Reflecting on the past 6 to 12 years
Twelve years ago, I started a student organization at MIT to build a drone as part of an intercollegiate competition, never imagining that drones would be a ‘thing,’ a major area of VC investment, high on the agenda of CIO’s and CEO’s, or that they would become a cornerstone of my life for the next decade. My experience building that first drone and my conviction that drones (along with the right software) would drive value in countless commercial applications, is what drove me to start Airware — the company that I have led as its Founder and CEO for the past six years.
Over that time, the commercial drone industry has been on a remarkable journey, one that has seen incredibly rapid innovation by drone manufacturers, software companies, service providers, and many of the largest enterprises in the world. The focus of Airware, and the market, has evolved from a focus on the drones to a focus on business impact, and as part of that, I’ve led our evolution from building autopilot hardware and software, to building an enterprise software platform, to delivering vertical applications on our platform in service of enterprises around the world.
Today, Airware provides end-to-end solutions that enable enterprises to scale their commercial drone operations and turn aerial data into actionable business intelligence. We’re working with some of the largest customers globally in Insurance, Mining, Construction, and Aggregates, and the company has a clear vision, strategy, and the funding and team to execute on it.
Airware’s first chapter has been about building out one of the strongest teams in the industry (including our beloved team members in Paris via the Redbird acquisition), raising capital from leading financial and strategic investors, developing a platform that will enable commercial drone operations at scale, figuring out the right use cases and applications for the technology, determining our business model, landing early lighthouse and flagship customers, and moving them successfully from proof of concepts to deployments around the world.
Today our solution is being used in 37 countries.
Airware’s next chapter of growth
Our next chapter is all about growth and scale — in customers, deployments, geographies, and use cases. It’s going to mean turning our vision and strategy into consistent execution. As different stages in a company’s history often require different leaders and different skills, I’ve been thinking seriously about who will best lead Airware through its next stage of growth and where I can best add the unique value that I can bring to the organization as its founder.
Today, I am proud to announce that I have decided to hand over the reins of the company to Yvonne Wassenaar, the company’s Chief Operating Officer, who will become Airware’s CEO on June 26th. I will continue to be deeply involved in the company as a very committed founder and board member, while also creating the space for Yvonne to lead. Together, Yvonne and I make a great team, combining a long-term strategic view on the market with deep experience growing and scaling companies, including helping to take one public.
I met Yvonne two years ago when she was recommended to me as a potential independent board director, a position we eventually filled with John Chambers. Over the last few months, I’ve been structuring our leadership team and searching for the right person to take Airware through its next chapter of growth.
Timing aligned to bring Yvonne onto Airware’s leadership team last month. And while it was my intent to position her as my successor over time, seeing her strength and conviction as a leader over the last few months made it clear that now is the time for this transition.
Yvonne has over 25 years of experience in helping organizations grow their operations, solutions portfolios, and customer segments throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. She is a thought leader in cloud solutions, big data analytics, and business digitization and specializes in helping companies successfully adopt and innovate with these technologies.
As I think about this critical next chapter in Airware’s history, I know that she is uniquely positioned to support our customers as they move from evaluation to full scale deployment, to lead our incredible team of people, both here in San Francisco and in Paris, and to build on the foundation of the first chapter in making Airware the dominate aerial analytics player globally.
With Airware’s progress over the past year, and Yvonne taking over the role of CEO, I believe more than ever that Airware has the potential to be an absolutely transformational and enduring technology company — one that is truly good for our customers, their employees, and the world.
Some personal thoughts and thank-yous
The past 6 years as the CEO of Airware have exceeded my wildest expectations, and I can’t imagine learning more from better people. The trust, support, mentorship and love that people have shown me has been transformative for my own life, and I am deeply grateful.
To Airware’s customers and partners, you are some of the most innovative and ambitious early adopters of commercial drone technology, and it has been a privilege to work in partnership with you. I would especially like to thank State Farm and Caterpillar for taking a bet on a Silicon Valley startup.
To Airware’s investors, you are some of the most committed, supportive, and downright visionary investors that one could have in Silicon Valley. I’d like to especially thank Paul Graham, for telling us we had the worst startup name (Unmanned Innovation Inc) and that we should change it to Airware; Chris Dixon, for being a true visionary and betting on this space earlier, bigger, and with more conviction than anyone; Mike Abbott, for your help in building a 1st-class engineering team and your endless founder empathy; Martin Casado for all of your help in thinking through the challenges and opportunities in defining a new category; and John Chambers who has been a close mentor, continually challenges me to be better, and who will forever be a role model to me of how to treat people.
To the many past and present Airwarians, whether you made Airware your family for a summer internship or have been in the trenches with us for years, you are what made every day in the role as CEO not just worthwhile, but deeply meaningful. You are smart, passionate, determined, and I believe downright unstoppable. It has been the greatest privilege to lead you. Thank you for your dedication, for sharing your passion, for the long hours, for always asking the tough questions, and for making our culture great. Thank you Buddy Michini, for your 12 years of friendship, partnership, and tenacity — you embody the company’s values and are one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with; the rest of the Founding Team — Dave Milanes, Jonathan “JLo” Lovegren, and Robert Ussery, who left great jobs to start something with me from nothing; Chelsea Dietz, who has made the Airware brand known around the world, and who not only drinks the kool-aid but stirs it under her desk; and Sasha Pesic and Don Weigel for always treating this company like your own and for being the best executive partners a first-time CEO could ask for.
Finally, to my family and friends, who have supported me since this seemed like an insane hobby, and even provided the first $250k in funding, and whose birthdays I may have missed, I look forward to reconnecting with you in the coming year as I get a few more three days weekends.
I consider myself extremely lucky to have spent much of the past decade working in a space that so uniquely combines my passion for aviation, my experience in engineering, and my calling as an entrepreneur. I look forward to continuing my work with the Airware team in my continued capacity as the company’s founder and as a board member.
To the next chapter!