In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Josh Ermias, CEO of Door Robotics, creators of VISTA Drone. As an easier solution to getting immersive content in the air, VISTA Drone captures 360-degree footage, stitches your video to remove the drone and converts it into standard video. Plus, with autonomous navigation, the drone can quickly navigate outdoor and indoor settings on its own. Listen in and learn about the brand’s product development journey and their road to Kickstarter.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How a drone food delivery project and a 360-degree video app project from a university incubator led to VISTA Drone
  • How they decided on its features after speaking with realtors and real estate photographers
  • The prepwork that went into building an email list, like sending letters of intent, before the campaign launched
  • Why Josh Ermias thinks VISTA Drone garnered so many European and first-time backers
  • The biggest surprise Josh encountered throughout the Kickstarter campaign

Links

Sponsors

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Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon President of Enventys Partners. The top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over a hundred million dollars for our clients since 2010. Each week, I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. The Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for [inaudible 00:00:46] gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today, I’m super excited because I am talking with Josh Ermias of Door Robotics. Josh just launched a campaign with us, the VISTA drone, and this drone is super unique, right? This is the first drone with a fully integrated 360 degree camera. This totally makes it absolutely beautiful, incredible, all inspiring immersive content from your drone. Right? So Josh has been working on this for years. He and I have been going back and forth. I was looking through my email chain for over two and a half years. So Josh, I’m really excited to have you on the show today.
Josh Ermias:
Thanks Roy.
Roy Morejon:
So Josh, give out audience a little bit of background if you would. Tell them where did this start? What inspired you to create VISTA drone?
Josh Ermias:
Sure. So way back in 2016, I was a part of this incubator on campus at the University of Maryland called the startup shell. I was working on this drone delivery project. I really wanted to get Chipotle to my dorm room window. So I was prototyping and kind of making these built from scratch DIY drones. And I was flying them around, but it was really hard to kind of get it to the next level. It’s just kind of difficult. At the same time, I had some background with software engineering, coding, Android development, Java iOS, things like that. So one of the people in the incubator had an idea for this 360 app where it’s an app where you can get 360 videos of these local marketplaces or events and things like that to kind of help market those events.
Josh Ermias:
So I was working on this 360 app and I made it for him and he kind of paid me by giving me a bunch of 360 cameras and a laptop and a bunch of hardware that he got from his company’s acquisition. So I was just sitting around with this drone technology and I had this 360 camera and that’s kind of where it all started. I strapped up the camera to the drone and saw a really amazing perspective. And I flown drones before with other drones, FPV with ones that are on the market, you can only see what’s in front of the drone, basically what’s in front of the camera and nowadays you still have to move the camera manually around while also trying to maneuver physically the drone and six axes.
Josh Ermias:
So I found it really, really difficult to actually get the perfect shot than with a 360, you just get the perfect thing every time. So that was kind of the first time when I strapped that camera to that prototype or to that DIY quad-copter. I was like, “Wow, this is really awesome. I think I can make a company around this.” And that’s kind of where it started.
Roy Morejon:
So I know we’ve got a ton of makers that listen to this show every week when we produce it, we get a ton of feedback from the guests and the listeners on it. And you sound like a true maker of the maker. So if you would dive in a little bit deeper in terms of when you were creating VISTA drone for the first time, what was that process like? Obviously you got parts all around. You’ve got a really good mind for the engineering and how things go together, but how did you decide what features to include in the designs in your first launch?
Josh Ermias:
So that came straight from people, right? So after strapping the camera to the drone and showing that around, I wasn’t really getting much interest or much feedback. People were looking at it like, “Okay, this seems like a neat idea. I don’t know if I would use it.” Blah, blah, blah. And we didn’t really have a core functionality or core use case for a really long time. So it kind of made it a little bit more difficult to finalize the feature set and the capabilities. So we iterated on just the 360 camera drone product a couple of times without really getting anywhere. That’s how I spoke to you early on.
Josh Ermias:
So I was trying to figure out if we could potentially use Kickstarter to kind of find that audience, but basically what happened at the beginning of this year… So last year, Patrick Crowe, he joined the team as a co-founder. I mean, he’s got a lot of experience with software development sales, he’s run a Kickstarter before and delivered products and had a lot of really great experience with that side of things. So he joined the team and beginning of the year, this year, we started shopping around this 360 drone concept, sharing images of our prototype. We had some prototypes that were manufactured outsourced by other companies that we were able to get done.
