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.


Comments (Archived):

  1. JimHirshfield

    Wow! So exciting to see this take off.

    1. fredwilson


    2. jason wright

      Stop it. I’m watching u 😉

  2. Mike Cautillo

    Very creative model…..I’m fascinated by the potential impact of drones. I invite you to check out this very progressive drone model here in Toronto, Canada (Disclosure:I’m an investor). Ambitious technology!! http://www.dronedeliverycanada.com

  3. LIAD

    lovely post and startup story.always good to see grafters doing well.

  4. awaldstein

    Too cool.Curious how many of your founders come with military backgrounds like this one.Great story as well.

    1. fredwilson

      Not as many as I would like

      1. awaldstein

        His post was great. Homey. Straight from the heart.In reading it it felt like he was trying to build a business. And honestly that is not that common as the first thought out the door for most startups.

        1. pointsnfigures

          Hoo-ya. Marines will always tell you they are Marines. Not regular armed forces.

          1. awaldstein

            Guess that is true but never thought of that.Really like that they are building a platform, a standard, a community, and industry and a business.

          2. jason wright

            my mother’s uncle, Frank, was a Royal Marine. he went on covert operations to Scandinavia during WW2. he faced the enemy at close quarters and prevailed. he died two years ago aged 90. he was reluctant to ever speak about his experiences. war is traumatic. today it would be called PTSD.startups are something else.

          3. awaldstein

            everyone in my generation had a parent and every uncle who was oversees during WW2.and that community of friends they–or at least my father and uncles–made was a circle they kept their entire lifes.i can’t remember on conversation about being in combat.my dad who had never been on a plane when he went nor ever been out of this area spoke about places and people and culture.never about war.

      2. PhilipSugar

        If you get the discipline of a military person with the spirit of an entrepreneur watch out! That is the background of my only angel investment.This is a text book VC investment. Text book for both the VC and Entrepreneur. Took 18 months to get off the ground and then it really started taking off. (How that for puns) But seriously you need the money for runway and then you need the money for scale. And when it starts scaling the VC can get the returns they need without hurting the company or founders one bit.

    2. Nicholas Osgood

      DroneBase also works with Drones & Good to enable job placement for transitioning military veterans: https://blog.dronebase.com/

  5. LE

    This is great. As someone who flew gas RC Helicopters as early as the 80’s with no electronics I can really appreciate how far things have gone.Back then the only electric flight was with an electric cord attached to a heli that was used as a very imperfect trainer. And the lack of gyros and sophisticated electronics meant that there was a super steep learning curve and a series of crash and burn events with what, at the time, was a $2000 setup ($4500 in todays dollars). When you crashed you had to rebuild. And you did crash. That oddly was part of the fun of flying. Rebuilding and parts was difficult. Took an hour to get to the hobby shop that had the parts that you needed.This is the heli that I had. Looks like this video was circa the 80’s. The inverted flight is super super difficult to do (I never achieved that status).https://www.youtube.com/wat

  6. LE

    I am wondering if there is differentiation of skill level and filming results quality that allows drone pilots to distinguish themselves and potentially earn premium pay. How much of the market will support a higher quality product vs. what 95% of the other pilots can produce?

  7. William Mougayar

    Great progress for Dronebase, but I’m disappointed that this (still early) market is already dominated by DJI from China, and without serious competition from elsewhere. Maybe this will change, I hope.

    1. DFan

      But without the low cost manufacturing from China, the drone industry won’t grow that fast. You may recall how expensive the RC helicopters are 25 years ago. It was no way every family can own one.

      1. William Mougayar

        Ok, but I’d like to see a non-Chinese company in this market. They can still Manufacture in China.

        1. Rob Larson

          Why do you want to see a non-chinese company win the market?

          1. William Mougayar

            Diversity and competition is good. It brings prices down and gives more value to users.

          2. JamesHRH

            But this doesn’t ever happen in tech.

        2. JamesHRH


          1. William Mougayar

            Why not. Competition is healthy.

    2. Mike Cautillo

      Why, does Dronebase manufacture their own drones too??

      1. William Mougayar

        No, they use DJI a China-based company.

    3. Nicholas Osgood

      GoPro is trying though with their Karma drone…. 3DR tried but ended up switching to Enterprise.

      1. William Mougayar

        Exactly. That’s my point. Even Parrot is retreating a bit. Maybe DreamQii’s Plexidrone will be the one.

  8. DFan

    Great but I am disappointed that we (tech industry) are still not able to drive down the cost of the biggest expense for our population, i.e. healthcare. Fred and other VCs, if you guys can promote any healthcare cost cutting startups, that will be wonderful to the world.

    1. Nick Grossman

      totally agree, and at USV we’ve got 4 active healthcare investments and aren’t planning on stopping anytime soon

  9. Samuel Oliver

    Great job for the guys! How does 10,000 tie with the ‘1,000,000 commercial drone missions available’ on the website? Is there a geog. mismatch between drone operators and missions that leaves many incomplete? Are many missions poor quality (e.g., low pay) and therefore better screening needed?

  10. jason wright

    Is there a drone big enough to fly an immigrant over from Mexada?That would trump the fucker.

    1. Lawrence Brass

      60 second flights over the wall…… holy cow.You are spot on business jason. 🙂

      1. jason wright

        Mexada LLC – ‘no wall too high’.

  11. Henry Yates

    Nice work Dronebase! I am glad we played a small part in helping you reach 10,000 missions – our clients love your service.https://collab.dronebase.co

  12. EgoDiary

    Rock Quarry guys can afford more than $300. That’s below cost for any commercial photographer or videographer worth their salt, and who knows what they’re doing. Biggest winner here is Dronebase and Fred, and commercial enterprises who like to lowball professionals in the gig economy. So yay?

    1. JamesHRH

      The most amazing hing about a really well thought out tech platform is the compression of the economic cycle: no early adopter / fat margins era; no broadening of the market; just BOOM, right to complete commodification.And, of course, the labour gets the short end and the creators / investors get a highly concentrated blast of wealth.

  13. Lawrence Brass

    Not a drone flight, but these guys and their equipped Boeing 747-400 have been flying above Chile almost daily, helping to control and put out the huge wildfires. This is US engineering, experience, entrepreneurship, ingenuity and bravery in action. It is really crazy to fly such a big jet plane so low. The mission is being financed by a donation from a foundation related to the Walton family.Events like this show the spirit of the USA shining, this is the country I admire and respect.http://globalsupertanker.com/https://www.youtube.com/wathttps://www.youtube.com/wathttps://www.youtube.com/wathttp://ftiratings.com/wp-co…Isn’t she beautiful!Thanks Jim and Crew.

  14. Frank W. Miller

    This is a serious question. This seems like a business that could get going relatively easily with a modest investment and then run quickly just off revenue. Why would the need VC money?