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Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp (Part 1)

Posted on Monday, Jun 20th 2022

The drone industry is a massive beneficiary of the Corvid pandemic. Read how Tom has shepherded DroneUp to hyper-growth from its bootstrapped beginnings and a slow start.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

Tom Walker: I grew up in Southern Arkansas in a small town called Camden, which is frequently listed as one of the poorest towns in America. I graduated at 16 with a class of 37. I figured the only way I was going to get out of Arkansas was to join the Navy, which I did. I became a Nuclear Power Engineer on submarines where I spent the first half of my military career.

Sramana Mitra: That’s a cool background. What prompted you to get out of the Navy?

Tom Walker: I was getting ready to get out after my first six years. I had done well but was wanting to do something else. We were two weeks away from getting out. I say we – my wife and I – because the military is a family affair. I got a phone call and was told that I was selected to go to the offshore candidate school and become an officer. Interestingly enough, part of the reason I was getting out is I had applied for this program and they were only going to select 50 sailors to go to the offshore candidate program that year.

I was number 51. They had a dropout and I got in. I ended up finishing number one in my class which I think is because I had a chip on my shoulder after being number 51. From there, I transitioned into the special operations community where I spent the balance of my military career. After 17 and a half years, I decided do something else. I resigned my commission and went to work for my wife who owned a software company at that time and needed a sales guy.

Sramana Mitra: What year was that?

Tom Walker: That was in 2001.

Sramana Mitra: What kind of software were you selling?

Tom Walker: We just started mobile app development. We moved into the development of more sophisticated software including mobile applications and web-enablement of PC-based software.

Sramana Mitra: Where were you based?

Tom Walker: We were in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Sramana Mitra: How long does this mode of existence continue?

Tom Walker: We did that for many years. Then I had this idea. I started noticing drones. I knew that they were going to change the world. I just wasn’t sure if it was for good or for bad. I decided that if I could have an influence, at least I wanted to make sure that the impact they had was for good. Because we had a software company, we had some bandwidth. That’s when we developed what is the initial piece of software that started DroneUp.

Sramana Mitra: We have this track in One Million by One Million that we call Bootstrapping Using Services. You had a services company and you developed a product by bootstrapping the revenues of the services company.

Tom Walker: We built this piece of software that did not have any revenue model, which demonstrated my lack of sophistication at that time. It was basically a tool that was going to allow volunteers who had drones to be notified of missing children or missing pets. It gave them a chance to take this technology they had and deploy it for good. To your point, we developed it more as a side project to do something positive rather than to create a business. It turned into a significant business opportunity.

Sramana Mitra: What year was this?

Tom Walker: 2016.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp
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