50 minutes | May 26, 2020

S2/EP 9: Cody Retlich from Midwest Aerial Productions

Cody Retlich is founder of Midwest Aerial Productions.

David: “Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and how you got into drones?”

Cody is from Wisconsin and went to school for entrepreneurship and professional sales, so he knew he wanted to run his own business. He’d always take the leadership role and knew he wanted to have the freedom to work the way he wanted. His interest in drones started when a friend developed software for agricultural use of drones. Cody helped him figure out what markets there were. After selling $3.5 million for a company that he didn't enjoy working for, Cody decided it was time to work for himself so he began to build his drone business, doing flights here and there, while driving Uber and golf caddying for almost a year and a half. He “officially” started Midwest Aerial Productions in 2018.

David: “When you quit your job to do your own thing, did you know you were going to start a drone business or did you just need to do something else and you found drones after that?”

Cody knew from the get-go that there was a huge market for drones—they would have a great of impact. He’d bought a drone a few years before he quit his job and took flying jobs here and there, mostly for real estate and private properties.

David: “Talk us through your first drone and your first paying drone client—even as a side thing.”

The first drone Cody flew was the Phantom 2. The first year, he picked up whatever jobs he could in the area. Then something tragic happened in his life that took him away from the business for a while. When he returned, he pivoted his company to not only providing services in the area, but working and collaborating with pilots all across the Midwest; he began helping other drone pilots start their business  and offering advice.  Now, Midwest Aerial brokers pilots all across the Midwest.

David: “You said you picked up a few real estate clients on the side... how did those people find you? Were you posting things on social media and people saw it or were you pretty active in your area?

Because Cody had a sales background, he was going to a lot of different networking events around the city and talking to and cold calling realtors all that time.

“In the beginning, you gotta get yourself out there. If you don't have any content or clients, the best thing to do is go shoot some stuff in your area. Find someone you know has a nice house or property and ask if you can shoot it for them. Talk to everybody and anybody and just learn what they know or who they know—it’s an experience of connection.”

Cody just got accepted into an accelerator program and the woman that told him to apply for it, Cody met driving Lyft one night two years ago. The program is a 7-week intensive program, offering a lot of resources, investors, and pitch nights. David agreed it’s important for listeners to understand how important it is to make finding the right relationships with the right people a habit and practice. Cody says he has to weigh the benefits of doing certain jobs with certain people—sometimes $200 job could be a headache and you do it now but then you know you’re not going to work with that client again.

David: “So you were doing side things from people calling you up, were most of those real estate jobs, taking pictures, video or what?”

Cody says it was all over the place—some cinematography, some travel, events, real estate and construction with 3D mapping and some orthomosaics. He used thermal drones for core inspections, finding leaks etc. Right now, he keep building technology into their site. There are a lot of people flying a Mavic for real estate jobs who may be undercutting the value of your services so you need to get a broker’s whole office rather than just one broker. Go to the commercial side and find people in your area that want a drone partner.

David: “As we talk to people, it seems like there's a bit of a hierarchy—people start off with real estate videos and photos and then find a construction niche. I'm interested to hear about some examples of construction projects you did. What are those clients looking for? How are they using products that you're giving them?”

Cody says he’d do a time lapse, going to the construction site once a week to film. He’d put together a highlight reel from groundbreaking till the end and really show it off. Then, naturally, the architects get a visual image of what that property's going to look like from their renderings.

“People want to see marketing that shows off their projects, but you can also give them stuff to make them more efficient and more effective at the job site by monitoring points of data.”

Also, when they initially map out jobs, they’ve had surveyors on the ground doing these types of things and now obviously you can do surveying. They can use the data from these maps to make sure that they're all on a point and keeping that accuracy level throughout the process.

David: “I know pricing is different everywhere in the country, but if someone hires you to do a construction job, where you're taking photos once a week for a project, how would you typically price that out?”

At first, it’s not about what you charge, but the value you bring. Right now, Cody says, he mostly sticks to $100-$200 an hour. For a raw data flight, they'll charge them an hourly which they calculate into the proposal, which also contains the total project broken down by editing, planning, shooting, exporting, etc. Often, if a broker is selling 10 homes per month, they put Midwest Aerial on a monthly package of drone videography or photography, which creates great recurring revenue of $1,500-$2,000/month. This also provides that long-term relationship.  

David: “Are there other kind of interesting industries that you've done jobs for that aren't necessarily as difficult or outside of the construction real estate world?”

Cody has been going after travel jobs because he loves traveling. He connected on Instagram to someone advertising some drone work for a golf course in Fiji and he’s filming a golf course in Cozumel in a month. For the Fiji trip, he connected on social media via DM and asked if he could come visit, play their course and trade some rounds for a few aerial photos. When they saw his online work, they agreed and then he could also pitch for some paid work. For those just starting out, Cody suggested letting the client know what you’re aiming to create for them—the kind of vision that you’re going for and take it from there. He says be honest about what you’ve done and tell them what you’d like to do.

David: “It sounds like you've got some cool stuff going on with the accelerator program that you're in and expanding beyond drone work to build your company. Tell us about the vision you’re building now.”

We’re still in the development stages but we’ve pivoted for sure.

“You gotta prove it, you gotta be able to figure out what you're passionate about and what to do to be able to ultimately help you more in the long-term.”

After that first year they began interacting with pilots and looking at what services are most needed around the Midwest. They're building a new website with profiles of pilots to be able to help them grow their businesses but also to be able to book services. There are a lot of companies out there that don't put the pilots first and that's what Cody wants to do.

David: “Everybody always wants to know how much they can expect to make from this? When you were focused on your drone service business full time, what would be a low month and a very good month for revenue?”

Cody did six figures in sales last year, which was a great first full year actually focused on the business. Most of that went back to that recurring revenue streams from creating those long-term relationships with people. He says that finding those people that want to be a part of your company and that want you to help them grow their company, you can set your ceiling and floor. It’s important to ask questions like, “How many of these types of jobs will I get every month?” “Am I spending too much money on marketing in this area?”

Cody’s Mom says, “IT’S NOT WHAT YOU DO OR WHO YOU KNOW, BUT WHAT YOU DO FOR WHO YOU KNOW.”

Connect with Cody:

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