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 hand-soldering original ArduPilot shields
My kids packing up Blimpduino kits at the dining room table
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.
That's my only issue, customer treatment. The money sorts itself out. If the contributors, community or whatever, feel under appreciated, they will engage in another reward system. But for crying out load, spend some of that money in customer service. And fix your on-line systems. I live 150 miles from 3DR and can only get >$10 FedEx on-line for 4 ounces of parts?!?!. Call Customer Service about USPS. Sure, place order, don't worry, we will handle it and refund the difference. 4 days, 4 phone call and 5 emails later, still not resolved. As I said earlier, I'm a fan boy BUT there is a limit to how many times I'll take that warm feeling on my leg!!
What I find quite interesting about all this lament I have read here now is that actually none of the core developers or contributors are complaining.
How many of the people here screaming "sell out", "treason" and whatnot, how many of the people moaning about loss of open source spirit and auguring the blackmost possible future for the community, how many people demonizing Chris and 3DR for "making money on the backs of the community" are actually contributing? How many actually know for a fact if and how 3DR compensates developers and contributors and what 3DR actually does for the community?
I was raised in the spirit that freedom of speech is a fundamental right but it should be exercised with common sense, self-discipline and sense of proportion, not based on rumors and certainly not without any knowledge of the facts and with the sole purpose of "bashing for the sake of bashing".
I find this development of "culture" much more saddening and dangerous than any VC-story I have ever heard!
VC isn't inherently evil. Some VC is interested in long term growth. I've never contributed a single line of code so I don't really see my opinion as carrying much weight.
I think we can look to Makerbot Industries as a pretty good indication of the influence we can expect this to have on 3DR/DIYDrones.
In principle, I thought the Makerbot acquisition was a crappy deal for the people who bought it. I've never liked the Makerbot products other than Thingiverse. They always impressed me as a poor value for what you got. If VC can fix Makerbot then imagine what they can do for a business that already had their act together!
That is a great summary. Thank you!
I put a lot of hope in your vision Maker you spoke so well in your book. I think so that the wealth produced by this New Era should be divided into three equal thiers:
1/3 for the VC,
1/3 for 3DR and colleagues,
1/3 for the animation and support of active members of the community
This would be an opportunity for you and your associates to create a real new society century!
Not disappointed in us ....
Thanks for telling it like it is from your perspective! Maybe this will help to quell some of the negative comments from the naysayers in this thread.
TCIII ArduRover2 Developer
John: You said that you'd be happier if "open source volunteers personally benefited". In fact, many do and this is a good opportunity to explain how 3DR supports the community, both here on DIY Drones and the dev and documentation teams. We contribute nearly a million dollars a year to the project (cash and in-kind support, including free hardware) to reward top contributors and cover site hosting and site development. Team leaders and developers with the longest track record of contribution also get equity in the company, so when VCs invest, that goes to the developers, too. (I wrote a book about this, so you can read about the model there).
All of what is created from this is given away for free. So, in a sense, we take a million dollars of VC money each year and spend it to support those who create awesome software, documentation and peer support that is shared freely with everyone.
Not one penny of support or any in-kind contribution (including code support or even beta testing feedback) come from the cloners. Although what they do is legal since we have chosen to use the most liberal open source licenses (permitting commercial re-use), they give nothing back to the community. The code and everything else here exists because of the generosity of hundreds of volunteers here, with 3DR alone covering necessary costs and full-time management.
I'm not sure what you mean about APM being "bought", but Jordi Munoz designed the hardware and the code came from this community.
I hope that helps shed some light on what you're supporting when you buy hardware from 3DR rather than other sources.
@Richard, I totally agree but I don't think it's as easy to build a UAV as you're claiming. It's not like everyone can build one or knows how to. Goods news is last I heard 3DR is working on a UAV Training School. I can't remember all the details but I know it's in the works.
I am concerned that obtaining and operating a UAV becoming so easy is going to be a problem. If you can just get a drone in the air with a little bit of money, but not much relevant knowledge, the number if incidents (crashes, damage to humans, property) is bound to go up.
I would prefer the world where it takes some R/C experience, some understanding of radio, electronics and some knowledge of the care of Lipo's to be successful if getting a UAV to fly. I understand the motivations of business though, to make cool products, to keep people employed (feeding family's) and thats all good..... Lets hope all goes well. Perhaps we need some training programs for all the newbee's who can increasingly can get there hands of RTF drones.
As a longtime member of this community and a longtime friend of Chris Anderson I can promise you all right now that this new financial deal will benefit this group and community more than it's going to benefit anyone else. More money equals more employees and better customer/tech support. Also this extra financial boost will allow for 3DR to start building up their product inventory and allow for faster/lower cost shipping. The community is the reason why Chris is so successful with his Drone Start-up. Behind the scenes he mentions constantly about the importance of this community to 3DR and the open source miracles that take place here. If 3DR had no money it would ruin this experience for all of us. The more money 3DR has and the more successful they become the faster this "Drone Train" we are all riding on will go. Every amatuer drone hobbyist here who has ambitions of making money off of drones someday benefit extremely by the continuation of 3DR's success.