Behind The Brand: DRONEBOIS - Oklahoma City, OK
The future is young, the future is bright, the future is tech. Today, we're meeting with Nick Brown and Josh Bergevin, co-owners of DRONEBOIS - an Oklahoma City based Drone + Aerial Data firm who's worked with multiple Pro Athletes, Fortune 500 companies, and some of the biggest names in the country.
Matt: What are both of your backgrounds in?
Josh: My background has always been in technology and business, and I’ve always had an interest in Finance. I grew up building computers, had RC Helicopters, and l’ve always been a gamer. After high school, I went to college and studied Finance while I worked at Apple with Nick, and then I just took the nerd route out.
Nick: My first job ever - when I was 15 - was pulling in grocery carts at Crest, and I hated it, hated working for somebody, so I started a lawn company when I was 16, sold it when I was 19 -
Matt: Sold it?
Nick: [Laughs] Yeah. Not for anything crazy, but then my real first true job was working at UPS during the night time from like 11PM - 4AM and I was a supervisor on Unload and I had to manage a bunch of 30 - 40 year olds, and it was super tough because I was like 19 or 20 years old, but you had to earn the respect. Josh was the one that pulled me in and got me into Apple, and that’s what really started my whole tech passion. Plus, my dad was the Head of IT for all of the Oklahoma City Police Department, so I had my first Apple Computer when I was like 12 years old, so that’s why I was always Team Apple over everything else - I’ve had every iPhone since the original iPhone. I’m LOYAL towards Apple.
Matt: How did you get into the Drone industry, Nick? What’s the story behind that?
Nick: I was still working at Apple at the time, and it was Christmas time, and we would always get these crazy discounts around Christmas time, and one of them just happened to be the Parrot AR Drone 2.0, and it was usually like $300, but I think we got it for a $200 or whatever - but anyways, bought it, broke it with Josh at his house in his garage, super glued it all back together and returned it, and then we took that money, hopped on Craigslist, and found a Phantom. I had no idea what a DJI Phantom was, but it was the first Phantom ever. It had no gimbal, no camera built-in - just a ghetto rigged Go-Pro. But yeah, we got it for a really good deal in a divorce gone wrong and the lady wanted nothing to do with it (the drone).
Matt: [Laughs] So she was just selling her husband’s drone after the divorce?!
Nick: [Laughs] Yeah. Beck Design was our first big client through our friend, Stephanie Beard, and used that money and got a Phantom 2 Vision+, and then we got on Amazon and bought an Inspire 1 with the 12 months of interest - that was actually my first (credit) card ever. And the rest was history.
Matt: So you started it with…?
Nick: Jay in 2014, and then he moved, and Josh came in like 2015 - but it was always like he was pretty much there. He was doing technology consulting at the time because it was really good money and easy to do, and he always joked around about doing DRONEBOIS stuff, and then one day we were just like “Screw it, let’s do it. You’ve been pretty much putting in the work, but there was no formal agreement, so we made a formal agreement, and it just went down like that. There was like a 2 year trial / “Prove It” period to try things out, and Josh never bitched about anything, and it was fun and we got stuff done. He brought the whole business acumen, which really sat tight with us, and that was the big push forward.
Matt: When it comes to working with friends, is there any advice that you’d give someone wanting to do that? I could definitely see how that could get messy.
Nick: Yeah! I would say don’t work with your friends unless you know them like you know the back of your hand.
Matt: Oh yeah, you two grew up together, right?
Nick: Yeah, we’ve known each since like -
Josh: Sixth grade. But yeah, I mean - we just keep it 100 with each other. You know, there’s hard conversations and there’s fun conversations. You just got to know that when it’s business, it’s business, and when it’s friendship and 2K, then it’s friendship and 2K. But I really don’t think everybody could do it - you have to know when you can do it.
Nick: It’s just nice, honestly. We always say “just throw us in a room and we could survive and get past it.” We can finish each other’s sentences, and it’s just dope. Cheat code!
