Alan Perlman is a drone hobbyist and marketing consultant who runs UAV Coach, a website that helps to push the drone community forward with educational and inspirational content and training. If you’re struggling with choosing a drone, learning how to fly or building a drone based business, then maybe the UAV Coach can help you gain confidence with drones. In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Alan talks about his products and services, the UAV Coach community and how the UAV Coach helps people reach their goals and develop more confidence with drones.
- [01:18] Meet Alan Perlman learn about the UAV Coach
- [03:24] Hear how a mishap with a drone inspired the creation of the UAV Coach
- [07:36] Alan discusses two of the key services available at UAV Coach – (a) 333 Exemption Application Assistance and (b) UAV Boot Camp Training Course for new pilots
- [10:27] Alan discusses the challenge of delivering timely, actionable content to his community as he’s learning about the drone industry himself. He’s a coach, facilitating knowledge exchange.
- [15:18] Flying drones in New York City can be a challenge. As a NYC resident, Alan talks about options that might interes others in large urban areas.
- [16:26] The UAV Community is more than 8,000 strong and growing. Alan talks about the community, what they want to know and what he’s learned.
- [20:07] Alan discusses the transition of the UAV Coach from a part-time hobby to a full-time business.
- [21:25] What’s next for the UAV Coach? More content, training and education.
- [22:50] Alan talks about staying competitive when there’s so much information available on drones
- [23:19] Alan’s advice to those thinking about getting a drone or starting a drone based business – “learn as much as you can about the industry”
- [24:58] What a person should walk away with as a result of interacting with the UAV Coach – “more confidence to take their drone interests to the next level”
- [26:40] Alan’s special offer of a 20% discount on the UAV Boot Camp Training class http://learn.uavcoach.com/courses/uav-boot-camp?product_id=33666&coupon_code=DRONEPODCAST
UAV Coach (www.uavcoach.com)
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Gaining Confidence with Drones
Alan Perlman, UAV Coach
Introduction to Alan Perlman and the UAV Coach. My name Alan Perlman and I’m the founder and C.E.O. Of UAV Coach and we are a community of unmanned aerial system pilots around the world. Right now we’re about 8,500 hundred folks strong, which I can’t believe I’m saying that number out loud. We’ve ground quickly over the last few months and it’s been really fun to meet everybody. I can talk a little bit more about that later. Our goal is to push the drone community forward. And as anybody is listening to this knows all this stuff is really new. The technology is moving incredibly fast. The applications of said UAV technology- I feel like I’m reading a new news story every week pf somebody using a drone to do something different that I never would have thought. I read a news story a few months ago of people using drones to monitor sharks off the North Carolina coast. Lifeguards that would traditionally do these shark sweeps on the Jet Ski that would them you two or three hours to do these large swathes of ocean, can now do it in twenty minutes with their drone. So I love hearing stories like this. My goal is to help sort of deconstruct the industry. And our team’s goal is to provide really quality content and to help people enter the industry at whatever level they’re looking to get involved, whether it’s just flying recreationally and learning how to fly safely and competently and to understand different purchasing decisions, what the differences between flying the $45.00 Hubson X4 and a $900 Typhoon G or a Phantom DJI II or III or whatnot. All the way through two more commercial applications like, construction site mapping or commercial real estate photography, wildlife management and so on and so forth, so that’s kind of a nutshell. Our goal right now is content. Our goal right now is training and really helping facilitate the industry moving forward with all of that.
When did you start the service? I bought the domain name, UAVCoach,com a little over a year ago. So we’ve been live for a little over a year now.
