AuthorHannah Buckley

The Breath of our Economy. How Transportation Logistics Builds the Future with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Taylor Robinson of PLG Consulting about how transportation logistics builds the future.



The Breath of our Economy. How Transportation Logistics Builds the Future with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Paul: Hello. My name is Paul Parisi, and I’m here with Taylor Robinson, the president of PLG Consulting. Hi, Taylor.

Taylor: Good afternoon, Paul.

Paul: So now, I know I’ve talked to a lot of different business owners and people who run businesses. And they get excited about what they do. Is logistics like that for you? Is that something that just like, “Yeah, that’s really cool. We just saved that company all this money by doing this different technique or using this.” Is that something where you feel like you hit a homerun, that feeling that this is cool? Or is it, no, it’s just a job. Because I know you have a lot of really — I don’t know — not eclectic, but people that are experts in these fields that are fairly narrow, but they know their stuff, and they’re probably the…maybe even one of the best experts on the planet for it, especially with relationships. They know the people in the industries. They know the people at the train company. They know the people that make the hoppers. All these different things. So it must be really cool to impact some of this stuff. What do you think about that?

Taylor: Yeah. Well, it’s really a balancing act. My job’s a balancing act because we’re small. We have contractors. They’re extremely talented contactors, and my job is to get them to work. And there’s not hundreds of opportunities out there for these niches. So it’s all about balancing, having the right team available and having the relationship with the clients that know us and are going to call us when they need help. And of course, that’s an imperfect balancing act. And there’s lots of ups and downs.

Paul: Sure. Do you know all of your customers? I mean, I know you do. But I’m saying the customers you’ll have, if we go roll forward five years, do you know them all now? Or are there going to be people that you didn’t know?

Taylor: It’s going to be a mix. Yeah. You know, we’ve got 20 strategic accounts that we want to invest in. We think they’re going to come back again at some point.

Paul: But who are the people that are out there that don’t know your name. They don’t know you guys. How do you connect with them? Is there industry stuff that you do? Or how do you actually reach out to them. I’m the logistics person at company XYZ, and I’ve never heard of you guys. Well, it would be really nice because you’re in a nice size where it matters, at your size, that your customer be successful as opposed to a really a big company that’s like, “Yeah, we didn’t do a great job,” or, “They didn’t see a benefit there.” It doesn’t matter. We’ve got 20 other, 50 other companies that we’re working with. So I imagine engaging with PLG I’m going to get very high quality of relationship as well as service. So how do I identify those people?

Taylor: I think just the given is we have to perform at every opportunity we have at a world-class level so that our reputation precedes us because much of our business is either repeat or referrals, free referrals that we don’t even know about. We’ve had clients refer us to two or three other customers. And so therefore, if we’re performing, we’ve got a chance of growing on its own.

I think secondly, we like to speak at conferences in these very focused markets, again, either on the transport side around rail or energy and chemical, our biggest, biggest verticals. We need to be out there so people recognize that we’re well known. And we’ve got a reputation of serving our customers. And to do that, we have to put together very innovative presentations. We have to be better than anybody else at the conference. It’s got to give them more information. It’s got to be more relevant. It’s got to be different than everyone there. So we put an incredible amount of time in sharing enough to get them interested but not sharing all the secrets.

Paul: Sure. Of course. Yeah.

Taylor: So that’s one of the main ways. And then we’ve got a following of about 2200 people that have signed up for our information we send out on a monthly basis where we give those presentations or other things, and we’re doing more webinars.

Paul: So who are the webinars targeted at? Is it the CEO? Is it the logistics officer? Chief logistics officer, is that a title?

Taylor: Yeah. It’s those type of people. But a lot of times, they send their staff. But if they bring the presentation and talk to the person that sent them and give another favorable impression, we’ve got a chance.

Paul: Right. Now is it sort of like there’s best practices, and then there’s specific best practices? Or is it every company is a new ballgame that you’re working with?

Taylor: It’s a mix because people have these very difficult solutions that they might find us through the internet, you know. Through a search, through our website. Many times, it’s referrals, but we get searches. We get one a month, at least, that call up and say, “Hey, I found you on the internet. I’ve got this bulk problem.” We had one last fall that they’re going to build out a whole supply chain for moving a bulk product from the Caribbean to throughout North America. And we’re going to help them with that whole end-to-end strategy, from the feasibility stage to building it out. So that company did a search of bulk logistics, and we’re up near the top. It’s a great place to be because not many people claim it. But it’s not a great place to be because not many people search it. So it’s that paradigm of how do we find our clients. The web is becoming an increasingly important part of that as our customer base gets a little bit younger.

