The cost(s) of working....Insight requested

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BLUF:

I am looking for insight from current/past professionals as to how much financial investment you had to make when you decided to go full-bore into the drone industry.

Background:

I’ve been in touch with a few drone-related companies that specialize in cell towers. I’m not looking at doing it forever (maybe I would…not for certain), because I want to utilize the opportunity to gain hours (and financial savings for a US made thermal drone which is compliant with NDAA 2020).

It seems like there is a lot of upfront financial requirements when being considered for these jobs. Things such as: 1. Needs of specific 360 camera, 2. Additional training costs, 3. Profit-sharing for quantity of time or jobs completed. Some places require up to $5k of additional startup.

I use this analogy: Over-the-road truck driver gets CDL and has a truck. Looks for employment and is required to purchase their own trailer and is required to pay the hiring manager 20% of the profit received for 1 month. (ok...maybe an excessive example...but similar in concept)

Is this the "norm" of the industry? I'm retired from the military and have saved some over time, but doesn't seem like a fiscally responsible venture from all angles.
 
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That's a really broad Q. I'm not sure that one person can go "full bore into the drone industry", just because it's such a broad and deep topic. There are many market segments having specific equipment requirements that can be pretty costly, as well as different training, market development issues, operating considrations, and competition. Examples that come to mind immediately are thermal, agricultural, cell towers, and construction -- different equipment, clients, market concentration, operating procedures (even time of day -- lots of thermal jobs require flying at sundown or sunrise).

If you're doing this as an individual start up, my best advice is to minimize initial investments by concentrating in one or two market segments, consider acquiring 2nd hand equipment, and plan for slow revenue build. It can take several years to build a client base, sorta like an insurance agency. A drone business sounds really cool, but it's hard work and hard to make much money.

Oh, and that competition thing? There's a good bit of it, and many competitors have been around long enough to be really good and have good connections. Expect to find that the larger potential clients have already brought their drone work in-house or are in the process of doing it, and the smalls are a hard sell to convince that the "juice is worth the squeeze".

I know I've given you only downsides, but I think it's important to go in with realistic expectations and plans based in reality. I've been flying drones for construction for about 4 years as a retiree who doesn't have to do it to feed the family. If I was starting fresh to fly drones as a full time career, I'd look for a company that has a department needing a pilot. Get some experience doing the work, get to know the market place, know your equipment needs and competitors, and go from there.

Best of Luck................. R
 
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Was just now re-reading your original post to see if how far I was off-target, and your "financial savings" comment made me realize I didn't say much about timing of profits. Most new businesses start at a loss, and I think you'll find a new drone start up is going to be looking at 1-3 years before turning a profit. .......... R
 
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Was just now re-reading your original post to see if how far I was off-target, and your "financial savings" comment made me realize I didn't say much about timing of profits. Most new businesses start at a loss, and I think you'll find a new drone start up is going to be looking at 1-3 years before turning a profit. .......... R
I appreciate your input. I think you are on-target.
I want to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. Not everything is full of sunshine and rainbows.
It certainly assists with expectation management.

By going "full bore into the industry", I mean that I need to commit 100% of available working time to it.
I want to build my hours, my experience, and knowledge of the industry. I don't think that I can hold a full-time job and try to do both full time.

Thankfully, I don't need to do this to feed my family either, but at the same time I'd like to pursue the opportunity if in the end, I see that it may be more beneficial. I just want to know what other fiscal requirements others were required to do prior to getting into something like cell-tower work, as a start in their career.

There's risk involved no doubt. On one hand - Keep the desk job and be safe... on the other hand, Apply 100% of my time into perfecting a new craft - Maybe I fail, maybe I succeed.
 
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Sounds like you're leaning into cell tower as a target market. Whatever you choose, try to connect with somebody doing that work who'll talk with you about it. Maybe someone outside of your regional area who won't view you as competition. Sometimes even someone in your area will extend the courtesy of talking with you about a common interest. I've even had a local guy let me go with him on a construction mapping job with I was trying to get my mind around those issues in the beginning for me.

I'd reach out to a company who is big in the market area of interest and ask to talk with someone who could answer a few questions. You'll probably make a connection that will prove useful in the future. I'd also post on forums asking to talk to someone in that market to answer a few questions. High probability of a useful connection if you're zeroing in on a specific type of work. There's probably even someone here on PhantomPilots. Good Luck........... R
 
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BLUF:

I am looking for insight from current/past professionals as to how much financial investment you had to make when you decided to go full-bore into the drone industry.
You'll probably find more users that could assist over at our sister forum:

But be cautious about imagining that it's an easy field to break into.
There's no shortage of hopeful drone owners who would like to find profitable employment flying drones.
There's no shortage of cheap, high quality drones.
But there's a real shortage of people that want to pay you to fly a drone for them.
Most potential clients already have arrangements or are now doing it for themselves.
 
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There are a lot of variables that come into play.
 
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BLUF:

I am looking for insight from current/past professionals as to how much financial investment you had to make when you decided to go full-bore into the drone industry.
We did a startup just after 107 went live in the mapping industry. I chose an Inspire 1 v2 for a starting aircraft @ about $3100.00 for a decent package with multiple batteries and another $1000.00 or so for ancillary equipment (multiple charger for the batteries, radios, iPad, etc.). We already had seats for ESRI's ArcGIS but we did have to buy a license for Pix4D which at the time was about $9000.00 plus the $900.00 a year fee for their maintenance and support agreement. We are a government entity so we self-insure which works great as long as you don't screw up (follow the ops manual verbatim to avoid termination). We also use an online service for record keeping which runs ~$200.00 yearly in addition to paper records each pilot keeps. So at this point we are at roughly $13,300.00 total investment.
I spent roughly three months developing the operations manual, aircraft flight manual, training syllabus for new pilots and the maintenance program (pretty much 30 hours a week @ ~$32.00hr).

Then a couple of years into the program we realized that while the Inspire was great on small jobs (under 5 acres), it was a pain in the *** to map large job sites with and we needed a capable platform that could handle at least 100 acres per battery charge. So we bought into the FireFly 6 Pro with a 42MP Sony RX1RII camera with all the additional bells and whistles and there went another $20,000.00. And we sunk another $6500.00 into an Aeropoint GCP set to increase our accuracy.

To date all told, after roughly 4.5 -5 years into the program we have sunk about 80-100K into the program. I have two pilots not including myself and we operate two aircraft commercially. Don't forget transportation. If you can't get there reliably you can't fly.
 
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Most potential clients already have arrangements or are now doing it for themselves.
That's for sure, had a very competitive quote in for a pipeline and the company engineer has decided to do it himself... hope he follows the rules, it's only 1.25 NM from the local airport...
 

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