Matt: Your story with DRONEBOIS is nothing short of impressive. You’ve flown drones with Kevin Durant - I know we don’t like to speak of that name anymore -
Nick: We still like Kevin Durant! Or I do, at least...
Matt: Yeah, you do - but the rest of OKC doesn't. But I’ll give credit where credit is due, because that's pretty cool. You’ve flown drones with KD, Enes Kanter, and for multiple Fortune 500 companies. It’s crazy to come from, you know, nothing - no clients to where you are today, where you have thousands of people around the world rooting for your success, and you’ve built quite the fanbase. How did you get started with building the brand?
Nick: The big was… we owe it all to social media from the get-go. We still have screenshots when we had like 300 followers and the first ghetto logo we ever made in Pages. But we actually got linked up with Kevin through the Apple store back when we worked there. When they came there, they usually worked with Sabah (Nick’s girlfriend), me, or Josh - but the rest of it was all just word of mouth. KD introduced us to Russ, Russ got us in with Scott Brooks, Scott Brooks got us in with Rex Kalamian (assistant coach), Rex got us in with James Harden, and then we met Ray Westbrook like super randomly. He was super cool - I had no idea they were brothers. Those guys got us linked up with Kyle Singler, and we helped him with his Phantom because he couldn’t figure it out, so he ended up getting an Inspire. But I don’t know. We never really treated those people like they were super star celebrities - we just treated them like we would everyone else.
Matt: Kyle Singler has a drone?
Nick: Yeah, he’s got… (Looks at Josh) Does he have an Inspire now?
Josh: Yeah, I’m pretty sure he has an Inspire now.
Nick: He had a Phantom 3 Pro, but couldn’t get the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controllers) to work, so he was just like “screw it”, pulled out his iPhone, and immediately ordered an Inspire on Amazon, and we just helped him set it up when he got it.
Matt: (Laughs) That's a baller move, for sure.
Matt: You recently got the opportunity to teach at Oklahoma State University. Can you speak a little on that? What did you teach while there?
Nick: I forget what the real terminology is, but it was like a Remote Pilot / Intro to UAVs type of deal. It was actually for Graduate Students who were trying to get their Master’s Degree. A lot of them were Aviation or Aerospace majors, and a lot of them had experience with Fixed Wing, but didn’t have a lot of experience with multi-rotors, like what the rules and regulations were at the time, so they pulled us in from DRONEBOIS because we had been around the block, got all the exemptions and paperwork, and knew what we were doing. We taught for 6 hours each week, and we went for like a whole semester, and just taught them the basics of the rules and regulations, and we taught them how to fly too. A lot of them had Phantoms or Blade Minis already, and we had a few extra Phantoms for training, so we got them all trained up on DJI products.
Matt: When did you guys first get into drones? Drones are relatively new, and they’ve been exploding as of late. When did DRONEBOIS start?
Nick: About the middle of 2014.
Matt: And when did things start to take off?
Nick: Probably in 2015. Once we locked down that first big client, it was a wrap. We got our 333 Exemption (a certificate required back then for commercial drone flight) before anybody else did, so that gave us a nice head start too. I got involved with drones in like 2013. I always read about them, but they were just way too expensive to own at the time. My dad was Lieutenant and Head Pilot at the Oklahoma City Police Air Support Unit, so I always just got to go in the helicopters when I was young, and that’s kind of how I fell in love with Aviation and being in the sky. Josh is the RC guy though.
Matt: How long have you been flying, Josh?
Josh: My first RC Chopper was an old Walker 60. That was back when it had brushless motors and you had to put the motors into gear with a little red button, and you had to build it yourself, but I had no idea what I was doing, and the RC looked like something out of a military commercial. But it was fun! It was definitely a learning experience. That was probably around 7th grade.
Matt: Have you ever considered becoming an actual pilot?
Josh: Yeah! Actually, my initial dream was to be an Astronaut. But pilot’s school and getting my pilot’s license is something that I’ll do at some point in life.
