Having previously held senior positions with the departments of defense and homeland security, Brandon Torres Declet saw the unique promise that drone technology could offer early on, and made a measured bet.
That bet, made in 2014, was Measure—a Washington, D.C.-based startup that uses drones to gather, process and deliver meaningful aerial data to business clients that are both unwilling and unable to manage their own drone programs.
“The vision of the company has always been that big enterprises don’t necessarily want to own and operate drones; they’re most interested in the data that’s being collected from the drones, and using that data to make some sort of decision,” said Torres Declet, who is CEO.
And that vision has paid off. In 2016, he said Measure’s pilots flew more than 1,100 flights to help carry out such services as cell tower inspections, disaster response and live media coverage for a number of Fortune 1000 companies.
The startup will be even larger by the end of the year, having recently closed a $15 million Series B funding round, led by multinational software development company Cognizant.
Torres Declet sat down to talk about Measure’s plans for the funding, D.C.’s future as a tech hub, and the exciting changes in store for the drone industry.
Q: What do you have in store for this fresh round of funding?
We really want to grow our business here and put D.C. on the map as a hub for technology and drone services. In the next couple of months, Measure will be going from 30 to 60 employees and moving into a larger office space in the district. There are very few companies in the tech space that are doing that, but I plan on staying in the district. Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL, is also a huge proponent of making D.C. a tech hub, and is doing that with Revolution Ventures—one of the largest venture capital firms in the country. I think Measure can be a part of that movement.
Q: How has D.C.’s business climate changed over the years?
D.C. has for too long been known as a place for defense contractors and government, but there’s been a renaissance here in the last ten years.There’s less reliance on the federal government and more reliance on private sector businesses and startups, and it’s really changing the fabric of this town. It doesn’t rival Silicon Valley or San Francisco or anything, but there’s a lively tech scene growing here with incubators like 1776 and an increasing number of startups.
Q: What’s an advantage of keeping Measure in D.C. over somewhere like Silicon Valley?
Our industry will always be regulated, so being just a taxicab away from the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office is a huge advantage that many, many companies don’t have; they usually have to get on a plane from San Francisco to come out for a one hour meeting. There are times when I’ve simply hopped in a cab and knocked on the door.
Q: What does Measure do that companies can’t in-house?
Most of our customers come from ... energy infrastructure, telecommunications and construction. We work with big companies like AES, a $15 billion-a-year energy generation company, to inspect their infrastructure, solar farms, wind turbines, transmission lines and distribution lines. We also have major contracts with Verizon and AT&T to survey their cell towers and associated infrastructure.
The issue that these companies are finding is that actually starting up an internal division is quite difficult, especially if you don’t have any requisite expertise in aviation. It’s not just about hiring drone pilots and having drone pilot certifications. You need to be able to manage a professional aviation operation, have standard operating procedures, training programs and a maintenance and repair division. You also need pilots who go out and collect data, as well as data engineers who collect, process and analyze that data. When large companies see what we do, and consider bringing it in-house, they think twice because 1) they think it’s going to cost too much to do it internally, and 2) they don’t understand the regulatory issues, or how to operate legally in the national airspace. They don’t want to take the kind of risk with the technology, so many of them turn to Measure.
Q: Will autonomous drones have a role in Measure’s future?
It’s certainly on our technology roadmap. We are a services company now, but as we move into the future and the technology evolves and the regulatory environment evolves, Measure becomes a data company. That’s where the real value is and that’s ultimately the direction we’re going.
Q: What, to you, is one of the most exciting things on the horizon for the commercial drone industry?
I think it ultimately revolves around how we operate beyond the operator’s visual line of sight, [which isn’t currently permitted by the FAA], and how we’ll integrate thousands of drones in the national airspace system. These are big challenges right now that the entire industry is dealing with. Many of us have come together to advocate for us to move quickly—but also safely—in these areas. At Measure, our culture revolves around ensuring that when we fly, we’re doing it the right way.