Drone to 1K Season 2 / Episode 6: Leo Adams from SkyeLink Aerial Photography


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Leo Adams is CEO/Co-Founder of SkyeLink, a professional drone service company with a drone marketplace and pilot network.

David: “Tell us what kind of services SkyeLink provides for drone services and on the pilot network side?”

The main services SkyeLink offers are aerial inspections, aerial mapping and aerial photography. They work in construction, solar, real estate, production and typography. Their pilot network allows them to scale and offer flexibility to clients nationwide. Their drone marketplace allows clients to connect with pilots, post jobs, and receive bids from within the pilot network. The network also streamlines the process of getting pilots deployed by offering compliance documentation, Part 107 certification, insurance certificates and drone registration.

David: “Did it start off with the pilot network idea from the beginning? Were you offering services and then expanded more and more?”

Leo bought his first Mavic drone in 2016, taking images and doing aerial photography, as a side hustle while still in a full-time corporate job. When he went to flying full time, the company began to do more aerial photography, as well as video production, real estate work and inspections. Leo believes that starting in roof inspections is the easiest route, especially with a Mavic or Phantom 4. From there, he began doing more infrastructure, energy solar inspections and mapping work. Working with pilots across the country opened the door to working with bigger clients. The goal was always to have a nationwide business. When he found his partner/CTO, who heads technical operations and software development, they spent all of 2018 bringing in clients and taking the business to the next level.

“It’s been a slow but steady process. Every year I learn something new, I evolve a little bit and grow into a new area. It’s been exciting journey since 2016.”

David: “With the kind of pilot network you’re building, are you still finding clients, then finding the pilots for those jobs? Are you at a point where you’re getting referrals and have repeat clients or are you making an active effort to go out and pitch people?”

SkyeLink is continuing to develop new business, create new opportunities for their pilots and close contracts. Existing clients come back to them for work. They’re always communicating with new prospects and trying to close new contracts that can bring more work to their pilots. Obviously, they want to win as much business as possible and keep their pilots as busy as they can.

David: “While you were transitioning out of corporate work to a full-time drone business—which I feel like is like the dream for a lot of people—what was it like when you were first starting out and managing full time work AND side work?”

In college Leo had run a couple of businesses so he knew that he eventually wanted to be a full-time entrepreneur. When he moved to Charlotte, Leo says,

“I wanted to create something that would allow me freedom to do my own thing. I had that intention right from the start and worked at it. I took action on that goal by doing things that put me in a position to make the leap away from my full-time job. I might’ve done it a little too soon, but it gave me the energy and drive to make it work!”

Leo spent a lot of time capturing B roll for videographers that didn’t know about using drones yet. He tried to meet and collaborate with as many people as possible, always looking for how to bring them value. He made videos for small businesses, using his drone as a tool on many projects. He found that realtors, agents and brokers had low cost expectations and there were a lot of people looking to get into drones who were willing to offer low introductory discounts. As a result, it became apparent to him that the market was saturated. He knew he couldn’t hang around there forever if I was going to make it work in the long term, so he began pursuing work in other sectors.

David: “What did you do next? What kind of work did you look for in what kind of timeframe?”

Leo did real estate videography and video production for the better part of a year still working at his full-time old job. It was when he started progressing out of it and joined some pilot networks that he started to have the idea to create a unique type of pilot network that would work with their pilots on what’s fair for them while keeping it competitive for the client and having their margin.

“I wanted to have a conscious capitalist mindset. There was a different way to do it that seemed better to me and I had to find a way to position myself differently.”

When Leo was first getting started, he emailed potential leads, which, he says, was not the most sustainable. He found out that when he was able to have a face-to-face conversation with a potential client, they were much more willing to work with him—as opposed to drone pilots who were bombarding them via email or cold calling. Leo says, “Know who your ideal client is, then find out where they live, what they do, where they go, etc. Networking events, conferences, and industry meetups are great places to build relationships with potential prospects—whether they have a job or not.” People he’s met at these events have connected him with past colleagues or they have active projects in their pipeline.

David: “What ways have you found to be able to get in front of customers?”

Leo suggests, when reaching out to these companies, to ask yourself how you can provide value. Can you go out there and do a demo or sample inspection and show them what deliverables you can produce for them? That might be enough to push them over the edge and to feel your services are worthwhile.

“Add a Demo Day/ Lunch & Learn to your marketing mix to talk to potential clients about what you offer. For example, bring lunch to an engineering firm’s project managers and talk about typography, mapping projects you’ve created, elevation models, terrain models or contour maps.”

David: “How would you direct people just starting their business to get moving generating some income—at least on the side?”

Leo says you just have to get out and fly, just passing the Part 107 exam doesn’t make you a good pilot. He insists people should go to a park and try different shots—trucking shots, an orbit shot or a reveal shot—these are typical shots that drone pilots are using in real estate videography or production work. From there, go out and meet people and reach out to your existing network. Once you start doing work, make sure you’re saving some of the deliverables and footage that you take.

“Down the road, your portfolio will be your biggest sales tool to drive new business.”

David: “How did you make the transition from video production to being able to talk intelligently and sell engineers?”

It was about working with and partnering with smarter people than himself, asking for help from people that had experience with those services. He solicited working with them, even sometimes having them attend new business meetings to jointly sell and so he could learn from them.

“If you approach it in the right way, this is a very collaborative industry. You’re able to work with other pilots and, hopefully, create mutually beneficial relationships.”

David: “So when you set up partnerships with these pilots, how did you sell that without seeming like you were creating more competition for them? How did you get them to agree to let you learn from them?”

Leo says he had to show his true intention of working with them to bring more business to their business too. He tried to connect with people that he knew would be willing to help and had something that he could offer them.

David: “So what’s next for you? Is your future plan to continue to build out SkyeLink with more pilots and more projects?”

Leo says it absolutely is. He and his partner agree that 2018 was building year–not much going on in terms of business. 2019 was setting the stage to create a sustainable business. 2020 is growth mode; it’s the kind of year to create new partnerships with pilots and new clients.

“It’s been a journey—not an easy one. Have patience, take it one step at a time and go through the ups and downs. There’s going to be a learning curve, but you just have to push through that. You gotta play the long game, I guess.”

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