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Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Jun 23rd 2022

Sramana Mitra: Where are you revenue-wise? $20 million?

Tom Walker: We’ll do more than that this year. To put it in perspective, we were 12 full-time people in January of 2021. Now we have 25,000 drone operators. We are 205 full-time employees. By the end of this year, we’ll be at a little over 650.

Sramana Mitra: My next question is business structuring. This is hypergrowth. What kind of a business are you building? How much of your business is software products? How much of it is services? How much of it is human services?

Tom Walker: The impetus for the big growth is from our partnership with Walmart and the major investment that Walmart made into our company last year. One of the things that happened during the pandemic was, we weren’t doing deliveries. It wasn’t something we had ever done.

During the pandemic, the White House issued a memo to several of the big drone companies saying, “How can we use drones to aid in the pandemic relief?” Specifically, around delivery. We had no idea. We didn’t have delivery drones.

We put together an operation in an abandoned college in Virginia. For just three days and three nights, we would practice how we would do deliveries. We were tying fishing lines to the bottom of drones and using remotely-operated devices. McGyver would have been proud of this. In the end, we published a paper called Operation Last Mile.

Walmart got a copy. They asked us if we would participate in the first contact-free delivery of COVID test kits from three Walmarts. This is in the heat of the pandemic. The goal was to deliver a couple of hundred. Over nine weeks, we did over 1,300 deliveries.

Walmart approached us and made a major investment and signed a significant contract with us to help build out their delivery network. In addition to that services business, we are the only company doing 12-hour day, 7-days a week store-to-door delivery by drone in under 30 minutes. That business has been created starting in late 2019.

Sramana Mitra: Walmart is your first external investment.

Tom Walker: Yes, the first major.

Sramana Mitra: No longer 12 full-time employees. The Walmart deal requires a lot of people to fulfill right?

Tom Walker: It’s not just Walmart. This is where the lessons paid off. We realized that we were not going to just start doing drone delivery. It’s a new model. It’s not the solution to last-mile delivery; it’s a piece of it. We took a different approach to delivery. We said, “How do we work with organizations to make this service work for them?” By starting from that, it has allowed us to begin working with pharmaceuticals, medicals, food, and first responders. Walmart was the catalyst.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp
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