Posted in Diary

Hungry like a pack of wolves, but patient like a python

Looks like I haven’t spent the time to write in the past few months or so. I’m going to put down a couple of thoughts from the past few months all in one jumbo post here.

Don’t make an industry based on promises

Most don’t realise but as an SME / self proprietor I spend a lot of time chasing for payments. We hear this phrase “I promise to pay” a lot, and most of the time, if the phrase has to be used, it’s never on time. Fortunately, at least for Singapore customers, it’s also never completely a bad debt, just … takes a loooong time.

With that I am going to change some of my practices. I will start with my music arrangement business. From now on, music arrangement services from me will be pre-paid. You know what, since my team of arrangers has never failed to deliver, and since off-the-shelf scores are already sold C.O.D., I don’t see why this won’t work?

After this I will try to work this concept into other lines of business as well.

* * *

Actively say no to 50% of the opportunity

I remember reading Jack Welsh about dropping the bottom 10% of the customers, cultivate the top 30%, or something like that. Basically something along the bell curve.

After 5 years of running life on my own, living off savings and scrapping by, I realise that’s a luxury that run-in businesses can afford. For the rest of us, we actually need to drop the ball a lot. A lot. So that we can have CRAZY focus on the top 10% customers.

These are the customers who don’t necessarily pay the best, but pushes you to grow with extraordinary speed. The present opportunities that are sometimes scary, but will lead to step wise growth for the company.

The next time I sit on the fence, I will KIV. I just need to create a good KIV mechanism for revisiting periodically to see if the state of the world has changed.

* * *

Don’t give up hiring the best

If there’s any fatigue I’m suffering, it’s from hiring. It’s incredibly hard to get the best people to the table. After that, it’s also incredibly hard to give an offer that can’t be refused.

But we can’t relent and take in average people, not now, not in the near future, maybe never. I believe everyone worth their salt is strong in something, that means, if we didn’t take you in even though you have something to offer, it simply means the company just isn’t big enough or ready to absorb a talent like you.

And for the record, the mismatch in interest with recruiters (they call it agency cost I think in Econs) is enormous. Any recruiter who can’t at least articulate (regurgitate) your company’s vision or mission or focus or hiring priorities should just move into other industries. Everyone’s trying to automate away the hardest part of the industry and push the hardest part of the work to the end customer (“Good morning, here’s 1000 new resumes that my beta AI algorithm thinks are suitable candidates for you, would you like to interview all of them?”) Reverse job fair is another stab at this.

Don’t believe? Speak to the 500+ linked connections I have who are recruiters peddling the same intro blurb.

* * *

We all try to succeed within our own bubble
Sometimes we say: 瞎子摸象

Last week I chanced into a panel during a new programme launch to speak to a group of what I would like to coin as the “Singapore-Startup-Scene-Sympathizers” (S4). There were some questions about “what do I get” or “what’s the catch” if they join the said new programme, which are fair enough since it’s always good to clarify the facts, benefits and catch.

Then we got into the regular “Singapore bitching” segment. As usual we have the “Don’t be afraid of China, we can do it here too!”, or “Think global from day 1, use Singapore as a testbed”, or “The domestic market here is too small, it’s so hard doing business with Singapore companies due to them insisting on lowest cost”, and so on…

Talk is cheap (well ok it was a panel, we were supposed to talk)

So I chimed in and echoed the sentiment so that I don’t draw attention to my unconventional ideas. But inside my head I’m just wondering, what kind of background these people (including myself) have, to draw sweeping observations on the ecosystem? And more importantly, what privilege did they have running their business, to allow them to call out such stereotype?

For example: you say Singapore domestic market is small – so you’re done with Singapore market? No one else gonna buy your wares here? Or in fact your product does not fit the use cases here?

Or for example: you say Singapore can never beat the hardware ecosystem in Shenzhen – so you know both the hardware ecosystem in Singapore and Shenzhen well enough to draw that comparison? Or is it that the high quality end product that gets sold for peanuts coming out of Shenzhen makes your legs tremble, and thus you distribute the cause of your mediocre success to the environment in which you operate?

兵不厌诈. You have to create that unfair advantage, and lacking that you just need to line up your army, no matter how small, such that they are most effective against the oncoming horde. And you fight your small battle. The free market will adjust itself to take into account your efforts.