Matt: Why drones? What benefits does that offer someone in the Oil + Gas industry, or the Agricultural industry, or the telecommunication industry, et cetera compared to using a helicopter?
Nick: The biggest thing I think is obviously the safety standpoint - just keeping people out of harm’s way. People don’t have to rappel down wind turbine blades, or get cherry pickers to go up and look at utility lines. Helicopters now fly so close to utility lines - but it just takes one bad connection for everything to go wrong. So there’s that, but it can also been seen from a cost-saving standpoint, which is huge.
Josh: It saves time, and the data is repeatable. We’re able to save the flight path that we used for the client and use it over and over again. Plus, they’re a lot easier to scale compared to a helicopter. A helicopter ranges anywhere from $1,000,000 to $5,000,000, whereas drones are between $1,000 and $50,000.
Matt: And you’ve got equipment like thermal cameras for use, right? Like if it was for an oil and gas pipeline, you can see leaks and things like that?
Nick: Correct, or overheating in utility lines, or air escaping in a roof for an energy audit for big commercial buildings, and so on. But yeah, like Josh said - they’re scalable and save time. We’re not here to replace jobs, but instead free up your workforce to be more productive and efficient. Instead of walking 7 hours down a pipeline, you could do all that autonomously and free up a lot of manpower.
Matt: Recently, drones have been receiving massive amounts of criticism from politicians to concerned parents to the average bystander. Is there a reason for people to fear for their privacy or anything like that?
Nick: I think all of this is just a big education process. People just need to understand that these aren’t just toys anymore. They are tools and equipment that can, like I said, keep people out of harm’s way and save companies a lot of money. Drones can keep SWAT members and Police officers safe and things like that, but yeah - it’s just a huge education process.
Josh: I think it really comes down to people operating their drones with common sense and following the rules and regulations. It’s kind of like the rules of the road. All of our cars can go 120 - 150 miles per hour, but we don’t go that fast. It really just comes down to the Pilot Operator flying responsibly. That’s really what’s going to keep the public safe.
Nick: We used to be able to say that our drone’s camera can’t zoom - like I can’t be 400 feet in the air and see what color underwear you’re wearing, but now you can zoom with the Z30 camera.
Matt: You recently won Oklahoma’s 30 under 30, and congrats on that, by the way! Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs that want to get into the tech sector?
Josh: Plus the Facebook groups.
Nick: Yeah, the Facebook groups are huge! We’re really active in all the forums. It’s crazy to see all the new ideas people are working on and to see how people are manipulating their UAVs to be able to do different things, so we stay pretty active and involved in that.
Matt: DRONEBOIS has grown an insane amount since I met you first in 2015. You guys already had a ridiculously large following back then, but now you have what - 70,000+ followers? What do you attribute to that? What set you apart from everyone else?
Nick: The biggest thing is just the community we built at the beginning. With drones, they were a big scary technology and not a lot of people knew about it or what to do with it, so there was a lot of advice that people sought out that you couldn’t find on the internet, whether it was on the business side or whether it was a soldering question or what motors to get, et cetera. Josh and I were just really active at responding back to people and answering questions, and it’s crazy how much loyalty that won. Before we were generating any kind of revenue, we just bought a bunch of stickers and sent out packs of 3 and they’d post them up on their drones and things like that, and that’s kind of how we got the DRONEBOIS hashtag started and popping. I haven’t checked it lately, but we hit 100,000 uses on Instagram mid-last year, so that was just cool to see the community that built around it, and it’s paid off 10 fold. Like I said, people reach out to us to partner on a project because maybe they don’t have the knowledge or equipment to make it happen, so it’s pretty awesome to be able to partner up and collaborate with a bunch of awesome, different people.
At the time of writing, the DRONEBOIS hashtag (#DRONEBOIS) is mentioned in 155,060 posts on Instagram.
