Tell me about your first introduction to drones and how it lead you to creating UAVCoach.com?
I bought my first drone in 2014 as a gift for my cousin, it was a DJI Phantom 1. Excited to get the drone in the air, we brought it into the middle of NYC and attempted our first flight. After 45 minutes of trying to deconstruct the light sequences and calibrating the sensors, we finally got it off the ground. As it hovered at 15 feet it took less than 10 seconds before I crashed it into a parked car. It was awful and took me a long time to tell anyone that story, but it was this experience that caused me to become interested in drones and start UAV Coach.
Later that night I went home and Youtubed “drone crash”. I saw there were thousands of other pilots with similar experiences. I visited various forums, but had a hard time finding a good training resource. It appeared like there was the potential to create something of value. My short-term goal was to create a simple website over the weekend and just start writing drone related content. As I did that I was able to consistently grow the website traffic and before I knew it I had an email list of over 1,000 people.
I launched the site in October 2014 and built it up to about 1,000 email subscribers and 3,000 website visitors per month in those first 6-9 months.
Where were your working at the time you launched UAV Coach?
I was running a boutique marketing agency, servicing between 4-6 clients at a time. I loved what I was doing but it wasn’t without its challenges. As each client was in a different industry, I felt I was spreading myself too thin. In marketing, you really have to dive deep into an industry to be effective at your job.
At this time I was working up to 80 hours per week and even though I hit all my revenue goals, I knew I could never scale it. I thought about hiring a junior level person to be the account manager for some of my clients but that wouldn’t have worked. The relationships I have with my clients are very high touch and creative and I liked that. I got to a point where I either had to productize some of my services and scale up by hiring a team, or stay small and work on a side project. I chose the latter and saw that UAV Coach and the drone world could fill the gap for me. As UAV Coach progressed and began to make money, I left my full-time job to work on the site. This was about 15 months ago.
Can you tell me about the transition from running your own marketing agency to UAV Coach and the drone industry?
I was really lucky because I had already gone through the trials and tribulations of starting a business with the marketing agency. I figured out my health insurance and was really good about budgeting. I had some money stowed away for those slow months and felt pretty comfortable doing what I was doing. I always knew that if the drone stuff didn’t work out I could go back and pick up more clients.
As UAV Coach steadily grew, I began to lighten the load with my marketing clients over 3-6 months. In September I went to a drone conference in Las Vegas and when I came back I decided I was going to do this this full-time.
Was UAV Coach generating a solid income when you decided to work on it full-time?
The income wasn’t what I was making at the marketing agency, but it was about 80% of it so I felt good enough to make the jump. My worst case scenario was that this drone stuff crashes and burns and I’m unemployed for 3-6 months, until I find a marketing job somewhere. Once I realized that, I thought this is actually a great position to be in and it gave me the confidence to make the decision.
Our initial revenue stream was affiliate marketing, but it has somewhat changed over the years. Our main affiliates were Amazon and Udemy. People were clicking the links and were actually making purchases, showing us there was some real interest. Once we understood there was a demand, we wanted to build some of these things ourselves.
We still do affiliate marketing today mainly through Amazon, but most of our revenue right now comes from Drone Pilot Ground School. DPGS is an online test prep course for the FAA’s new certification process for U.S. commercial drone pilots. We launched that over the summer and it’s been a game changer for our business. It’s helped us gain exposure, increase revenue and allow me to really take a step back and think about things more strategically. I no longer think about this as a blog that makes a few bucks but rather a real business that will be around 5-10 years from now.
Outside of affiliate marketing and online course sales we have some advertisements like email sponsors and guest blog posts, but that’s not as a significant part of the business.
I read the The 4-Hour Workweek back in 2007, and since then I had always dreamed of starting my own niche business. With the launch of Drone Pilot Ground School this past summer, I felt like I had finally cracked the entrepreneurial nut. It was a great feeling.
