David Young Interviews The Drone Girl, Sally French

SUMMARY

CEO and founder of Drone Launch Academy talks with Sally French, CEO of The Drone Girl, about the beginning of their professional relationship and changes within the drone industry from when Sally first became interested in drones in 2013.

 

Sally got into drones because she needed a credit for her degree at the University of Missouri. She quickly became interested in the idea of blogging because it was a new industry—and there were a LOT of questions. Since then, while keeping up with The Drone Girl, Sally has also written for the New York Times and NerdWallet. She’s even been to the Arctic Circle!

 

Part of what keeps Sally interested in drones is not just writing, but also being able to travel and fly her drone. In this interview, Sally provides tips on travelling with a drone, such as handling it through TSA, and how many batteries to take and how to pack them.

 

The final part of the interview, Sally lets us know about her favorites drones, including a new, “must-follow” Skydio drone.

TRANSCRIPT

David:

Sally, for those that maybe watching the video, do you want to just introduce yourself real quick on who you are and kind of why you’re here? I guess.

Sally:
Sure. My name’s Sally, you probably know me actually as the DroneGirl and I run a site all about drones in terms of news, in terms of reviews. Of course we don’t just review drones. We’ve reviewed Drone Launch Academy as well. So if you want to know about Part 107 courses, we have reviews on that as well as pretty much any other thing that you would like reviewed about the drone industry? I’ve done it.

David:
Yeah. That’s awesome. And I actually found your site just through Google searching back in like 2015, 2016, probably four or five years ago when I was just starting drone launch. I don’t know if you know this, but you were like probably you were like a key turning point for me as far as yes, I had made the turning point. I love it. I tell people that like you need affiliates. And let me tell you about this story about selling French, great working together ever since. Yeah. So Sally, for those of you who may not know is the DroneGirl, you guys would all know her as the DroneGirl. She’s one of our partners. She reviews a bunch of different drone courses and things like that.  She’s linked up with a lot of people in the industry and she’s been super good to work with.

When we first made our Part 107 course, I had like no idea what I was doing from like a marketing perspective. I mean, I was just so naive. I thought I could just like blast out emails and just everybody would buy. And this is like not, not the case. Um, so we were just still trying to figure everything out. And I just remember every time I would Google anything about Part 107, like you would come up, get your website, SEO. Yeah, you do. You do. And then I was like, dang, if I could just get like Sally or the DroneGirl to, to promote some of our stuff or like talk about our stuff. So I remember sending you an email and just praying and be like, all right, here, you get here goes, you know, and then you’re starting to see professor. Yeah, sure. You know, let’s do it. And I was like, what? You know? So, um, but then now that helped us get like users and get feedback and adjust to make things better and then just kinda kept growing from there.

Sally:
It’s easy. I think you’re saying it was really organized, really straightforward. I feel like that’s what you want in Part 107 courses, not a lot of extra fluff. You want to know what you need to know, and it seems like your site during launch Academy just embodies that.

David:
Nice. Well, thanks. I appreciate that. But anyway, I don’t think I’d ever told you that. So I just want to let you know that I really appreciate doing that at beginning. And since then, obviously I think you’ve probably been our, I think you are our number one affiliate. We have a couple of like probably four or five people that are kind of, um, our main affiliates. Um, but you’re, I feel like you’re consistently at the top of that. So big, thanks to you anyways. Less about Drone Launch and more about you. Why don’t I want to get into, so how did you first get into drones? How did you like discover this? How did you start the DroneGirl?


Sally:

I fell into drones on accident. I was a journalism student at the university of Missouri and they always told us, you need to have a blog about something and I have other interests, but there was at the time, so many blogs about things in my other interests, like Disney or fitness and no blogs about drones. Meanwhile, I was enrolled in the, uh, the school’s first ever drone class. I signed up for it because it was pretty much the only class that fit in my schedule and I needed one more credit to graduate. So I took that class and I was like, Oh my gosh, I need to start a blog about drones. There’s so much info here. And I had all these questions to, uh, I mean at the time Part 107 wasn’t a thing. But there was really not even any guidance on like, do you need a license to fly a drone at the time? No one even knew. So I started blogging about this and getting this info out there. And as you can see, there’s been such a need for that information. It’s totally just grown organically from there. You know, you were saying, I have that good Part 107 SEO, but it’s honestly because when I started the blog, there was no competition whatsoever.

David:
Yeah. It helps to be first for sure. Um, that’s awesome. So you kind of a drone journalism class, one thing led to another started growing. What year did you start the site?