Matt: It’s funny that you mention that, because I actually met you personally through Instagram. I first bought a drone in 2015, and I commented on one of the DRONEBOIS posts asking for help because I had no clue how to fly it, and you responded saying “let’s link up and we’ll train you”, and it’s been smooth flying ever since. But yeah, I think social media has been huge for you guys.
Nick: (Laughs) It’s crazy to see how social media can make brands and it can break brands, like with Pepsi and United.
Matt: What are your own favorite local businesses?
Nick: I’m a huge fan of Compass Coffee and Coffee Slingers. The Edmond one - Compass Coffee at 150th and Western - is super awesome; Ally is great - she makes a mean latte. I really don’t know any of the baristas at Coffee Slingers, but I know they make great lattes.
Matt: What about you, Josh? Favorite local businesses?
Josh: I kind of frequent a lot of places, but if I had to pick a place based out of Oklahoma City, I’d have to say Bleu Garten -
Josh: Wilshire Gun Club -
Josh: … and I always have to throw my Love’s Travel Stop plug in there.
Nick: Shout out to Love’s Travel Stop - the best in the business. Clean places, friendly faces, you know what I mean? But we also love Sidecar and The Mule!
Josh: The new Sidecar on the Northside is incredible - their rooftop overlooking Top Golf is awesome.
Matt: You turned your love for Drones from a hobby into a career. So what do you use as a hobby now?
Nick: I do a lot of reading on the internet, and I like to shoot guns. Just give me some good coffee and a strong WiFi connection and I’m good to go.
Josh: I’m the opposite - I like to get out of the house. I’m usually out with my friends somewhere, playing golf. I’ve recently taken up shooting sporting clays, and I have a lot of fun with that. I really like shooting guns.
Matt: You pretty good at it?
Josh: (Laughs) Uh….. I’m a lucky beginner.
Matt: Are there any books that you’d recommend for entrepreneurs, regardless of whether they’re in the tech industry?
Nick: I’d definitely say read Elon Musk’s biography, it’s crazy. His work ethic is nuts - like he’s not even human. Any Jim Collins book is really awesome - Good to Great is really awesome, and it’s pretty recent with a lot of real world practical stuff. I also really like the #AskGaryVee books. Josh, what books have you been reading?
Josh: Uhm… the last time I read a book was in the 8th grade, so…
Nick: (Laughs) Josh always listens to podcasts instead.
Josh: Yeah, I listen to quite a bit of different things - How to Start a Startup was really good. I think it was the people from Y Combinator that put that together. Usually, the way I am - I start listening to something, I take what I want, and then I never finish it. That’s just the way it is for me - I’m just very sporadic.
Matt: Seeing everything that you have accomplished so far will probably prompt the following question from the public - are you hiring?
Nick: Actually, yeah! We’re looking for full-stack software developers.
Josh: Top-tier software engineers for sure.
Matt: Where do you see DRONEBOIS in 5 years? Do you plan on moving anywhere?
Nick: We’ll always be in Oklahoma City - it’s the greatest city in the world. We’d like to be really involved in the military side, and having big warehouse facilities to do R&D and experiment with things like battery life, and like Josh said - A.I., machine learning, and things like that.
Matt: What’s the next step for DRONEBOIS?
Josh: I would say to keep growing the bottom line. We’re obviously trying to expand our subsidiary portfolio, so there’s that.
Nick: On a small scale, we own a bunch of domains like dronegloves.com, so it would be pretty cool to make, you know, blade-proof gloves that let you catch drones safely. It’s can be hard to land the big boys on top of a moving object, like a boat - so having something that like would be awesome. Long term, we’re working on a lot of software development stuff, and honestly we’ve been doing a lot on the integration side with corporations and businesses, so kind of getting them set up and trained and align them to continue running with no headaches or hassles or hiccups. That’s been really treating us well. But we’ll continue to grow and expand and that’s the exciting thing right now. We’re in the Wild Wild West era where companies are like “Oh, I didn’t know that drones could replace this function of my business.” It’s an exciting time, for sure. We’re going to keep having fun and keep growing.