If you believe the hype, 2016 is set to be the year of the drone and everyone is getting in on the action. Camera drone startup Lily Robotics has had over 60,000 pre-orders for its drone, generating a whopping $34 million in sales, while the US Federal Aviation Authority predicted that over 1 million consumer drones would be sold over the holiday period last year. Commercial operators doing heavy duty stuff for clients across various industries are also in high demand. However, like any emerging market, not every drone or provider selling services is the same, with drone operators boasting varying levels of experience and different drones suited to different jobs.
Arcadia Sky is a Melbourne startup looking to solve the problem. Like any other comparison marketplace, it allows customers to search for and obtain quotes from drone operators. The platform allows customers to create a detailed work brief for operators to quote on, and then helps them make their final decision.
Ollie Roberts, who cofounded the platform with Stephen Macnaughtan, said the idea came about simply from the difficulty he faced finding and comparing drone operators to take aerial photographs of his house.
“I had no idea why some operators were charging ten times more than others or which operators were actually authorised to provide commercial services,” he said.
“Drone technology and operator experience varies considerably, making the task of finding the right operator for the job tricky. Someone experienced at capturing aerial video may not be the best choice for a mapping job. On top of this we are seeing exponential growth in the number of commercial drone operators entering the market.”
Customers using the platform simply sign up and create a job brief creation workflow, through which Arcadia Sky asks all the questions needed in order to create a detailed work brief for operators to quote on. Once a job is submitted, customers begin receiving quotes which can be compared side by side on the platform’s quote review dashboard.
Operators signing up can build their profile by adding their portfolio and information about their services, with customer reviews attached once they book jobs. Before their profile goes live, however, it is reviewed by the Arcadia Sky team to ensure the operator is authorised to provide commercial services by the relevant government body. Once their profile is live, an operator will begin receiving job briefs that match their services and area of coverage. Every job match enters the operator’s dashboard, which tracks the status of the job from quoting to customer review.
Given there are hundreds of models out there to help build this kind of marketplace, the growth of the drone industry itself is one of the biggest challenges that the startup has had to face, navigating shifting government regulations and rapid advancements in technology.
“This was also one of the key benefits due to the opportunity created by the market, we were able to quickly scale and didn’t have any predefined ways for working or large competitors to go up against,” Roberts said.
There are over 200 operators on the platform, with around half in the US, 30 percent in the UK, and 20 percent in Australia. Brought on by email marketing and the tried and true cold calling method, these operators vary in terms of focus, from those working on creative aspects such as cinematography applications through to those working on surveying and inspection applications.
The platform is completely free for customers. Operators are also able to sign up and provide quotes on jobs for free, but are charged a 10 percent commission for work won through the platform.
“Demand has been focused on the creative applications such as aerial cinematography, however we are seeing this now diversify into a full range applications including some very imaginative ideas; for example we recently had a job to fly a flower bouquet through a New York park as part of an promotional event,” Roberts said.
Roberts acknowledged that, with drones the hottest technology out right now, Arcadia Sky is not the only platform addressing the market. However, he believes that while others such as Skycatch are focused on more industrial applications and consider their operators more like contractors, Arcadia Sky aims to help operators build their own individual businesses and brands while valuing the service the platform provides.
“In an ever more competitive space it’s important that operators can market their specific style and skillset which also helps the customer make an informed decision when choosing the right operator for their needs,” he said.
Roberts and Macnaughtan have big plans for Arcadia Sky in 2016. They aim to build it into a full service platform for operators, helping them in all aspects of running a commercial drone operation, and expect the Australian market to grow.
“I think the commercial drone industry is in a great place here in Australia; the legislation governing commercial use is some of the most progressive in the world especially when compared to countries such as the US,” Roberts said.
“This has cultivated a great platform from which the drone industry can grow here on home soil, and as more potential customers learn about drones delivering efficiency savings or see examples where their competitors have used the technology to gain an edge, I can only see the market going from strength to strength.”
Image: Ollie Roberts. Source: Supplied.