Patterns will eventually emerge for the innovation observers to write their consultancy papers, despite the fact that all battles would have been fought it in their own unique circumstances. You might win a customer from China that the Shenzhen company couldn’t. Who knows?

* * *

We all procrastinate when we burn midnight oil

Ok I shall stop writing. I have code to check in…

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Posted in Diary

Changing the world, 18 minutes at a time

If last year’s TEDxPetalingStreet was a harrowing first time experience, this round at TEDxNUS it was slightly better.

Not exactly because it’s in English – turns out that the subject matter is the hard one to tell, regardless of language – but primarily because the story is “getting real”, and I could project further and further into the future.

(The old video in mandarin)

(The new video in english)

1.5 years have past between November 2015 and March 2017. We built a more stable team, have a productive operations team for plantations, launched Garuda Plex for our users, and have a whole slew of agriculture focused innovation lined up for the year.

(My favourite people)

Interesting Job Series – Flying high with robots

To catch up with ever-changing technology and achieve his dream of expanding robotics into more areas, Nicholas Hon, 29, has ventured beyond his comfort zone to brush up on his skills.Read his story:

Posted by Ministry of Education, Singapore on Thursday, March 16, 2017

So while things get busy with existing use cases, as illustrated in these 2 TED talks, it’s time to invest more effort into making the future happen.

Are you interested to change the world together with us?

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Posted in Diary

Paralysed as a means of renewal

A conversation with wifey this afternoon revealed an annual pattern. Every year, around December, I will suddenly be paralysed. I won’t work despite the mountain of tasks to complete before the new year, I won’t talk to most people unless it’s impossible not to talk to them, and I will spend many hours staring into the void, or doing mindless things.

After coming back from my last business trip 3 days ago, it happened again, so I thought it’s a good to pen this observation down, and perhaps I could read this again next December.

In the process of shutting down and restarting, I had 3 important conversations. One with my wife this afternoon, one with Mark yesterday, and one with Mean 3 days ago in KL. I learned 3 things:

1. I need to exercise.

I’m not joking – I found out that the procrastination and excuses had caused something profound in my life: my ability to focus intensely on something has dropped significantly since I ran out of time for everything this year. Originally only a few things slipped – band, then family travels, then house grooming. But soon after, the frequency of me running, cycling, swimming and all went south as well.

It became so intense that the last 3 days I ended up stress eating. It happened before, and I immediately recognised it. I spoke to myself in intense meditation to stop it straight away, and get out of the house. This body is in serious need of some exercise generated hormones.

2. I’m officially back in the long haul.

This was especially the case for the startup. Although I always knew that and said that, but it always seemed like we would have to do some serious pivoting in the first 3 years, or there would be some surprises that we had to face, but none of that happened this past year.

Instead, a steadfast and resilient team came into being and I couldn’t be any prouder of what we’re building everyday. At the same time, the mist that often shroud an early stage startup has cleared – the market has emerged and their needs much better spelled out. For the first time we could plan 1 year in advance instead of 3 months, and I actually know how to bring this team to the next level.

Put that together with other things in my life, it felt like it has returned to the long haul. Baby and startup are new additions to marriage, trombone, music arrangement and so on. It’s like 2006 again, after coming back from the US, with a script for the next 6 years.

3. It’s getting exponentially harder to stay in touch with people.

Not anybody, I’m referring to the people that matter, mattered and will probably matter to me. The key point is “exponential” – Without deliberate scheduling and prioritising face-to-face meetings, I am doomed to not meet any real human beings unless there’s work to do together.

I now see the value of those with a permanent social circle that they thrust themselves into, whether it’s church, golf, mummies going on a play date, meditation groups, and so on. Because I failed in my ability to balance band commitment and family, I felt totally left out this year (probably the first year I didn’t do a single major concert), and I don’t have another social circle beyond that.

It’s ironic because I still keep in touch with all my circles in the all too convenient ways like WhatsApp groups or Facebook walls. We are mutually very up-to-date on each other, and yet none of us could expend extra energy to carve out continuous 2 hours in the same location. Simple example: I see my AEP group in dozens of primary schools this year, but we have yet spent the time to go out for lunch, often rushing from job to job.

