DRONELIFE is excited to announce a new collaboration with drone attorney and business expert Enrico Schaefer, of Traverse Legal, PLC and Drone Law Pro. Welcome to the first edition of From the Ground Up: a podcast series designed to help drone businesses level up and grow. Enrico Schaefer will interview drone businesses from around the country to identify key steps to succeeding in the industry.
Check out our first episode below, an interview with Matt Quinn of Great Lakes Drone Company.
[Transcript of the Show (edited for readability)]
Welcome to Drone Law Pro Radio. I am your host Enrico Schaefer, a drone attorney from the law firm Traverse Legal, PLC and the operator of Drone Law Pro. This is our first addition of “From the Ground Up”. From the Ground Up is a new show that we have put together with Drone Life and is designed to help Part-107 pilots grow their commercial drone business. From the Ground Up is going to talk to Part 107 pilots who are successful in their Part 107 operations. If you are a Part 107 pilot that is just getting started, you have been around for a couple years or you are a substantial Part 107 service provider that is looking to grow their business, then this Drone Law Pro radio show is going to be for you.
Enrico Schafer: So, welcome to the first installment of From the Ground Up. Today for our first guest we have, Matt Quinn. Matt is the CEO of Great Lakes Drone Company. They are one of the top service providers in the country providing a wide array of activities that include kind of a brick and mortar Part 107 services, as well as some interesting stuff like drone light shows. They are one of just a few companies out there including Intel that does drone light shows. They are doing lots of shows for lots of big customers. With over 100 drones in the air designing some cool stuff. We will talk about some of the drone light show aspects of this business and then we will talk a little bit about the services portion, inspection services, and what areas are hot in terms of the niches that drone pilots can be providing services in. You should understand that Great Lakes Drone has been around for a long time; this is their third year of operations. They are doing 400-500 operations a year. Some of their clients include Toyota, T-world, Michigan State Fair, Aspen Chamber of Commerce and many more.
Enrico Schaefer: Matt Quinn, welcome to the show.
Matt Quinn: Good morning Enrico, how are you?
Enrico Schaefer: Good. Matt, I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that will be relevant to other drone pilots. I really appreciate you being on this show because essentially what I am asking you to do is to share your best tips and experiences to help other Part 107 operations get off the ground. My view is that we are at a point where a rising thermal lifts all drones and so everyone helping everyone out is important for market growth. The first question I want to ask you about is kind of your own background. What pre-Part 107 experience can make a difference in a successful Part 107 operation? What kinds of things should people be thinking about in terms of what they bring to the table besides going and getting their Part 107 certificate. So, talk a little bit about your prior experiences and how it has helped you grow your business.
Matt Quinn: Well, I think there are two key factors that really help 107 pilots that stand out. Having some type of aromatic background, whether minimal or quite extensive, comes in very handy because there are a lot of laws and regulations and such that we must work through and around to accomplish the actual end products for the actual missions that our clients are coming to us with. You really must be and out of the box thinker regarding all of that. So, for me I had several years of simple air patrol when I was younger and had a lot of aeronautical background, as well as worked as a flight paramedic for several years. So, I had a lot of aeronautical background experiences regarding regulations, Part 135 operations through resource management. All those key things that are very regulations specific. And understanding the aeronautical field itself. And then having some type of minimal hobby level aspect of photography and videography when you are really starting to merge in this market. The drone industry itself is so diverse between your main markets you are looking at cinematography, you are looking at the entertainment industry, looking at the inspection industry, the ad industry, the survey mapping industry. There’s so many different dynamics all the way up to what we assume will be the future of actual delivery drone integration in a national air space. There’s a lot of background that comes together to develop the drone industry that it will become in some point and time soon. The key is having some type of aeronautical background and/or developing some and putting some time into understanding the aeronautical background, the regulations, the flight dynamics, and all those aspects. Because the safer your operation is, the more things that you put into your operations from a safety stand point is what’s going to help you stand out. The one thing people must understand is that no matter what you do in the drone industry just like everything that they do in the medical industry and they do in the general aviation, commercial aviation, accidents are going to happen. But its how you handle a situation and how you build around those situations and stuff and do everything you can to avoid them and understanding that aeronautical knowledge and being able to say that you did everything you could to get to this point. Some things are still going to happen. So, it is all of that baseline knowledge and everything that is going to make you stand out and apart as the industry moves forward. Last I knew there was over 80 something thousand Part 107 certified pilots in the US now. So, everybody is out there trying to grab whatever job they van and trying to develop a business. Most 107 pilots start with the typical real-estate stuff and everything because that is the easiest gateway into some of these aspects of drone operations. You aren’t going to make money there. So, it is taking some of this business knowledge and aeronautical knowledge and photography knowledge and if you are getting into the entertainment industry and such. It is all those things together that is going to help you build your drone business. One of the key things that I see that is a huge barrier for the drone industry beyond regulations and stuff is that everybody is fighting for those jobs, underbidding everybody trying to get their name out there, get their company out there and stuff. One of those key things you must do is develop partnerships with other drone companies. Partnerships with other industries to further that business. So, having those social skills to be able to work with other people and develop good partnerships and relationships moving forward and working through the commitments and everything is what’s going to make your business.
