Do you want to know the secret to building a successful, long-lasting drone based business?
Wendell Adkins is the founder of Perfect Perspectives; a leading close range unmanned aerial service company. Wendell has been flying unmanned vehicles for years, stretching back to his childhood with RC aircraft. He is one of the world’s top ranked, paid, professional RC competition pilots, including winning an FAI World Championship with Team USA in 1993. He has also consulted as a drone test pilot for both General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
In 2005, Wendell turned his hobby into a business by creating Perfect Perspectives which deliver’s high quality video content. A few years later, he created the Drones for Work division which specializes in inspections of industrial and electrical infrastructure. In an industry that has grown so fast, rarely do we get an opportunity to hear from someone that has as much business experience as Wendell. In this episode, Wendell talks about his video and infrastructure divisions, the lessons learned over the past 11 years, and how we can build and sustain a successful drone based business.
In This Episode
- [02:06] Introduction to Wendell Adkins. Wendell Adkins is the founder of Perfect Perspectives, a high quality aerial video content company. Along with his wife, he’s been operating Perfect Perspectives since 2005. The couple also started Drones for Work, a division that specializes in aerial inspections of electrical and industrial infrastructure.
- [04:41) Drones – Then and Now. Wendell describes how he used RC helicopters in 2005 when the business started and the challenges of using RC helicopters at that time. The helicopters were sensitive, expensive to fix and a challenge to fly. But when they functioned properly, they were very good and capable flying extremely fast. Today Perfect Perspectives uses 10 different designs, depending on the set and needs of the shots. They still use the RC Helicopters sometimes, but they also use quadcopters and multirotors.
- [09:36] Past Work. Perfect Perspectives has done a variety of film work for ABC News, CBS Sports, ESPN, Travel Channel and History Channel. They’ve produced a Super Bowl commercial, Thursday Night football promo, Ancient Aliens, 20-20 and many more projects.
- [10:38] The Business – Then and Now. Wendell talks about how the drone aerial videography business has changed in the past 11 years. Primarily the technology and access to the technology have impacted the business most. Wendell used to travel longer distances than today, because there weren’t many other drone companies in business at that time. Other work that they would do, like golf courses and real estate, are now being done by the companies themselves as drone technology has been more accessible. Perfect Perspectives has remained competitive by being adaptable, as in the case of creating the aerial inspection division.
- [12:36] Drones for Work. Drones for Work evolved out of Wendell’s past work with an electrical utility and coordinating infrastructure inspections. After retiring, Wendell leveraged his knowledge and contacts from the utility industry to create Drones for Work.
- [14:07] Success Factors in the Drone Inspection Business. Having an electrical utility background has been very helpful in understanding the vocabulary and requirements of the industry. But people entering the industry can still benefit by partnering with companies with established contacts or business relationships with the utilities.
- [15:32] FAA Regulations. The Section 333 process, while it may be necessary, has been difficult to operate in. Most people don’t operate within the requirements. In the inspection business, the 400’ ceiling is a challenge, since many power plants have infrastructure higher than 400’.
- [17:28] The Operation. The company has several pilots and drones and business is growing each year. Even though the Section 333 exemption has been a challenge to work within, business has increased, as clients have sought out companies, like Perfect Perspectives / Drone for Work because they do have a Section 333 exemption.
- [19:25] Cameras – Then and Now. In 2004, the cameras were inexpensive, non-DSLR cameras with crude mounts. Operators couldn’t see what the camera was looking at; they had to hope that the scene from framed properly. Today, the lowest line of cameras is the DJI Inspire Pro with a micro four-thirds, 4K camera. They also use some high grade cannon cameras and the top of the line is the Red Dragon cinema camera. Wendell recounts one memorable job where he was standing up in the back of a pick-up truck in a harness, flying a helicopter with a camera, shooting a car chase scene.
- [23:48] Videography Success Factors. The key success factors for being successful as a videographer is to become a good business person, have a business plan, know your niche and understand your cost of doing business. Wendell applies a strict standard when making purchases – each piece of equipment must generate a return within 6 months. He recommends looking at how the equipment can continue to provide value, not just buying the latest and greatest drone.
- [26:12] Inspection Business Success Factors. The key success factor is to ensure the job can get done, since most utilities are under time constraints to complete jobs when the infrastructure is down.
- [25:55] Client Relations. The key point is not to take on work that you’re not confident you can do, since you only have one opportunity to make a good first impression. If you fail, chances are you’ll lose the client. Wendell has picked up several customers when a person just starting out couldn’t finish the work or it was not done professionally. Despite the advances in the technology, many people underestimate the skill and practice that is required to fly UAVs in all conditions.
- [32:50] Part 107. Part 107 will make it easier for everyone, included Perfect Perspectives, to operate a drone based business. Wendell doesn’t see that Part 107 will create too much completion, because they have strong strategic partnerships and a reputation of innovation. Wendell’s advice to new commercial drone operators is to set a goal to be different (not better) than everyone else.
- [36:36] Lessons Learned – Risk & Mitigation. Wendell describes a quality control process, developed over the years, where his team has identified a series of potential risks to flight operations. They have developed mitigation steps to reduce the risks, which has resulted more issue free flights and overall more efficient and safe missions.
- [38:54] Lessons Learned – Videography Shoots. It’s common to be on a shoot and the client or director wants things to move at their pace. Don’t rush the shots or compromise safety or your protocols.
- [39:57] Closing
- Perfect Perspectives (www.perfectiveperspectivesaerial.com)