Josh Ermias:
And we kind of showed that around and we found that realtors and real estate photographers are some of the most highly interested folks who use 360 cameras and drones. We’re finding that they actually use both. They use 360 cameras to take pictures inside and then a drone to take pictures outside. And so when learning more about that specific market, we learned about the process of making these virtual tours. And by talking to these people and saying like, “Hey, we see that you have a 360 camera. We see that you have a drone, what’s the limitations for what you have? We have a 360 drone can that be of use to you?”
Josh Ermias:
Then we’re finding that the actual process of making the tour is a really manual, laborious process. They have to set up this tripod with a 360 camera, bounce it in a room and then take it to the next room, the next room over and over and over for the entire house. Because it’s a 360 camera, they have to place it in one room and they have to leave the room, like hide behind a door. And then click capture and then run back into the room and move at five feet away and then leave again, hide behind the door. And it’s this really particularly manual process that’s kind of backwards at this point. So we kind of ideated with the idea, what if our 360 drone can just fly itself inside and take those pictures? Would you pay for that? And then people were like, “Yes, I absolutely would pay for that.” So this gets a little bit into how we did our pre-launch, but we got a bunch of people who said they would pay for it and then asked them to pay when we went live.
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. And the campaign just went live raising over $84,000 so far as we’re talking about the campaign itself. So in terms of shifting gears and talking a little bit in terms of the preparation for the crowdfunding campaign, I love the fact that obviously you were engaging the crowd very early on when you were building this product and truly building the product around your eventual consumer, that was at least looking at it from a real estate perspective, but talk a little bit about the other prep work that you’ve done leading up to such a successful Kickstarter launch.
Josh Ermias:
Sure. So February or March of this year, that’s roughly when we finalized who our target personas would be for the folks that we expected to actually pay for this thing once live. So what we did then was we talked to these people and confirm that first of all, they would use this and it would save them time or money, and this is something that they would spend money on. And at the price point, that would make sense for us to build it. And once we’ve got all that confirmed, we actually had them signed a letter of intent. So it’s a non-binding letter of intent. We’re calling it a backer agreement or a purchase agreement. Basically we had sent that over to them and said, “Hey, if you really are interested in paying for this, we’d like to show this to our investors, to our internal team, to keep track of everyone whose willing to spend the money on this. If you are willing to spend the money on this, can you sign this document?”
Josh Ermias:
This is a non-binding document and it’s not really enforceable in any way. It’s not legal, but it’s a step after a verbal yes. So we kind of focused all summer on just dialing people, finding photographers, finding folks who do this kind of thing. Then we able to get a pretty strong list of folks who had the money to buy this thing and had the need that was strong enough to pay for it. Then we made sure we had them sign documents so they felt that they were actually getting the price point that they were going to get. And they thought it was a more of an official capacity and it wasn’t just some guy saying, “Hey, would you buy this?” And they’re saying, “Yeah, sure, whatever.”
Josh Ermias:
So with those lists, we kept growing that and kept working on the product and when you got the product to the point where you fly indoors, has basic autonomous functionality, it’s got the 360 cameras built in and we had the plan to manufacture. So we had all of that together. It started to make sense that, “Okay, now we can look at launching and actually converting all these letters of intent and all these purchase agreements that we started taking back in March and kept taking basically all summer until September just taking all these signed documents and we’re ready to go.” So what we did was we worked with you. I mean, you and I have been speaking for a while and because you guys have done work with really similar campaigns we felt that it made sense in terms of putting this together and making it professional.
Josh Ermias:
We got about all of our footage together. And so one thing that we got actually that I didn’t mention before, one thing that we’d prepared for. So this prototype that we got from the manufacturer we actually got in December 2019 of last year, it was a pretty old prototype. And we took that prototype with us to California on a marketing content creation trip. We took a lot of these lifestyle shots, a lot of these really shiny shots of the drone flying in the air, the drone in an orange tree, the drone doing some flights and really cool scenic sunsets and backgrounds, and these are really professional lifestyle shoots we did all the way back in January. And now it’s just converting to actually being used for ads and in converting to information for folks who are interested [inaudible 00:10:32]. So yeah, it was a lot of planning and prep in terms of the hardware and product.
Josh Ermias:
In terms of the sales, it was just get as many of these letters of intent signed and then put all of our content together from January and then made a bunch of new content a couple of weeks before we launched, made the Kickstarter video, we took some more up close product shots. The ones that you see on the page and in the video were done literally a week before going live. Then once we had all of the content together, all of the stuff that mattered to the community, we weren’t exactly sure what else we needed. So that’s when we spoke to Emily at Enventys, and she gave us tips like, “Hey, we would need these images. We need the controller. We need the joysticks.”