Enrico Schaefer: Yeah. So it’s interesting because we represent a lot of drone pilots and help them build their businesses with contracts and intellectual property and give them that presentation of being professional. One of the interesting things that I find when I talk to people is there are people that come into the business that just bought a drone and they think that that is the business. And it’s not. What I hear you saying Matt, is that you really leverage your prior aeronautical knowledge into a market differentiator. So, your ability to comply with Part 107 regulations, get your Part 107 waivers, work with ATC, express with your customers and potential customers how things need to be done right from an aeronautical standpoint is giving you some real good traction in the market. Is that accurate?
Matt Quinn: Yes, that is. A lot of people don’t realize that those key relationships and that knowledge is what’s going to set you apart. For example, working with the EAA and working with the FAA to put on the drone light show at Oshkosh was a huge feat for us, was a huge feat for the FAA and was a huge feat for the EEA. I mean we are trying to do this drone light show at a place in which you cant test the show beforehand or anything because you can not replicate the magnetic interference, the weather, the wind, the amount of planes, peoples cell phones, the Wi-Fi, everything else that is at that venue because it is so unique until you actually have to be there and do that. Not to mention all the regulatory aspects of the TFR approvals, safety margins and everything else to integrate drones outside of a cage, multiple drones in the sky while we have planes taking off just a thousand feet away from u and staging in the area. Plames flying in the area over us while we are setting up and tearing down. Pyro technics involved just a thousand feet away from us on the runway. There are so many logistical aspects to everything and to be able to pull that off and work through all of it and figure it all out together as one big team, is an amazing feat with the FAA.
Enrico Schaefer: Let’s make this clear right off the gate. This was a completely lawful operation within the regulations with direct coordination with the FAA to comply with all the different things that had to be complied with. Your prior aeronautical knowledge made that, I assume easier but also gave you a comfort level that, yeah this is possible. You could work with the FAA, here’s how you work with the FAA. The FAA is not the enemy, the FAA can be an asset with these types of issues.
Matt Quinn: The FAA is a huge asset. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is everybody thinks that the FAA is out to curtail the whole drone industry. From personal experience, I’ve worked with the FAA quite a few times, we did the Superbowl in Minneapolis with one of our clients. We ended up filming all of the events around the Superbowl that was going on as part of the Superbowl production for the Minneapolis community and working with the Minneapolis FSDO office. When we did New York State Fair, we worked with the New York FSDO office. We are working on a project right now in California working with the San Diego LA FSDO office. Working with Vegas FSDO, working with the Michigan FSDO. There’s these men and women that work for the FAA that are there to try and help us and make things work. A lot of them are intrigued about the possibilities and where things are going to go, and they are learning with us. That’s what people don’t understand is that they want to be involved to learn more. I have worked with some of the members of NTSB and they are very intrigued about everything. It is all about data and collecting data to make things safer. To make things so that we can all learn together. For us it has been a great experience working with them. We have never really had any issues working with any of the federal branches that govern the department of transportation. Working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on some of the projects because Minnesota and North Carolina are one of the few outliers that have internal state drone regulations and licensing and we have worked with both in the past. So, it’s been quite an experience, but we have always had a positive experience with all of them. We haven’t had any negative experiences. And we personally reach out to all of them ahead of projects and coordinate with them. It makes things much easier and having them there involved on some of the projects is quite entertaining. When we did the EAA Oshkosh show, not only did we have a bunch of heads of the FAA from Washington DC, a lot of the directors, both the director of the FSDO departments but as well as well as the airshow departments and everything, we actually had the Australian equivalent come visit and hang out with us for the entire day to see what we were doing, how we were doing it and the different safety practices that we put into the operations so that they can learn to figure out how to do some of this stuff and integrate some of this in Australia. So it’s a learning experience for all of us as we grow because there is no book out there that’s going to tell you “this is the best way to run a drone business. This is the best way to do this. This is the best way to do that” because no matter who you are, were all still working on figuring it out together. That’s one of the keys is figuring it out together.
