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Looking to begin again and need your advice.

ALTAIR UA

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Hello!

First off, I have done a significant bit of research and this is my second time around on this, but there are a few things that no matter how I search and read remain unanswered.

TLDR; skip this paragraph if you just want the questions;
My name is Michael. I am looking to start a technical UAV service, so in creating this post the hope is to gather a bit of wisdom and advice "Heres what I would have done if I had to start over" and suggestions.
Backstory: I'm early 30s, I've worked in IT since I was 14 (yup! "Tech on a bike"). For the last 3 years, I have been a family caregiver, and its now time to change the situation.
I have my degree in cyber security and information assurance, the trouble is, especially in my particular niche, you can't leave the field for years and come back where you were; you essentially start over your career which I'm not enthused about.
So career shot, no housing, not tied anywhere, and down to 35k in savings, I'm looking to make some big moves. I started to do a drone photography business with a 3DR SOLO, but that market is so saturated it's not a livable business since anyone with a decent DJI from Costco can shoot a property for 30 bucks.
Besides, I am no stranger to complex workflows and software suits since I am proficient with stuff like Solidworks and Fusion, and I like the informatics and interesting sensors anyway, I figured hard data would be more interesting, lucrative, and a bit less crowded.
Eventually, doing things like UAV-based methane detection, gaussian mapping, and infrastructure LiDaR would be very cool, but I need something that could be a rapidly viable bread-and-butter business model that actually pays the bills.
I know it's possible because there are a few established and well-respected UAS services in the state that seems to be doing quite well, and I'm no stranger to work.


To the point:
  • Any worthwhile consulting and or training I should do? e.g; Consortiq, Trusted operator (TOP) cert, etc..?
  • How would you pick a specialty and go about breaking into that specialty?
    I live in Washington and am likely to move to northern Idaho, so a lot of agriculture, mining, wind/hydro/other power/transmission, forest, cell towers, forestry/conservation, warehousing, and more.
  • I have a little over 35k to live on and buy equipment, I can be very frugal and probably live on about a grand a month + gas for a little short while (insurance🤑, basic food, phone etc..), but I'll need to buy a sensor package to start such as LiDaR / thermal / multispectral, so I'm prepared.
    That said, what is the best use of the budget of roughly 30k to start a business that is lucrative enough to live on. The equipment and subscriptions I'll need for the specialty, no more no less.
  • Any advice to get jump-started business-wise? I gotta hit the ground running and start earning asap.
Thank you all so very much for reading and special thanks to those who take their time in replying.
 
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Gagey52

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Greetings Michael, welcome to the forum from the outback of Australia.
I can’t help you with the market in the USA. At the end of the day, it’s all about the service that you provide to the client. As you said anyone can buy a drone from COSTCO and fly a mission. It’s about what you do with it that matters.
May I suggest you check out Richard Carpentier on YouTube, when it comes to providing customer service to his clients there are very few better, and his training programs are great. AZdrones.
Hope you find what you’re looking for.
Regards
 

Airmapper

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As much as I like to support independent business owners, it sounds like you may need to work for one for a while. Maybe not forever, but enough to establish yourself and gain experience. This is a different world than tinkering with a DJI drone and taking photos, it's not much worse technically mind you, but you need to be more diversified in your skill set. I've been doing actual big league drone work for a year now and am still learning new things every day, and don't see that stopping anytime soon.

You can't afford the kind of equipment and software you need to be a serious player in that market, especially at the entry level. I fly an $80k drone and use $3-4k software packages to process it. Insurance alone is in the thousands of dollars range, and yes clients do ask about it. I recently had to go through loosing said $80k aircraft due to a hardware malfunction, and had to work with multiple entities to get back up and running. It was replaced under warranty, and was insured, but we lost a lot of good flying weather. Could you survive that alone? You certainly won't have the clout to get gigs right away. Get a job with someone who needs a licensed sUAS pilot to build experience and knowledge. That will vary depending on who you get hooked up with, I've been very fortunate to get into a company that didn't have a drone program, wanted a drone program, bought me expensive gear and turned me lose on it. Fortunately for them, I love that kind of stuff and once I got the right tools set up, we hit the ground running. After several failed attempts at using drones in the past before I came on board, that put a huge feather in my cap. Maybe some other small company needs that where you are.

They may have been attracted by my drone credentials, but I had the skills to be useful elsewhere in the company is what made it work. That will be the same working for someone or for yourself. I think a full time drone pilot is a rare animal, you are doing other supporting roles in whatever line of work you are in to fill out the week, it won't all be standing behind a controller. But, I get paid every week, and I always have work to do because I'm not just the drone pilot. I've got CAD skills, can process point cloud data from other sources, and am skilled at mapping and making drawings, I can run survey equipment, and can work with utility companies for mapping and marking underground lines. So sure on a nice week I may be out on a job site flying a few days, but when the weather sucks, I can turn all that raw data into finished products and do other company business working on the sites I fly, or maybe sites I won't fly. The company I work for is probably one of the heaviest drone users in the area, I mean my range covers 2 entire states, and that is all me and I still can't be out there full time.

So sure, being a solo business owner and drone service provider is a great goal, one I hope I can swing perhaps, but right now I got a steady income, insurance, and lots to do and expensive equipment to do it with by being embedded in a company that can draw in the work and big clients. In the past year I've worked on several sites that make the local 6 o-clock news when they are announced, those endeavors would have never requested a drone pilot specifically, they ask the company doing work for them to do it. And those type of companies are typically a lot happier having an internal employee handle all that.
 

ALTAIR UA

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G'day Gagey52
Thank you for your suggestion and taking time to reply. You are right it is the value proposition of the services you can offer. and I'll check out AZdrones


Hello, Airmapper
Thank you for the write-up and suggestions. I was wondering about that, I was considdering working with a surveying company to bring them into the 21st century, it may be difficult to find, but that is definitely something I'll check into.
I need a relatively steady income but since I starting at "ground level" I figured I might as well put my part 107 to good use.
 
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MapMaker53

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I completely agree with Airmapper, Excellent advice. I'm in the same job situation he is and I wear many hats in my company between projects that call for the drone. The company purchases any equipment I need and covers the $2M drone liability insurance. I'll feel really bad if it ever crashes beyond repair, but I know I will be able to immediately go ahead and order a new more current version without a dime coming out of my pocket. And at the same time, I get a paycheck. That's a win/win. It's the most cost-effective way of becoming a drone operator. You can eventually go out on your own if you like.
 
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Sanpanza

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[B]Airmapper[/B], I find your response sound and sober for its reality check. I am an established commercial/industrial photographer in Los Angeles (www.carreonphotography.com) and looking for ways to monetize a drone purchase to add to my tool kit. My clients keep asking and I keep saying now. I need to be able to say yes.

Your response is most helpful for helping me keep my feet on the ground. Thank you.

 
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