drone pilots doing commercial missions all over the world. And I’m convinced that is the winning model in the commercial drone services sector.

Dan wrote a really great post yesterday celebrating their 10,000th mission with a lot of interesting details on the first and 10,000th mission. You can read it here.

Congratulations to Dronebase and all of its pilots on completing 10,000 missions. I’m looking forward to writing about the 100,000th flight soon.

What Did And Did Not Happen In 2016

As has become my practice, I will end the year (today) looking back and start the year (tomorrow) looking forward.

As a starting point for looking back on 2016, we can start with my What Is Going To Happen In 2016 post from Jan 1st 2016.

Easy to build content (apps) on a cheap widespread hardware platform (smartphones) beat out sophisticated and high resolution content on purpose built expensive hardware (content on VR headsets). We re-learned an old lesson: PC v. mainframe and Mac; Internet v. ISO; VHS v. Betamax; and Android v. iPhone.

And Fitbit proved that the main thing people want to do with a computer on their wrist is help them stay fit. And yet Fitbit ended the year with its stock near its all time low. Pebble sold itself in a distressed transaction to Fitbit. And Apple’s Watch has not gone mainstream two versions into its roadmap.

  • I thought one of the big four (Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon) would falter in 2016. All produced positive stock performance in 2016. None appear to have faltered in a huge way in 2016. But Apple certainly seems wobbly. They can’t make laptops that anyone wants to use anymore. It’s no longer a certainty that everyone is going to get a new iPhone when the new one ships. The iPad is a declining product. The watch is a mainstream flop. And Microsoft is making better computers than Apple (and maybe operating systems too) these days. You can’t make that kind of critique of Google, Amazon, or Facebook, who all had great years in my book.
  • I predicted the FAA regulations would be a boon to the commercial drone industry. They have been.
  • I predicted publishing inside of Facebook was going to go badly for some high profile publishers in 2016. That does not appear to have been the case. But the ugly downside of Facebook as a publishing platform revealed itself in the form of a fake news crisis that may (or may not) have impacted the Presidential election.
  • Instead of spinning out HBO into a direct Netflix competitor, Time Warner sold itself to AT&T. This allows AT&T to join Comcast and Verizon in the “carriers becoming content companies” club. It seems that the executives who run these large carriers believe it is better to use their massive profits in the carrier business to move up the stack into content instead of continuing to invest in their communications infrastructure. It makes me want to invest in communications infrastructure honestly.
  • Bitcoin found no killer app in 2016, but did find itself the darling of the trader/speculator crowd, ending the year on a killer run and almost breaking the $1000 USD/BTC level. Maybe Bitcoin’s killer app is its value and/or store of value. That would make it the digital equivalent of gold and the likely reserve currency of the digital asset space. And I think that is what has happened with Bitcoin. And there is nothing wrong with that.
  • Slack had a good year in 2016, solidifying its position as the leading communications tool for enterprises (other than email of course). It did have some growing pains as there was a fair bit of executive turmoil. But I think Slack is here to stay and I think they can withstand the growing competition coming from Microsoft’s Teams product and others.
  • I was right that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination and that the tech sector (with the exception of Peter Thiel and a few other liked minded people) would line up against him. It did not matter. He won the Presidency without the support of the tech sector, but by using its tools (Twitter and Facebook primarily) brilliantly.
  • I predicted “markdown mania” would hit the tech sector hard and employees would start getting cold feet on startups as they saw the value of their options going down. None of this really happened in a big way in 2016. There was some of that and employees are certainly more attuned to how they can get hurt in a down round or recap, but the tech sector has also used a lot of techniques, including repricing options, reloading option plans, and moving to RSUs, to mitigate this. The truth is that startups, venture capital, and tech growth companies had a pretty good year in 2016 all things considered.

So that’s the rundown on my 2016 predictions. I would give myself about a 50% hit rate. Which is not great but not horrible and about the same as I did last year.

