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:


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

Here’s how you do a Pano Mission:


And here is how you do a Client Mission:


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!!!


Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    This sounds like Uber for drones. Great idea. I’m getting my DreamQii Plexidrone soon and will look into it.

    1. JimHirshfield

      “This for that”, tsk tsk.

    2. jason wright


    3. jason wright

      is that a new Xiaomi?

      1. William Mougayar

        No. Plexidrone is made in Toronto.

        1. jason wright

          Falls off chair

  2. Vitomir Jevremovic

    wow. just wow

    1. fredwilson

      I like a comment like that !

      1. Vitomir Jevremovic

        I like blog post like that 🙂 if I was a kid, I would be a droneee pilot. Saying that, is there any age limitation??

  3. LIAD

    Pano missions seem akin to the ‘phantom profiles’ soc nets/yelp used to make for people/businesses. Create a little unsolicited value/teaser as an acquisition on-ramp. Some disdained that strategy. I thought it excellent. (+ Even if the businesses don’t end up buying the service, dronebase effectively maps airspace(?) at no direct cost to themselves. Surely a major asset going forward. Add a little gamification and turn it in Pokemon Go for drone pilots. Win win.)Also interesting how this invariably will lead to one-stop-shop bundling. So many routes they can go in. Pilot credentialing, insurance, training etc. Smart. I like it.

    1. Nicholas Osgood

      I like where your head is at!

      1. CS

        Best job I’ve ever had!Christopher Sherritt

    2. Jess Bachman

      Well, on-spec presumedly means there is a potential client there already, and not just Dronebase.

      1. LIAD

        i presume the sales team targets specific sites based on likelihood of requiring the footage, construction sites and the like.pilots get the footage. dronebase attempts to sell it to the client, splits payment with pilot.

        1. Jess Bachman

          Well that is some HIGHLY speculative spec-work then. Not a great deal for pilots unless the payoff is big, which I doubt it is. Especially if Dronebase has rights to the footage. I hope Dronebase gives pilots something for their time. Spec-work is shitty business model.

          1. Lawrence Brass

            I am founding a speculative restaurant, it will sell speculative meals to spec-work pilots.

        2. Jess Bachman

          “A Pano mission has a very simple shot list and we will attempt to sell the assets to the customer (broker/agent) that is assigned to the property or asset. A Pano Mission does not have a guaranteed payout. The shot list includes a 360 Panorama and Beauty Shots. See example demo video here. Pilots will not know how much they are getting paid for a Pano Mission”What an opportunity! Maybe they will get “exposure” too.

          1. LIAD

            lets not forget, flying drones is fun

          2. Jess Bachman

            Really?Sounds like a great way to kill your passion for flying drones.I enjoy designing. That doesn’t mean that “fun” is part of the compensation package and that I should be doing spec work.

          3. LE

            I’ve often thought about that with respect to the design and advertising industry. Once a norm like that gets established and accepted by the group of competitors it gets locked in.Look at all the time that is wasted in the real estate business where a salesperson only gets paid when a deal is done and a buyer can waste someone’s time to no end and without any clear commitment.

          4. Alex King

            I looked up a few of these missions in my area, having done paid client missions for them in the past. Many houses were no longer for sale, others already had drone images (not great ones, operator in the center of the frame, etc). For me to take one of these while out and about in my town would take probably 10 minutes or so. I don’t like the idea for two reasons. 1. I liked to get paid for the work performed. 2. On the client missions I flew for them, the property owner was unaware that I was coming, despite having to schedule a time to arrive. Having an assigned mission give a nice easy explanation for your reason to be there, “I got your address of a list and am taking photos to try to sell you realtor” (I can’t see myself saying it, but I could see someone saying it) is likely going to cause an issue.I think the company is headed in the right direction overall, but there are definitely some kinks to work out. A great addition to this feature would be an easy listing report feature, it takes me 5 minutes or so to determine if the property is still for sale, it shouldn’t require an email to support with the mission number, etc, to get the mission looked at for removal.

