Propeller Turns Five: Looking Back at The Last Five Years

In the spring of this year, a big thing happened here at Propeller. We celebrated five years in business. From a two-person startup to a 87-person company, a lot has changed. We’ve had many memorable moments (and a few missteps), but it’s been a remarkable ride so far. 

Today, we’re taking you back to our humble beginnings with a short trip down memory lane. We’ve laughed (pretty much every day), we’ve cried (Da’ Bomb hot sauce is usually to blame), and we’ve evolved beyond drones to make worksite management easier for customers in aggregates, construction, mining, and waste management. 

Let’s explore the milestones that brought us here. 

 

An homage to Keat (our very first employee) and a few others for getting us started

One fateful day in the middle of December 2014, Propeller co-founders, Rory and Francis, crossed paths with an aerospace engineer named Keat in downtown Sydney who they recruited as their very first employee. 

And just like that Propeller Aero had an official staff, and the trio set off to “make drones a thing.” The original idea was to engineer high-powered, fully automated drones that could quickly scan worksites and transmit the captured images. 

Although Keat has stuck around to see Propeller cross continents, the original hardware-only business plan has not. 

Quickly realizing the real problem with drone surveying workflows occurred after the aerial data was collected, we shifted gears to put out a new fire— photogrammetric processing—which we’re still working on today. This includes creating 3D interactive models of customer worksites like the one above. 

There’s plenty of others who have been around since the early days. Fred, our hardware guru, and Richard (“Mr. Everything”), joined Propeller in 2015, just in time to see funding funnel in, the first paying customer commit, and ten other employees climb aboard within the year.

 

Surrounding ourselves with the right partners

The Trimble partnership that transpired in 2017 was one small step for Trimble, one giant leap for Propeller. Trimble took a chance on a 20-person company with a ton of audacious goals. We’d like to give a special shout-out to Jim from Trimble for telling us about local grids and helping us breach the North American market.

Update: We successfully reached those audacious goals, and then took everyone to Thailand to celebrate. Here’s a picture of (some of) us bonding in Thailand. 

The early relationship with Trimble laid the framework for a powerful SITECH partner network that we’re incredibly grateful for. We’re two years in and still learning new things from Trimble every single day. We can only hope that we’re returning the favor in some small way.  

Last year, we struck a similar deal with Komatsu, the world’s second largest manufacturer and supplier of earth-moving equipment. Collaborating with an equipment powerhouse encouraged us to think outside the box, to really consider how aerial data could fuel the next generation of worksites.

Eventually, we started day-dreaming about an era where drone hardware and processing software could coexist in harmony. With a little negotiation and impeccable timing, we combined forces with DJI to introduce a fully integrated PPK workflow solution as drone technology matured. 

Propeller PPK drone and AeroPoint

Now with Propeller PPK, those lofty compatibility dreams are a reality for our customers. 

It’s been incredible working and learning from our partners. We’ve grown into a company that can reliably deliver hardware and software solutions to our customers and dealers.

 

Empowering surveyors and worksites around the world with actionable data 

Even from the start, our goal has been to empower surveyors through more efficient data capture—to exist as an additive, rather than alternative. 

Too often, we only associate surveyors with the collection side of things, walking the site with a GPS rover and shooting points. In reality, a surveyor’s strength comes from what they can accomplish post-survey, the complex spatial problems they resolve by interpreting and analyzing the survey data.  

We found that when you arm surveyors and worksites with a dynamic, geotagged dataset and a feature-rich toolbox for post-processing analysis, some really great things happen. 

During the past five years, the Propeller Platform initiated a domino effect, and we’re still bracing for impact. As the dominos fell and use cases emerged, our customer success stories helped guide us beyond simple survey visualization and into the worksite management space. 

Suddenly, our customers’ worksites became more organized because the Propeller Platform allowed them to regularly share (and generate) site measurements and reports with their networks. As their complex networks stayed up-to-date, their worksites became safer. And, without accidents and unforeseen roadblocks, jobs were completed on-budget, on-time. 

Our friends over at Hensel Phelps leveraged digital 3D site models to plan and execute a massive, international airport job in Hawaii, while Boral saved thousands per survey and ended inventory write-downs completely, just six months into their Propeller experience. 

We channel the creativity of our customers to send solutions off into the world that help them reach the ROI they want—heightening productivity, site health, and net-profit. 

 

The journey from down under to a mile high 

Although we began our journey in a Sydney co-working space the size of a pantry, a series of growth spurts created the need for not just one much larger office, but two: Propeller US headquarters in Denver and our Sydney office. 

We expanded to Denver in 2017, and we’ve already outgrown five offices. Our team over in the Philippines has also multiplied, while the Sydney office is bursting at the seams with new talent, working alongside our veterans. 

From different time zones all around the world, our team’s making momentous strides in the worksite management space, and we’re so proud to have such an inventive and driven bunch propelling us forward. 

However, the unsung heroes here are our customers. To all of our current (past and future) customers, we want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who made it possible to get this far. We wouldn’t be here without you. 

It wasn’t long ago that Troy Fardell, long-time drone services provider and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) enthusiast, tested AeroPoints on a real site for the first time. And, it seems like just yesterday Boral (aggregates behemoth) and Suez (waste management giant), decided the Propeller Platform could bring value to their worksites. 

Today, just five years into Propeller’s lifetime, we’ve successfully introduced the first “smart” ground control points; reached a verified 1/10th foot accuracy of post-processed drone data (which was previously extremely difficult to reach); and have conquered arbitrary and local coordinate systems. But, our work isn’t done yet—in fact, we’re just getting started. 

 

What’s on the horizon for Propeller?

We’re beta-testing some new, ground-breaking features now that we’re excited to announce in the future. 

Moving forward, we’ll continue to focus on our customers’ success. Maintaining close connections with our customers is a large part of the Propeller identity. 

There’s a future on the horizon where all of the many roles on site can quickly access the analytics and data they need to do their jobs. By delivering the tools worksites need to track, map, measure, and share their material movement with all the people that matter, we’re breaking down data (and communication) silos once and for all. 

As we celebrate five years, we’re well on our way to improving worksite management and making Propeller the industry standard on worksites across the globe. 

A goal that ambitious demands fresh perspective, and for that reason, we’re still hiring. If you’re interested in joining our growing team, check out our current openings here

Stay tuned for more updates and product news as we move into the new year—and a big thanks (again) to everyone who has made the last five years unforgettable.

 

Want to learn more about Propeller and how drone surveying works? Visit our blog for additional articles. 

 

Keep Reading:

For the Future of Worksite Management, Look No Further Than Mobile Banking
Meet Your Salesperson: Grant Tallmadge
2019 Mid-Year Review: What Has Propeller Built for You?

 

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