The brainchild of two engineering students, Drone Nation integrates custom-built drone hardware and software to offer clients a range of aerial solutions and business intelligence. The startup aims to generate $1.8 million by 2020.
In the past few years, the use of drones has risen dramatically – across the world and in India. With the areas of application spanning surveying/mapping, inspection, science & research, security, monitoring, search & rescue, and aerial video & photography, opportunities to use UAVs for new applications are constantly evolving and emerging.
Realising the potential for growth, two engineering students of BITS Pilani, Goa, came together to set up Drone Nation in Goa, a startup launched in June 2016 to facilitate aerial photography using drones. The duo - Chetan Reddy, the “Hustler” and Vichar Shroff, the “Visionary” – soon realised that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market they were targeting had matured.
Drone Nation soon diversified its offerings and today provides cost-effective drone services in aerial survey and mapping, data analysis for real estate & precision agriculture, and inspection & monitoring for industrial purposes among others.
Chetan Reddy, Co-Founder of Drone Nation, says: “We are a one-stop drone solution providing authentic business intelligence in a turnkey, affordable manner to enterprises so as to increase productivity and process capabilities. In 2015, the commercial drone market was estimated to be a 6 billion industry with drone solutions comprising 30 percent of the market. In India, end-to-end solutions using drones is a relatively untapped market and we plan to carve our own niche in that.”
Currently, Drone Nation caters to 13 clients in key sectors, including real estate, infrastructure, energy and utilities. The company chose to work in these sectors, identifying lack of consistent site visibility solutions, which often lead to over-budgeted and delayed projects.
The startup has also received grant and incubation support under Gujarat government’s NIDHI PRAYAS, an initiative aimed at helping farmers prosper using Drone Nation’s business intelligence generated in agriculture sector.
The drone market in India
Research by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates that India tops the list of drone-importing nations with 22.5 percent of the world’s UAV imports.
A 6WResearch (a market intelligence and advisory firm) report, India UAV Market (2015-2021), states that the Indian UAV market is expected to reach $421 million by 2021. Military application accounts for majority of the UAV revenue share and law enforcement is also emerging as a key application.
Considering the significant potential of drone technology in India, several startups offering UAV solutions have crowded the space, including Skylark Drones, Ideaforge, Airwood among others.
However, Chetan highlights that there are no established players in India offering similar services, but there is strong competition with global players like Airware, Agribotix, Pix4D etc.
“In India most of the players use commoditised software algorithms whereas Drone Nation has its own proprietary algorithms and is focused on continuously improving them,” he says.
The brand, which prides itself for building its market differentiation with customised and low-cost solutions, is also working to improve the brand’s software so that it can adapt to any kind of drone hardware.
Drone Nation currently follows a service-based model and relies on field sales, giving live demos and presentations to acquire new clients.
The road ahead
Drone Nation is now run by a 7-member team, including four college students. Since its inception in July 2016 till the end of Q1 2017, the company has generated net revenue of around $12,000 from initial orders and drone services. It aims to generate $1.8 million by 2020.
With global expansion on the cards by 2020, the brand is looking to offer its services to one of India’s major energy companies, which Chetan believes would be a “big boost” to the brand’s growth.
Going ahead, Drone Nation plans to focus on developing robust technology and start focusing on agriculture as it sees huge potential in the sector. Considering the rapid growth in India’s drone market, especially hardware, the brand plans to aggregate major hardware companies with its software platform.
The bootstrapped startup is currently using revenue raised through a few projects, B-plan competitions and a non-equity grant from the government, but hopes to raise funds soon.
As per the brand’s business model, clients aren’t charged for drones but only for the value that the service provides.
“We are going to adapt a SaaS model and we believe we are cost-efficient because we are competing with old conventional methods and not what our competitors are charging,” Chetan says.
With drones evolving beyond their military origin to become powerful business tools, Drone Nation’s first-mover advantage may help the startup reap rich benefits.