French drone maker Delair is looking to be one of the biggest players in the drone industry in the coming years.
The company, which started by making fixed-wing drones but today is increasingly focus more of its efforts on software, has been on a tear with fund raising from Intel in October, the acquisition of Airware in November, and launch of its new delair.ai software platform last month. The company also has plans to hire dozens of employees this year.
So what are the roadblocks? While many drone companies blame slow policy and regulation implementation as the reason why they haven’t grown as fast as anticipated, Delair says that’s not the case for his company.
Why Delair doesn’t think slow policy implementation is as big of a roadblock as some experts may say
“’Policy’ is the rules of the game, so you have to play by them,” he said. “I would not say policy is my greatest concern.”
De Lagarde said when his company started in 2011, the drone industry was the “Wild West.”
“But regulation is part of almost any business,” he said. “Now, there are drone regulations in pretty much every country.”
That could have been a roadblock for the company, which, by 2015, was already operating in 30 countries and today operates in 70 countries. In 2016, Delair made its first international expansion beyond France by opening offices in the U.S. and Australia and today has about 180 employees worldwide.
De Lagarde says he expects it to still be quite a long time before policy is in place to allow for wide scale drone adoption — and that’s okay,
“Regulation will not happen overnight,” he said. “It will take five to eight years.”
The biggest challenge isn’t the government — it’s private companies
Contrary to what some may say, it’s the private companies that are the biggest challenge for Delair.
“Our main focus right now is on market adoption,” de Lagarde said. “Our clients are big corporations, and they’re the ones who can sometimes be the most resistant to change.”
“Drones improve efficiency,” he said. “It’s up to us to show them that.”
Delair’s primary business now is creating a software that it hopes companies will purchase. That’s worked well in the U.S.
“It may sound cliche, but the U.S. has a way of adopting technologies quickly,” he said. “They are acquainted with the SAAS (software as a service) model. The U.S. has a fast rate of software adoption.”
But other country’s have corporate cultures that lend themselves less-well to the drone industry.
“In Europe, it takes one year just to do a proof-of-concept,” he said. “Then it takes a few years to implement it.”
And in countries like China, companies are more sensitive in their approach to data, posing a different challenge. Delair only recently expanded its Asian offices, opening an office in Beijing, China in September 2018. While De Lagarde said the company’s sales are pretty evenly split between Europe, Asia and the U.S., Asia has taken a greater share of the hardware sales, while the U.S. and Europe are more interested in purchasing the software.
That said, it’s not as though government regulations have been completely painless for the French drone company. One policy that exists in nearly every company has added a lot to Delair’s operational costs.
“Most countries have requirements that every drone must have an operator,” he said. “That’s ironic, because by definition, drones are supposed to be autonomous.”