Let’s Talk

Thank you, you're submission has been received.

There was a problem submitting your request.

What are your primary business content and marketing goals?

Tell us more

Let’s Collaborate

Outsiders Make the World Move with Rory San Miguel, CEO of Propeller Aero

Play episode

There’s a general tendency for people to desire to fit in — to want to be on the inside of systems and institutions. The drive to be in the in-crowd or on the team is so embedded in the socialization process that the idea of being an outsider often becomes associated with something undesirable. But many times people who come into a situation with an outsider perspective see things more clearly and can come up with alternative solutions to problems. That was the case for Rory San Miguel, the CEO of Propeller Aero, whose outsider perspective led to innovation in the construction and surveying industries.

Main Takeaways

  • Outsiders Can See Solutions: Maybe being an insider isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, there are VIP perks, but there is also the myopic vision that can develop from spending too much time on the inside.There’s a greater scope of vision when looking in from a distance. An outsider perspective is also an advantage because there’s less to lose and more to gain.
  • An Adaptable Construction Industry: Oftentimes, construction is unfairly categorized as an industry that is resistant to change. The truth is that the construction industry is pretty adaptable to new technologies. The construction business is about building tangible things and the margins really matter. It’s ready and willing to adapt to any technology that helps in getting the work done and that’s good for the bottom line too.
  • A Frisbee and a Pizza Box: There’s a lesson to be learned from being willing to walk down a path with a spirit of openness and see where it leads. At the beginning stages, Propeller Aero knew its passion without having a clear sense of application. As doors were cracked open by customers showing the way, Propeller, led by its founders, walked through the door into the surveying industry. A Frisbee and then a pizza box were outside of the box influences toward innovation. Propeller Aero shows that it’s good to think outside the box and, in fact, maybe use a pizza box as a prototype to solve a complex problem.  
  • Loyalty in Both Directions: Customers that believe in a business and give multiple chances to deliver can provide that runway innovators need to uncover a solution. On the other hand, companies should be loyal to their customer base. There can be a tendency to want to expand to other industries and go wide rather than deep. Really, loyalty between businesses and customers is all about valuing relationships and deepening them over time. 

For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.

Article:

There’s a general tendency for people to desire to fit in — to want to be on the inside of systems and institutions. The drive to be in the in-crowd or on the team is so embedded in the socialization process that the idea of being an outsider often becomes associated with something undesirable. But many times people who come into a situation with an outsider perspective see things more clearly and can come up with alternative solutions to problems. That was the case for Rory San Miguel, the CEO of Propeller Aero, whose outsider perspective led to innovation in the construction and surveying industries. 

“We were trying to just provide a simple alternative to traditional surveying,” San Miguel said “And we did. And now as a result, we work really closely with surveyors and we’re credible in the world of surveyors and we help surveyors deliver all this data to the teams and do it in an easy way…It is an outsider’s perspective that has ultimately brought accurate drone data to a really wide audience.” 

If a person is so immersed in an industry and that industry’s typical procedures, it can be hard to have that distance to look at a problem differently. An outside vantage point can help to provide that broader view to see the landscape of the issue more clearly. It also allows a safe distance from entrenched power so outside-the-box solutions may be offered up without fear of reprisals. The shame of potentially being wrong and, therefore, ostracized can be a real inhibitor from an inside position. On the other hand, if a person or a company is already on the outside, they have less to fear if they’re wrong and more to gain if they’re right. 

On a recent episode of IT Visionaries, San Miguel described his journey from starting out as a college student curious about making drones to becoming the CEO of a 3-D drone mapping and data analytics solution company. He also chatted about how a Frisbee and a pizza box were the unlikely beginnings to transforming how surveying is done for the construction industry. 

San Miguel described Propeller Aero in construction terms — as supporting businesses that need to move the earth to do their jobs.

“We’re a drone mapping business,” San Miguel said. “We help construction sites, quarries, and mines, and landfills, capture a full 3-D model of their site and then compare how they’re going in regards to that earth moving. So [a] big piece of iron you see on the site moving material around, we help our customers tell how much they moved, how fast they’re moving, when they’re going to finish — essentially [we provide them] progress and productivity for all of their earth moving.”

Traditional surveying required these huge cross markers to be placed along the ground on a site to offer precise locations for a plane, or even a drone, to take pictures. Although these cross markers can work, Miguel and Propeller discovered it wasn’t necessarily efficient. For San Miguel and the co-founder of Propeller Aero, Francis Vierboom, innovation took flight as they were tossing around a Frisbee.

“And we thought, what if we can just put the GPS in the Frisbee and then Frisbee the GPS devices out across the site that land, [and] that cycle up their own position [and] have a little tight cross on the Frisbee and away we go,” San Miguel said. “And that was the thinking that evolved into a product; that became patented. Propeller sold more than 20,000 of these AeroPoints around the world. And they’ve become the industry standard for getting accurate drone data.” 

The Frisbee was just the genesis of the idea of AeroPoints — which is fundamentally a portable ground control device — and the next iteration involved a container for one of the most popular foods. 

“Then the first version of it was actually a pizza box,” San Miguel said. “We finished the pizza, opened the pizza box, put the electronics inside, closed the pizza box, still a bit of oil smudged on the box, put tape across the pizza box, walked out on the field, and put it down. And, away we went.”

San Miguel soon found out that the construction industry was open to new technology that could be cost efficient while helping to get the work done.

“The construction industry gets a lot of heat for not adopting technology, but you give them something that works and they adopt it like that,” San Miguel said. “I’m willing to bet there’s more drones being flown [and] there’s more robots being used for real work in one of the oldest industries that we know of today, like construction, than in any other industry. It’s remarkable how quickly they’ve adopted it; just like they’ve adopted iPads on-site as their main kind of communication tool. The construction industry doesn’t hold back. It’s just waiting for good products.”

Just as the construction industry has been supportive of Propeller, San Miquel intends to return that loyalty.

“We’ve all grown really fond of these industries and these customers [and] the people that we talk to on a regular basis that use our products,” San Miguel said. “So Propeller is absolutely kind of wedded to that segment. And really, I see it as a natural evolution of the business. We’ve gone from being technology focused, to being problem-focused, to being customer focused…I see Propeller as adding solutions [and] adding components to our total solution that makes us more valuable and more useful to our current customers.” 

To hear more about how San Miguel and Propeller Aero are covering a lot of ground in the surveying industry while building their relationships with their construction clients, check out the full episode of IT Visionaries!

To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here

IT Visionaries is brought to you by the Salesforce Platform – the #1 cloud platform for digital transformation of every experience. Build connected experiences, empower every employee, and deliver continuous innovation – with the customer at the center of everything you do. Learn more at salesforce.com/platform

 

Episode 326