Now I read that you started the service as a result of a mishap you had with a drone. Can you tell me about that? Yeah you know I used to be ashamed to tell the story. But I think it’s really important to talk about why I started this community, because a lot of people listening to this episode may find themselves, or may have already found themselves in the situation and I found myself in. So here’s what happened. My wife and I got married last September. And her cousin officiated of our ceremony. He’s like an older brother to us. He lives in New York City. He’s a big gadget guy and we wanted to thank him for officiating our wedding. So we bought him a DJ I Phantom I. At the time the Phantom II had just come out. I think we paid a low five hundred dollars, I think it was five hundred ten or five hundred fifteen dollars for the Phantom I on Amazon.com. And I’m thinking to myself, this is great, it’s going to arrive at our apartment, we’re going to walk the drone over to his apartment, we’re going to plug it and we’re going to fly and it’s going to be great. I’ve been flying cheap, remote control cars and boats and helicopters from Walmart and Target since I was a little kid. I thought that this would be easy. So we took it over there on a Friday night and we unbox the Phantom. And it took us the better part of an hour to figure out how to turn it on, and we’re both really smart guys, so at least I’d like to think I’m a smart guy. We pull out the instructions. They’re in broken English. The graphs are very difficult to read. We ended up getting on YouTube to watch some unboxing videos to understand the sequence of plugging in the batteries the right way and calibrating, and what the green lights and red lights flashing in different sequences actually meant. We finally turn it on. We powered it up inside of his apartment to make sure that the motors were working. And then we’ll take it outside. And within twenty seconds, I had brought the DJI Phantom up into the air, maybe 10-15 feet, and I crashed into a parked car.
It was it was so easy for me to lose orientation. I’ve never flown a multirotor before and in this case a quad-copter, and I had rotated it, 90-100 degrees to the right and I couldn’t figure out how to get it back. And the wind picked and lo and behold, I wrecked it into the tire of a parked car. There was no body damage on the car, but the drone was certainly scuffed up. And what happened was- I went home that night and I my hands were shaking a little bit and I had trouble going to sleep. So I pulled out my computer and I went to YouTube and I typed in drone crash. And I typed then phantom crash and I typed in quadcopter crash, and I wasn’t the only one whom experienced this kind of a fateful mishap. So I started reading about the industry and essentially that evening discovered a huge disconnect in the amazing advancements that we have in this technology. And how accessible it is to have technology that was once only available to the military just ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. And now I can have it shipped via Amazon prime within 48 hours to my apartment. So there’s that happening but there’s also a lack of education. A lack of emphasis on safety and common sense when piloting and understanding of the national airspace and all of these sort of complexity of essentially bringing the flying lawn mower up in the sky.
So I started UAVCoach.com in an effort to sort of explore these issues. I have a background in marketing and web development. And so I bought the domain name I installed free WordPress theme, and I figured, “OK. Worst case scenario. I devote myself to this hobby for the next three to six months. I build up my traffic and I reach out this the manufacturers and say hey I’ve got this Web site, you want to send me some pretty drones to review? ” So that was the initial goal and what I soon discovered after writing articles in week after week after week, working nights and weekends on this side project- I realized that this industry is just, just moving forward and I wanted to be a part of it. And it was a nights and weekend project for a very long time, but over the last couple of months I’ve transition to working on building our community full time.
If a person goes to your website, UAVCoach.com, what type of services would they find? So right now there’s two core services that we offer. Number one- is we offer help if you’re in the US, and you’re looking to operate commercially, you may have heard about the 333 Exemption Process. We offer help filing that paperwork, and when I say, “we”, I parted with a company that specializes in this paperwork about four months ago. I got a ton of questions about the 333 Exemption through e-mails and phone calls much earlier this year. And I decided to partner with the company to offer that kind of service to our community. So that’s one core service that we offer, is helping people navigate that process and get set up to operate commercially in the U.S. And then the second product offering right now is that we have a training course. It’s called UAV Boot Camp, and it’s meant for brand new pilots who are learning how to master basic multi-rotor orientation, how to make purchasing decisions, what to buy, what the commercial opportunities are, rules and regulations, safety and we throw in some more advanced stuff like patterns in there as well. And I thought with the second product, the reason I decided to launch it, it’s an online course, is I would notice that there was a lot of companies offering training programs, but they’re in-person workshops and I was getting a lot of questions from my community about, “Well what kind of training do you have? ” I was recommending all these other companies for so long and I was thinking of myself, I keep telling people to fly out to Denver or to San Francisco to wherever these in-person workshops were, why isn’t there a better online training solution? So we launched this kind of lightweight boot camp to get a sense of whether or not people would be interested in online training versus in person training, and we got a really, really great response with version one of the course. And I just hired a professional videographer and I’m working on version two and we’re hoping to launch that early next year.
When did the first class launch? I’m trying to think. It’s been about six weeks, seven weeks. At this point.