          5. Jess Bachman

            Yeah, all the missions in my area map directly to real estate listings on Trulia. There is hundreds of “missions” available. That is a HUGE top end of the funnel that Dronebase is expecting its pilots to capture. The success rate is for getting paid is going to be very small. Their “likelihood of a payout” meter is some serious smoke and mirrors.Also, many of these listings are not owner-occupied. As a former renter, I would not be OK with some dude taking drone shots of my house, especially if he had no connection with the owner. It’s not a good idea to be putting drone pilots in the crosshairs for further public backlash.

        3. LE

          I think the idea is good for the reasons that I noted in my reply to Jess’s other comment. However the 50% is way to high of a vig. It will simply invite competition from others who will be willing to sell footage for much less of a commission. And most likely discourage some good pilots and hustlers. Especially for spec work. The idea is a new idea. Start out with a small take to get it running you can always get a higher amount % down the road.

    3. PhilipSugar

      Except that you do the work for free and take on all liability which they control.

  4. JimHirshfield

    I’m missing what’s new here. Wasn’t this always a 2-sided marketplace? How were drone pilots recruited prior to this?

    1. fredwilson

      What is new is the opportunity to do the pano jobs on spec and the focus on a wide open market for pilots. Before this they had to limit the pilots to the ones they could get work for. This changes that

      1. JimHirshfield

        I see

      2. kenberger

        double wow. I’m curious to know how USV discovered and got access to this company– totally understand if you can’t reply.I scouted a number of interesting drone co’s a few years ago to invest/advise, but really missed this winner.

        1. Nicholas Osgood

          DroneBase graduated YC Winter 2015!

          1. kenberger


      3. fusionlab

        Spec work is no work. I am a certified drone pilot (FAA 107 regulations) so Drone Base is definitely interesting and I signed up but I am not going to waste my time driving around, photographing homes from the air in the hopes of receiving some minimal compensation.Most of the homes listed in my area says chance of payment is 5 out of 10, too low a chance so no thanks. I would be interested in receiving specific work in the area, so that could be the value for me in joining Drone Base.

      4. LE

        I’d like a way to be able to buy a drone and then have dronebase pair that drone with someone who would use it for actual assigned or even spec jobs. I want to buy a drone but I fear that I won’t use it. Just hate to throw money out and have something sit unused. I was going to buy a high end camera but didn’t want it to collect dust.

        1. Adam Sher

          You could be the drone medallion kingpin, like with taxis pre Uber.

  5. kenberger

    I’d like to contribute the following quote for Dronebase to consider using: “Holy crap is this amazing, needed, and fun-sounding!”– Ken Berger, startup nut and avid drone pilot.Pity it’s released now while I’m in Berlin w/ terrible weather. But can’t wait to power test this over the winter when I’ll be in warmer climates.

  6. awaldstein

    I like!Kickstarting a b2b community is a unique process as it’s all about supply before demand balance.I like their approach.

  7. Henry Yates

    We have a great working relationship with Dan and Nick – great value product and fantastic customer service (they manage the San Diego->UK time difference amazingly well). They organise pilots for us across UK and Ireland. Here is an example:https://estatecreate.wistia

    1. Nicholas Osgood

      Thanks for the kind words Henry!

  8. pointsnfigures

    let the community figure out new uses without the overhead cost. good idea.

  9. cavepainting

    That’s really super cool. It is like starting your own drone business.I do wonder about the economics of this and how much money can someone make by flying a mission. The beauty of Uber X was it that could provide a serious supplemental income and you could work when you wanted. It was also easy enough to execute a job. You just had to know how to drive without crashing the car.Vetting the pilots and ensuring that they know what it means to deliver the job to spec will be critical.

  10. jason wright

    What is ‘pano’?

    1. Jess Bachman


      1. Vasudev Ram

        And spec? as used in your earlier comments. Specification / speculative?

        1. Jess Bachman


  11. Frank Vallese

    Nice idea! Seems that the limited and straightforward menu choices help fuel the growth. It would be nice if drone operators that have approved FAA waivers (defining specific risk mitigation methods while deviating from default FAA rules) were able to extract additional benefit (a premium). For example, in certain situations, images after dusk (non-daylight) might be highly desirable.

  12. Francois Royer Mireault

    You need more than an ‘idea’ to build a great company but let’s be honest, this is a pretty damn good idea. It’s both magical (drone pilots flying missions) and practical (SMB owner wanting a beauty shot of it’s store).

