What’s it take to build a drone based business in 2018?
If you asked today’s guest, he would say “Persistence, Flexibility and a lot of thinking outside the box”. Matthew Johnson is President of M3 Aerial Productions and an Instructor at Brandon University UAV Ground School in Manatoba, Canada. In 2015, Matthew launched his drone services company, and like a lot of new small drone based businesses, he struggled to establish his operation. But by continually to refine his business plan and menu of services, Matthew was able to transition the once part-time operation into a full-time, profitable business. In this episode of the Drone Radio Show, Matthew talks about the challenges of creating a drone based business in today’s climate and how operators can achieve a positive cash flow by seeking multiple income streams.
In This Episode
- Introduction. Matthew Johnson is President and CEO of M3Aerial Productions, a drone services company based in Winnipeg, Canada since 2015. Matthew originally intended to run a videography business, but eventually transitioned into serving the agriculture industry.
- Services. Matthew talks about the services delivered by M3 Aerial Productions. The company specializes in agricultural NDVI and Digital Elevation Mapping and drone crop scouting services. In late 2016, M3 Aerial Productions added a training program to its offering of services.
- Early Challenges. Matthew started the business on a part-time basis. He was a school teacher and military reservists. The biggest challenge was trying to balance his existing work and family commitments while building a business. He had a well thought out business plan, but much of it changed in response to competition and as his knowledge of the industry increased. He always maintained a positive outlook and felt that his business would be successful. By the end of 2016, M3 Aerial Productions had flown 40,000 acres of agricultural missions. As an early adopter of the technology, M3 Aerial was featured in several local news articles, which helped advance the company’s momentum.
- Training Program. At the end of 2016, M3 Aerial Productions launched a training program. Matthew saw an opportunity to create a more value-added training program after taking his initial 4-hour session. The first course was attended by 22 people, and since then, scheduled courses have included 8 or more people. From February 2017 to December 2017, 148 people were trained. Matthew has a goal of training 1,000 people worldwide in 2018. The company got a bit boost when Brandon University, located in Winnipeg adopted the training program into its geography program. Thirty-six students came through the first program. M3 Aerial Productions is in discussions with five other universities and colleges across Canada to offer the same curriculum.
- Other Services. Part of M3 Aerial’s strategy is to continue to seek out new partnerships and services to augment their income streams and adapt to evolving industry trends. These include:
- Aerial Spraying – M3 Aerial Productions recently partnered with RogaDrone to deliver targeted aerial crop spraying. RogaDrone has a drone that can deliver a 15 kilogram payload that can spot treat crops.
- Virtual Reality Systems – M3 Aerial Productions is applying virtual reality to support crop analysis. The groundbreaking application merges aerial imagery, NDVI sensor data and below the crop canopy imagery to create a virtual reality video that allows users to “step-into” specific areas of the field and see what is actually happening inside the crop.
- Snail-Mail – In many rural areas of Canada, internet service is weak or non-existent. In these areas, drone operators will be challenged to manage the large amounts of data obtained via drones. The company plans to offer a service whereby, drone operators can mail their data to M3 Aerial Productions for processing.
- Drones4Crohns – Together, working with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, Matthew along with Jon Kovacs, a commercial airplane and UAV pilot from Winnipeg have created a campaign to raise awareness about these awful, debilitating diseases. Both families have been affected by these diseases, and as such, they have made it their mission to use drones to bring this campaign to the center stage. Matthew talks about the first Drones4Crohns photography fundraising expo, showcasing drone photographers, and scenic landscapes from across Canada.
- Lessons Learned. To make a dent as a small commercial business, Matthew feels one should be totally and utterly committed to their business. Operators need to continually be involved in the industry, learn from it and be willing to adapt to changing opportunities. The first step one should take is making up their mind that it’s worth doing, as if you don’t believe it when you’re starting out, you’re predestined for failure. Additionally, Matthew strongly recommends networking to get your services out into the marketplace and tapping into the expertise of others as much as possible.
- Closing. Matthew sees a rapidly changing industry ahead and is excited to see where these opportunities will lead his company in the future.