When were you founded?
We were founded in June 2012. We started Helico Aerospace Industries with a plan to develop industrial unmanned aerial systems for specific purposes such as aerial mapping, surveying, aerial videography etc. We even built our own onboard computer for UAVs but then a year ago we got struck by the AirDog idea.
Who are the founders? (inc. background if relevant)
I (Edgars Rozentals) am the initial founder but already in early stages I convinced 2 of my friends to invest into this venture to boost our product development. I have been entrepreneur since age of 20. My first business (IT company) was established in 2000 and is still successfully running. During recession in 2009 I started looking at new ventures to invest. Main goal was to do something that I could enjoy doing myself for the next 10 years and from IT to unmanned technologies I was actually brought accidentally by my beloved women.
Our son was about to be born and on my 29th birthday – knowing my weakness for gadgets and electronics she gave me a present – small RC controlled indoor helicopter with a note: “Edgar, your son is about to be born soon and you will have to buy toys to him so let this be your last toy before you become a father”. In one month I had 5 times larger 3D helicopter which I crashed at first flight. So I got hooked on building and flying helicopters as a hobby. Those were traditional type 2 rotor helicopters at that time. Having an entrepreneurial mindset I started following developments of unmanned aerial technologies.
Then in 2011 I realized that drones or flying robots will be game-changers in many civil applications. So I started looking at possibilities to switch from spending money on my helicopter projects to making money. I started looking at fastest possibilities to monetize this technology under current legislation and came up with an idea that required an investment of a few million. It wasn’t possible to raise needed funding for such an idea when I didn’t have any proof that it can be done at all. I decided to start from building drones for aerial mapping and videography. We also started development of specialized onboard computer hardware and software that could become a backbone for other integrators as well.
Besides my professional IT specialization I have always been an adrenaline and speed junkie. From the age of 15 I started windsurfing. Later on together with few friends we founded first wakeboarding club in year 2000 in my hometown Riga, Latvia. We were wakeboard evangelists and addicts for several years training others and challenging ourselves. In few years I started kitesurfing which is my largest passion by now. Nothing can be better than 30+ knot winds, small kite, huge waves and a surfboard under your feet. Meanwhile I have become a fan of snowboarding, longboarding and MX as well. Extreme sports is the best meditation for me after a long days in office and lab. There can’t be a better way to clear your mind and get inspired. I love the feeling of being alive when taking accounted risk at my beloved sports.
When I started Helico many friends got to know that I’m involved with drones. And one day one of the most extreme guys I know in our country –Dino, came with the inquiry, why don’t we build a small and fully autonomous drone to capture aerial footage in action sports on a camera like GoPro? I was all in big drone projects then and at first this idea seemed too simple and toy alike. But after talking to our team of engineers we decided to make quick prototype to prove the concept. So we made a quadcopter that used DIY autopilot, connected it to a smartphone over wifi and it worked. The problem we realized was that it can’t be used in action sports at all because simple navigation by GPS is far from precision needed for close and precise following and smarthones are missing some very crucial sensors to do that and you wouldn’t take your smartphone on surfboard, right?. Those were bad and good news at the same time. Bad because it didn’t perform as we expected, and good because we realized that the task wasn’t simple at all. That meant that other competitors also would need a lot of time to make working product and we could have some time while being first in the market with simple out-of-the-box drone for every surfer, kite-wake-snow-skate boarder or MX rider out there. So we decided to put on hold our industrial systems projects and to go with this one and focused all our 10 people team on AirDog. And here we are. It has been a year since we started and we are ready to mass produce this product with the help of Kickstarters.
How are you funded?
We are self funded, investment from co-founders. Now we are raising money for the first batch of AirDogs on Kickstarter, and hopefully it will lead to VC money raised for scaling up and new product development.
Problem you are trying to solve?
Action sports are all about fear, challenge, thrill, achievements, and self expression. People love to shoot on video their best moments and share with others who then get inspired and try to do something in their own way. I love to watch other people sports videos…they make me believe that I also can do that if I keep on trying. And when you finally throw a trick and land it – there is fantastic feeling that grows your self confidence.
One of the applications not discussed before is sports training. Specifically, when people train as a downhill ski racersthey would shoot video in order to review and refine their technique. But the video is shot from a static position. With AirDog, sports video training could be substantially enhanced (ie. the entire ski run). And … I would see this as a logical entry point with Olympic caliber athletes and training centers.
Till now it was possible to put camera on your helmet, chest or hold in your hands to get close up of yourself in action. GoPro made revolution in the way we shoot video in action sports. But in these POV type videos you cannot show how big that kicker or wave really was or how epic that nature view was in background. You needed someone else to shoot you from aside. To get an aerial footage was even more challenging and expensive; you had to hire a professional photographer with RC piloting skills. AirDog makes your life so much easier. You can take it everywhere. Fold it down, put in your back pack and go wherever you want. Then turn it on, put on the ground, strap the tracker on wrist or helmet and with push of a button it will take off and start following you in desired altitude and angle. We are putting technology that used to be available only for pros and rich into hands of every sports enthusiast.
Many athletes have identified AirDog as a good tool to be used in training process as well. They can shoot their performance from above with no assistance.
Last year 4 million people bough the best inspiration memorizer – a GoPro Hero camera, this year those will be another 7 million. We believe that the market for such a camera accessory as AirDog is huge
Who are your most direct or main competitors? What makes you different/better?
There are many companies that manufacture toy helicopters. We can name Parrot with AR Drone in this category for an example. There are many who focus on so called DIY (do it yourself) enthusiast market, people passionate about flying drones and building them. Some are videography enthusiasts among them as well.
We are targeting completely different vertical. We designed AirDog for those not really caring about the technology itself. We made it for those passionate about their favorite sports and being able to capture their activity as never before. AirDog from its roots was designed for a specific purpose (mechanics, electronics and software itself). Like iRobot cleans your house AirDog is your cameraman – it’s your airborne sidekick.
How do you make money?
We will make money from product sales.