Dronamics has just won the Pioneers Festival Challenge 2015 – one of the biggest startup competitions in Europe! The team is part of Eleven’s 7th cohort and only two weeks ago they won another major competition – betapitch | Sofia. Are the Rangelov brothers (the two founders) following in the footsteps of the Wright brothers revolutionizing the Unmanned Aircraft Systems? Let’s see what they think.
Congratulations for your awesome pitch! Please, tell us more about Dronamics and your team.
We’re creating a next-generation drone – an airplane actually – that can dramatically optimize logistics networks. It can carry 350 kg and fly over 2,500 km and it’s insanely cheap, which makes it great for developing countries. We are a truly multinational team and are proud to have some of the top experts in aerospace engineering and logistics behind us. At the same time, we are very lean – operations are based in Sofia, Bulgaria, which has the double benefit of low-cost destination and a great startup ecosystem.
What is the need that you are serving and what is your business model?
We plan to create a service network based on our drones and control systems so we can transport goods faster, cheaper and safer than current alternatives allow. Our ultimate goal is for the billions of people living outside the world’s main trade centers to stop paying that “poverty” tax on everything their communities import. Because the supply chain is like the blood system of the economy – regions, where the circulation is poor, cannot survive.
Which are your highest achievements so far?
We won’t single out particular achievements. Achievements don’t exist in a vacuum and are only markers of tremendous work and productivity. We have a set of value-based rules that we obey and day in and day out we give it 110%. This sort of attitude imminently translates into great results to the outside world, but inside – we’re as focused on our product and timeline as we are on the way we work. People who want a job where they can slack off have thousands of companies to pick from – ours is not one of them.
Does anyone else in the world have the guts to build cargo drones? Do you consider companies such as AirWare and DroneBase your competitors?
Neither Airware nor DroneBase is our competitor – they lack our production know-how and both happen to be interested in being the platform for small multirotor drones. In other words, they need to be like Microsoft Windows and work with any system. In contrast, we are insanely focused on just one vertical, one piece of hardware and so the software is many times more optimized. Nothing wrong with their approach, we just differ in our goals. As for other aircraft manufacturers, none can match our cost of production, and we have made significant innovations in both the hardware and software which give us a tremendous advantage. We didn’t need to win Pioneers Festival to show we already are way ahead of everyone. Luckily, we’re not the type of team that needs recognition to fuel its progress.
Is Bulgaria a good place for building a plane?
It is and it isn’t. Obviously, if it was the number 1 place, all of the major manufacturers would be here. At the same time, we didn’t pick it just because we’re from here – we’re used to living abroad. It was just that we looked at it objectively, evaluated a combination of factors unique to our process and the numbers showed that at this stage it was the most suitable place for us. We took the decision in a very rational way – we’re running a business after all.
Do people take you seriously when you tell them that you are building a plane? How do you convince investors to invest in you?
In a project as ambitious as this one, there are a lot of people behind the scenes, but my brother and I are the faces/beards of the company, so naturally, when people see a couple of bearded millennials who talk about building a plane that flies itself, they are initially skeptical. The good thing is, it doesn’t take long to convince them otherwise, and everyone who actually knows what they are talking about ends up respecting us even more precisely because we’re younger than what they are used to seeing.
A bird told me that there is a story behind the beards... :)
My brother and I hate beards. So, as a challenge, back in September we decided we’re not allowed to shave until we complete the first full-size prototype. We’re not even allowed to groom them because it’s meant to be a motivational tool, we’re not trying to be hipsters about it. But to be honest, that’s only the most visible of the many sacrifices we’ve made and keep making every day.
You were wearing your #Oneof11 hoodie during the Pioneers awards ceremony. How has Eleven helped you to develop your business?
Eleven were our first investor – we went through their accelerator, which was great because they have invested in more than 100 startups from all around the world and in very diverse industries, so we got the chance to get mentorship from people we wouldn’t have otherwise thought to ask for advice. Eleven has been instrumental to our success and together with the other fund, LAUNCHub are the main engines behind the amazing startup community and ecosystem that Sofia has become. We wanted to recognize that so I wore my One-of-11 hoodie on stage so that everyone watching from all around the world would get a taste of the entrepreneurial spirit that thrives in Sofia. We don’t have Dronamics shirts, we have Eleven shirts because without Eleven and the Eleven community of founders we wouldn’t be there. When you look at Bulgaria since 2012 in terms of politics and economy - I really think Eleven and LAUNCHub are the single best thing that happened to the country in those tumultuous past few years. They gave so many young people the motivation to come to Bulgaria and build new and exciting technologies here. People with world-class education and amazing upward mobility, people who could work in New York, London, Tokyo, Berlin, they chose Sofia. And even if you look at us - I mean, we’re building a freaking airplane in Bulgaria – an airplane that will be a true world’s first, and Eleven helped make it happen. If that doesn’t give young people hope, I don’t know what will.