Enterprise Software Startup DroneDeploy Closes $20M Series B Round

San Francisco’s DroneDeploy, a cloud-based software startup serving the commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) market, closed on a $20 million Series B round late last month. Scale Venture Partners led the round, with participation from High Alpha Capital and a host of previous investors. As part of the deal, Rory O’Driscoll, Scale Venture Partners co-founder and ExactTarget investor, will join DroneDeploy’s board.

“Our software makes drones simple tools for any business to use,” said Mike Winn, DroneDeploy’s CEO and co-founder. “We want to make the power of aerial data accessible and productive for everyone.”

The company, which launched in 2013, offers a mobile app that is compatible with major drone brands. It allows users to fly UAVs and capture images; map and make 3D models; and annotate, analyze, and share mapping data. So far, DroneDeploy’s commercial customers have come primarily from the farming, construction, law enforcement, and mining industries, and Winn said the company is eager to delve into the world of autonomous vehicle technology, as well.

DroneDeploy is especially popular with corn-belt farmers, Winn said, with agriculture representing about a third of its business. (Atlanta, IN-based seed company Beck’s Hybrids is one of DroneDeploy’s biggest ag customers.) Last month, he wrote a blog post noting that DroneDeploy users have so far mapped 5 million acres across 130 countries.

Winn and many others believe the UAV industry is at a major turning point. On Aug. 29, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration implemented the long-awaited Part 107 rule, eliminating many of the barriers to commercial drone use and opening the floodgates of consumer interest. Early adopters such as the agriculture and mining industries are now drilling down deeper on the data they collect for more sophisticated business insights.

“Beyond controlling drones, we offer a powerful set of analytical tools,” Winn said. “It helps our customers understand and solve problems. I think of us as a drone business, but we look a lot like any enterprise software business.” Most of DroneDeploy’s investors are from the enterprise software realm, he said.

DroneDeploy’s app is free for individuals interested in basic map-making and modeling. Commercial customers pay subscription fees that range from $99-$500 per user per month.

Winn said the 40-person DroneDeploy team currently has so much customer demand that it’s become challenging to manage, so the company plans to use some of the Series B capital to hire more people to handle the new business. The company also hopes to break into the autonomous vehicle market, something Winn described as a “huge opportunity” due to the need for high-resolution, high-accuracy maps.

“Some of those maps will have to come from the air, and drones are an attractive way to do that,” he pointed out.

Now that the FAA has created rules for commercial drone operation, Winn thinks enterprise adoption will skyrocket, with large companies incorporating fleets of drones into their operations.

And while many people think of drones as prohibitively sophisticated and therefore something left to the experts, Winn said that’s not the case. Businesses in every industry are leveraging drones and seeing that easy-to-capture, aerial data can often enable faster and better decisions, he said.

“People are already using them because they’re easy to use and roughly the price of a laptop,” he added. “They can give you a unique perspective on your business, and a lot of people don’t know that.”

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