Some other things that happened in 2016 that are important and worth talking about are:

  • The era of cyberwars are upon us. Maybe we have been fighting them silently for years. But we are not fighting them silently any more. We are fighting them out in the open. I suspect there is a lot that the public still doesn’t know about what is actually going on in this area. We know what Russia has done in the Presidential election and since then. But what has the US been doing to Russia? I would assume the same and maybe more. If your enemy has the keys to your castle, you had better have the keys to their castle. And as good as the Russians are at hacking into systems, the US has some great hackers too. I am very sure about that.  And so do the Chinese, the Israelis, the Indians, the British, the Germans, the French, the Japanese, etc, etc.  This feels a bit like the Nuclear era redux. Mutually assured destruction is a deterrent as long as both sides have the same tools.
  • The tech sector is no longer the belle of the ball. It has, on one hand become extremely powerful with monopolies, duopolies, or nearly so in search, social media, ecommerce, online advertising, and mobile operating systems. And it has, on the other hand, proven that it is susceptible to the very kinds of bad behavior that every other large industry is capable of. And we now have an incoming President who doesn’t share the love of the tech sector that our outgoing President showed. It brings to mind that scene in 48 Hours where Eddie Murphy throws the shot glass through the mirror and explains to the rednecks that there is a new sheriff in town. But this time, the tech sector are the rednecks.
  • Google and Facebook now control ~75% of the online advertising market and almost all of its growth in 2016:

  • Artificial Intelligence has inserted itself into our every day lives. Whether its a home speaker system that we can talk to, or a social network that already knows what we are about to go out and purchase, or a car that can park itself and change lanes on the highway automatically, we are seeing AI take over tasks that we used to have to do ourselves. We are in the age of AI. It is not something that is coming. It is here. It may have arrived in 2014, or 2015, but if you ask me, I would put 2016 as the year it had its debut in mainstream life. It is exciting and it is scary. It begs all sorts of questions about where we are all going in the next thirty to fifty years. If you are in your twenties, AI will define your lifetime.

So that’s my rundown on 2016. I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year and we will talk about the future, not the past, tomorrow.

If you are in need of a New Year’s Resolution, I suggest moving to super secure passwords and some sort of tool to manage them for you, using two factor authentication whenever and wherever possible, encrypt as much of your online activities as you reasonably can, and not saying or doing anything online that you would not do in public, because that is where you are doing it.

Happy New Year!

The Dronebase Pilot Program

Our portfolio company Dronebase launched a new service yesterday that everyone who owns a drone should check out. They call it the Pilot Program. Basically any drone pilot that owns a drone with the right capabilities can now fly missions for Dronebase.

For several years Dronebase has been connecting drone pilots with aerial imaging jobs in industry sectors like commercial real estate, residential real estate, construction, insurance, energy, and telecommunications. Dronebase’s sales force calls on companies in these sectors, gets assigned aerial imaging missions, and then assigns those missions to drone pilots in their pilot marketplace. This “go to market” model has resulted in Dronebase initiating more commercial drone flights per month than any other company in the market. Revenues will to grow 7x from 2015 to 2016 and they probably will do something like that again in 2017.

But the Dronebase founders have not been happy with their ability to generate work for as many pilots as they can. They know that there are many drone owners who would love to fly commercial missions if they could. So Dronebase launched the Pilot Program this week after beta testing it for the past few months. Here is how it works:

dronebase-pilot-program

Drone pilots can do “Pano Missions” on spec and “Client Missions” for a guaranteed payment.

Here’s how you do a Pano Mission:

pano-missions

And here is how you do a Client Mission:

client-missions

If you own a drone and want to pilot commercial missions, go to Dronebase and sign up. You can also download the Dronebase iOS app and browse and accept jobs on your iPhone. An Android app is under development and will be coming soon.

Happy flying!!!

What Is Going To Happen In 2016

It’s easier to predict the medium to long term future. We will be able to tell our cars to take us home after a late night of new year’s partying within a decade. I sat next to a life sciences investor at a dinner a couple months ago who told me cancer will be a curable disease within the next decade. As amazing as these things sound, they are coming and soon.

But what will happen this year that we are now in? That’s a bit trickier. But I will take some shots this morning.

