Founder Profile: An Uber For Drones?

Founder Profile: An Uber For Drones?

With a solid track record we here at KingsCrowd are excited to see what the future holds for Up Sonder. Stay tuned for our future analysis of this exciting startup. In the meantime, you can invest HERE.


Key Deal Stats:

  • Raising Platform: Republic
  • Valuation Cap: $6M
  • Raise Type: Seed
  • Minimum Investment: $100
  • Security: Crowd SAFE
  • Raise completion date: April 30, 2019
  • At time of publication, February 1st, 2018 Up Sonder has raised $7,250 of its’ $1.07 M Raise.
  • Raised Prior to Round: $350K

Coming to a sky near you is drone flight. It seems with each passing day there is more investment and movement in the drone space. Perhaps because it provides one of the best last mile delivery solutions for the transportation and logistics market, bypassing the constraints of our poorly built roads and highways.

Drones are poised to provide real change to the transportation sector, but with so much change comes the challenge of how to adopt this technology. Up Sonder wants to make adoption of drone technology easy and approachable via it’s Uber like platform for securing drone pilots and equipment who are already experts in this field.

By creating the first drone marketplace, Up Sonder is helping to solve the problem of adoption in a market that is ready to grow if it can find a way to distribute and get in the hands of more people and corporations efficiently. An exciting marketplace, we dive into it with the Co-Founder & CEO, Derek Waleko.


Your mother inspired you to start Up Sonder, what can you tell us about that?

Derek: My mother has a chronic illness and wasn’t able to get her medication in time due to how remote our family’s ranch is in Texas. She suffered the whole night and it broke my heart. Helping my mother the best I could, feeling helpless, I started looking at the situation.

I knew a drone could have made that delivery and it got me thinking further how else drones would help people. It was a realization moment that gave me clarity that drones would have an even larger impact than just deliveries. It was crystal clear to me that there was a future where people relied on drones. Much the same way we rely on the internet. I know drones.

It started as a hobby and then as a commercial operator and with my background in business, I decided to build a company that would handle it all, all drone services. I look forward to the day my mother’s medication is delivered by drone directly to her in minutes. I also look forward to the day she sends off the house’s drone to count our cows.

What do you mean when you say drones will eventually “Be a right?”

Derek: Drones will be woven into our society the same way the internet is but in a much more dynamic way. Think coffee deliveries direct to your car during commutes and personal helper drones. My industry will grow past business to consumer or business to business use cases for drone services and evolve into consumer to the world.

All smart homes in the future will have a helper drone docked on their roof. If the Nest thermostat, Ring doorbell, and the Alexa speaker are the eyes and ears of the home then the autonomous drone and car are its arms and legs.

The way we return items to stores will change, how we secure our neighborhoods, lawn care, drone-assisted car charging, live sunset notifications, home repairs, new forms of income and on and on. The drone will not only be an extension of our home and property but of us.

This future is coming and the amazing benefits society will experience, and come to expect, will lead to drone technology being a fundamental human right. It’s this future my team and I are building Up Sonder to operate in.        

How do you find a pilot and onboard them?

Derek: Up Sonder offers pilots an easy flexible way to list their services to the public where they are in control choosing their own rate and hours they want to work. Being an Up Sonder member is free and comes with a website that they can show video from past projects, talk about their expertise/services they provide, and detail technical information on the drone they operate.

Our unique website also handles direct payments, messaging, and secure data transfers between them and the client. The Up Sonder platform is set up for simple text notifications and ease of use. Pilots can link their bank or PayPal account with simple and convenient payouts after each booking.

We have relied on word-of-mouth and being part of industry conversations in forums, podcasts, news articles, and other online drone communities. We will also attend trade shows to seek and educate commercial drone pilots about listing their services on Up Sonder.

Let’s pretend I’m an FAA-certified drone pilot and I sign up for Up Sonder’s Marketplace — what happens next?

Derek: Up Sonder only allows FAA certified commercial drone pilots to list their services on Up Sonder and every drone must be registered with the FAA. We set these standards to be able to operate within the rules and regulations as they exist today.

Each new sign up will have their credentials cross checked with the FAA. If they are successfully verified, including phone and email, their listing becomes live and active. There are three ways for an Up Sonder pilot to get jobs on Up Sonder.

The first way is when businesses self-serve by searching the Up Sonder marketplace by their project’s zip code and booking a qualified drone pilot.

The second is if a business doesn’t have time to search the Up Sonder marketplace and prefers white glove treatment. This white glove treatment is where Up Sonder staff will speak with the business to understand their needs – scope of work, deadline, budget, etc – and do an internal search selecting the best pilot for the job and coordinating with the pilot for a successful mission.

The third way is through our API that allows larger enterprise businesses to integrate our software into their workflow to be able to input and order drone missions automatically without the need for Up Sonder support staff.

The Up Sonder API software automates the sourcing process by notifying pilots within a radius of the project zip code and having them submit quotes direct to the client for selection.      


How does Up Sonder make money?

Derek: Up Sonder makes 15% from each drone booking by charging a 10% service fee to the client and a 5% service fee to the pilot plus a flat $7 booking fee.