A new ideal week

This brings me back to an exercise I did some time back call the Ideal Week. During my relatively idle year in 2014, I designed an ideal week for myself. I had to, because after leaving the comforts of being employed, I needed the discipline to seize a day that could easily vanish. The goal was to live out every week as close to the ideal week as possible.

Needless to say that lasted like, say, 6 months, before GR came along and my life became topsy turvy again, in a good way. In the following two years, there wasn’t a need to create such an ideal week because there’s no way to create it. Every month the needs of my family and work changed. However, that hadn’t been true since my baby’s 2nd birthday in May. The past 6 months has actually turned into, basically, 25 weeks of no-so-ideal weeks.

To get my mind back on track, I must reestablish a baseline that takes the 3 things into account: an exercise regimen (no more excuses), a see-people regimen (however inconvenient), and taking a long view in all aspects of life (no more starting up as an excuse).

Let’s see how these factor into my 2017 resolutions 🙂

Have you started yours yet? Hope you’re not staring at this blog being paralysed as well!

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Posted in Diary

Applying Stoic Virtues in 2017

It’s end September. Years back, I would say “wake me up when September ends”, as it’s usually the busiest part of the year where most deliverables for the year had been fleshed out, and building was in full steam, and I would be diving so deep into things I couldn’t change course even if i was dragged by an aircraft carrier.

The last 2 years has been completely different, perhaps that’s how getting old and switching into my own version of “adulthood” feels like. Yes work is still busy, we’ve just launched a new product Garuda TowerSight and planned out a series of overseas work. Preparation work has doubled from all fronts: hardware, software, operations, geospatial, analytics.

And yet, September is the new month for me to count blessings and start charting the course for the next year. I married Sept 2012, conceived my daughter Sept 2013, became a founder Sept 2014, and moved into our own condo Sept 2015. So yesterday, to kickstart the process, I cycled one round around the Paya Lebar Airbase and brought my family to have a huge dinner. Earlier in the week we cancelled our Q4 planning as everyone’s responsibilities had already been spelled out till Christmas. This bought me precious time and got my body ready for long term planning again.

Gartner 2016

This year I want to plan (at least big-picture part of it) out loud on this blog, against an uncertain global backdrop. We’re 6 weeks away from a risky turning point in US presidency, which might have huge repercussion on the world. Gartner continues to put Commercial UAVs and Smart Robots on the curve towards the Peak of Inflated Expectations. Nevertheless, more enterprises and government agencies have punctured their own inflated expectations and found real tangible use cases, while hardware makers are charging through their own golden era of putting more consumer drones in the hands of unsuspecting users. People who do irresponsible things with UAVs continues to grow (people who don’t know that they are doing irresponsible things with UAVs continues to grow). While drone laws in a small number of countries have seen marked improvement in setting better and more reasonable bounds, paranoids continue to lobby for integration of this industry with manned aircraft systems, double down on no-fly-zones with the hardware makers, and raise barrier of entries to the discomfort of legacy hobbyists.

Where does that put primarily software, mostly full-stack guys like us? Many players in the states have given up their own hardware, opting to command their rival Chinese hardware in the sky, giving them more time to spend on customising software for various industries. Those who continue to hold onto their own hardware usually believe it’s necessary to integrate full-stack to ensure safety and efficiency of the flying platform. With that, they suffer from the lack of manufacturing scale. Traditional software guys selling desktop license software are also trying to break through the barrier, each trying an assortment of cloud services (e.g. media storage and processing), data brokering (e.g. flight data), and even playing up two-sided markets (the difference from Uber being, Uber is solving an enormous current day problem, a pilot marketplace is completely new and is not a problem (yet)).

There’s a greater sense of urgency for our young fledging company to come of age by our 3-year mark in a couple of weeks, where people usually stop thinking of us as a startup but a mature company. Looking back, a large part of growing a UAV startup feels like growing an entire industry. We have customers we have been speaking to since we founded the company. Some require many many trials to convince management to operationalise the service and/or purchase the system. The long sales cycle is something I’m accustomed to while working in large firms like SingTel, where I learned that finding that sweet spot of not falling into a multi-year sales engagement is key.

