Running into old high school friends on the street is fun. Running into old high school friends at a drone conference? Incredible! That’s exactly what happened to me when I ran into Samantha Salis, who is now crushing it in the drone industry. Not only is she a Senior SDR at drone mapping software company DroneDeploy, which raised $20 million in a Series B funding round last August, but she is also pouring her heart into the company by initiating its philanthropic arm — appropriately called “Flylanthrophy.”
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Drone Girl: So you and I have known each other for a while, so I’m familiar with your sales and startup background. Tell me, when it came to switching jobs, why drones?
Samantha Salis: At first, I was mainly seeking security, and with a market valued at over $100 billion in 2020, I saw a clear opportunity to grow my career. However, as I began to learn about how drones and drone mapping are helping people on a granular level, the connection became much more meaningful. Every day at DroneDeploy, we talk to people whose day to day has been completely transformed by drone mapping; whether that’s a solar designer who no longer has to climb on a roof to get a measurement or a farmer who now has the power to protect his farm from pest infestations.
DG: For sure. I’m always interested in people’s initial perception of drones before they get entrenched in the industry.
SS: Before I became familiar with photogrammetry, I’ll admit — I saw drones as a fun or creative tool. But once you see the wide range of insights you can get from a drone map, you see that drones are an incredible window into a world of information that was previously inaccessible, geographically or financially. People are shocked when they find out they can use a drone to gather information in a few hours that previously took them days or weeks. It’s pretty exciting to see.
Drone Girl: Tell me what you do here at DroneDeploy!
SS: My official role is sales development, but I also head DroneDeploy’s philanthropic initiatives, which we refer to as “Flylanthropy.” It’s exciting that our growth has given us more bandwidth to give back to the community.
The goal of Flylanthropy is to leverage our people and software to give back locally and internationally. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have started quarterly company volunteer days. On a global level, we are looking to donate our software to non-profits that make the world a better place – whether that is mapping habitats for conservation or cities for disaster preparedness. With our latest product release, Fieldscanner, we can even support communities in rural areas or in crisis because it allows the ability to make a map immediately without any internet connection.
DG: That name is absolutely amazing. So, I know this next part, but tell our readers about the first Flylanthropy event you put on.
SS: The very first Flylanthropy event was a Fly Day in conjunction with Girls in Tech. We went out to the Berkeley Marina. We brought 4 drones out, and had you (that’s me!), Jessie Mooberry and our co-founder and Chief Product Officer (CPO), Jono Millin speak about the future of the industry. Attendees got to fly manually as well as use our software to automate flight on a predetermined flight plan. There were women with a variety of backgrounds, from new graduates, to people with GIS backgrounds. This made it especially interesting because everyone was interested in a different aspect of the workflow whether it be the actual drone, the automated flight, or the mapping and analytics.
DG: Yes! I love how passionate you are about helping women get involved in tech.
SS: This is a technology that is not just cool, but accessible and empowering. If there is a technology that is growing at a rapid pace, I want women leading the way. It’s much more than data collection. It’s an opportunity to be pioneers in an industry where there’s room to grow.
DG: What are the future Flylanthropy plans?
SS: We have some exciting volunteer days happening over the next few months. This week, our team went to Hiller Aviation Museum’s DroneFest to teach children and families about using drones. In the Fall, we will be hosting another Fly Day focused on veterans to demonstrate the feasibility of a career in this technology.
DG: I wanted to go back to your passions around getting more women in drones. You said something at the Flylanthropy event that really struck me about how femininity and drones don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
SS: Femininity does not correlate with being able to successfully fly a drone or leverage the data it collects. I throw sparkles and pink on everything. There is a misconception that anything aerial is manly. But in reality, a drone flown with DroneDeploy is an easy to use data collection tool that any gender can benefit from.
DG: Yes, I have no problem throwing pink sparkles on a drone! And as you said, they’re more than just a toy.
SS: Exactly. It’s a gateway into a career in a fast-paced industry. For example, the drone service provider is a career that has a lot of flexibility. You can set your own hours, and create a portfolio of the industries that you specifically want to work with. It would be an excellent career for anyone to pursue. But the industries we work with are all male dominated industries — construction, agriculture, and mining. If a woman is passionate about being an agronomist, why not give her an extra tool to have a leg up? She has the power to be the drone expert!
DG: Be the drone expert!!
SS: Yes! Look, my background was in software and not drones. But within a year I’ve been able to learn about this technology and make a difference. This company has changed within a year. Any woman who is adventurous and willing to learn can really soar in this industry.