FORMALISING CURIOSITY (3/3)
26 March 2021
London, UK 1pm
‘We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard’
These were the words JFK delivered to a crowd of 40,000 people in 1962. The years that followed his call to action rewrote the history of spaceflight and humankind. They formed an invitation to adapt and rethink pre-existing technology, adopt a pioneering spirit and inspire a nation to accomplish something previously thought unachievable; a man on the moon.
Moonshot thinking has since been used to describe an approach or way or thought process which takes a pre-existing problem and seeks out a radical solution using disruptive technology.
At times conceptualising a business from scratch can feel like a moonshot, albeit not so extreme. Identifying, pursuing and realising innovative ideas when most simply wish to see a recovery in aviation can feel like a real struggle especially in a contemporary world of 24/7 rolling news. But the values of adapting, utilising lateral thinking and achieving the unachievable, notably during times of crisis, form the fundamentals to building ones resilience and the underlying principles of a moonshot, and I feel have a personal relevance right now.
So, quick recap: Last blog I identified:
‘Mind + New Thought + Conciseness = New Reality’.
Like a Jamie Oliver 15-Minute Meal, I challenged myself to brainstorm my strengths and skills, reduce them down and cook up with a reflection of my goals and motivations in order to try and find a focus - seeking out where I thought I could add value to something to create an entry level culinary dish. I resisted giving myself financial targets, rather sought to identify something I was passionate about - that with time and effort could move me away from the financial safety net of my current supermarket employment and ultimately bolster my wallet.
In common with one of Jamie’s 15-Minute Meals, the prep took longer than advertised but the resultant outcome looks vaguely like the final product I endeavoured to achieve.
Whilst boxing my possessions into long term storage last week I rediscovered a drone I had originally purchased to document some of the cities I used to visit.
It got me thinking...
I’ve always held an interest in photography in addition to a natural curiosity of landscape form and origin from my Geology days. Along with my aviation knowledge absorbed over the last 10 years and knowledge of GIS and geological survey, aerial media could offer the perfect platform to cultivate an interest into a commercial business proposition.
More importantly, drones have evolved a lot in the last decade and offer a wide scope of uses - giving me the possibility to explore, tinker and adapt a business moving forward.
This eureka moment ultimately ticks a few boxes in line with my previous blog:
identifying a superpower I can leverage. ✓
an idea or interest that excites me. ✓
a proposition with scope to expand or adapt in an evolving landscape. ✓
Having a eureka moment is useless if from a business perspective the idea is not relevant.
Leading engineer and visionary Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern was the largest ship ever built in 1858. With capacity for 4,000 people, she was the maritime equivalent of the Airbus A380. But the concept was 50 years ahead of her time - technologically forward, but commercially flawed until the era of grand liners such as the RMS Titanic. The ship was unceremoniously broken up on the Mersey shoreline in 1888, 30 years later. The SS Great Eastern is an extreme case but shows that sheer determination alone will not transcribe business success. A good idea must have validity and relevance.
Research your business ideas - define your target market, but avoid becoming myopic in the early stages. I’m not the first pilot to identify drone operation as a career sidetrack. Commercially this means there is competition and I’m going to have to think laterally to make my proposition attractive.
However, it also means I can identify commonality in established drone company offerings, reducing the risk of early adoption and therefore have a greater chance of success if I can innovate my own product to stand out from theirs.
PWC reports drone operations will contribute £42b to the UK economy by 2030, with £16b savings to be made to various sectors from the uptake of drone technologies. With the right leverage and marketing, these figures suggest an area with significant market potential and a place worth further consideration from a commercial aspect.
I’ve spent numerous evenings the last few weeks trawling through pre-existing websites, LinkedIn profiles, Instagram, networking and speaking with friends in the industry as well as engagement in blogs. I’ve attended a number of free webinars, including those on the Resilient Pilot website to accelerate myself on industry developments and approaches; trying to gauge the feasibility and size of the market. And most importantly, and central to this, I’ve tried to understand my audience. The people who will become my clients.