Garuda TowerSight

We’re about to roll out our biggest experiment yet (stay-tuned), which is to achieve our 2016 strategy to have more conversations with more enterprise more often and more intensely. Commercial UAV (actually I don’t like this term, I prefer “Drones-At-Work”, because sometimes it’s Social not Commercial) demands that conversation to be had, as the value proposition needs to be measured against the problem size faced by the enterprise, and the operational demands of a local UAV team.

In 2017 though, we will have to take a slightly different tack and follow the path of many players in the western markets where we stake out a certain use case and solve it completely. One great strength we have in the team is systems integration in all directions, from IoT to mobile, from small board computers to amazon web services, from custom .NET enterprise applications to established ERP stacks like SAP. This puts us in the position to glue UAV ops to existing ops, something critically needed to realise the full value of the flying sensor.

I haven’t address why I want to put this on the blog 😉 The biggest reason imho is the silence many UAV players in our region practise, understandably, in competing in this nascent market. It’s lonely ya, behind all the marketing and the social front we put up officially. You know I’ve seen the rise and the fall of other startup industries in Singapore, especially mobile app and social media, whose golden era was in the last decade. There was a lot of peer encouragement (and a lot of poaching heh), generally a bit more camaraderie. While I doubt the silence can be broken easily, I do hope we shortcut the learning and team up a bit more.

The second and probably more personal reason is that again people around me still don’t read the company website, or maybe, our website doesn’t hint on where we are going as much as what we have already done and made available. Maybe we should tell more stories online. In the mean time, I’ll try for these half stories personally.

With that, I’ll continue to chart out the nitty gritty details forward. The final celebration (or un-celebration, anyway it’s your belief not events that makes you happy or sad, said Stoic philosophers) would be to fill up the cheque for LTA, my COE contribution to nation building, in order to continue my daughter’s daily trip from Hougang to AMK, monthly trip to Johor, and quarterly trip to Malaysia. There goes 5 years of music arrangement earnings, and I’ve never felt more satisfied.

Sept 2016 – bought a new COE

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Posted in Diary

Reflections on the Marshmallow Experiment


Nice or not, my lao ya attempt to pose with my birthday present: my first bike shirt from decathlon at only $10.99 🙂

I know, I left my birthday on Facebook to trigger the world’s most impersonal algorithm. Birthdays doesn’t mean much to me anymore, even the Swensen discount I get from AIA has become more and more rigid over the years. You’re welcomed to wish me another year gone on this blog instead of that wall gardened pleasure prison.

My daughter has been rehearsing the Happy Birthday song ever since her birthday in May. She’s very good at cadences, always emphasising the last phrase right before the end. She does that to “all day long” on “wheels on the bus” as well.

Getting a bike shirt completes my apparel collection that started since 2004, when I invested in my first and only bike pants and bike gloves. The gloves seem unnecessary now but it was useful in Seattle. The pants, however, has given my butt extra years.

How many years can these last? Probably one life time at the rate I’m cycling. And that’s all we need isn’t it? Well this post isn’t going to be about my luxury investments anyway. I’m going to talk about the deferred gratification and age.

Background reading and video for the uninitiated

Groomed to wait

Like seriously, I’m one of those kids who were groomed to wait. Wait for everything: no play till homework’s done; no dates till graduation; no start-up till savings are good. And that patience does pay off as it correlates well with a good head-start in life, sort of what the experiment concluded, even though the form the experiment took continue to be argued so take the causation part with a pinch of salt.

Let’s abstract the principle of delayed gratification so that it’s not just a simple experiment. Let’s say, if we choose to live our lives as such (basically we’re now talking around the same level as, say, Buddhist teaching to relinquish all worldly desires). Whatever can wait, we wait, because the reward later, we’re told, is greater.

If we adopt that way of life, we develop self-control. Clearly, despite many religious teachings about letting go material things, this is the way we live our lives – hunting and foraging resources for every level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Being an economic man (Homo Economicus), we fill our Amazon carts slowly to accumulate enough for free shipping; we go for masters or professional certifications because we’re told it would pay better; we stayed pure till marriage.