In such a new industry, how do you personally stay on the bleeding edge of drone regulations, news and technologies?
In the beginning I did a lot of reading and was proactive about picking up the phone to get answers to my questions. I’m signed up for a ton of newsletters and actively read other blogs and news in the industry – spending a good 3-5 hours a week just staying up to date. It’s tough. There’s so much I miss.
What are your plans for UAV Coach moving forward?
There is a lot of cleaning up we’re trying to do right now. When you work in an industry that’s constantly changing, content becomes dated very quickly.
But as I mentioned, we are trying to transition from being a blog to becoming a company. It was easy in the beginning when I just downloaded a free WordPress theme and knocked out some content. However, now that we have paying students and traffic is increasing we are in the process of rebranding.
The industry is still really young and constantly changing so I’ll continue to focus on producing high quality content, which has been our bread and butter since day one.
We realize that there are many ways to do training. As of now we’re solely online but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t consider in person training. There may be opportunities to do corporate trainings where we work more intimately with clients and help them build their UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) programs.
There are an unlimited number of things we can do and want to do, but we need to stay focused on the most important things. I brought my wife into the business full-time, which is great because she’s a lot more methodical than I am. She helps prioritize projects and defines what we should be working on and in what order. Over the next 12 months our focus will continue to be producing high quality content, improve Drone Pilot Ground School and improve the look and feel of our website. After that, I’m still very bullish on training and see a lot of potential there.
As we continue to focus on those points we really want to streamline our systems and processes. Right now I’m handling all student support either through phone calls or email which really isn’t that sustainable. We have a community of more than 50,000 pilots from around the world and over 5,000 paying students, which are unbelievable milestones to us, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to processes, systems, building out our team and having a lasting impact on the sUAS industry.
When most people hear the word “drone”, they think military, but we don’t really play in that field. So it’s important for people to know that when we are talking about drones or UAV, it’s specific just to recreational and commercial use.
At the most basic level, people are using drones to take aerial photos and videos. These photos and videos are being used to show high end real estate as marketing material. Drones have become extremely popular in cinematography because it’s cheaper and safer to fly than a helicopter.
Data is another large industry. People are using drones for mapping and 3D modeling for construction, engineering and architectural firms.
Search and rescue is also a useful scenario where we work directly with police and fire departments.
There are so many unbelievable uses for drones. One example I remember reading involved a group of lifeguards down in North Carolina. They would typically spend 3 hours riding on jet skis searching the water for sharks. Now, they can use a drone to do it in just 15 minutes.
Honestly, I’m just scratching the surface here but with UAV Coach we are educating our users as to what’s happening in the industry because the regulations are in flux all over the world. It’s also imperative that we teach people how to actually fly their drones, fly them safely and efficiently. Lastly, if you actually do want to build a business or get paid for flying a drone, we’ll teach you what the certification process is.
Any advice for those who may be new to the drone industry?
Drones are not scary. I think we are still in this period where the regulations are not fully mature and people are worried about privacy and safety, which are valid concerns. However, I think it’s safe to say that drones aren’t going anywhere and we should learn how to embrace them.
If you’re interested in getting into this industry I would recommend buying one from Amazon for $40-$50 and learn how to fly it. Whether you want to make a career out of it or just be a hobbyist it’s all great.
Any final thoughts on on how you’ve made your passion for drones into a successful online business?
One of the biggest shifts for us in terms of engagement was me picking up the phone and calling every person that gave me their email address. I was doing this back when we had 50 people on our email list. I would email every single one of them personally and ask them why they signed up. I’ve continued to maintain that sense of curiosity about my community because it really allows us to know our customer. The concept of a customer persona is extremely important when you’re building a business. Once you can speak their language and answer their questions, it’s a lot easier to create content and services around that.
One of the initial emails we send out for joining our email list is titled “Can I ask you something?”. I’d get some of the most amazing responses from people! This really helps me understand where the industry is going and to better meet the needs of our customers.