Paul: Oh, I see. Okay. That’s an interesting trend. So is it that this is an older industry now? Is it moving into the younger ages? Or how is that impacting things?

Taylor: Well, a lot of the logistics folks, especially that worked with the railroads, generally are older. And it takes a long time to be effective with the railroads, to have enough knowledge, to have enough respect to be effective. And that person, they don’t normally want to change. Nobody wants to take that job. So that person tends to retire after about 20 years of doing that. And how do they replace them?

Paul: Yeah. Because you can’t build that relationship quickly.

Taylor: Right. And what did he really do? How did he really get that deal? How did he make that train move that wasn’t moving? So a lot of that inherent knowledge retires. And also, there’s a lot of turnover. And a lot of the senior leaders have never worked with the railroads, as an example. So we can come in and, again, we love to assess where people are at, offer suggestions, and train them up, and get them on a road to improvement.

Paul: It sounds like some of those people are strategic risks to the companies that they’re in because if they go away, that’s lost information. Its institutional mind is gone as far as delivering that stuff. Wow, that’s fascinating. So do these logisticians document everything? Is there a book that they have and this is how we do it, or is it just in their heads?

Taylor: A little bit of both. Depends of the company. The smaller companies tend to have tribal knowledge, and it retires, and it’s gone. And they might not appreciate that person till after he’s retired when things start going downhill.

Paul: Are there software systems that help with this, help manage this?

Taylor: Yeah. Certainly. Managing the rail, managing the trucks, there’s better and better technology. It’s a constantly evolving aspect. We help folks with assessing where they’re at in their rail or trucks management system, maybe improving their system, going out and buying a new one. It’s a constantly changing world with the cloud. And cloud-based systems are taking tremendous costs out of logistics.

Paul: So I’ve built a lot of software systems, and I’m wondering is there a system out there that says it currently knows how busy each shipper is and where their trains are going, how full they are, so I can almost — I wouldn’t want to use the word — arbitrage it and say, oh, I know that that railroad is not heavily utilized right now. So I can go to them and sort of negotiate maybe a lower price or just I need to get it there, so I’m going to go to that railroad as opposed to take a ride on the Reading railroad. Is it Reading or B&O?

Taylor: Reading.

Paul: Reading. So, are systems like that evolving with that transparency for logistics?

Taylor: The challenge with that example is railroads are almost a monopoly, so technology doesn’t help a whole lot with that aspect. Very seldom is there competition. Now you go to the trucking world where you have Less Than Truckloads. You know, that’s somebody who wants to move a skid from Beverly, Massachusetts here to Paducah, Kentucky. And that load might cost a thousand dollars. Right now, about $250 of that cost is brokerage fees.

Paul: Really. Wow. And so the brokers are doing that.

Taylor: Yeah. And the brokers are arranging. Now they’ve got systems that do that, but they charge a lot for that, and they have to take people out to lunch a lot. And so there’s this excess waste in the system. There are a number of softwares that are attacking that, as you can imagine, with dynamic scheduling—

Paul: Right. Exactly. That’s what I was thinking.

Taylor: And if they can get the shippers and the trucking companies to sign up, and they get enough scale, they’re going to take that cost down by three, four times. I mean, it’s going to be a third, a quarter of that cost.

Paul: Commoditize it.

Taylor: Yes. And make it much more efficient, get more trucks working as opposed to the guy waiting for his load, he can look online. He sees one. I mean, it’s Uber in trucking.

Paul: Right. Yeah. That’s fascinating.

Taylor: That will happen. That will happen in less than truckload. That will happen in truckload because there’s lots of competition, whereas the rail, it’s from point A to point B. You have railroad.

Paul: Is the railroad… Right now, in the telecommunications world, when they were divested, AT&T, the wires were basically…they had to carry AT&T traffic or MCI traffic at the time. So there was not this exclusive that only AT&T calls could come to your house. Anybody could call. That’s not the way it is in the rail world. Do they rent the rails? Or how does that work?

Taylor: Well, when the rail got privatized, they have to build their own rail. So they don’t easily let their competition ride on their rail. There are places where it’s common, or there are short lines that serve both of them. But most of the time, it’s their rail. And they’re spending three, four, five billion dollars a year keeping that rail up.