  13. Twain Twain

    Kony wanted to give me a DJI Phantom after I won their hackathon (it was a drinking app) but I asked for Amazon vouchers instead.I’ve been obsessing about the drone footage of Apple’s new campus for a while:…Aside from the obvious use case wrt real estate builds like this, I’d want my drone to drop packages of chocolates, nuts and energy drinks to me during hikes.Intel invested in this photo-taking wearable drone which is pretty cool:

      1. Twain Twain

        Lol, where is that screenshot from?!

    1. Lawrence Brass

      Heh. Same obsession. Dream of walking the place someday.Speaking of drones and things I would love to see, have you seen this for real?

  14. David C. Baker

    How are they getting around the increasing regulatory requirements issued by the FAA? I’m an airplane and helicopter pilot (real aircraft) and I fly drones, but doing a drone project for a client and charging for it requires very specific certifications that even I don’t have at the moment. I’m just talking about the US, here. The UK is a lot friendlier to uncertified drone flyers.

    1. Sebastien Latapie

      I’m not informed on the subject, but I’m going to assume they are taking the “ask for forgiveness later” approach right now.

      1. David C. Baker

        Well, that “Uber” approach works when you’re driving cars and have a lot of money to spend in legal fees. Taking that approach in an FAA-regulated environment is going to bring some very surprising results. There are some serious problems with this business plan. Any pilot who’s read the F.A.R. book or faced an enforcement action would snicker at this. 🙂

        1. PhilipSugar

          Agree I am IFR rated but could never get the hang of helicopters.

          1. David C. Baker

            I’m just astounded at the hubris in this business plan. Essentially they are openly encouraging thousands of drone pilots to break dozens of very clear laws within regulated airspace. I’m going to get some popcorn.

          2. PhilipSugar

            Here is the thing. For the paid missions the risk is low of attracting much attention. I agreed to pay for a mission and while maybe illegal very doubtful I am going to report anything. I am complicit in the act. The only thing that is going to cause a problem is an accident.For the Pano mission? Well if I’m sitting in my house and all of a sudden I see some drone taking pictures outside my upstairs window where I had reasonable expectation of privacy I might be pissed. Then I get notice that a company wants to have me pay for said photos that pissed me off. I now know who did this. If I’m a lawyer it’s even worse.But the real loser here is the drone pilot. They are going to have to give up your name, and worse their terms say you will pay for their defense or settlements as well.

          3. David C. Baker

            A few months ago the FAA required registration of every drone with the equivalent of a tail number. It was free for grandfathered purchases and then I think $5. Most people are affixing them in a way that makes them unreadable at a distance, but these things crash a lot and in that case getting that tale number and looking it up in the FAA database will be very easy.

          4. PhilipSugar

            You know as well as I do that people report pilots all of the time for “buzzing” or flying too low. See my comment to LE, there are people that really don’t like pictures or things flying near them.

  15. Vendita Auto

    Noted this tweet: “@AcendInsurance which insures drones only when in use. The @Metromile for flying”

  16. Jess Bachman

    Sorry Fred but the Pano missions are just exploitive spec-work that companies have long sold under the guise of “get paid for doing what you love”.From Dronebases site:”A Pano mission has a very simple shot list and we will attempt to sell the assets to the customer (broker/agent) that is assigned to the property or asset. A Pano Mission does not have a guaranteed payout. The shot list includes a 360 Panorama and Beauty Shots. See example demo video here. Pilots will not know how much they are getting paid for a Pano Mission.”From working in the design field were spec-work is both common and a scourge, I can tell you that Dronebase will attract the least talented and professional pilots using this. If Dronebase can’t sell the assets at a healthy clip, they will burn out pilots, and have a bad rep in the field. The possibility of using these unpaid assets for future monetization is even more scummy.

    1. LE

      Actually good points. And I am also noting that the page that has what you quoted hasn’t been indexed by google.Now taking the other side and looking at the positive aspects a pano mission is [1]:a) A chance to build a reputationb) A chance to build skillsc) The ability to do work, at a lower rate, in order to build a future client base. Very common in other professions and a good idead) Have fun and get to use your equipment. How many people take pictures every day and fly drones and have no chance of making any money?Nobody starts off earning top rate. You earn that over time. [2][1] Dronebase should add info like this to their marketing message if they haven’t done so already.[2] My stepdaughter (12 years ol) is into video and video editing. Just the other day I told her that when she gets a bit older she can try to get bar/bat mitzvah video jobs from people who can’t or don’t want to pay full freight for a professional. As she develops her skills and her reputation grows she can then inch into up into charging professional rates.

