Business Development life cycle for Unmanned Airships

Business development for the burgeoning drone industry requires more than just cold calling and generating interest. It is actually a fairly methodical process that involves:

  • Developing and/or adapting the product/platform
  • Identifying customers
  • Presenting opportunities to partners and stakeholders
  • Conducting cost analysis
  • Arranging demonstrations of services
  • Deriving/codifying/driving market value
  • Negotiating contracts
  • and finally, closing on the contracts

I have developed derivatives of this process specifically for this industry before there was an industry, and have a thorough understanding of the market, and how to identify, educate and secure new customers. What follows is a case study of this process in action.

Over a 10 year period I developed a proven aircraft design that was built to meet as many FAA requirements as practically possible. It wasn’t enough to have identified a need, I had to ensure that the UAS application was legal and certifiable. I took a forward looking approach to design that ensured my application would both fill new and existing needs, while also removing as many barriers to UAS legalization as possible.

During the period of developing my aircraft’s design I sold several airframes to multiple clients in several countries. With the selling of unmanned aircraft it was necessary to develop a training program tailored to my designs and integrate my systems into the US and foreign airspace. Over the years I gradually shifted my company from selling products to providing services. I found a larger market in the aerial broadcasting field and had designed my unmanned systems to be able to carry industry standard camera equipment capable of filming to the client’s desired quality. This provided the ability to seamlessly integrate into the customers broadcasting format. As we were using the same equipment utilized by manned aircraft, my systems were turnkey and able to be used on live broadcasts.

With being able to identify a need in the market, and having the ability to perform the needed service, I then presented the concept to an investment firm and secured funding to build the systems used for this particular aerial broadcasting application. Whether the application is self-funded, utilizing current inventory, paid for by future sponsors, or simply purchased by the venue, it is necessary to ensure that the UAS platform is well suited for the application. Sometimes this requires design optimizations that incur upfront costs or a need for additional investment, this is essential in maximizing future revenue while ensuring a smooth roll-out and/or market entry.

Cost comprehension and analysis are critical factors to the early success and profitability of an application, and typically include:

  • product build costs
  • facilities needs and requirements
  • day to day operations
  • job performance costs

For this application I ran the day to day operations of the company while managing the budget of the venture. I was able to analyze, source, and allocate resources to build, house, staff, and project job resourcing requirements necessary to perform future demonstrations and client services.

In the broadcasting world, no new camera system is considered for use without first going through a thorough evaluation by the relevant network. Accordingly, I arranged several demonstrations of our capabilities to the target network. We did this at live events and at their network headquarters. The network was so impressed with our application, our unmanned aircraft’s footage was utilized on their actual live broadcast feed within fifteen minutes of feeding them live demonstration footage. This immediate implementation, in such a very short evaluation time, is mostly unheard of in live broadcasting.

With the success of the demonstrations I then set to determine the value of our services to the sponsoring clientele. They would pay us to advertise their product in the form of live “video is provided by…” pops during the broadcast. A pop consists of a thirty second on air mention of the client, which is spread-out throughout the course of the broadcast. I hired two broadcasting analysis firms to assess the value of the pops during a show. I secured a client to sponsor the unmanned aircraft for this study. The reason I chose to use two independent analysis firms was to ensure accuracy and correct for any perceived biases. With the results from the study I was able to justify and codify the market value of our services.

Armed with the value of my services provided by my unmanned system I negotiated a contract with both the network that would use our feed and the sponsor who would pay for our services.

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