Josh Ermias:
When need you to understand this, that, this, and kind of the features that we didn’t really expect, that we needed photos of just because we’re so focused on getting the drone to work and getting it to look good enough that we didn’t realize that we need some controller pictures or we need a gif of this happening. So we were able to kind of put that all together and then the whole time continuing dialing perspective backers and people who would use this product for their business, or would use this for their interests and keeping that machine going at the same time even now where we’re still doing [inaudible 00:11:44] today.
Roy Morejon:
Beautiful, man. Well, I love the fact and you may be the only person I’ve ever talked to on the show that’s gotten LOI’s signed by people before the campaign went live. Was there any pushback with those?
Josh Ermias:
I mean, generally yes, but it was pretty straightforward because the way we got them signed was we got on a video call where it’d be me and my co-founder or me and one of my engineers. And we’d literally say, “Look, we’re building this for you. And we’d like to know if you’re actually willing to commit to this and it wouldn’t really be worth our time if you just say yes, and then not sign this.” So after the first five or 10 of these that we got signed, we started realizing as we get closer to the campaign that we don’t really need them signed. A lot of these people are really having a huge pain point that we can quickly solve. So we realized that we don’t really need to get as many LOI’s as we thought.
Josh Ermias:
We just need a bunch of verbal agreements, send over some documents, send over the agreements so people see what it looks like and then generally people end up converting. But generally, not too much pushback, in the world of B2B sales, LOI’s are pretty standard. This is something that your business is interested in. At some point you’d like to commit to it. A lot of these people are okay with it. I think the fact that we’re approaching these freelance photographers and these mom and pop shops that are kind of two man shows or three man shows of people doing photography, they’re just way more comfortable doing things that are kind of a little out of the norm, just because there are a few people.
Roy Morejon:
So talk to me a little bit about the community before the campaign, and now the active Kickstarter community. When looking at the backers that have come into the campaign, 25% of these backers are first-time backers. I’m seeing a large amount of backers coming in from European countries. Is that been part of the targeting in terms of bringing in real estate photographers or just photographers in general that are outside of the United States, or how have you gone about engaging with the community pre-campaign and now with it launched?
Josh Ermias:
To be transparent, I have no idea about why European folks are buying this thing. We’ve only been targeting people in the U.S. just because the time zone and information sharing is a lot easier, but I guess that kind of comes with the territory of building something that is really useful across the world. Some folks that we’ve gotten on calls with is that a lot of the really high-end cutting edge drone technology is only for sale in the U.S. For example, Skydio Arwen was never sold outside of the U.S. and even the Skydio two, you have to be in the U.S. or Canada to buy one. So just by building cutting edge tech and selling it to anyone who wants it were basically able to tap into that market. So I can’t really speak too much to how or why the European folks are coming in, but in terms of the 25% of new backers, those are our photographers.
Josh Ermias:
Those are the sales that I’m making on a day to day. Basically I call up a real estate photographer and I say, “Hey there, we’re building this drone and building it for you. We’re looking to save you time, save you money. It’s cheaper than the Matterport. It’s more effective than the Maverick. And it’s a combination of them both for a much better price point. I’d love to get you in today because after we go live, it’s going to be $2,400. This discount is only for the next 30 days so I really would suggest you go in today. And people are pretty responsive to that.
Roy Morejon:
So where are you finding these folks? How are you doing your data scraping or your intelligence reports on finding these folks and then figuring out how to get ahold of them?
Josh Ermias:
These people are actually pretty active online, and they are looking to get reached out to. So as a photographer, for example, let’s say you take real estate photos, wedding, photos, et cetera. You have your own website, you have your own phone number. You have a Facebook account, you’ve got a LinkedIn and your job is to get noticed by clients. So these people are pretty easy to reach out to, and that their phone number and email and website and LinkedIn are all public. So we’re not doing any data scraping. We’re not doing anything underhanded to get these names. We just say, “Hey, I saw your website, we see you do photography. We can really help you with our tech.” That’s how we’re finding them.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. So Josh, you’ve been working with us for a while here at Enventys Partners. What were some of those considerations that you and your team went through when choosing an agency to partner with, to launch the VISTA drone?
