As drone regulations open up for commercial operators in the U.S., drone operators who want to fly – and customers who want to be sure of finding qualified operators – have new options. Meet Brian Stoneman, founder of Canadian drone startup Recon Aerial Media, creating a new model of drone franchise.
While most franchises take a “top down” approach – offering business owners corporate structure but not much in the way of operations support- Recon Aerial Media uses a “bottom-up” strategy.
A drone pilot himself, Stoneman has found that as the industry develops, businesses sometimes struggle to identify the benefit that drones can provide. “The biggest concern of commercial drone customers is what drones can do for them. Can they save time? Save money? Eliminate risk? If drone technology does those well, people will make money. If it doesn’t, customers will move on.”
Passionate about selling drone technology to industry, the Recon Aerial Media team have examined every aspect of commercial drone operation for specific verticals and have developed a well-defined process to ensure that both customer and operator end up with consistent results. “Everything we do is based on workflow – we’re paying very close attention to demand. We’re looking at what people need and how we can produce what they need – before they even know. The client is #1,” says Stoneman.
The Recon team offers services across verticals, including real estate, infrastructure inspection, surveying and mapping, construction management, and agriculture. The company delivers a meticulously engineered workflow to their drone operator franchises, and partners with third party editors and processors to produce the finished product. Integrating partners like mapping and processing provider DroneDeploy at the right points in the workflow ensures that the operator can deliver a predictable – and actionable – finished product to the customer, every time. “It’s about consistency to scale… consistency every step of the way,” says Stoneman.
The company also offers franchises support to get started in the business, helping them navigate the complex regulations in Canada and abroad and providing training on their process. A new franchise can get started quickly – Recon’s goal is to get a new business working on some of the simpler applications like real estate and marketing within a couple of weeks; the business structure that they provide means that operators don’t have to work out every detail of building a new enterprise themselves. “We’re providing the merchant backbone – the business systems,” says Stoneman.
While Recon Aerial Media is on a steep growth trajectory- and the company is currently seeking funding to accelerate the pace as demand ramps up – commercial drone regulations remain an issue for the entire drone industry. Stoneman, who has applied the same rigorous research to drone regulations as he has to drone applications, says that the regulatory environment must be framed to support the industry. “They’re [Canada is] putting in new regulations to register drones – which sounds innocuous, but it requires that the manufacturer must submit a certificate of airworthiness. If that doesn’t happen, the drone can’t be used commercially,” he points out. “For example, the DJI Inspire would be grounded…There are very few models that are compliant right now. That would severely limit competition.”
Despite the regulatory hurdles, Stoneman sees huge opportunities for growth in the drone industry. “They’re out there and they’re everywhere – it’s all new,” he says, adding that he hopes the media will change the conversation about drones away from safety issues to focus on potential. “Drone technology offers a lot of good – far more good than one small drone flying too close to an airport.”