You may have seen the news that 3D Robotics has just announced a $30 million Series B investment, led by some blue-chip VC firms, including Foundry and True (investors in MakerBot and other open source companies such as WordPress/Automattic). You can see Foundry's announcement post here.
This is our second funding round (the Series A was November last year), and each round reflects a new era of the company. Because 3DR started in this community, which I created one weekend six years ago, I wanted to take a moment to talk a little about our evolution as a company and what it means for users, developers and the community as a whole.
Our first phase as a company (2009) was led by my co-founder, Jordi Munoz, and it looked like this:
Jordi then built up a proper manufacturing operation, taking it to this by 2012:
At this point 3D Robotics was still selling mostly electronics, essentially bare boards and "bags of parts" kits, much like our role models at Sparkfun and Adafruit. But it was clear that the industry was growing up and was ready to go more mainstream. So on the basis of that and our progress so far, we raised our Series A round in December 2012 and I came onboard as CEO nine months ago.
Our mission over the past nine months has been to professionalize the company and our products, and although that's far from done we've made a lot of progress. On the company side, this meant new websites, ecommerce systems, improvements in customer support (still a work in progress but we've shortened response times and moved to Zendesk to track issues better), and most importantly, the opening of our big new manufacturing facility in Tijuana.
On the community side, we've sponsored the software dev teams, the documentation teams and the community management teams here, on the new ArduPilot.com documentation sites and on the GitHub dev repository. 3DR just sells the "atoms" (the hardware) while this open source community creates and gives away the "bits" (the software), but as a company we've worked hard to support the community in every way we can to encourage a healthy community/company partnership. (We're modeled after WordPress/Automattic in this respect).
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hundreds of developers, editors, moderators, beta testers and other volunteers who have created such an extraordinary thing here: the software teams, the documentation teams and everywhere else where the open innovation model has worked so well to serve a community of nearly 44,000 members. Our commitment is to use our funding to help make this community even better, by investing more in the open innovation model. As we have from the start, we'll continue doing what we can to help people here help each other, following the lead of open source models from Linux to Adafruit and our original mentors at Arduino.
On the product side, the last year has seen the development (with ETH) of our next-gen autopilot, Pixhawk, and the consumer-friendly Iris autonomous quadcopter designed for tablet/phone use, and a suite of software that will be announced soon as part of the Iris Consumer Edition.
That brings us to our third phase, which starts now: not just creating drones, but putting them to work. This means finding new applications for aerial robotics by creating entire systems, from the cloud to tablets/phones to communications systems to more sophisticated aircraft systems and payloads. From Agriculture to Hollywood, this is where the real opportunity lies.
I feel we're like the PC industry in 1983. As an industry, we've come close to taking drones from industrial equipment or hobbyist gear (from the mainframes to the Apple II of the late 70s) to the first Macintosh, making them consumer friendly and easy to use. Now that drones are not just for the technically sophisticated anymore, it's time to find out what they can really do, by putting them in the hands of regular people, from GoPro owners to farmers, and see how they use "anywhere, anytime access to the skies" to discover new applications and markets, much as we did with computers after the original IBM PC and the Mac.
In short, this is just the beginning. I couldn't be more thrilled to embark on our next chapter.