July 13 2020

Why I Joined Skydio: Team, Tech, Timing

Mark Cranney

Team: MIT founders + go-to-market team = acceleration

I first met Skydio founders Adam, Abe and Matt in 2014 when I was an operating partner at a16z. The secrets they had learned and earned via their research work in Robotics and Autonomy at M.I.T. had crystalized their product vision and fueled their passion to become the world leader in autonomous drones. Having worked with them at a16z until I departed the firm in 2017 to join SignalFx, provided Adam and I a running start when I freed up after Splunk acquired SignalFx last fall which also coincided with successful consumer launch of Skydio 2.

In my career, I’ve been blessed to partner with outstanding, product centric, highly technical founding CEO’s like Ben Horowitz at Opsware and Karthik Rau at SignalFx to help them meld their product vision with the right market fit, timing, and sequence. My focus is on building out and executing a customer-centric go-to-market strategy to capture large emerging markets. The release of the Skydio 2 in 2019 brought the dream of autonomous flight to life and led to extraordinary adoption in the consumer market. That success has led to a strong pull into the enterprise and the public sector markets that have me extremely excited and energized to partner with Adam and team to build something truly special.

Tech: from toys, to manually flown drones, to the age of autonomy

The first chapter of the drone market story was written by foreign-made, hardware-centric solutions. The next one will be led by software and autonomy. Skydio has clear leadership in the AI-powered autonomy that will define the future of the industry by creating the best user experience. With Skydio 2, we’ve proven that an innovative American company can not only compete but can set the standard in the drone industry — something many didn’t think possible even a year ago. The additional capital from this financing allows us to invest even more in our industry-leading products while extending the success of the Skydio 2 and deepening our relationships in the enterprise and public sector markets with the X2 family of products.

Unlike previous US drone manufacturers who failed by trying to beat DJI at their game, we will win by focusing on autonomy-first and fully integrated solutions. Flight autonomy, while essential, is merely the starting point. The next phase of our strategy is to build on it as the foundation of a broader integrated enterprise stack that leverages drones as powerful edge computing devices in combination with advanced AI capabilities — we like to call them Skills — to automate end-to-end business processes.

Skydio 3D Scan and House Scan, announced earlier today, are perfect examples of the new class of AI skills we plan to introduce over time.

Timing: The time for autonomy is now

Across enterprises and the public sector, there is a clear demand for drones to replace expensive, inefficient, and dangerous tools and methodologies in a wide range of use cases, especially for situational awareness and inspection.

Despite the upside potential, enterprise drone programs have so far struggled to take off because of the complexity and risks of operating manual drones. We have found that training can consume as much as 80% of drone program budgets. Despite investments in training, the risk of crashes remains the number one concern among enterprise users.

The business case for autonomy is clear, but there is more.

The opportunity to build the go-to-market engine for a US-based company that designs and manufactures software-defined, AI-Autonomy fires me up — especially, in the face of an overseas-based, hardware centric, 80% market share incumbent that presents serious information security risks.

The existing marketplace has been dominated by a single company based overseas. Customers want choice, and they want a voice. Skydio provides both. We have listened to our customers — they want to focus on the mission, while the drone focuses on the flying. They want products that don’t crash and complete tasks with little to no human intervention. Skydio drones are the first to fulfill that need.

Bipartisan legislators and policy makers now recognize the strategic importance of drones for our economic and national security. The executive branch and Congress all-too-rarely see eye to eye. But on this they agree:

“the domestic production capability for small unmanned aerial systems is essential to the national defense.”

Our service members need access to the best America has to offer. They need next-generation technology made by American companies with the highest levels of cybersecurity and supply chain security.

In the course of countless conversations with large enterprise customers, I have found that they want the same thing. They want trusted technology made by U.S. companies that eliminate the cybersecurity risks associated with the foreign-made products that predominate the market. Skydio is the solution. Our timing, I’m convinced, could not be better.

What we announced today for our enterprise and public sector customers is just the beginning.

I’m very proud of the Skydio team and all the innovation they accomplished up to this point. And I’m excited to join and help build and scale the organization to serve our consumer, enterprise, defense, civilian agency, and first responder customers on their journey to fun, safe, and productive autonomous asset inspection, situational awareness, and cinematography.