Paul: Wow. So it, it’s an exclusive road, if you will, railway.

Taylor: Yeah. They built their road, and they can ship as they please on that. Now there are laws that they have to be reasonable and so forth, but they have lots of leverage when you own the road.

Paul: Interesting. Wow. Again, another thing that I wouldn’t have thought of. So now you said it started out as Plastics Logistics Group, and now it’s Professional?

Taylor: It went to Professional Logistics Group. When I started about five years ago, we branded it PLG because it’s just easier, and it was already known. Logistics is actually a hot topic now, so we call ourselves Professional Logistics Group. PLG has become known in this niche. You don’t have to go any further. They just…oh, call PLG. Or on the other side, if you’re retiring, you’re a logistics professional, and you’ve got a retirement package, but you’re feeling pretty good, and you don’t want to sit around and play golf or go fishing every day, you come home to PLG. And we provide you with an opportunity to work on projects part-time at your discretion.

Paul: Yeah. It sounds like the best of all.

Taylor: Yeah. If you want to go to Costa Rica for, for a month, please go ahead, but the other 11 months of the year, we might call you and — guess what? — you get to work with your old buddy that you used to work with. And it’s remote, though. It’s a different world.

Paul: So your people don’t all go to the same office. They work out of their homes—

Taylor: Almost never.

Paul: —Or wherever they want to.

Taylor: Yeah. We’ve got over 40 people all over North America that we can call on. We’ve got about 10 partner companies, partner consulting firms or engineering firms that, that we pull in and out. And they pull us in. So we’ve got a network even bigger than that 40, 45 people that we have. Again, if a client brings me a problem, I have a 48-hour rule that I need to be able to talk to my network and find one or two or three experts in that niche.

Paul: And it matters to you guys. I think that’s one of the biggest things is that you don’t have a thousand employees, and you’re not a big, huge consulting company. I would imagine working with that matters to all the people. They’re aware of the different projects that are going on and interested in it and contributing.

Taylor: Yeah. And there’s not enough work for them. I mean, I could bring lots more work to them, and they have plenty of capacity, and it’s because they’re very talented. They’re very experienced. They could take five times longer to finish, fix some of these issues. They can do it. And, so therefore, I’m spending a lot of time and our team is looking for more projects to put more folks to work.

Paul: Right. That’s so cool. Well we’ve been talking with Taylor Robinson, president of PLG, PLG Consulting, experts in bulk logistics. And it’s fascinating that there’s this whole sub-culture, if you will, of the way things are moving and it’s part of the breath of the country. It’s fascinating.

Go Pound Sand. Moving Sand Around the World with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Taylor Robinson of PLG Consulting about the business of logistics and moving sand around the world.




Go Pound Sand. Moving Sand Around the World with Taylor Robinson of PLG


Paul: Hello. My name is Paul Parisi, and I’m here with Taylor Robinson, the president of PLG Consulting. Hi, Taylor.

Taylor: Good afternoon, Paul.

Paul: So what else do you cover in logistics? I mean, is it just… I don’t want to say “just” what you do, or is that one segment of what you do at PLG or are there other things?

Taylor: Yeah. That would be one-third of what we do. One-third is we help people improve their logistics. We bring experts that have been in those industries for 30 to 40 years come in and quickly solve their problems.

Paul: What kind of problems do they have?

Taylor: Cost, efficiency, waste, poor pricing on their services that they buy. So we’re helping them get better. And you call them…those are shippers. They’re the ones that are using…they’re paying for the freight. They’re paying for the logistics and the handling. They need to lower that cost to be competitive.

Paul: And how far can you go? I mean, do they have to revisit this? Or is it something that they do it once and I do this in 2017, and I don’t have to do it for another 20 years, or is it a constantly changing…

Taylor: It depends on the industry. Some of the industries don’t change much. And we will occasionally find a client that, we look over them at a very deep level, and there’s not a lot we can help.

Paul: Because they’ve done a good job.

Taylor: They’ve got the great team. They know how to do the right processes. They’ve got good technology. So therefore, they’re best in class. But that’s pretty rare because people haven’t kept up. Logistics is kind of sometimes a lower-tier job or, in the organization, it’s not as prestigious. So therefore, it gets kind of put in the corner, so we can usually go in and help folks, with our experience. And it also helps that we see multiple people in an industry, and we can take those learnings and apply them and really look at what’s best in class versus this is the way we’ve always done it.