  1. Oculus will finally ship the Rift in 2016. Games and other VR apps for the Rift will be released. We just learned that the Touch controller won’t ship with the Rift and is delayed until later in 2016. I believe the initial commercial versions of Oculus technology will underwhelm. The technology has been so hyped and it is hard to live up to that. Games will be the strongest early use case, but not everyone is going to want to put on a headset to play a game. I think VR will only reach its true potential when they figure out how to deploy it in a more natural way.
  2. We will see a new form of wearables take off in 2016. The wrist is not the only place we might want to wear a computer on our bodies. If I had to guess, I would bet on something we wear in or on our ears.
  3. One of the big four will falter in 2016. My guess is Apple. They did not have a great year in 2015 and I’m thinking that it will get worse in 2016.
  4. The FAA regulations on the commercial drone industry will turn out to be a boon for the drone sector, legitimizing drone flights for all sorts of use cases and establishing clear rules for what is acceptable and what is not.
  5. The trend towards publishing inside of social networks (Facebook being the most popular one) will go badly for a number of high profile publishers who won’t be able to monetize as effectively inside social networks and there will be at least one high profile victim of this strategy who will go under as a result.
  6. Time Warner will spin off its HBO business to create a direct competitor to Netflix and the independent HBO will trade at a higher market cap than the entire Time Warner business did pre spinoff.
  7. Bitcoin finally finds a killer app with the emergence of Open Bazaar protocol powered zero take rate marketplaces. (note that OB1, an open bazaar powered service, is a USV portfolio company).
  8. Slack will become so pervasive inside of enterprises that spam will become a problem and third party Slack spam filters will emerge. At the same time, the Slack platform will take off and building Slack bots will become the next big thing in enterprise software.
  9. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and he will attack the tech sector for its support of immigrant labor. As a result the tech sector will line up behind Hillary Clinton who will be elected the first woman President.
  10. Markdown mania will hit the venture capital sector as VC firms follow Fidelity’s lead and start aggressively taking down the valuations in their portfolios. Crunchbase will start capturing this valuation data and will become a de-facto “yahoo finance” for the startup sector. Employees will realize their options are underwater and will start leaving tech startups in droves.

Some of these predictions border on the ridiculous and that is somewhat intentional. I think there is an element of truth (or at least possibility) in all of them. And I will come back to this list a year from now and review the results.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2016.

Mapping A Mission

USV invested in Dronebase earlier this year but I had not used the service personally so I decided to change that this past week.

The Gotham Gal and I are working on a real estate development project in Brooklyn and we need to make some decisions in partnership with our architects. An aerial view of the property would help us make our decisions.

So on Saturday afternoon, we went to Dronebase.com, clicked the big blue “get started” button, and found ourselves staring at a map. I typed in the address of the property and was shown a satellite map of it.

We then used the mapping tool to highlight the fly zone in blue. We then placed the camera icon over the specific points of interest we wanted to get close up views of.

Then we used the mapping tool to cover the neighboring buildings in a red “no fly zone.”

That produced this map of the mission we wanted:

dronebase

Then we hit the green continue button, completed a few fields of information, chose which of the “images and video” or “maps and surveys” packages we wanted. We chose the $399 “basic” images and video package. Then we entered our credit card, verified that we owned the property or had permission from the owner to fly over it, and we were done.

A few minutes later we received an email stating that a drone pilot had been engaged and would be flying the job the next day (sunday).

On monday, we got a dropbox folder full of video and images including this edited summary video of the job:

We then shared that dropbox folder with our architects and a few days later we had a decision that we are all happy with.

I know I am biased by our investment in and ownership interest in Dronebase, but this experience was kind of magical. For $399 and a few minutes of work on the computer we got exactly the views we wanted to see. All of our questions and concerns were answered with the footage we purchased.

I can see how drone based services are going to change a lot of things. Hiring a drone pilot is simple, easy, fast, and not particularly expensive. If you have a job you want done on your property or the property of someone you know who will authorize it, go to Dronebase and check it out. It’s a super cool and useful service.

AR Drone – The Maiden Voyage

I wrote about drones a while back and as part of my exploration of them, I bought an AR Drone on Amazon. It was shipped to my office for some reason and sat there for about a month as I normally cycle or scooter home. But yesterday I decided to Hailo it home and bring the drone home with me.

It was good timing as all of our kids are home this week and got to participate in the maiden voyage. Emily and I unboxed it and charged the battery. Then we took it for its maiden voyage in the living room of our apartment.

Josh did the flying bit on my android phone, Emily and Jessica did the Instagraming and Vining, and I played prevent defense so that the drone would not hit our Eric Freeman painting.

Screenshot_2013-06-12-07-11-23
After witnessing this scene, the Gotham Gal immediately banned all drone flying in the apartment so we will have to continue our exploration in the back yard.

Here are some thoughts based on the out of the box experience and maiden voyage:

1) the out of the box experience is great. It basically comes all put together, you charge the battery, download the app (iOS and Android) onto your phone or tablet and you are good to go.

2) it conects via wifi not bluetooth. That works fine but while you are flying the drone, you are not online. That seems like an issue at some level for cool things you might want to do with it that leverage the internet.

3) the app that controls the drone and the interface was not particularly intuitive. Josh plays enough video games that he is probably a candidate for the air force drone academy and yet he had some difficulty figuring it out.

4) everyone loves the drone. It would make a great house pet.

Once I get the hang of flying the drone, I want to start programming it. I plan to continue to post updates here as I get more into this.