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.
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.
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