Paul: Right. Yeah. So rather than knowing just one way to do it, you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work across industries. So that’s really cool. So you don’t have to make mistakes on me.

So now, alright. I’m somebody. I’m working in a big company that does this plastic stuff. I make the bags that wrap bread, let’s say. Who am I? Am I a vice president, a CEO? And, what do I do? Because I know that’s only one tiny part of their job. Or is it that that’s all they do is worry about the logistics?

Taylor: Mostly we start out with the people that have logistics folks on their team. Usually it’s a C-level person that we find a way in. Sometimes we’re brought in from the working team. They just can’t find a solution, and they get permission to go find us. But normally, they don’t want us in there if they’re not a good player, they don’t want us to come in.

Paul: Right. Well, okay. So there, there’s a crisis that occurs. What manifests that crisis? Is it that we just can’t compete on price or I’m hearing rumors? So I’m the CEO, let’s say. How is that crisis going to get to my desk? Is it that my competitors are beating me all the time? Or is it that, gee, I talked to Joe at that other company, and they’re getting it there for half the price? How does it actually occur? What manifests the inflection point that makes me say, “We’ve got to do something about this?”

Taylor: Usually something’s changed. Leadership has changed. The industry is changing, and they can’t keep up. Tthey’re no longer competitive.

Paul: Dig into that a little bit — the “I can’t keep up.” What does that mean?

Taylor: That means their competitor is getting the products there cheaper, faster. They’re better.

Paul: So I’m, I’m losing out.

Taylor: On sales.

Paul: The person who is buying it is going to buy from Joe because he got it there for $10 cheaper than me. Or maybe a day earlier than me.

Taylor: Exactly.

Paul: Interesting. So I’m talking about not just one bag a flour, I’m talking about a train-load of flour that’s been processed and turned into bread or something.

Taylor: Or there’s a crisis, as you said. The supply chain breaks, and they’ve made a mistake, and they’re totally losing business, you know.

Paul: So they didn’t plan well. They didn’t predict that they need a million loaves of bread on this day?

Taylor: Yeah. So it could be a planning issue. It could be a whole host of things that causes something to break, and there’s an emergency.

Paul: Well let’s go to that. So let’s say there was a problem with the wheat crop, just to use something that is already identifiable by people. Wheat turns into bread. So would logistics cover the fact… Would you have thought about it? Do you have contingency plans for if the wheat crop is bad? Do you have leading indicators saying, “Hey, you know, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have a lot of wheat in the fall.” Or do you just react?

Taylor: Well, either way. You can. And usually good logistics folks are good business people, and they’re looking for those leading indicators, and they’re staying up with the market. They’re listening to their sales team, and they’re trying to gather data so that they can be proactive and ready to go so that that crisis doesn’t happen.

So it’s a combination of our talents are as logistics professionals but also with a business mindset. And therefore, we can not only help the shippers, we can also help the transportation providers that are on the other side of the table.

Paul: Okay. So I’m a trucker. I own a fleet of trucks or trains. You can help me how?

Taylor: Because we understand that market, and we might be ahead of them in saying, “You know, the trend is that you have a smaller truck that can go faster,” which is not true. But anyway, we help them with those market trends because we’ve got our eyes on the market. We’ve got our eyes on the logistics methods and processes, and sometime, when you’re doing something the same all the time, you’re missing those opportunities. You’re not looking enough ahead. You don’t know the industry well enough that you’re serving.

So again, we bring, as you think about it, the shipper, the transportation provider or logistics provider, they’re just on opposite sides of the table. So if we can help one, we can help the other. A lot more strategy work for the transportation provider, for example. We’re not going to tell them how to run their business, but we might give them a direction that they ought to be heading towards this market or talking to this type of company. Or what’s the solution you’re going to bring to them?

Paul: So let me ask this. So, sand, 20 years ago, probably wasn’t in big demand like it is now. So did somebody see that coming and say, “Oh my gosh. We’ve got to get a lot of trucks or trains ready for sand”? Because, I mean, that sounds like… Let’s assume we were at a steady state so that the trains were running with plastic and whatever they were filled with. And all of a sudden, we need sand for a completely new technology effectively. It’s certainly at the consumption levels. Well, the trains are all full. In other words, they only have so many train, and they’re delivering plastic already. And they’re delivering whatever they deliver. So is that something that you guys would have helped predict? And was that something that you helped, or how did the whole logistics community react to that huge need, sort of that inrush current? Like, oh my gosh, there’s just a huge need all of a sudden.