How did the first class go? We’ve had about two hundred students go through it so far. I just really- I only launched it to our email list, just to our community, because I didn’t want to open the floodgates and do a the really big marketing push until I knew that people were actually getting value from the course. Part of joining the course is joining me the student community and, I wanted to make sure that the conversation is being facilitated and I was available to answer questions and you know so far so good. It was kind of my minimum viable product. I shot most of the course in my home office. I got a really great feedback from students about what they liked, what they didn’t like, what they were expecting to see more and less of and I’m really excited to work on version two. We’re going to do a much bigger launch earlier next year.
How do you bridge the gap between your own learning curve and the needs of your community and still provide value? I love that question. I struggle with that every single day. Admittedly, I’m not a professional drone pilot. I mean I have not been in this industry for five years, for ten years, like many of my readers have. You know what I’m try to do is to offer transparency, to offer news and updates, and to deliver value through timely content and through better formatted content. What I was finding is when I first started this site, I was going through my own learning curve, and I was on different forums like a D.I.Y. Drones. R.C. Drones, different multi-rotor forums and I was finding the answers to my questions, but they were buried on Page 4 of 72. Or nested within comments of a forum. What I tried to do was to take all that information and to map out, “OK. What questions would somebody, first getting into the space have and how can I answer those questions in a really easy to digest way”. So the very first guide that we worked on was how to fly a quadcopter. It’s like a 3,000 word article on our site. It’s completely free. It’s one of the premier landing pages for most of our new visitors. And it walks through the basics of Mode 1 and Mode 2 of your transmitter and what to expect when you unbox your first quadcopter, and what it means to fly that. And all of the different terms like yaw and pitch and whatnot.
That’s sort of where I’m coming from, is always try to put myself in the shoes of somebody visiting the sight for the first time. And that’s sort of where we get our content inspiration from and I’d say about six months after launching the site, I created an email that I send anybody who joins our community and they get this email, 20-30 minutes after signing up and the e-mail is titled, “Can I ask you something”? I want to why I was here. You know why but give me their e-mail address. And what’s been so awesome is people actually responded to that email. I was not expecting any kind of responses, but we get emails from a fifteen year old whose dad just bought him a drone and he’s interested in learning more. I got an email a couple of days ago from an 82 year old who just bought his first drone. And he’s looking for, kind of a retirement hobby, if you will, and wants to do commercial real estate photography/videography in his area. So getting those e-mails and hearing the one-on-one from people about what they’re looking to do, that kind of helped me prioritize what my own learning path should be. I’m not the only one creating content. We’ve got a team that’s growing. I reach out to a lot of community members to help offer content like, as an example, I was getting a lot of questions about the rules and regulations in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom. And I reached down to one of our community members who introduced herself and I said, “Hey I know you just went through the certification process in the U.K. Do you mind writing up some notes about your process. What kind of training did you have to go through? How much did it cost? How long did it take? ” And she wrote up this really nice guest post that we shared. It offered value to those group of people. So I’m sure that answers your question, but you know something I struggle with quite a bit is I’m not an expert in this stuff. I’ve only been in this industry for a little over a year, and granted, I’m reading about things like rules and regulations and new models that are coming out and I’m flying every single day. And I’m certainly giving this a lot of my energy. I’m doing this full-time, but I still feel like I’m a beginner. I think I was want to feel like that because there’s always more to learn. And with that there’s always more to share.
So I have to ask, after a year, are companies sending you drones to review and comment? Funny right around the year mark, yeah I’d say just last month, we started getting models to test. And a lot of these are sort of new e-commerce platforms or even older and e-commerce platforms that are just adding drones to their mix. They want to get their name out, so they’re OK sending me $30 or $40 micro quad copter to review kind of a thing but you know there’s a much larger manufacturer that I’ve formed a relationship with, and they’ve been sending me some of their newer models to review as well. So it’s been fun. It’s also challenging. I live in New York City, so not the greatest city to have a drone hobby unfortunately. Not a lot of safe space to fly so I have to really careful when I talk to these companies. I say sure you can send me something to review, but it might be a little while before I can get outside of the city and dedicate half a day to go out to a safe park that’s away from airports and away from people. Yeah actually it’s been fun.
