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Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Jun 24th 2022

Sramana Mitra: Are you then pivoting the business largely into the delivery sector?

Tom Walker: We’re splitting the company into two. There are so many opportunities in the services side. Our growth is about equal in terms of the delivery and the growth of the services. We had been seeing 900% growth on the services side. It’s a viable business. Because we do that with independent contractors, we can grow that business without having to grow our overhead quite as much.

We believe drone delivery will be around. We call it the triangle of the last mile. It’s drones, autonomous vehicles, and electric vehicles. We’re investing heavily into that. We’re trying to keep those two sides of the organization separate because they’re completely different business models.

Sramana Mitra: But they’re within the same corporate entity?

Tom Walker: Same corporate entity.

Sramana Mitra: Talk to me about hiring. Managing hypergrowth is always challenging from the people angle. Talk about that.

Tom Walker: The first thing I did was build out my executive team. One of the lessons I learned from my experience is that you grow and grow until one or two leaders are stretched so thin that they become a constraint on growth. I believed that the company was going to grow rapidly.

I told my Board that the two most important things are running out of good people and running out of money. The first person I brought in was my Chief People Officer. This was somebody who had been responsible for the recruitment and training of tens and thousands of people within a larger organization.

I have known him for a long time. What I liked about him is, it was always about people and culture. I went out and recruited him. Then we brought in a CFO. We’ve gone from 12 to over 200. We’ve done that with less than 1% turnover. We’re 50% diverse. 25% are spouses of veterans.

Sramana Mitra: They’re all local?

Tom Walker: All but 60 are local. By the end of this year, we’ll be at 650. That’ll be 40% in the headquarters and 60% out in the field. Everybody would always say, “It’s about the customer.” It’s not. It’s about our people. It’s about our culture. It’s about who we are and how we identify as a company. I think that’s a little bit different than we traditionally hear. Culture and that constant need to look inward at how we’re treating each other and our brand are more important to me.

Sramana Mitra: Wonderful story. It’s really well-executed. You had to be very patient for the first four or five years.

Tom Walker: I’m not a patient person by nature.

Sramana Mitra: That’s my growth in entrepreneurship also. I didn’t start off being a patient person at all. I took on something ambitious that I had no choice.

Tom Walker: Or at least learn how to show patience on the outside. One of the things I’m proud of is, last night, I was on a conference call with my executive team. When I hung up, my eldest son was sitting in the other room. He said, “It is amazing to hear your team today versus a year ago.” It’s a seismic shift every day. Going from $3 million run rate to a projected $70 million, it tests your system. You just have to stop and take a breath and realize that if you let it consume you, you will never stop working and you will never sleep.

Sramana Mitra: Congratulations and thank you for your time.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Building a Cutting Edge Drone Technology Company: Tom Walker, CEO of DroneUp
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