Josh Ermias:
So my biggest two considerations for choosing a partner was the scale of how big and how many large campaigns the partner was able to run. So I would definitely not look at any campaign or any agencies that haven’t done a lot of work or campaigns that break a million, basically, that was our goal. Like if you’ve done a few multi-million dollar campaigns, you obviously know how to get something to scale. So that’s kind of the first iteration. There’s still a lot of agencies out there, like [inaudible 00:16:49], Mad Hatter, and a few other agencies that have been able to break that million dollar mark. But one of the reasons why we chose you instead of those other ones, is because of your past work, you’ve done Hexo+ which broke at 1.2, because admittedly, it was back in 2012. So different kinds of time zone-
Roy Morejon:
It was a different world back then, Josh.
Josh Ermias:
Completely different would. But then again, you also did ORBI Prime a little bit more recently, I think in 2016, that was a 360 camera company. At the end of the day the kind of content and copy and branding and messaging that worked for those campaigns are a part of what you guys already do. So it wouldn’t be us trying to learn how to make that kind of stuff. It’d be like, okay, let’s look at what worked, let’s figure out how to incorporate it here and let’s see how we can optimize it.
Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. So I know the campaign just launched a couple of days ago, but what’s been the biggest surprise of the Kickstarter campaign so far.
Josh Ermias:
The biggest surprise for me was actually how well our email blasts worked. So in terms of how we’re doing, we can see on the dashboard where the referral tags came from and where people found the links. We’ve got an email list of around 2,700 folks who are just people who are real estate photographers with their email and phone number publicly available. Folks that we may have reached out to in the past, folks that are just advisors or investors and are friends of the company, things like that. We kind of just share an email saying, “Hey, we’re live, check us out.” I really didn’t expect much out of them, but that has been literally the second highest converting direct sale system literally only second to me doing dials directly. So I was really impressed by how well that worked. Another thing that was actually surprising was that a third of all of our sales are straight from Kickstarter folks, like people who are super backers or active in the Kickstarter community who are always checking the website. So those are the two big surprises for me.
Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Well, Josh, this has been really inspiring and this is going to get us into our rapid fire launch round. Are you ready to go?
Josh Ermias:
Let’s do it.
Roy Morejon:
All right. So what inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Josh Ermias:
I like the idea of futurism and up and coming technology and ideas and making new things and building stuff from scratch. So I think that’s kind of where it all started.
Roy Morejon:
If you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history who would it be?
Josh Ermias:
Throughout history?
Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I mean, go as far back as you want.
Josh Ermias:
I would say Haile Selassie. So that’s the actual emperor of Ethiopia back in the 1800s. Yeah.
Roy Morejon:
Wow. Well that is the first for the show. What would have been your first question for him?
Josh Ermias:
I would have asked, “What was your biggest obstacle?”
Roy Morejon:
Nice. What’s your favorite product feature on the VISTA drone?
Josh Ermias:
My favorite feature is the live stream to the VR headset. So we’re doing a live stream capability where you can see a live stream to your controller. But if you have a VR headset like a cardboard or Oculus Rift, you can get a really intense first person view.
Roy Morejon:
Wow. I bet you that is killer. Any books you’d recommend to our listeners?
Josh Ermias:
Yeah, one book. Venture Deals. I just recently read that. That’s kind of a more entrepreneurial informational one.
Roy Morejon:
Nice. Well Josh, last question. You’re doing great. I know this is your first campaign, but interested to hear your insights in terms of what does the future of Crowdfunding look like?
Josh Ermias:
I think it’s just growing. I think it’s going to get bigger, better, faster. I think decentralizing e-commerce and putting it into a way where folks can back and commit to companies that are brand new. It’s going to make it way better for new ideas to come out and new [inaudible 00:20:38] companies to come out and new communities to get creative.
Roy Morejon:
Amazing. Well, Josh, thank you so much for being on the show. This is your opportunity to give our audience, your pitch, tell people what you’re all about, where people should go and why they should check you out.
Josh Ermias:
Awesome. So I’m Josh CEO of Door Robotics we’re launching the VISTA drone, a drone with the first fully integrated 360 degree camera. One of the first indoor drones on the market. Finally, a drone that can fly for you.
Roy Morejon:
Amazing. Audience, thanks for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the VISTA drone campaign and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our Crowdfunding podcast sponsors, the Gadget Flow and Product Type. Josh, thank you so much for being a guest on Art of the Kickstart.
Josh Ermias:
Thank you so much, Roy. Appreciate it.
Roy Morejon:
Thanks for tuning into another episode of Art of the Kickstart. The show about building a business, world and life with Crowdfunding. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter guide to crushing it. And of course, if you love this episode a lot, leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/itunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs and startups find this show and helps us get better guests to help you build a better business. If you need more hands-on Crowdfunding strategy advice, please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in and we’ll see you again next week.