Where do you fly in New York City? Are there places to fly in the City or do you have to get outside? It’s really tough. So technically you’re not supposed to fly within five miles of an airport, right. Well in New York City, we got LaGuardia, we got Newark, we got JFK very little of the island a of Manhattan is safe to fly in from that perspective. That said, I’m gone to parks, I’ve gone to Central Park. I’ve gone to Washington Square Park. But if I want to do a real proper test and bring something 50, 60, 200 feet into the sky, you really have to get outside of Manhattan. And most even though New York City has really, really great UAV community, most people do their flying in New Jersey or out on Long Island. And there’s actually a pretty great meet-up group where people get together and fly most Saturday mornings or Sunday mornings. And the location changes, but there’s a lot of model aircraft parks. There’s a model aircraft club out in Staten Island that does regular flying. There are certainly the opportunities for people to fly but you can’t fly out down 5th Avenue. You can down the Empire State Building or anything like that
Alan, you built a great community around the UAV Coach. Can you talk about them and maybe describe who they are? As I kind of hinted at earlier, it’s a pretty wide variety of people. I mentioned a 15-year old and then 82-year old, so all ages. Most were U.S. Based. I’d say most of our community is based in the U.S. But we have a pretty good contingency in Canada, in the U.K. And Australia, and a handful of readers from around the globe. I think that we’ve got about 45-46 different countries represented, which is just so awesome. I love hearing about people wanting to get into this industry in countries where there are no rules whatsoever on unmanned aerial systems. And it’s kind of fun to think about ten years from now what those rules and regulations might look like around the world. So there’s that. I was actually kind of surprised when I started asking people directly, why the heck are you here? Why did you give us your email address? What are you looking to accomplish? I got a lot of e-mails from folks who either have a background in aviation or have a background in the military. A lot of older guys, in their late 50’s, 60’s, 70’s either looking to retire and to pick up skills as a UAV pilot as a kind of a retirement career. Or just folks who are retired and looking to fly. I was kind of surprised that I’d say the average persona of our community it is a much older person. Even though we got folks from all over I’d say, more often than not, the people who at least reply to my emails are a little bit older. And it’s been kind of cool to connect with these guys. I always try to hop on the phone with as many community members as possible. It’s getting a little unsustainable now, but I’m usually on the phone a couple hours a day talking with people about what their background is and what they’re looking to do. And like I said before, a lot of background in the military, a lot of guys flew helicopters for ten years for fifteen years and want to transfer those skills into this new budding industry. And that’s been really fun for me to think about a of entrepreneurial types.
What kind of information are people looking for? Yeah it’s a great question. So I’d say the breakdown between recreational and commercial is about 50-50. Half the people who are in our community are just looking to fly recreationally, and they want to know what to buy, how to fly safely and any kind of rules and regulations in their specific area. They want to make sure what they’re doing is safe. And then the other half are interested in the business side of things- how do I do this legally? What kind of business plan should I be putting together? , What are the opportunities? Where can I actually sell my skills as a as a pilot? Most of the specific questions that I get asked right now are- What to buy and How to fly?
Where are you finding the greatest levels of success in helping to meet your community’s needs? Most of the successes that I found are helping people understand the rules and regulations, because it’s just its tough. You turn on the T.V. Or you pull up your Internet browser and open your news and most of the press is negative, right, toward drones. And that scares a lot of people. A lot of phone calls I get are people who are hesitant to move forward, because they don’t fully understand the ramifications of buying an $800- $900 drone. And they want to make sure that if they make that investment, and if they decide to commit themselves to the industry, that they’re not going to get held up with red tape or they’re not going to get arrested for doing anything illegally. So I’d say most of the quick wins in these conversations are people coming to us with questions about rules and regulations and then us explaining to them, kind of the lay of the land.
If I heard you correctly, the UAV Coach started as a part time endeavor, but now has blossomed into a full time business. It has yeah, yeah. I think my goals initially were like I said just to build websites traffic up and to establish some kind of brand where could connect with manufacturers and get free drones to fly. But it’s gotten to the point now where we’ve got some money coming in through the training course and got some money coming into through the 333 exemption help, at least enough to where I feel comfortable doubling down on the community. You know I’ve always been a guy with side projects. I’ve always had kind of a side project that I focus on nights and weekends. But I’d say this is the first side project that I am a 110% excited about every single day when I wake up in the morning. And it’s the first time I’ve really decided to batten down the hatches and make this is real business. And the community has helped. It’s not just me and every conversation I have with somebody that reaches out and asked a question, I learn a little bit more about what people are looking for and that’s the goal right, it’s to really identify a customer persona, understand what keeps them up at night, and what their pain points are, and deliver a product or service that offers that persona value
What’s next for the UAV Coach? What can we look forward to? Education, Education, Education. So I’m very bullish on training, and I there’s a lot of different ways to take that. You know there are some phenomenal companies right now that are offering really high level training. DartDrone.com and UnmannedVehicleUniversity.com are two that come to mind. I want to be the premier destination for drone training, and that can manifest in a lot of different ways. My goal right now is I’m little to partner with instructor who would like to put together a course. Whether it’s a course on an introduction to 3D mapping and modeling and working with them in a construction engineering company. How to do that? What software do you need? What kind of drone would you need to buy to that? How you put together a business plan to tackle that particular opportunity? What is pricing and packaging look like? What a sample contract look like? A course on that versus a course on building your own quadcopter from the ground up, versus a course on getting into first person view racing. What are the steps to take the become an FPV racer. I really want to double down content, so we’re nearing end of 2015 right now and I’m taking a look at what 2016 is going to look like. Really going to be doubling down on education. I’ve got a lot of really cool things in store for that.