Sally:
Yes. So that class was a spring semester. I started in January in 2013 and then the class ended in May. Then I said, I want to keep this up. I’m so excited about drones. So I started the blog in like May when the class is coming to an end and it’s been going ever since 2013. So I guess this is like seven years now. It’s been more than seven years of DroneGirl.

David:
Congrats. That’s awesome. Now I know you run DroneGirl, but I know that as a journalist you also write for some other, uh, outlets. Like tell us a little about that.

Sally:
Yeah.  I’ve worked at so many amazing publications. I just left the New York Times. Actually I was working for them for two years covering money and credit cards, um, which is sort of a nice change from drones. You don’t want to be talking about drones all the time, cause you’ll end up going a little crazy. I recently just joined NerdWallet and I’m going to be covering travel specifically for them, which is really exciting because I think travel and drones go hand in hand. I mean, there’s so many people who get a drone because they’re going on a trip and they want those awesome photos of their Hawaiian beach location vacation. Um, I’ve also done so many amazing travels with drones. One of the coolest things I ever did is I went to the Arctic circle.

David:
I feel like I remember seeing some pictures of you doing that.

Sally:
This was crazy. There was a company that was doing camping trips in the Arctic circle. Like literally the middle of nowhere, you have to fly on a private charter plane to get to this uninhabited Island where they just have like 10 glamping tents. Basically they were trying to say that this is a great place to fly drones because there’s no trees, there’s no people. That was one of the awesome things I got to do through my site…go fly drones in the Arctic circle. And so I think traveling drones totally go hand in hand now did that.

 

David:

Did you have to pay for that? Or did you do it for free because you were covering it?

Sally:
I partnered with them. Yeah. It was pretty awesome.

David:
That is awesome. Yeah. That’s so funny. How was it flying? Was it really cold? I’m assuming, I mean, I’ve never been in the Arctic circle.

Sally:
It was. One of my blog posts was about flying a drone in the cold and luckily it wasn’t insanely cold. We went in the summer, so it was like 35 degrees. Yeah, drone pilots in the US are flying in even colder climates depending on what the project they’re doing it.

David:
Sure, sure. Well, that’s awesome. So you have the DroneGirl you’re running that, but you’re still able to do other journalism stuff…vary it up a little bit.

Sally:
Keeps me saying, I think it’s important to do, you know, all the aspects of not just flying drones and writing about it, but also, you know, focusing on other interests like travel because then I think when you come back to drones, you’re really fresh. I do find a lot of other sites in the drone industry tend to get very myopic about drones that assume that you know everything about drones. You get a little bit of expert syndrome where you forget that people probably don’t know what you’re talking about when you get that deep.

And with the drone industry, there’s just so much alphabet soup. There’s like UTM, RFID, all these things. And I know what they mean, but you have to remember that even someone who has, you know, might have an ABIC and they like drones and they care about drones, they don’t know what UTM is. And so I think it’s good to come in with sort of a fresh perspective when I write and just remind myself, that not everyone knows what even Part 107 is, you need to say it’s testing or it’s a law that requires you to take this test to get your drone license and not just assume what it is.

David:
Yeah, yeah, no, that’s, that’s important. And I find that the same way too, because when we’re doing marketing, thinking about stuff for our courses, we’ll say things and then we’ll talk to people later and they’re like, yeah, but I just want to do this. And we’re like, well, we explained to that. But then we realized we explained it with a bunch of jargony language and they really just didn’t get it, you know? So you always have to simplify and I think that’s really good that you’re kind of thinking about that one thing. Since you talked about now you’re covering travel and it links in well with drones. Are there any tips that you have for people that are traveling with drones? As far as like, Hey, I want to get on an airplane. Can I bring my drone? Like, what do I have to do with the battery? How does that work? Do you have any tips for people there who are like traveling?

Sally:
Yeah. Luckily, you know, traveling with a drone isn’t as onerous as even it once was. I found that even TSA agents tend to see a lot of drones so now they know what drones are. When I traveled with the drone in 2014, it was like this big thing, even like a DJI Phantom, you had to have to have a separate box for it. You show up with this box and the TSA agent is like, what is this? It could be a bomb. They don’t know. So, so, so luckily drones are commonplace enough now that TSA agents know what they are. Um, also you don’t need to have this extra carry on if you’re, I’m assuming, you know, most people are flying a MavicAir or Maverick pro, which can just tuck into your backpack already. And there are laws posted usually per airline about how many batteries you could have with you. Usually it tends to be about two so if you are traveling with eight batteries, you need to have a plan. If you’re traveling with someone else, you can give them two batteries and you have two batteries and then you can at least have more.

