Bringing drones to every job site: Our investment in DroneDeploy

From time to time we come across companies that have proven themselves as market leaders globally and are looking for our help to expand into the Australian market. When those companies are also in a space that’s particularly relevant to Australia — then it’s a no-brainer for us to get involved. That’s why we’re so excited to announce our latest investment in DroneDeploy, the world’s largest cloud-based drone data platform.

DroneDeploy is headquartered in San Francisco, but Australia now makes up its largest market outside of the US. We’re investing in this round alongside US investors Invenergy Future Fund (the largest independent green energy firm in the US), Scale Venture Partners, Uncork Capital and Emergence Capital — and we’re looking forward to helping DroneDeploy expand their market share in Australia.

DroneDeploy’s software provides drone solutions for a wide range of sectors — including Farming, Mining, Construction, Energy, and Insurance. Their clients use the platform to create aerial maps and 3D models with a single click, and then analyse the imagery using computer vision to provide actionable insights. Farmers can identify nitrogen deficiencies and other problem areas in their crops. Construction companies can survey sites and compare the progress of their construction projects to blueprints. Energy companies can run routine safety inspections or optimise solar installations. Insurance companies can asses storm damage and plan repair work. And this is just scratching the surface of the analysis DroneDeploy can provide.

Why Australia?

Australia is a key strategic market for DroneDeploy. It’s the second largest commercial drone software market globally, and is already DroneDeploy’s second largest market in terms of customers and revenue.

It’s easy to see why. DroneDeploy’s key verticals — Agriculture, Construction, Mining and Energy — together make up around a third of the Australian economy, which is a much higher proportion than in the US (roughly 20%).

And while Australia has a good history of innovation in these sectors, they are still amongst the least digitised parts of our economy. Drones help these industries become more data-driven. If Australia’s going to stay globally competitive in these sectors, our industries will need to embrace new technologies such as drones.

It Always Starts With The Product

Right from the beginning, DroneDeploy have been obsessed with building the best drone software product in the market. DroneDeploy was started by three mates — Mike, Nick and Jono — who came up with the idea in 2012 while they were working on a project with park rangers in Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves. The three friends — all originally from South Africa — were working with the rangers to use drones to catch poachers illegally hunting rhinos in the park. At the time, drone software was in its infancy and required large ground stations, expensive PCs and extensive training. It was a frustrating experience, and the three friends knew they could build a better platform.

DroneDeploy founders Jono Millin, Nick Pilkington, and Mike Winn

These experiences helped shape what would become the company’s mission — to make drones productive and accessible tools for everyone — from single operators to Fortune 500 companies. By focusing on their end-users, they’ve quietly assembled the largest global user base of any drone software provider. They now have a community of 30,000 users that have mapped 30 million acres across 400,000 job sites. This has lead to a real data network effect — having more data improves their telemetry and data capture algorithms, and has let them continually improve and differentiate their product.

Great Products = Power + Simplicity

Building a product which works as well for a single-operator as it does for a Fortune 500 customer requires a fine balance between power and simplicity. You must have enough domain expertise and enterprise features baked into the product to satisfy your power users, but at the same time be able to hide this complexity to make the product accessible to less sophisticated users. This is what excited us so much about DroneDeploy. The company has deep product experience across its key verticals — Agriculture, Energy and Construction — but is also accessible enough that people are using it for hundreds of other use cases — from determining the health of coral reefs, to investigating aircraft crashes, and mapping crime scenes. For many of these niche use cases, clients can leverage DroneDeploy’s app marketplace, that now has more than 80 third-party applications — making it the largest drone data ecosystem on the planet.

The Enterprise Law of Antigravity

In our experience, it’s much easier to build a great product for end users and then push upstream into large enterprises over time, than it is to go the other way around (we call this the Enterprise Software Law of Antigravity). DroneDeploy are a great example of this. By nailing the experience for individual drone operators, they’ve laid the foundations that now lets them sell into some of the largest companies in the world such as SunPower and McCarthy Building Companies. The enterprise segment is now DroneDeploy’s fastest growing market.


Watch This (Air) Space…

Our favourite teams to back are always the ones that obsess about product as much as we do — and the DroneDeploy team are no exception. We’re thrilled to be backing Mike, Nick, Jono and the whole team as they expand their business downunder, and we are looking forward to seeing more DroneDeploy powered drones in Aussie skies.