Enrico Schaefer: Let me just put this in context for everyone, for all the listeners. So, Matt Quinn of Great Lakes Drone has this prior aviation experience and he leverages that prior experience in lots of ways. One of the ways in which you do this Matt, is your outlook. Where I talk to a lot of people with maybe prior engineering experience, or prior public safety experience or what have you and they are coming into drones and they are going to leverage their prior experience but its not aviation. They tend to see the FAA and their regulations as this big bad evil thing that is just messing them up and making it harder. You having that prior experience embrace the regulations, embrace the FAA and you are doing it one of the most challenging spaces of all, which is drone light shows. Which means it’s at night, which means you could be controlled air space, which means multiple drones from a single controller waiver. You’ve got all these waivers and authorizations you need to line up for these shows. Most Part 107 pilots don’t even have to think about most of that stuff and yet you very effortlessly navigate it all because of your outlook. Because you embrace it, because you work with the FAA, you build those relationship with the FAA to your advantage and kudos to you. I want to encourage all the drone pilots out there to think about this one question. What expertise do you bring to the table that you can leverage that gives you an advantage against the competitors? And the next question that I want them to think about is what I’m going to ask you, Matt. Which is ok. I’m a drone pilot and I’ve got prior experience in energy or infrastructure and I want to launch a drone operation, but I have no prior aviation experience. So how do I build on my experience on energy or infrastructure in a way that allows me to get up the mountain of the regulatory frame work and working with the FAA and navigating that system so that I can be like Matt Quinn at Great Lakes Drone, running these amazing drone lightshows or doing infrastructure inspections that require waivers and authorization. How do I get the aviation side? Do I need to partner with someone? Do I need to study? How do I add that critical piece to my business model?
Matt Quinn: So, it really comes down to whether, if you are coming from the energy industry or you are coming from the surveying industry, the first question you have to ask is, do you want to open up your own aviation division? A lot of companies don’t realize that if you get into the drone operations, basically you are opening from a regulatory standpoint and a paperwork standpoint. Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, you are opening up in their line operation from a paperwork and a regulatory standpoint. First you have to ask, do you want to do that, or do you want to subcontract it out in which that’s what they do? That is the first question that you have to figure out. The second question that you have tot ask yourself is, how you can leverage that information, that knowledge, that partnership that you have in relation to the aviation aspects and the regulations and so forth. If you are going to do it yourself, you must take the time to learn. The 2018 FAA re-authorization bill that just got signed, which everybody is analyzing it and looking it over. I’ve seen several videos out there of how people think it is going to affect things and what they think the FAA is going to do and such. All it is, is a frame work for the FAA. It’s setting guidelines and so fourth for the FAA to develop the regulations, to develop these changes, to develop all of this stuff. So trying to say, ok this is what its going to be right now, is we just have to slow down a little bit and see what the FAA is going to do and how they are going to handle some of these requirements that the houses and senate and the current administration has set fourth that look, over the next 5 years these are the things that need to happen. So, we’ve got to slow that down a little bit. Everybody is jumping out on everything and stuff, you know but we must take the time and we have to invest the time to sit there and look through it so that we can anticipate these changes. One of the biggest changes that’s going to be a challenge for a lot of people, including us, when we are looking at it and stuff is the airworthiness certification aspects. How is the FAA and NTSB and everybody else going to view this new requirement of creating an airworthiness standard of these unmanned systems? That’s going to be a key factor for the future. And it’s also going to be a key factor for getting those waivers of flying over people and beyond visual line of sight. I highly anticipate some of those aspects. Taking the time and actually reading through this stuff, doing the research yourself, I see so many drone pilots, I meet so many drone pilots where they say they watched this video, they watched this companies’ video of opinions or this lawyers’ opinions of stuff. You know, all of those are great and everything, but I go through and validate everything myself. I go through and look at everything myself and I reach out to the FSDOs, I reach out to the industry leaders, I’m friends with a lot of the other industry leaders.
Enrico Schaefer: Let’s stop right there because that is the next question I was going to ask is we all know that helping each other is an important piece of the puzzle in terms of market growth and getting this emerging technology to be adopted by customers and then having customers understand that its not just buying a drone. Having drone pilots understand it’s not just buying a drone. Who are the industry leaders that you rely on that you coordinate with that some people might say, oh those are your competitors. But that you see as key resources in sharing information back and forth to help your own business grow and to help the industry grow.