Can’t wait forever

And here comes the grand problem with the experiment: we die. Given a limited time horizon for most things, we can’t always wait. There’s another school of thought that often get brought up on your social media feed: “Live everyday like it’s your last”. Taken literally, that’s a sure way to instantly die of anxiety, but normally it’s interpreted as basically focusing on the most important thing in our lives everyday.

Really? Everyday, only the most important thing in our lives? City dwellers like us often manage a spider web full of responsibilities. Just look at me. I’ve got calls and meetings and mentoring and coding, I’ve got wife and daughter and family and in-laws, I’ve got hobbies and classes and rehearsals and concerts. And I even have this blog which I refuse to let it die. Even with a well tuned priority queues managing all of it, it only takes a small emergency from any party to completely mess it up.

As a boy, I loved cycling, and it was the way I see the world. I waited till I was 24 before I bought my first road bike (only to be sold a year later as I moved back to hot country). I waited till 30 before I decided to get an interim NTUC Fairprice bike that has since lasted 6 years. Did I wait because there were higher priority stuff? Like spending the money on more important things, or, using the cycling time for work, etc. I wondered.

But my distant memories of my late grandfather gave me the shivers: putting me on the bike and riding me to town was one of my happiest childhood memories, but it was also extremely dangerous as I often feel that he was absolutely not in the right physical condition to cycle any more, what more bring me along. My cycling days are numbered, with each passing day the bike sits quietly in the basement.

Planning for the small things

So with this birthday, it actually became clear to me that I need to rejig the way the priority queue works. It’s not just a bucket list, it’s actually giving time to eat these marshmallows along the way, nibble them if that’s all I can afford.

Just like how I try my best not to miss every stage of my daughter’s precious childhood, I must give time to everything that matters, no matter how small, before being kept chin deep by the biggies. Every resolution is fake till it sits in the calendar and isn’t rescheduled too many times.

It’s also clearer to me now what “Life is a Journey” means. The journey doesn’t automatically get exciting. There will be climax moments but for the vast part, it will consist of a string such happy moments of introversion, and engaging with our on-the-side thing.

Onward to the 4th cycle (by Chinese zodiac standards) in life!

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Posted in Music, Singapore

Hwa Chong College Anthem

Love how one discovers an old work being performed and published from the age before YouTube.

For the record, the piece was first drafted in 1999 for sports day (after dreading for one year that the piano version had no kick). I understand that Darence had made attempts to recover lost parts over the years too. After the merger I’m not even sure if it’s sung much any more.

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Posted in Family

Deep Breath

I just came back from an 8-days break in Melbourne, a postponed trip in itself. I had to take a deep breath, besides fulfilling our wish for an overseas family trip before our girl turns 2.

After we came back, we basically spent the first day sleeping, and the other day putting our lives back together. I had to disregard all my originally planned work items. Something did not feel right.

It was as if the breath was not deep enough.

Since our last long overseas trip in 2013 to the North American continent, we have not had a long trip, as we were waiting for our little girl to grow up a bit more. Towards the end of that period (earlier this year), our work life started to feel like a blur. I was shouldering too much responsibility while my wife is battling her own challenge with increased work load.

We kept ourselves sane by taking short breaks to pop out of the water and catch a breath, taking turns in cleaning and parenting. I was furiously trying to recruit to help out for all work fronts. We relented on doing everything ourselves and started paying for a part time cleaner. Our evening pick up time for our girl gets later and later.

And we thought we need to Stop and take a much deeper breathe. Something long enough to cleanse.

You all know how this story would end: With connectivity the break is really just escaping physically. There was a bunch of work that had to be brought along, but fortunately we managed to find time to complete it in between our itinerary. We dramatically reshuffled our tour path to adjust to the unanticipated cold front and our girl’s unstable temperature – and I had to adjust my total output too. There’s no escaping of “life” as we know it even when we’re having a “break”.

I thought about this on the flight back and last 2 days, until I attended a wedding reception which I thought would be over after snapping a few pictures, to end my “long” 10 day break. And reality struck me – I had to “work” at the snap of a finger as I was suddenly surrounded by well meaning government officials bombarding my questions and opinions about the startup.

