Drone analytics startup Propeller Aero has raised $10 million in Series A funding, and is looking for new ways to revolutionise the construction industry in Australia and the US.
This latest funding was led by Blackbird Ventures, the VC fund that also led the startup’s $4 million seed funding in 2016. It also included all of Propeller Aero’s major existing investors, and one new investor, Sequoia China.
Speaking to StartupSmart, co-founder Francis Vierboom said the startup launched in 2014 with “a mission to make drones a thing”.
A graduate of Sydney’s Startmate accelerator, Propeller Aero provides drones to construction sites – and other large-scale work sites – and provides imagery and real-time data to clients, “helping teams to build a feedback loop into their business”.
According to Vierboom, he and his co-founder Rory San Miguel recognised the opportunity in the construction space early on.
Vierboom says: “Drones are going to have a pretty transformational impact on construction, the second biggest industry in the whole world.”
There has “always been a disconnect”, he adds, between the vision of designers and planners in the head office, and what was going on on-site. Propeller Aero “helps people use drones in a way that’s going to affect that”.
Vierboom says the time was right for a Series A raise. In 2016, the team re-built the product, and in 2017 they created a distribution channel into a new target market, opening an office in Denver Colorado.
He says: “The textbook says you raise Series A when you have a clear route to market … when you have proven that you can go and grow, and market, and sell. That’s the position we found ourselves in.”
He adds that having Blackbird Ventures leading the round again was a bonus, saying: “We’re really proud of the mark of confidence that shows on the company.”
These latest funds will be used to develop the product further, Vierboom says, with the team planning to create “more new and innovative ways for people to get real-time data” and to “utilise the information in a more interesting way”.
Equally, the startup will build its marketing and sales team, both in the Sydney office and its new location in Denver.
That said, Vierboom is cautious about Propeller’s growth, saying: “It’s easy to expand too quickly.”
Although there is a global market for the product, and “we’ve got our eyes open to what markets are next,” the co-founders are focusing on the Australian and US markets for the time being. In the US alone, Vierboom says, there are some 43,000 companies in their target market.
“There’s still an incredible amount of growth ahead for us,” he says.
Looking at how far Propeller has come over the past four years, Vierboom says: “It’s obviously really satisfying to have the impact we have now and the opportunity we have now.”
However, he adds: “There’s a lot more to do.”
Vierboom advises other startup founders to remember the fundamentals of starting a business, saying that remaining “level-headed throughout the ups and downs”, helped him and San Miguel through some of the challenges thrown their way.
“Check that you’ve got a good idea with a big market,” Vierboom says. “You can execute as much as you like, but if there’s not a good market there, that’s not going to happen.”
He adds: “That’s a too obvious thing that doesn’t get said enough … a good idea is one of the things that has to be right for a startup to work.”