For example, if a pilot sets her or his rate at $200 per hour and a client books this pilot for 3 hours, the client will be charged $667. After the mission is complete the pilot receives $570 and Up Sonder $97.


What are the biggest tasks people hire drone pilots for?

Derek: Drones are powerful tools that will change the way we work and live. When you combine their consumer, commercial and governmental use, analysts agree, drones are an opportunity too large to ignore.

Major industries are already using drones and those that offer the most growth opportunity in the near future include construction, oil and gas, agriculture, inspection/insurance, 3D mapping, real estate, journalism and mining among others. Up Sonder has serviced the oil and gas and real estate industries. Our most recent job was off the Gulf of Mexico to film an incoming oil tanker known in the industry as a VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier).

Our oil and gas client wanted promotional material of this vessel. Up Sonder also monitors pipe lines and does reconnaissance missions using thermal imaging to check land based oil tank storage levels. Outside of the oil and gas industry we also service the real estate industry to provide real estate agents beautiful marketing material for both for residential and commercial listings.

The next industry we are getting to ramp up is in cell tower inspections and have already secured a national client to provide these services and look forward to growing this relationship and others in 2019.


What other industries can use drones that currently are not?

Derek: The delivery and e-commerce industries are the next major industries to adopt and incorporate drones into their workflow. The issue with this is regulations and flight times. The good news is that regulations are opening and new laws are being written to allow for flights beyond visual line of sight and over populated areas.

The major hurdle our industry doesn't like to talk about is a technical one, flight times. Energy is a major limiting factor due to the fact battery technology doesn’t follow Moore’s Law. As heavier and heavier payloads are added to drones, flight times are dramatically reduced and flight radiuses diminished, limiting the amount of customers that can be serviced.

These delivery drone use cases can’t scale in a meaningful way unless this energy crisis is solved. Up Sonder is developing marketplace 2.0 to provide a solution with our “if-network” (infinity flight) rooftop charging locations.

In the future, third part autonomous delivery drones (and non-delivery drones) will be able to tie into our “if-network” to wirelessly charge and extend the range of their autonomous drone and increase the amount of customers they serve by flying from rooftop to rooftop.

Talk to us about how charging networks will make widespread drone-use a reality.

Derek: Autonomous drones are increasing and will take over but for them to be cost effective at scale and have a real impact they need to be able to fly further than one round trip flight. The limiting factor is having an autonomous drone only fly half its battery life to conduct a mission, because the other half of the battery is needed for the return flight.

This is a waste and losing proposition that limits an autonomous drone’s full potential and impact. Up Sonder’s “if-network” is the energy solution for autonomous drones for the wide adoption and the scalability needed to impact every human on the planet. Without it the drone ecosystem will be fragmented and inefficient.

A network of rooftop charging locations will not only allow for drones to fly further and service more customers but it will also allow for an overall reduction of drones in the sky. With drones' inevitable integration into our everyday lives, Up Sonder recognizes drone clutter will possibly become a reality and is combating this by building marketplace 2.0 with our autonomous drone management software and charging network to streamline the work of each autonomous drone to maximum efficiency, thus requiring less drones to cover the same amount of work.

For a simple example, instead of Domino's Pizza having a delivery drone at every location, in the future they will be able to use the same autonomous drone tied into Up Sonder’s “if-network” that is making deliveries for Papa John’s and Pizza Hut. Other industries will use this same sharing method to reduce their costs and keep our skies clear.   


How long until autonomous drones are circling the skies?

Derek: We can see a few examples of autonomous drones now in 2019 and a future with helper drones docked on our rooftops and autonomous drones deeply woven into society less than 10 years out. My industry moves fast. Up Sonder is already working to bring the real estate industry its first taste of autonomous drones by automating the collection of marketing material for commercial and residential listings.

Real estate agents have to pay upfront marketing costs when selling a property and make limited returns after a sale which make their budgets smaller than other industries. It’s our goal to lower this cost burden for agents and free up Up Sonder pilots to service other industries.

We believe this first use case will be a win-win for both our pilots and the real estate industry. With over 5 million properties sold in America alone each year, we envision real estate agents being able to simply enter the property address and within 30 minutes receiving HD video and high res images at Netflix prices.

Once we are confident we have perfected automated real estate shoots, we will then look to add more and more services like roof inspections and start scaling and building out our “if-network” charging locations.


What is Airmap and how does it work with the FAA’s regulations?

Derek: Ben Marcus is the chairman and co-founder of Airmap and a close personal friend. We enjoy getting together for lunch in Los Angeles to talk about our industry and what’s next. In short, Airmap is airspace intelligence. Airmap allows for FAA data about the airspace to be easily used and manipulated to help the industry fly safe.



With a solid track record we here at KingsCrowd are excited to see what the future holds for Up Sonder. Stay tuned for our future analysis of this exciting startup. In the meantime, you can invest HERE.







Sean O'Reilly

About the Author:

Former Editor and Podcast Host at The Motley Fool covering energy, industrials, technology and consumer goods; A content strategist for B2B and B2C organizations, with a passion for the financial markets, and enabling individuals to invest confidently.

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