From Health Scare to Doubled Growth

General
July 27, 2022
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I really did NOT enjoy the tour of the cancer center on my first visit to see the hematologist oncologist. I knew that the nurse was trying to put me at ease, but I did not want to get comfortable there at all. Years of deadlines, lack of sleep, and constant stress had finally caught up with me. I didn’t know it at the time, but that first day at the cancer center was the beginning of the end of my 25-year corporate career. When Pat said, “Come work with me. My business needs you and this will be fun” I laughed at his impossible idea. And then, I quit my job.

Pat and I agreed on the title VP Strategy, but... I was not anticipating being terribly strategic. After all, I knew exactly nothing about the geospatial industry. We sat down and established some broad goals for the company.

  • Goal #1: Grow the market worldwide. Pat had just acquired the AERIALSURVEY.com domain which brought with it almost 20 years of history, but the website associated with that domain name also looked 20 years old. How could we use this site to grow through Europe and beyond?
  • Goal #2: Shift the business from being a “keyman” startup to a sustainable and growing independent business. We needed to move away from ClearSkies = Pat McConnell. We needed a Sales CRM, a more sophisticated way to manage inventory, an invoicing system, and some way to keep track of everything we do.
  • Goal #3: Achieve Goals 1 and 2 while not adding more stress and work hours to our lives. We were both still worried about what all the oncology tests would find. The threat of being sick was lurking in the background.

I seriously thought that I would have about 3 months of work to achieve Goals 1 and 2. Fix up the website, implement a CRM, put a database together. Easy. Pat added one more challenge: “Figure out how to open a business in Ireland.” I had no idea how to do this, but I had great confidence in my Google skills.

Establish the Business

Google did not let me down. I found a fantastic accountancy in Limerick that was just the right fit for us. We went through the steps of business formation, booked an office space in Limerick, and survived the pain of opening an Irish bank account. I officially left my corporate job in October 2020, and by November 2020 we had the Irish business up and running and our ClearSkies Geomatics URL redirecting to AERIALSURVEY.com. The website looked OK, it was tedious to update, but it was up and generating business. With the addition of our Irish business, we looked forward to simplifying EU to EU sales so that we didn’t have to import to the US and then export back out. And with the acquisition of AERIALSURVEY.com, we had additional equipment to sell that we hadn’t had before because now, our reach to buy and sell was truly global. We were on track. I still thought I’d be “done” by March.

Rebrand and Rebuild

In my previous career, I had spent years working closely with creative directors and graphic artists to make beautiful and engaging eLearning. I knew that we could make AERIALSURVEY.com into something great if we worked with the right talent. I partnered with my good friend Neftali Loria at Build with Flow to create a sophisticated system that marries a user-friendly website with a database backend full of automations. We also worked together to define our brand visually, one that helps our clients see the transition from ClearSkies Geomatics to AERIALSURVEY.com.

I thrive on learning new things, and this rebranding and relaunching experience was incredibly motivating and rewarding for me. I loved every minute of the challenge to create a new look and new suite of no-code tools to support our business operations. We use Airtable, Webflow, Jotforms, Coda, Zapier, Memberstack, and others. What I didn’t expect was that figuring out how to make all these systems work together helped me to actually learn the business. Throughout 2021, I worked hard to launch and implement our brand, site, and systems. Along the way, I learned about survey cameras, lidar, and airplanes.

Build it and They Will Come (Sort of)

Once I learned a bit about the business, I began to pester Pat about drones. Why were we not selling them? Shouldn’t we sell them? Isn’t the industry moving toward unmanned surveys? Every time I brought it up, Pat narrowed his eyes and said, “Why would I spend time selling a drone when I could be selling a lidar? If you want to sell drones, go figure it out.”

So, I did. I agreed that maybe selling drones was not the most lucrative way to spend our (my) time. But I argued that adding drones to our website would help our SEO. And, if we could sell them in a way that was efficient, it would be worth it. The idea of the UAV/UAS marketplace was born. We would let clients list their drone systems for sale themselves and connect with buyers directly, and we would simply collect a monthly fee for their listing in the marketplace. Neftali and I spent a few months racing from ideation to mocks and testing, and we launched in April 2021.

And...

No one signed up.

By that point, our business volume for manned aerial survey equipment had doubled. Pat and I were busy, busy, busy with sales all across the globe. I didn’t have time to market the UAV marketplace properly, and I started to agree with Pat about drones. Nobody really wants to buy a used DJI M600. Drone lidar? Yes. But not the UAV. My big idea was a bust.

Until... in December, we sat down with Paul Rousseau from Revolution Flight for a beer. He pitched us the idea to create a marketplace for leasing survey aircraft. We were already leasing aircraft for a fee. His idea was to bump it all over to the marketplace. He promised to be our first paying customer.

By February 2022, we had pulled down the UAV Marketplace and relaunched it as the Survey Aircraft Leasing Marketplace. We now have 5 clients listing their aircraft on our site, and we hope to add at least 5 more clients before the end of the year. The power of the marketplace is that clients are able to access our niche aerial survey acquisition audience. Since launch, we have passed dozens of leads directly to our marketplace clients, some resulting in successful leases. If you are a platformer, you should be listing on our marketplace. It works.

Double the Staff

Guess what happens when you double your business? You start hiring. In March 2022 we added Ella McConnell to our team. Ella grew up hearing about lidar and cameras and GIS. Pat knew she was smart, driven to succeed, and hungry for a challenge. Since March, Ella has created a formal marketing plan, our first content calendar, relaunched our monthly newsletter, and spearheads our LinkedIn and blog publications. She’s also become our Google and LinkedIn analytics expert. For me, it’s been extra special to work with Ella. We really did not know each other very well when she started, as Ella was already living on her own when I married Pat. Now I get to see her every day, watch her grow and learn, and I’m so thankful she’s a part of my work family and personal family. (I’m not crying, I’m just cutting onions.)

Then one day this spring, Pat said, “By the way, I’m flying to Dublin next week. I’m going to see NingJun.” I met NingJun You first in 2019. He was visiting from Wuhan, China and shared Thanksgiving dinner with us. Pat has known NingJun for years through their work together at Vexcel. NingJun had recently moved his family to Dublin and the gears were turning in Pat’s head. NingJun knows the business, he’s great at sales, and he’s in Ireland. A few days later, NingJun was hired. He jumped right in and is now handling sales for the EMEA and APAC regions. He’s also been able to find us some great equipment to sell from his contacts in China.

Now that the marketplace momentum was building, NingJun and Ella were onboarded, we decided it was time to grow our business in a new way. Throughout 2021, we had fielded calls from manufacturers about advertising their niche products on AERIALSURVEY.com. We mulled over how to help our partners and clients leverage our website and community, and decided to launch an advertising service. Now advertising clients can access to our worldwide network through banner ads, LinkedIn posts, Newsletter features, and case studies. While not the focus of our business, it provides value by connecting our survey clients with manufacturers.

Share Our Success

Here I am, almost 2 years later, and guess what... there’s still work to do. Pat and I are achieving our goals and most importantly, we’re having fun doing it. Our client base has expanded worldwide, our Irish business is profitable, we are no longer a “keyman business,” and the systems and tools we use help us to truly maintain work and life balance - the first time in my professional life that this has actually been true. We’re excited about the future as we all grow within our roles. I have no idea yet what my “next big project” will be. If you have any ideas for AERIALSURVEY.com... contact me!

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our business and lives. Do you have a case study about your growth and success? Think about featuring it with us. By the way, I’m doing fine. We are still monitoring my high white blood cell count, but so far, no news is good news. And I’ve said goodbye to the corporate job stress for good.

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