Taylor: Yeah. It was a really interesting thing to be a part of because if you think about how much sand has moved on rail before fracking, it was really boring and steady. You know, it was moving sand to a casting shop, or it was moving sand to make fiberglass, which are decent volumes of sand, but literally, over the past, I’d say, seven, eight years, the volume of sand moved by rail has gone up, eight to ten times.

Paul: But where did they get the trains?

Taylor: It’s that type of product, you have a locomotive. And whoever is going to move the sand, they have to buy the car, or lease the car. So there were not enough of the small…what they’re called, small covered hoppers. You have to have a small car because it’s so heavy, there’s a limit. So the size of one of these small-covered hoppers was perfect for sand. It used to be used for cement too. So those cars went from, again, building one thousand or two a year to building tens of thousands a year.

Paul: Is that really? That’s the magnitude?

Taylor: Yeah, yeah.

Paul: They’re producing them now? And so they’re rushing to build these cars.

Taylor: Yeah. And over the last seven or eight years, the frac sand world has had three ups and downs. And every time, the market isn’t mature enough. All the different aspects of that market are so immature that there’s vast over-building and then shortages. Because it moves so quickly compared to conventional, vertical drilling that was very sleepy. The hydraulic fracturing came upon us very quickly. And as people figured it out, they needed all these materials—

Paul: And they needed it now.

Taylor: And they need it now, and they never had to move anything by rail.

Paul: So they don’t know how to order it or move it or get it there. So what did they do? I mean, I’m sure they’re talking about millions of dollars’ worth of investments to do these new wells. So what did they do? How did they order it? And then they call the train company and they say, “Well, we don’t have any cars.”

Taylor: Yeah. Well, that whole supply chain had to get set up because the sand was mined throughout the country for these other purposes, but nearly all the best quality sand was in Wisconsin and Illinois and Minnesota due to the geology. It was needed in Ohio, Texas, North Dakota.

Paul: And were there good trains between those places?

Taylor: Not really. Not really.

Paul: So did they build new train tracks?

Taylor: Yeah, especially to North Dakota. The railroads built billions of dollars of investment to get more capacity to move sand in and crude out. So again, it sent shockwaves through the railroads because they had to improve their service. They had to go to places they weren’t used to going to. And then you think about the shippers. They had to go out and figure out how do you get one of these railcars because an oil company didn’t use anything in rail. So that’s how we started with a couple of oil and gas companies. They realized, “We’ve gotta get good at rail. We don’t know who to call. We don’t know how to buy a car. We don’t know how to schedule service.”

So, we got to help a couple folks early on figure it out for themselves. They became experts, and we’ve moved on and helped many other folks since that. That’s another way that we help people is when they’re new. They just don’t know. And working with railroads is quite unique. So we have railroaders on our team, and we have shippers on our team, so we know how to work with the railroads.

Paul: Yeah. As we talk about this, you mentioned supply chain, and I’ve never really understood that. I’ve understood it at sort of maybe a micro level that, if I’m going to make cakes for people, I need to get salt and eggs, and flour. And then I say, “Well, I’m going to be making one cake a week. So I want it delivered on Tuesday because I can bake it and deliver the cake on Thursday. But you’re multiplying that millions or tens of millions. So I don’t need just a dozen eggs. I need a million eggs. And that’s just something that I don’t think about as I’m living my day, is the magnitude of this.

So are there other things? We’ve talked about plastic and sand. Is it just that? Bulk logistics, it’s bulk. Lots of stuff. Do you guys do anything else beyond just figure out how to optimally move stuff and improve that. And I guess, a small percentage change in that, it calculates to lots of money. So there’s huge benefit to having somebody come in and look at that because if they can save one percent, it’s still a lot of money.

Taylor: Yeah. Exactly. Those two aspects, like I said, we’ve got folks from both sides of the table — shippers, transport companies. So we can help those folks all day long improve, look in the right spot for business, etc. because of the wealth of talent. And since we’re out there helping people, we’re usually in a pretty good position to know where the trends are at.

