In this interview, we talk to UAV Coach/Drone Pilot Ground School, Founder and CEO, Alan Perlman. Drone Pilot Ground School is an online test prep course for commercial drone pilots looking to pass the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test for a Remote Pilot Certificate.
Passing the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test exam enables individuals to get a Remote Pilot Certificate to fly commercially. To date, they have helped more than 10,000+ happy students pass their exam and boast a 99%+ pass rate. UAV Coach is also a drone blog and online community.
- Monthly Revenue: About $100,000/Month
- Date Started: 2014
- Location / Homebase: Nashville, Tennessee
- Number of Employees: 3 full-time, 2 part-time, and a whole bunch of contractors 🙂
During the launch phase, did you maintain a full-time job? (or even currently)
When I started the company back in 2014, I was working as a freelance marketing consultant over at Extreme Inbound. My struggles with scaling that agency is a whole separate conversation 🙂 But at first, UAV Coach was a nights-and-weekends side project.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that we generated enough revenue to give me the confidence to go all-in. By the end of 2015, I closed down the agency to run UAV Coach full-time.
How did you acquire customers/subscribers/users?
At first, it was all inbound marketing. Building really great content in the form of guides and blog posts that ranked for keyword terms, and then asking folks if they’d like to subscribe for updates. Some examples are our cheap drones or camera drones guides, or our FAA certification guide or drone insurance guide.
But what turned us from a content marketing / Amazon Associate approach to a more substantial business was when we started emailing every single person who joined our list with a simple email, Can I ask you something?
The email laid out some of the personality types we were seeing in our community, asked the new subscriber where they fit in, and then went one step further to see if they’d be willing to hop on the phone to chat with us. Those 1:1 conversations helped us learn that there was a strong need for training and education, and we learned what specific topics our readers were interested in learning more about.
This lead to our first online course back in 2015, then when the FAA regulations opened up in the U.S. back in August 2016, we were in a great position to launch our drone certification test prep course. By the time we launched, we had built up an interest list of more than 4,000 people. This gave us the confidence to invest in the course.
These days, we still drive sales from inbound marketing (SEO and email marketing, mostly), but we also have a Partner Program that brings in new students, and we’re experimenting with paid advertising on Google and Bing as well.
What software/platforms/tools have you utilized since launch?a. Which have worked / not worked?
We’re big fans of Google’s G Suite and Dropbox for managing our company procedures and files. We use Slack for team communication. We use HubSpot as our email marketing and contact management system, and Teachable as our learning management system. We have a PayPal Business account to process certain types of invoices. Both our websites are built on WordPress.
There are a number of other tools we use. A few are:
- Ahrefs for keyword research and SEO monitoring
- Sumo for website marketing and conversion rate optimization
- Rev for interview transcriptions
- Zapier for connecting a bunch of our systems together
- Grasshopper for our company phone system
- SpeakPipe for student voice messages
- FreshDesk for student support ticketing
- Classmarker for our practice test delivery system
Those are the big ones that come to mind. I can’t think of any tools we’ve used that didn’t work out. There are a bunch I’m sure, as we’re always testing out new tools to see if they’re a good fit for us.
How did you fund your startup and how do you make money/revenue?
We’re fortunate to have been able to bootstrap the company from day one. Our first month back in 2014, we made $0.14!
These days, we bring in revenue from our online training course, from the Amazon Associates and DJI partner programs and a few other commission-based relationships we have, from advertising campaigns we do, and from our in-person training classes. The majority of revenue at the moment comes from our online training course.
To date, what have been your biggest challenges as a company? What have you done to overcome them?
Yikes, how much time do you have? :). But seriously, one thing on my mind these days is people. Finding good people to work is tough nuggets. Then on-boarding them, managing them, and aligning their skills with what the company needs to move forward—thank god for my wife and business partner, Lana Axelrod, who’s an unbelievable manager of people. We’ve shifted her role a bit to focus on growing our team, and I’m focused more on company policies and procedures to streamline operations and the on-boarding of new team members.
Another thing on my mind is how to know whether or not to move forward with certain partnerships. There’s a TON of activity in the drone industry right now, and we’re fortunate enough to receive a lot of requests for various opportunities—media partners for big conferences, revenue share or co-marketing agreements with companies, etc. But those exploratory phone calls and meetings take up a ton of time and often don’t go anywhere, so trying to figure out where the juice is worth the squeeze, and how to gracefully say no and to decline offers to work together, that’s been tough for me over the last couple of years.
Reading books like The One Thing have helped me understand why staying maniacally focused is super important. And I forgot who said it, but the idea that saying no to all the good opportunities which seem to come up often, in order to make room for the few select great opportunities that come up, that’s an important skill-set to develop.
If you had to do it all over again, would you? What would you do differently? Yes, absolutely.
This business has changed my and my family’s life. And I’d like to think we’re having a big impact in helping to push the drone industry forward safely and responsibly. Of course, there are many mistakes and lessons learned along the way, but I’m trying not to dwell and instead to focus on inching forward and making good decisions as often as we can 🙂
Lastly, if anyone reading this wants to know more about your company… where do we send them?
Send them over to either UAV Coach or Drone Pilot Ground School, or if anyone reading this wants to contact me directly, you can email me at [email protected]. Thanks for the opportunity to share and hoping these responses can steer you in the right direction.