Matt Quinn: Yeah, exactly. Because when we look at other key industry leaders, whether they are in the sales aspect or the development aspect. I’ll drop some names. So, you’ve got Ryan up in Lansing Michigan, he’s local. He and I are great friends and everything. He is like a regulation guru. To him that’s his hobby, understanding regulation and how these regulations affect everything. He’s a drone pilot and he owns Capitol Drones. He’s not a huge market player out there, but he’s a huge resource from a regulatory standpoint. Then we look at Doug from Sundance Media Group in Vegas. They do a lot of public safety stuff and they do a lot of other cinematography stuff. His knowledge behind cinematography and behind regulations and public safety integration and stuff, he’s a great resource and great friend as well. You look at John McBride from Rocky Mountain. John is a great guy and his knowledge behind unmanned systems and development aspects and flight characteristics and everything from a technical standpoint. He’s one of the industry leaders out there because he’s been around and been in the industry prior to the industry being an industry, working with these aerial unmanned systems. Developing those partnership and developing those relationships and stuff is the key. You’ve got Frank and Vicki from Carolina Drones, they are in drone sales. But their knowledge goes beyond that. Same thing with Doug and John and everyone else. These things develop beyond that. I mean, you. You and I have talked quite a few times over the years and your legal knowledge behind everything. All these things coming together to build stuff together and, but the other thing is when you look at cost and profit margins. If I have a client that calls me that wants something out in Vegas or California or whatever, these relationships that I have developed, I’m going to reach out to some of the people out there because it doesn’t make sense for us to travel out there to do it. So, you partner with these other drone operators and these other drone businesses and stuff to accomplish the job with high quality end products for your client with minimal cost and higher profit margins. That is one of those keys of that partnership and knowing who to talk to and throw ideas back and forth together. You have to have forward thinking mentality of looking at what’s going to be the next big thing, what’s going to be the next best, what should we set. Because right now every drone operator out there that’s operating flying in the sky, we are developing the standards and the future for the industry. And if we don’t all work together, were going to either set standards that we are never going to meet, or we are going to set standards that are not going to develop the quality end products and end shows and everything else that we want to accomplish together in the future of the industry.
Enrico Schaefer: Yeah, so Matt here’s my From the Ground Up takeaways from todays show.
1. Prior experience can be a very important differentiator. So leveraging your prior experience, whatever it is whether or not its in a technical field that can use drones, whether or not it’s in my experience, law, whether or not its in your prior experience in aviation or maybe Doug’s prior experience in public safety, find out how you are going to leverage that prior experience and make it a market differentiator.
2. Form the ground up you are going to have to build relationship with other people in the industry who bring other expertise to the table and to be able to share your expertise and receive expertise from others for the good of the industry and the importance of that in terms of making thigs grow.
3. From the ground up, if you do not see the FAA as a resource then you should probably get out of the business. If you are going to complain about the regulations, then you are in the wrong space. You should go do something else because the FAA is not going away, the regulations are not going away, and the FAA does in-fact want to help you.
4. These regulations are from a business point of view are the market barrier. Your ability to go out and do these drone light shows by getting the waivers, by getting the authorizations by working directly with the FAA, there are not many Part 107 pilots out there that could do that and pull it off. And yet, you do it in part because of your prior aviation experience.
5. The last thing, from the ground up is that you must understand that this is an emerging market. Just as you have done at great lakes drones, preparing yourself for future success is a big part of what we are all doing.
So, Matt Quinn, congratulations to you and Great Lakes Drone Company on your success today and if anyone wants to see some of your drone light show work and footage, what’s the best way for them to access that because it really is spectacular. It is unique in our business and it’s really worth checking out.
Matt Quinn: So, you can go to www.greatlakesdronecompany.com. Obviously, we are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, all the social media markets and stuff. You can just click on drone lightshow on our website and then we have a media page there where we have a lot of videos and photos of everything. It’s an ever-growing market. The one cool thing is that we pretty much took the month of October off mainly because we have already done over 50 shows this year and we are rolling out version two of our system. We are actually upgrading to RTK on all of our systems, so we will be able to do some really cool stuff here in the future. So, we took the month to work on testing and work on all of our system and upgrade all of the systems. That’s the unique thing is that no matter what you do in the drone industry is that the technology is always changing, and you are always trying to improve and be better at what you are doing. Sometimes you have to take a little time off to accomplish those things. We have shows starting again in late November and we’ve already booked quite a few shows between now and August of next year. So, if you are listening to this and you are looking for a drone light show, you want to book soon because we can only do so many shows in a day and we already have about 86 shows booked between now and August of next year. If you want to get on the list, you must get on the list soon.
Enrico Schaefer: Great. Matt Quinn, CEO of Great Lakes Drones, thanks for being on this first addition of From the Ground Up. A special podcast by Drone Law Pro and, sponsored by DroneLife. We will be doing this every other week, interviewing the top people in the industry so that you, Part 107 pilots, and you, Part 107 business, can get the insights you need to succeed. Until next time, fly safe.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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