David:
Is that carrying a monitor? Is that checking them in the bags?

Sally:
Yeah. That’s carrying them on. You know, it’s always really important you carry-on your batteries because if you’re checking them, what you don’t want is in the event of a lipo battery fire, you don’t want that fire in the back of the aircraft where you can’t access your suitcase. Right. You know, it’s, it seems, you know, you don’t want the fire in the overhead bin, but you do want that, because you don’t want to fire it at all, but you would want to be able to access the overhead bin so you can deal with the fire. I always say, don’t worry about it. I tend to take out my drone, even though the TSA says you don’t have to, just because I feel like still half the time people are like, what is this? And they make you take it out anyway, just to look at it. So I just find it easier to just take it out to begin with. But in general, traveling with the drone, just in terms of TSA understanding it, not having this big clunky thing is so much easier.

David:
Nice. That’s good to hear. You know, and I, I flew recently with my drone to the Seattle area and I think most airlines have posted that you’re not allowed to check lipo batteries, at least in your regular checked luggage. So I think it’s good to keep it with you. Um, yeah. And then, so what would you do, I guess if you had, let’s say you had a bunch of batteries and you’re traveling by yourself, would you just have to ship them out there separately or not take them?

Sally:
I only fly with two batteries, so it’s like never been a headache for me, but yeah, you could ship them out there. Again, as I said, if you’re traveling with a friend, you know, the reason why the airline has a two lipo battery rule is just because they don’t want one person traveling with 20 batteries. And then, you know, either intentionally creating a bomb or just one of them starts a fire and then it causes a whole chain reaction. So they don’t want everyone on the airplane having 20 batteries, like two, you can do a whole lot with you. So if you are traveling with someone else, just divvy up all your batteries between each of you.

David:

Yeah. Smart. And just in case anybody’s unfamiliar with lipo batteries, it’s not like they’re like combusting and lighting on fire all the time, but it’s just a freak chance that it could happen. So they try to be careful with it.

Sally:
We all saw the exploding galaxy phones. Like when was that?


David:

Yeah, something like that several years ago. Yeah. And those were like little miniature Lima batteries. So that’s good advice. Um, for anyone traveling, I wanted to ask you a question quickly about your drone reviews. I know you reviewed it you’ve you have reviewed a ton of different drones and obviously the most popular drones are basically anything DJI makes, you know, Mavic 2 Pro. That’s what you hear about most. What is one of your favorite drones that you’ve reviewed? That’s not like a DJI drone. It’s not necessarily kind of like in everybody’s minds that you’re like, Oh, this is a pretty cool drone that people should know about.

Sally:
I really wish that I could say my favorite drone is something unique that you’ve never heard of, but honestly, DJI drones are so good. They’re reliable. They’re a great price. So, so I do want to say like, I truly believe DJI drones are the best drones. People say, “Oh my God, you’re like a show for DJI,” but there’s a reason why DJI has a 70+ percent of market share. Their drones are just so reliable and easy to use that said I’m really, really excited about some recent progress in the drone industry. I recently flew this Skydio drone, which is super cool. Have you fought it yet?

David:
I have not, but I’ve heard a little bit about it.

Sally:
It truly is a follow me drone and I could not get it to crash. I mean, I didn’t like try super hard to, you know, fly in your power lines or anything, which is, I think maybe one way that it could crash, just cause it’s hard to see that. But I was finding apart from walking through trees or in a foresty area, this thing would not crash at all. And so, you know, the Skydio is really interesting because I think it’s a product for people who don’t actually want to fly drones. There’s not that fun, controlling the sticks appeal. And in a lot of ways you just say like, take a selfie and you don’t really know where it’s going to go, but I think, you know, it’s such an awesome product. I’ve reviewed lots of drones and admittedly crashed them. And my photographer has seen me crash a lot and we were flying the Skydio too. And I set it to go and it just like immediately jets towards this like big balcony. And he’s like, stop, stop. And he didn’t know what the Skydio was about. He didn’t know that it could stop itself. And so like, it just like go straight towards this balcony. It sees it all greedy. And then it just like kind of like tilts out behind it and then just like keeps going. And I was like, it’s fine, and he’s having a heart attack. Cause he didn’t know that the Skydio was so smart. So for those of you watching who don’t know the Skydio, it has six sensors by the video on all sides. It truly has 360 degree vision, truly a sense and avoid drone versus something like the, you know, the recent mapping drones that have sense and avoid, typically tend to be front and back, which is a great sort of backup, but it means a drone can’t completely be like, I would say a fully autonomous follow me drone at the way the Skydio video is.

