Paul Rigby, co-founder of Consortiq, tells us how he is helping transform businesses through drone training, consultancy, aerial filming, hardware and software.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
We make it easy for organisations to put drones in the sky. We built our own risk and safety management software, CQNet, and developed our own advanced training programme, the Unmanned Aircraft Qualification (UAQ), to help organisations scale up in-house drone operations both here in the UK and in the USA.
What did you do before you started this business?
I worked for the UK air traffic control provider NATS based at London Control. Initially in operations and then later in a specialist system support and development role where I was responsible for the safety-critical air traffic control mainframe computer ensuring it was developed and regularly updated.
What inspired you to start up?
I have always loved aviation and working in air traffic control but I had the self-belief that I could achieve outcomes in a better, faster and more efficient manner.
I also had a vision that drones would disrupt the manned aviation sector and would need a very particular expertise to help the sector flourish.
So rather than become a frustrated wannabe I gave up a very secure and well rewarded career to follow my ambitions.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
Managing a drone operation with one pilot and one aircraft in a rural area could be done on the back of envelope but our biggest customers have over 50 drones and pilots and wish to fly in busy airspace which makes things much more complicated.
At this level they must ensure they manage their operation diligently, manage risk and demonstrate they have the competence to operate.
We can give them all the tools to do this so they can concentrate on using drones to leverage their core skills such as engineering, surveying or inspection.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I try to learn as much a possible by reading books, listening to audio books, reading blogs, attending conferences and speaking to others at networking events.
I also feel lucky to have an angel investor and now business partner that acts as a mentor constantly expanding our horizons and helping us to become increasingly comfortable with doing business on a global scale while helping us manage our budgets, control cash flow and ensure compliance.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
We were fortunate to find an amazing angel investor who shared our vision and believed in us as a group of individuals and invested over $2m into the company.
There is a reason why the UK isn’t home to more companies like Facebook, Google or Apple and that is because in Europe you can generally only find investment or finance once you are successful.
However, in North America an investor is more likely to invest in case you become successful!
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
We were the first company to be approved to fly drones down the streets of central London for a Kevin Costner film in 2014. It took us a number of months to develop a safety case to get the permission to do it, including obtaining permission off diplomatic protection group, air traffic control and the local police.
We no longer fly drones-for-hire but we used this experience and expertise to help enable other organisations to achieve more. We have also more recently helped the Police Service of Northern Ireland become the first organisation to routinely undertake beyond visual line of sight training.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
Setting up business today is easier than it has ever been with so many resources available online. The barriers to entry have been lowered and hence there is very little that can’t be copied or replicated.
However, our people are our biggest asset and also our competitive advantage so we invest lots of time and resource creating a culture and experience for our customers that is very hard to replicate unless you have access to human cloning!
What’s it like to be your own boss?
The addictive part of being a successful leader or entrepreneur is the ability to enact change without the bureaucracy or inertia you would have an in a large organisation.
My role is to help the rest of the organisation to have the best possible chance of being successful in their role while making sure the team are as clear as can be as to where we are heading i.e. communicating the vision.
Outlining clear objectives and a coherent strategy allows the team to become autonomous in their own decision making. It is rewarding to see a collective group of individuals in action delivering an amazing customer experience that you knew nothing about until you hear about it when a customer provides amazing feedback. This is more rewarding than any salary!
Where do you see your business in five years time?
Drones, and related remote pilot or pilotless technology, are just at the very start or beginning of a revolution in the aviation industry. Within five years flying taxis and delivery drones will be a reality.
The future of Consortiq will be enabling these technologies to integrate with the incumbent aviation industry in a safe and responsible way to enable organisations to revolutionise how they undertake business using data captured from the air or transporting people or cargo.
The applications and benefits across media, emergency services and construction are already being realised but we’ve not even scratched the surface yet with what could be achieved.
We will continue to knock down the regulatory hurdles in a safe and systematic fashion in order to demonstrate how operations can be undertaken safely.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Understand what you are good at and recruit others to make up for the skills you don’t have. Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself and empower them to the job you tasked them to do.
Never stop learning, learn from mistakes of other companies and never stop planning. Understand explicitly who your target market is, what problem you are solving and what the value of that is to your customer.
Try not to get distracted by shiny things and carve out your niche. Learn how to be a jack of all trades so that you can understand the challenges of sales, finance or even website design.
Build your network and sell yourself and your company. Ultimately, people like to buy from people which means you and your team are your number one asset.
If you also love the industry you are in, all of the above will be much easier!
Why did you enter the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Awards?
To be given an award, and the associated recognition, for our success so far would allow me to have a platform to help promote entrepreneurship and inspire others to achieve more.
What would it mean to you to win an award?
As clichéd as it may sound being an entrepreneur is about enjoying being in the moment with a clear view of where you are trying to get to. To make it all about the destination would leave you unfulfilled and disappointed most of the time.
However, to win an award along the way is like a down payment of recognition that you are on the right track and should keep going! And confidence is everything in this game!
Our BQ Bulletin emails will land in your inbox at 7.30am, Monday to Friday, with a mix of the latest local business news, national news, and features to inspire you. Sign up here!
Click here to read our privacy statement