Paul: Yeah. That’s really cool because now I can hire you and sort of know what all of the best practices are out in the world. It’s sort of a way to get intelligence out there that I wouldn’t really know otherwise. You know that if you do A, B, and C, it will work. If you do it B, C, and A, it won’t work.

Taylor: Yeah. The other third of our business — and again, these are just rough orders of magnitude — are people that are investors. And they need to be smart, very fast. So they want to—

Paul: Now you’re not talking about like me, with my IRA or my retirement fund. You’re talking about commercial or, I guess, institutional investors?

Taylor: Correct.

Paul: Big, big organizations that invest.

Taylor: Yeah. Especially private equity. Private equity wants to put your money… Somebody else, some wealthy individual’s money to work very quickly with a high return. So they want to find these trends as early as they can, make sure they’re buying, they’re paying an appropriate amount for this company that they’re buying or investing in and do it in an extremely fast manner. So they need somebody that’s an expert in one of these markets, and, as you’ve heard, a lot of these markets we deal in are very dependent on logistics.

Paul: So do you provide advice about the logistics portion of that business or the whole business?

Taylor: Could be both.

Paul: Really.

Taylor: Could be both because some of them, logistics is the business. Say they want to buy a company that cleans out chemical tanks that are on the back of a tank truck. And we’ve got chemical industry veterans. We’ve got folks that have been in the service industry. We can quickly go in and assess how good of an investment that is.

Paul: I see.

Taylor: So we also might help them with their strategy because we’re so advanced in understanding the world. Their sharp analysts might take a year or two—

Paul: I see. To come up to speed.

Taylor: —to get there, and we can get in there in six weeks.

Paul: I see. Well that’s a huge benefit. So I’m an analyst at an investment firm, and I’m thinking about buying this type of company. I identify several of them, and I can come to you to say, give me the inside scoop on some of their costs and their expenses, even where it’s going, as you could project that.

Taylor: Or how are they perceived in the marketplace.

Paul: Oh, that’s a good point. Yeah.

Taylor: How, how efficient are they? What’s their infrastructure look like compared to the competitor? All those different aspects, we can help them assess it very quickly. And as you can imagine, when a company is for sale, they put together a wonderful marketing package that always has the same forecast. It’s always going up. And many times, it’s probably not going to happen. And our folks can go through the assumptions and look at the market and say, “Boy, yeah. I think they can do it.” Or, “You need to pay less because there’s no way they’re going to do that.”

Paul: I see. Well, that’s cool because everything else they’re consuming is historical. You know, it’s looking at what they did last year. It’s looking at how they did it, maybe their competition last year. But it’s nothing really looking forward. Or just an analyst sitting there saying, “Oh, I think they’re going to do this much looking forward.” Here’s tactical, right on the ground, to say this is what’s really happening. That’s very cool.

Taylor: Yeah. They might consume a lot of forecasts. And they pay tens of thousands for those forecasts. But it doesn’t mean they’re right. It doesn’t mean that they’re directionally correct, or they might have a flaw in them that nobody else realizes.

Paul: So for the normal, on-the-street person, this is a thriving business that has one aspect of the machine that is our economy. And you focus on making sure stuff gets there when it needs to get there at the most optimal way it can get there. So it seems like a niche but it’s integral to everything that happens. So if that, as you said, if that supply chain breaks down, there’s huge ripple effects, I would imagine. Businesses can’t deliver their products. People can’t buy bread, and supermarkets can’t stay in business, if we don’t have plastic for wrapping food. And so it’s really cool to me to be sitting here talking to somebody that focuses on this seemingly small, maybe even esoteric, from the pedestrian, just a normal person walking down the street. But this is so integrated into everything we do. And it’s sort of part of this big machine that goes on, that delivers all of the things that we’re used to getting.

Well, we’ve been talking with Taylor Robinson, President of PLG Consulting, experts in bulk logistics.

The Business of Logistics with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Taylor Robinson of PLG Consulting about the business of logistics.


The Business of Logistics with Taylor Robinson of PLG

Paul: Hello. My name is Paul Parisi, and I’m here with Taylor Robinson, the president of PLG Consulting. Hi, Taylor.

Taylor: Good afternoon, Paul.

Paul: So, PLG Consulting. What’s PLG mean?

Taylor: Well, it’s had several meanings for its history. It was originally founded 17 years ago called Plastics Logistics Group, and the founder Graham Brisben was really catering to the chemical and plastics world and how to help logistic solutions, broad-based logistics solutions.