How do you compete with the information that’s already available on the internet on drones? Look, there’s some amazing free resources right? YouTube channels, other blogs. And just trying to understand, are people actually willing to pay for a training course. How much are they willing to pay? What do they get? Do they just get the content or do they get access to a community, do they get one-on-one support? I think in the industry is very new and I’m going to be doing a lot of experimentation to uncover answers to all of that.
What kind of advice would give to someone that interested in buying a drone or starting a drone based business right now? This industry is at a point now where things are going to be changing a lot, over the next few weeks, over the next few months and over the next few years. My advice to any listeners, if you are bullish about the UAV industry, even if you’re not looking to invest in a $1,500 aerial system right now, start reading the news. Start paying attention to who is working on what. There are a lot of companies right now that are kind of emerging as thought leaders in both the manufacturing side of things and the training side of things, in the regulation, in the radio choice side of things. Join the A.M.A., the American Model Aircraft Association. Join AVUSI. Get tapped into local chapters. There are a ton of local chapters of various organizations located around the U.S. And around the world where you can meet other pilots and meet other folks interested in the industry. I just kind of want to stress that that things are really in flux, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think a lot of people look at the industry and they get a little scared and maybe they’re a little hesitant to invest time and energy into moving forward, but this is the time. This is the time to get involved, because it’s up to us who are in this industry to kind of shape the way things look moving forward. And it’s kind of like a once in a lifetime opportunity to be part of a movement, and a set of technologies that are advancing so rapidly. I don’t know if you can sense how passionate I am over here but this is fun stuff.
I can definitely sense that! My last questions, Alan, what do you hope a person walks away with or feels as a result of interacting with your services as the UAV Coach? Yeah great question. I think that a lot of this is about confidence. And I want people to walk away a little bit more confident. And that manifests in a lot of different ways. So confidence in piloting skills, right? Maybe somebody just bought their very first multi-rotor. They’ve got a fifty dollar Syma or Hubson or UDI and they maybe flown it for a few hours or a few weeks, and they stumble upon our community. And they see that there’s training to become much stronger in your approach toward multi-rotor orientation and what your next step should, flying circles, figure eight patterns and things like that. So there’s flying confidence. There’s knowledge confidence. If you’re looking to build a business and thinking to yourself, ah man, I’ve been flying for a while. I’m really good at flying in my backyard but heck I’d never talk to a client before. How much am I supposed to charge? Do I need commercial insurance? Do I need liability insurance? How do I go about talking to insurance companies? You know and so on and so forth, so again my goal with UAV Coach is to provide information. And to provide training and I think at the end of the day it’s all about confidence and sort of inspiring people to take that next step. Whether it’s learning to fly better or whether it’s learning to build a business. Whether it’s looking to get a job and to work for one of these manufacturing companies. So that’s kind of what I hope people get from interacting with our community, whether or not you get our emails and officially join or whether or not you just read an article or two, I hope you walk away with a little more confidence.
Thanks Alan, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the UAV Coach. You know before I go I did want to make sure to offer something special for anybody who is actually taking the time to listen to his half hour conversation. If you’re still listening, you are a rock star. Head on over to learn.uavcoach.com and you’ll see our introductory training course. If you think it’s a good fit, you can use the promotion code, dronepodcast, all one word, dronepodcast to get 20% off of that course. So I just wanted to make sure I offered something special for anyone who’s still listening.
Drone Radio Show Closing