IDENTIFY - CONNNECT - EXPLORE
Time spent on these tasks is an investment in itself and won’t necessarily bear financial costs. In the long run, it could avoid the feeling of pushing a square wheel up a steep hill further down the line.
Activities like this can be monotonous.
They will however provide an insight into understanding your potential customers - which allows a tailor-made and targeted marketing approach later on, helps define the pitch you wish to make (I intend to keep my aerial media offering broad initially and then see what works), understand the saturation of your market and if it can be easily penetrated in the current business innovation life cycle (see Everett, 1962).
More critically, you might ascertain the start up costs to get to a level where you can compete with those who are already established. For me this process will determine the type of work I pitch for - therefore the type of drone I need, required training and if I need to start thinking about raising capital.
Normally the next logical step might be to test my business premise in the real world, talk to real people and visit potential clients. However, this is lockdown and the coronavirus paradigm we exist in requires an alternative approach. I’m creating a business plan which Diagnoses a problem, seeks Options and then Decides, Acts (testing premise) and Reviews, possibly recalibrating the plan based on these findings. Underlying this will be a view to keep costs low/ neutral... Sound familiar?
There are plenty of online resources available to create a first business plan, it doesn’t need to be as complicated as designing a Saturn 5 rocket - I’d recommend The Prince’s Trust as a good starting point (search ‘business plans’) and a downloadable PDF. The British Business Bank offers similar resources and provides an opportunity to make a cash flow forecast for the forward planning of finances. Entrepreneur.com offer a 7-step guide to crafting your own path forward. Certain countries may have other financial considerations, taxes etc to factor in early on as well as access to start-up loans.
Finance doesn’t need to be complicated and I’ve already identified some apps to assist me down the line that I’ll share later on. I envisage my start up costs to be primarily in training qualifications, ancillaries such as website hosting and any editing software to assist me once I start to establish. Remember: every business will be different in this respect.
At a basic level, establish:
a clear structure, with your objectives broken down that anyone might understand. ✓
executive summary; a précis giving an overview of what you are + how you intend to do it. ✓
business model, products offered (which can be adapted later), customer, market + competition. ✓
marketing ideas ✓
financial projections ✓
Keep it basic, to the point and maintain realistic timeframes. Understand the product and what you stand for as a company. Like Tom Hanks in Castaway be prepared to adapt but without losing sight of the end game. A virtual planner can assist - look at Asana or Trello to haul your task list into the 21st Century.
And then like the welcoming breakfast buffet of a 5* hotel, keep going back to those same people, engage with them and review with relevant parties over social media to test your business premise using something you can screenshare over Zoom. Identify if you have the desired interest. The level of interaction here is specific to the business and sector.
Ultimately, the intrinsic nature of my business as an interest and a hobby means low initial outlay (I already own a drone). Therefore I am a bit more relaxed about its initial success and my appetite for risk is different to other startups. Nevertheless, maintaining a ‘finger on the pulse’ of aerial media and the drone industry at large will remain important through the life cycle of the business - in order to innovate and offer a product different to my competitors.
So, with an oven-ready business plan, knowledge of my market, consideration of the validity of concept and an understanding of the competition I’m ready to set sail on a voyage of creativity; embarking on a full-on lesson in creativity - branding, website marketing strategies and unique selling points. All this will be conducted in parallel with undertaking the additional qualifications I’ll need to gain to operate commercially, utilising my time efficiently. Like the opening scene of Apollo 13 the mission shows great promise; unlike the Apollo 13 mission I’m hoping it doesn’t end prematurely requiring moonshot-likethinking to push through.
Oliver is a First Officer on the A320 family aircraft and one of our pilot mentors at Resilient Pilot. Working in the industry for 8 years, he has great operational and life experience. Learn more about Ollie on our 'Supported' page, and the support he can offer.