Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to reading the drone industry. In 2018, Parrot has evolved from a consumer electronics company to a drone solutions provider offering an impressive range of products.
In a late 2015 article in Forbes magazine, Seydoux predicted “a bloody year” for drone manufacturers as prices fell and competition with China’s manufacturing power ramped up. The following spring, 3DR – until then manufacturing the Solo, a consumer favorite – announced that it would cut jobs and shift focus. After moving manufacturing from the U.S. to Mexico and then to China, 3DR dropped out of the consumer drone sector to focus on the enterprise market. Parrot responded to the pricing pressure by carving out a specific pricing niche with the Bebop: small, easy to use, and under $500.
But Parrot had also made strategic investments at the other end of the pricing spectrum. In 2012, Parrot invested in 2 companies spun out of EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology: drone mapping company Pix4D and fixed wing drone manufacturers senseFly, makers of the ultra-lightweight and long distance eBee. With those two companies, Parrot had a stake in the enterprise sector too: the eBee quickly emerged as a major player at the upper end of the commercial drone market, and Pix4D as one of the leading drone mapping and modeling solutions. Early in 2014, Parrot invested in agricultural drone solution company Airinov: and in 2016, Parrot invested $7.4 million in multispectral sensor company MicaSense.
When Parrot announced in January 0f 2017 that it would reorganize its drone business, a further shift towards the commercial business was clearly in the works, and all of the technology pieces were ready to be put closer together. Their announcement pointed out that the “commercial drone business (mapping / monitoring, agriculture and inspection) has continued to develop. The range of commercial drones, services and solutions has been rationalized and has continued to be further strengthened.”
The change in direction was fast – and effective. A few months later, Parrot announced that two of it’s consumer drones were being repurposed for the commercial sector. The Bebop was sold with a Pix4D solution for professional 3D modeling: the Disco was equipped with the Sequoia, a miniature multispectral payload for agricultural mapping. Additional software and licensing changes made them a perfect fit for the pro market.
Now, Parrot has stopped making any of the other consumer electronic products that the company once offered, and it’s totally focused on drones. With the development of Parrot Business Solutions, senseFly and Parrot are moving closer together – and the combined suite of products offers a fit for every size business and every size budget.
J.T. Célette, Chief Strategy and Product Officer at Parrot Business Solution, says that’s the point. “The Parrot line of drones are oriented towards small and medium business solutions, while the senseFly drones are for enterprise customers,” says Célette. “We want to make sure that every customer who needs a drone gets the right drone and the right tools in their hands, at the right price point for their business,” he says. As the industry evolves, he points out, many companies want to start smaller while they develop a drone program. “The lower price point allows any company to get in and figure it out,” says Célette.
Beyond offering hardware, those strategic investments along the way have meant that the company is in a strong position to provide an entire enterprise drone package. “It’s not about the drone, its about the business solution,” says Célette. “We do drone services, we do drone processing, we do sensors –now we have all of the ecosystem pieces… That’s something that’s really unique about Parrot.”
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.