      1. Jess Bachman

        All very old and tired arguments for spec work.There is a huge difference from your stepdaughter doing mitzvah jobs for friends, family, or people who can’t pay… and doing free work for a company (Dronebase) with $7M in funding.I got started doing design for groups that couldn’t pay, bands, small and local businesses. But when you can pay, you should pay.

        1. LE

          Except I’ve done it this way and it’s worked for me in a few different businesses. One example: When I was in high school I did photography (as I’ve mentioned before) and I did start by doing jobs for free and then was able to get paid. (Didn’t take long either).and doing free work for a company (Dronebase) with $7M in funding.Honestly Jess this has nothing to do with it. It’s strictly a business decision and you evaluate it as such.I got started doing design for groups that couldn’t pay, bands, small and local businesses. But when you can pay, you should pay.Key above “I got started”.So let me ask you a question. If when you were starting out a local corporation (with money) had asked you to do some design work for them would you have said “Well I have no experience but given that you can pay you should pay me anyway?”.

          1. Jess Bachman

            There is lots of ways to get started, in design or as a drone pilot without doing spec work.I’m willing to bet that the best paid drone pilots today didn’t get started by doing free jobs for people, but by building a portfolio of their own footage and skills on personal projects.The key is to never say “I have no experience” but rather “look at my portfolio”. If you really have no experience, you have no business even inviting offers.Dronebase specwork is going to attract the least talented and creative pilots. Whats worse, is that as @liad:disqus mentioned, the Pano missions might actually be a front for building a library of drone footage for other monetization. They could never pay a Pano pilot and still come out ahead.

          2. awaldstein

            dunno about this.aggregating a market and building one from scratch without a supply to start with are different.If there is already supply, cool, I get you. If there is not and you need to create it, this methodology has a fair shot.they aren’t the same thing.

          3. Jess Bachman

            Well why do the drone pilots have to accept 100% of the risk to build Dronebase’s market? Especially if the drone assets could be monitized later with no payout to the pilot.This is just some shitty startup 101 growthhack. Probably looks real good in a funding deck.

          4. PhilipSugar

            More than 100% You take on all of the risk of a well funded startup for free. Sue Joe Schmo? Probably Not. But sue well funded Dronebase? You Joe Schmo on are the hook for all attorney fees and settlements that they decide. $100k??? doesn’t seem too bad, especially if it is not out of your pocket.

          5. LE

            Actually I agree in part (but still think it’s a good idea because not everybody is me (or you)) because I have started at least two real businesses (and tested or played with several other ideas [1][2] ) where I knew nothing at all and was taken seriously from day one without even a portfolio or any reputation. People don’t ask many questions … is what I have personally found.I even have a name for this which I call ‘the assumption of legitimacy’.[1] An example from years ago: I heard that a local hospital needed radiologists from a girl that I was dating. I approached the hospital and said that I was a medical recruiter and that I had some prospects (I didn’t). I got them to sign a contract (which I adapted from a contract that I saw someone else using in a different field). I then went to a local medical conference and put out flyers which I made up recruiting radiologists for the open position. Got replies, hooked MD’s up for interviews.[2] Here is another one. Earned a commission for successfully selling a pharmacy to a larger retail chain. One day just heard that it might be for sale. Went and pitched the owner (I guess he assumed I was a business broker I wasn’t) and when I had him signed up I approached the buyer and put the deal together. Nobody ever asked any questions or wanted any references.

          6. Jess Bachman

            Well, not everyone is as smooth as you LE. 😉

          7. PhilipSugar

            See my comments to LE. It is one thing to come to my door say I see you are doing landscape work I’ll take pictures for $20 and come back several times and then take pictures for $20 each time, if you agree you like the pictures.Then ask can I get the name of your landscaper? Email them a link to your photo’s for free and say can we work together? This is a great way to promote your work and will make your clients happy.