David:

Yeah. And for those maybe not familiar with Skydio, another thing, and correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of Skydio is, like you’re saying, you can literally just toss it up and you’re not flying it and you can go ride a dirt bike through the woods on a trail and it will follow you and dodge all the trees without you touching anything. Right?

Sally:

Exactly. That’s it. Exactly.

David:

Yeah. That’s really, really cool. Do you know when those were supposed to come out?

 

Sally:

They’re out. They’re out now.

 

David:

Oh, okay, cool. Awesome. Now which drone is that? Is that the Skydio 2? Or is it a different one?

Sally:
It’s called the Skydio 2. So they had a Skydio that came out maybe a couple of years ago and then they sort of iterated it, improved upon it. Uh, and then the Skydio 2 came out last year, and a few people got their hands on it. I could not get my hands on it. Then, since they’re a drone that’s made in the USA, they were starting to ramp up production and then we all know what happened in March. They couldn’t produce drones, but they finally figured out a way to be able to produce drones since Coronavirus. They restarted shipping or making new drones this summer. So now you can buy them.

David:
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. Yeah. We’ll have to check it out.

Sally:
They’re insanely cool. I went back to a DJI drone and I was like, I can’t fly this. I’m going to have do something, you get like really spoiled and then going back to the old thing, you’re like, Oh, I can’t do this.

David:
Oh, that’s hilarious. That’s so funny. If you’re looking for, if you want to try—I get this question all the time—so Dave, what’s a good non-DJI drone to fly? I’m like, well, I know some people like go try to try out the Autel Evo, but I’ve had several people try that and be like, and I don’t like it as much. And I think it’s more expensive than the Mavic 2 pro. Um, so some people ask me about that, but I’ve never flown a Skydio. So that’s, that’s a cool, alternative recommendation.

Sally:

I think if you’re looking for the true drone experience that we all have top-of-mind, I would still say, go for DJI. But if you want something different, the Skydio really delivers a unique product the way I do feel like Autel drones, in a way, try to copy what DJ does in which case, just go for DJI.

David:

They made them look almost exactly fold out the same way they, it was like,

Sally:
Yeah, they had the Autel X star, which looked exactly like a Phantom except for orange.

David:
Right, right, exactly. And then following right after them every step. So not exactly the best business model in my mind, but yeah. Well, I wanted to ask too… I was, I don’t remember if it was me or someone of my team…we were Googling stuff about you trying to, I was doing a research. Is it true that you’re a champion powerlifter? Or is that, is that a myth?

 

Sally:

No, that’s me.I’m Sally French DroneGirl and powerlifter.

David:
I was like, Whoa, tell me, tell me about that. I was like, what Sally?

Sally:

Yeah. I hold three national records in USPA for power lifting in the squat bench and overall total, but not my deadlift. They do it weight class based. I’m really, really small if you’ve met me in person, uh, I hold the records in the 44 kilogram weight class. I love it. I mean, it’s something like drones, it’s just like, it’s such a hard thing. It’s such a unique thing. It’s something that not a lot of women do. I think I see a lot of parallels between myself as DroneGirl and myself as a power lifter. I love it.

David:

That’s awesome. It was just so funny. Cause you know, I was like, I’m having an interview with Sally, let me look up some stuff. And I was like, Is that, is that real? So I just had to ask you, but that’s awesome.

Sally:

You can watch me squat 250 pounds

David:
Where, if we wanted to see it, is this like online somewhere?

Sally:
Yeah. I have like a drone Instagram account and then I have a personal Instagram account also. I feel like drone people don’t want to see my personal life and vice versa. I’m not going to like intersperse squats and drones. Although that could be like a new, like a new niche—squats and drones.

David:
Just circle you and follow you working out or something

Sally:
Unfortunately I feel like lifting is like, not the most like active. It’s too bad that I’m not a pro snowboarder. That would be a lot better for my drone persona. But yeah, on my personal Instagram you can see me squat.

David:
Nice. Awesome. Well, I’ll have to check it out, but I just had asked you about it. So that’s really cool.  I know you have a little short timeframe here, so we’ll wrap it up, but I just want to say thanks for chatting with me for a little bit and uh, you know, letting people get to know you. So, if you’re watching this or reading about this, definitely go check out the DroneGirl.com. Or, if you don’t care about drones and you’re huge into powerlifting, go check out Sally’s personal Instagram page, but, anyways, thanks for coming on. Also thanks for just being an awesome partner for DroneLaunch for the last four years. Appreciate it.

Sally:

This is fun. It’s always great working with you guys.

Nicole

Nicole

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