Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about starting a drone small business. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I’m currently in the cell phone industry and want to go into the drone business. I am wondering what is a good drone to start a drone business with? And what would someone be looking at revenue wise? And do you think the drone business for people with their own drones and drone businesses will grow or get smaller?
Congrats on the career switch! There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, to acknowledge your background in the cell phone industry, it’s great you already have experience in a field. My mind is immediately jumping to cell tower inspections. Given your experience in the industry already, you may have contacts in those areas which gives you a huge head start.
To your first question about what drone to buy: the great news is you don’t need to spend a lot of money on drone gear to have a successful business. 84% of drone mapping and modeling is occurring on drone models that cost $1500 or less, according to a report by drone mapping software company DroneDeploy.
It’s very common to see enterprise drone work like this done on the $1,199 Phantom 4, or if it’s in your budget, the $1,499 Phantom 4 Pro (the primary difference is the Pro has 5 directions of obstacle sensing for additional safety, vs. the Phantom 4 only having obstacle sensing on the front (not conducive when flying backwards or sideways). In fact, DroneDeploy is the most commonly used hardware brand among its users, followed by SenseFly, 3DR, Parrot and Autel.
As far as revenue, DroneDeploy wrote a super interesting report on what people charge for commercial drone services.
The average hourly rate for general photos and videos for a drone, such as taking wedding footage or photographing a house for a real estate agent, is $145. For a mapping project, the average hourly rate is $168, presumably because there is a higher level of skill involved in generating the map and analyzing the data. If you are certified in GIS, you could charge more for a mapping project than someone with no certification.
Some fields pay more per hour than others. Oil and gas is going to pay you more than agriculture, according to a report by Airstoc.
As far as drone businesses growing or getting smaller, I wish I had a crystal ball! Certainly many people are getting into commercial drones as a business. 37,579 remote pilot certificates had been issued by the FAA as of March 21. And the FAA predicts that more than 420,000 commercial drone pilots will be licensed by 2021. That could mean more competition for you (bad news), or it could be good news, meaning that there is clearly a market for drone businesses.
Companies like Airware are cornering the market for providing drone solutions for Fortune 500 companies. But there are smaller companies looking for small businesses to do contract drone work. I look at startups like Aerotas as excellent (and profitable) business models for doing surveying projects.
My last piece of advice would be, pick a niche and stick to it. Trumbull Unmanned is cornering the market in oil and gas inspections. Aerotas has cornered the land surveying market. For you, that could be cell tower inspections.