From Unmanned Systems magazine: From hobby to business: Creating a business map for new drone companies

The drone market of today is well over 40-years old, and yet it still feels a little like the wild, wild west in 2020. Why? What is collectively missing? What will get the drone market to the next level?

The answer: Stop acting like a bunch of technicians in love with products and start acting like business owners in love with customers. How do we correct this misguidance? By creating a business map; one for our business; and one for our overarching drone market with the help of AUVSI.

Mapping the business

A business map helps provide immense clarity into all the other critical elements of business beyond a love affair with the product: the core of the business; the ideal customer; a pre-eminent strategy for reaching the ideal customer and keeping them; and the right business model for monetizing the engagement with a focus on sustaining profitability.

There are many ways to create a business map, so feel free to research and tailor this concept for your business and market. I use my company’s business map, developed with guidance from the IncCEO Project, as a guidepost. A business map is broken into two key parts: your core ideology and your envisioned future.

Core ideology

This is the reason you started your business. It’s the passion behind everything you do and can be broken down into the several components.

• Purpose. Your purpose is why you exist. It must be empowering to unleash the passion within everyone that works for your business and the customers you seek. It is your “why.”

• Values, beliefs and business principles. These define how you behave as a business. In the end, they form the basis for your corporate culture, your brand and your identity. By what values does your company operate? What beliefs do you hold self evident, such that all important business decisions are made with them in mind, and what are the fundamental business principles you must use to drive your daily business actions? Some examples from Avian include value: we are always reachable by our customers, regardless of the time, night or day; belief: we believe in serendipity and will never respond to a request for a favor by a competitor or a peer by demanding a favor in return; and principle: when we are focused on our competition, they are winning, so always keep an internal focus on constantly adding more value for our customers and let the competition worry about us.

• Mission. Your mission statement is what you do, and it must have some emotional juice to inspire and ignite your employees and attract your ideal customer. Start your mission statement with the words “To create, to inspire,” etc. We can look to industry for some examples of this last bullet point, including Uber Air, PrecisionHawk and Skycatch. Uber Air aims to implement an urban air mobility ride-sharing network in cities across the world. A multi-modal, on-demand service will reduce riders’ commute times and free up ground space in and around cities. PrecisionHawk is dedicated to changing the way businesses view their assets and manage resources. To extract the true commercial value of drones, we must continue to advance a multifaceted technology that includes advanced robotics, robust software, and rich data. Skycatch’s aim is to capture the world’s data and create visual intelligence to help people operate faster, safer, and smarter than ever before.

A business’ core ideology should never change over time. Remain true to your passion and your mission. Give this a great deal of thought.

Envisioned future

Your enduring future is who you will become. It is the vision of your business 10, 20, or 30 years out, and your chosen path to achieving it. Unlike the core ideology, which should never change over time, your envisioned future can and will change as market forces change. As such, it is broken down into the following components:

• Vision. Your vision statement is who your company will be in the future, and it starts with the words “to be.”

• Goals. Based on your vision, what are the primary goals that must be achieved to keep you on the right path to your future, broken down into five-year, 10-year and 20-year guideposts. Your goals should be designed with enough clarity to keep you on the right path.

• Strategy. Your strategy is where you start to focus on falling in love with your customer, and it starts with creating a solid business model and a supporting marketing strategy. Once you have a business model, you can create a strategy on how you’re going to focus on certain segments of the market before others and come up with a realistic approach to expand your business over time. As with your vision, which has goals to keep you on your chosen path, your strategy will have key objectives as steppingstones along that path. Unlike your vision, which may be 10 to 20 years in the future, your strategy should be more short-term, three to five years at the most, as market condition constantly vary. Any effort to create a longer-range strategy would most likely be wasted energy.

• Objectives. Based on your short-term strategy, define the key objectives that must be accomplished to ensure that you’re making progress along your journey. Your key objectives should be such that they are measurable and can be tracked as key performance indicators or objectives and key results. Always remember, as management consultant Peter Drucker said, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Lay it all out

There are many recommended ways to create your business model and your marketing strategy. Everywhere you turn there is another business book that can recommend the best business strategy, but they are all very similar.

Zumaeta group, led by Emmy-winning Ginger Zumaeta, is one such option that focuses on the customer “hero.”

Using tools like these will help refine who your ideal customer is, and what they really want — and the answer is not your drone. Fall in love with your customer, not your product.

Once completed, your business map becomes a living document that is routinely updated as market conditions fluctuate; and they will fluctuate.

One of AUVSI’s key tenets is to educate its members. Coming soon will be a business course on how to start and operate a more efficient, effective and profitable UAS business. Watch for announcements from AUVSI.

Until then, go find your ideal customer and start showing them some love.

Autonomous Flight — A Naval aviator’s journey

In 2001, U.S. Commander and former U.S. Navy test pilot Kevin Switick began work at the Navy Warfare Development Command (NWDC) in Newport, Rhode Island, on a new warfighting concept called The Expeditionary Sensor Grid (ESG). This tiered unmanned aerial vehicle architecture concept served as the genesis of the Department of Defense’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap of today.

Just prior, the Navy was deploying a very limited number of UAS, such as the RQ-2 Pioneer, from large combatants and battleships, mostly experimenting with the technology.

In fact, the U.S. Navy was experimenting with unmanned technology as early as 1967 with platforms like the Gyrodyne QH-50 DASH, which stood for Drone Anti- Submarine Helicopter. The U.S. Air Force was using target drones as reconnaissance assets in the Vietnam War, which prompted the creation of the National Association of Remotely Piloted Vehicles (NARPV) in 1972; later renamed the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, AUVS, in 1978.

However, the real push by the Navy to fully invest in drone technology didn’t occur until the late 1990s, with the creation of its first UAS program — the Multi-Mission Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems Program, or PMA-266, and its first formal UAS acquisition program, the MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter in 2003. Concurrently an infant commercial drone market started to emerge around the globe, and AUVS become AUVS International (AUVSI).

While many commercial companies designed and produced various different types of UAS, the military’s fascination with the technology took on a more structured form. Numerous acquisition programs emerged to design and develop UAS.

This was the time when NWDC put the ESG concept to the test during a global wargame at the U.S. Naval War College, as well as in the 2002 Fleet Battle Experiment JULIET.

Despite a focused and concentrated military effort, the commercial drone market took a wild, wild west approach throughout the 2000s and well into the 2010s with companies springing up everywhere with no coordinated market outcome other than, “if we will build it, they will come.” It was a solution looking for a problem.

In fact, in 2006, when Switick retired from the Navy, he started his own defense-related company with that very “they will come” mentality as his business strategy.

Switick’s company, Avian, holds the prime contract with the U.S. Navy’s UAS Test Directorate, now Air Test and Evaluation Squadron TWOFOUR (UX-24), conducting flight test operations on various type, model, series group 1-3 UAS for the Navy and Marine Corps, as well as two spinoff business units focused on the commercial drone market.

Below: Switick speaks at the 2019 AUVSI Unmanned Systems Defense. Protection. Security conference. Photo: AUVSI

kevin Switick addresses the audience at AUVSI Unmanned Systems Defense. Protection. Security in 2019.