There’s no break really 🙂

The moral of the story for myself is to learn to take that deep breathe no matter where I am. I’m fortunate to be able to function as an entrepreneur or a musician with my medulla oblongata, so I’d use that to my full advantage. Some days you might see me there fully present with you, but deep inside I might be resting, taking that deep long breathe to recuperate from my last product building marathon.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Tomorrow is the start of internship season! Catch another breath in September.

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Posted in Diary

Boathouse Residences Shuttle Bus Service

Monday to Friday
BH->MRT: 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00
MRT->BH: 6:40, 7:10, 7:40, 8:10, 8:40, 9:10

BH->MRT: 11:30, 12:00, 12:30, 13:00, 13:30, 14:00
MRT->BH: 11:40, 12:10, 12:40, 13:10, 13:40, 14:10

BH->MRT: 17:00, 17:30, 18:00, 18:30, 19:00, 19:30
MRT->BH: 17:10, 17:40, 18:10, 18:40, 19:10, 19:40

Saturday, Sundays and Public Holidays
BH->MRT: 9:00, 9:30, 10:00, 10:30
MRT->BH: 9:10, 9:40, 10:10, 10:40

BH->MRT: 12:30, 13:00, 13:30
MRT->BH: 12:40, 13:10, 13:40

Accurate as of today.

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Posted in Technology

React Page Lifecycle Summary

Here, the no bullshit summary of React Page Lifecycle

Start (Once)
object getDefaultProps      complex objects are shared not copied
object getInitialState
void componentWillMount
      both client and server
      can setState still, and render will happen only once.
ReactElement render
      examines this.props and this.state
      returns a single child (virtual DOM or react class)
      must be PURE (does not modify state or setTimeout)
void componentDidMount
      only on the client
      can access any refs, setTimeout, send AJAX requests

      void componentWillReceiveProps( object nextProps )
            can setState to trigger render later
            don’t assume props has changed
      boolean shouldComponentUpdate
            return false if possible
      void componentWillUpdate( object nextProps, object nextState )
      render! => see above
      void componentDidUpdate( object prevProps, object prevState )

Finish (Once)
void componentWillUnmount
      cleanup: invalidating timers, clean up DOM elements

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无人机的美 TEDxPetalingStreet

The TEDxPS video is finally published! Thanks again to the organisers. The production is wonderful 🙂

As shared in earlier posts, this was our first attempt to reach non-English speaking audience. If you’re looking for English based material, we have plenty on our Garuda Robotics website, or if you’re looking to spend only 18 min, do check out Mark’s excellent presentation on TEDxINSEAD: Drones as infrastructure.

Some additional context for international readers:

The survival of the agriculture industry, especially the palm oil business in South East Asia, is collectively a national security issue. Whether it’s producing food or biofuel, it still forms a large percentage of income in many countries. This includes Singapore, where many such regional agri business choose to setup HQ in.

At the same time, this is an industry that’s very localised and run primarily on human labour (and some buffalos hehe). Bringing technology adoption is not only just about laws, grants and technology transfers, it’s also about winning the hearts and minds of the people, creating jobs for engineers and arborists rather than low skilled labour, and sticking it out with them over the long term to see the results.

Some of the plantation managers I spoke to don’t speak anything else fluently other than their mother tongue (which varies from some dialect to mainstream Chinese or Malay for Malaysia’s case, and just downright impossible for me for Bahasa Indonesia and their variants). The good news is that all the plantations I’ve visited have at least one corner (usually the local HQ / township) where there’s Internet access (maybe GPRS, but still reachable).

One project that I admire a lot is led by an ex-college mate / ex-colleague of mine in, Rikin Gandhi, who after making spaceships and software for a while decided to head to India to spread good practices of agriculture in local language. His non-profit, Digital Green, has a very simple idea: that the best practises for their respective crop is best told by their next door farmer. Their video production (done in local language) has reached more than half a million people so far.

Another respectable leader in the UAV industry is Koh Lian Pin – you can see his TED talk to get a quick idea of what Conservation Drones did with Orang Utans. One has to bring the technology to the locals and make it possible for them to take on their problem themselves.

I believe that somewhere along these similar lines, we will be able to find a way to uplift an entire industry to leverage drones to better manage their plantations, and not just providing UAV services to the conglomerates. Let me know if you have any ideas you’d like to figure out together.

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