        2. Rob Larson

          Jess, I hear your arguments against spec work in design, where that tends to be abused. But I see this business model as much different, leading to different motivations. When taking pictures with drones, as I understand it, doing the initial project is trivial (maybe a 10 minute exercise?) The value is in the *repeat* work. E.g. taking the same pictures every week or every day, so the client can monitor changes, see progress, spot problems, etc. So it makes perfect sense that someone might want to offer the first one free, or on spec, trying to get a contract. This strikes me as a perfectly legitimate approach to drumming up drone photography contracts.

          1. Jess Bachman

            The problem is the top end of the funnel is so large for pilots. Dronebase has open missions on all real estate listings. Even if the work only takes 10 minutes, what if it takes a pilot 50 gigs to land a repeat customer. That’s days of free work, then Dronebasegets 50% of the actual sale.

      2. PhilipSugar

        See my negative aspects below. It’s one thing if I say: I’m not sure if I need a pro photographer for my office function, I’ll only do it if it’s cheap.If a kid came to my door with a drone and said I’ll photo your house for $20 I think I would take her up on that.But on these Pano missions you are not building your brand. The only brand that is built is Dronebase, and you take all the risk.I can tell you because people actually come to my town to take pictures and they actually have guided tours. Taking pictures without somebody’s permission really pisses some people off. My wife and my neighbor’s wife get mad as wet hen’s. I have been told to break camera’s more than once. (It is illegal to do so or touch or restrain a person)Because of this I know the laws. If you are taking from a public place where there is no expectation of privacy it is not illegal. If you try to zoom into a house where a person has an expectation of privacy it is. I would say taking pictures from a drone in my third floor might be close. It is poor form to continue when somebody asks you to stop but you don’t have to.(The break the camera request was when somebody was taking pictures of my three year old on his 1950’s trike going up and down the sidewalk asked to stop delete and then proceeded to take several more, and the same happened to my daughter and her bike)

    2. Twain Twain

      Imagine if investors were chosen “on-spec”.Criteria would be:(1.) Investor raises $ X and gives it to founders without charging engagement fees or asking for anything.(2.) Founder will only give investors % equity, board seat etc AFTER there’s been a pitch competition and beauty parade to see which investor was able to raise $ X fastest and with the highest standards.Hey, yeah, we should build a Kaggle Uber for investors to compete against each other!

    3. jason wright

      eventually pilots will be rendered obsolete by technology (Uber’s drivers are unwitting research and development staff slowly putting themselves out f work).on the subject of Uber, i can’t think of another company that has so quickly flipped the commonly used meaning of a word from good to bad. i say this even though i’m optimistic that eventually a hybrid of Tesla electric and Uber (driverless) will help to clean up the air we breathe, which will be a truly awesome achievement and worthy of a tech Oscar.p.s. has anyone seen the film Arrival?

      1. creative group

        jason wright:We had on Sunday.If you enjoy sci-fi you will enjoy it. Very slow in parts. If you don’t fall asleep the middle and end makes up for it. Very slow movie. Would actually suggest waiting until it arrives on DVD or BR.Spoiler Alert! If you DuckDuckgo screen rant it provides an incredible overview of the movie.

    4. PhilipSugar

      Note to people. Look at section 14 of terms of service. If somebody decides to sue you for any reason you pay all costs including whatever attorney or settlement they decide for free work

  17. andyswan

    We will fund pano missions of retail stores/centers during peak hours. Can someone from Dronebase reach out to me [email protected]

    1. Nicholas Osgood

      We will be reaching out to you

        1. Nicholas Osgood

          thanks for the lead. We’ll check it out!

  18. Ana Milicevic

    Dronebase is one of my favorite newer companies by a country mile @fredwilson:disqus !A lot goes into building a vertical double-sided marketplace especially one where that vertical isn’t yet mainstream — eg. we’re still in the experimentation phase vs having well-defined commercial uses of drone technology. They’re doing this the smart way by focusing on supply first.

    1. awaldstein


  19. Salt Shaker

    Wonder if the spec Pano Missions will encounter privacy or even trespassing concerns? (Are air rights in the public domain?) Without prior consent even a commercial enterprise may not take kind to an intruding drone. Presume there are also potential liability issues (a drone crash, for example, on a spec job), though Dronebase likely has pilots sign a liability waiver.