Paul: Okay. Well, I understand the words. I understood plastics and group, what’s logistics?

Taylor: Logistics is most efficiently moving stuff around, whether it’s products, materials. So it’s all about making more efficiency, lowering costs, improving cycle time, helping the customers make money in the areas that they operate.

Paul: Okay, What type of companies? It doesn’t sound like a bakery, a small bakery would use your services. So it’s got to be some level of company. I’m trying to understand sort of where the market segment is and what kind of companies you work with. So you’re providing logistic services. So let’s dig into that. What does that mean? So just one example.

Taylor: Yeah. We provide logistics consulting. So we don’t help someone operate better, we don’t do it for them. We show them improvements in their efficiency. We help them get there so that they can then operate better on their own. So we’re coming in, working normally for a limited amount of time to provide them knowledge, capabilities, a path forward that’s going to help them get better.

Paul: Okay. So let’s pick an example, not an exact company, but what’s a company that you’ve done this kind of work for? Is it a… I don’t know.

Taylor: Yeah. The best way to describe it is any type of company that’s going to move bulk product.

Paul: Okay. What’s bulk product?

Taylor: Bulk is heavy, stinky, nasty material around. This isn’t moving Amazon’s boxes around. This is…

Paul: That is logistics, though.

Taylor: That is logistics, and I’m sure we can help most companies, consumer goods companies or something like that. But our specialty is industrial companies that move big products in big things. Think a big ship on the ocean full of bulk product or containerized product.

Paul: So wait a minute. You said containerized. What does that mean?

Taylor: Put in a box as opposed to…

Paul: Like a shipping container?

Taylor: Yeah.

Paul: Like the back of a truck?

Taylor: Certainly. Yeah, so our bulk logistics means we can help people move things. Usually it’s not as expensive of a product. The logistics is extremely important because moving heavy material around is very expensive compared to the product. So think of sand or cement. The cost of that material is extremely low, but you still have to pay someone to move it around. So you have to be extremely competitive on your logistics in these type of commodities. So in some cases, the cost of moving the product is worth way more than the product.

Paul: Oh. Interesting. So let’s talk about that with sand. Let’s say you need it. You had a business that was building something. They use sand in building, I guess? Is that true? So how much does a…? Is it a container of sand? How do you… It’s the unit of measure for moving sand?

Taylor: Yeah. So, you know, back to kind of bulk. It’s usually moved by a ship, some sort of marine vessel, a truck, or rail, or a pipeline. So usually, you have four options for many of these products. Others you have one or two. So our job is to bring those experts that have moved that product. They understand the characteristics of it. Or they know how to move a like product, and they know how to give the customer more options.

Paul: Insight, wisdom.

Taylor: More options, more competitive ways to do it, taking the price down, taking the cost down. So, you know, people have moved their product for dozens of years but they may have done it the same way, and they haven’t thought of outside ideas. So many times, we bring outside ideas or expertise that the client may not have yet.

Paul: Because it’s not their business, really. I mean, they’re building. They’re building stuff.

Taylor: Yeah. But they need to be logistics experts.

Paul: I see.

Taylor: So we help them kind of get jumpstarted with good ideas and then here’s how you can do it so that they can build their own capability to be more successful.

Paul: Okay. Well let me go down a road here of a scenario. I have no idea. So just pick in your mind — I don’t care about a company — but a job that uses a lot of sand. So what’s a train car of sand cost? Just a wild guess. I mean, you’re going to be more informed than I am, certainly.

Taylor: Yeah. So just say roughly it’s going to hold about 50 tons of sand. In high volume they’ll pay $35, $40 a ton.

Paul: Okay. So 50 times 35 is five times four is 2,000, about $200,000—

Taylor: Yeah.

Paul: —for a train car of sand. And the typical user of sand doesn’t order one train car. How much do they order? Do they order a hundred or is it million or ten?

Taylor: Yeah. In the world of frac sand, which is by far the biggest sand world now, around hydraulic fracturing, they use large amounts of sand. On average, a well now is about 55 railcars per well.

Paul: Okay. So 55 times $200,000. That’s five time $10 million?

Taylor: A million dollars. Yeah, a million dollars’ worth of sand.

Paul: Just sand. But you’re saying that the movement of the sand is actually more expensive than the sand.

Taylor: Yeah. The movement of the sand will be about 75% of the cost of the total delivered cost.

Paul: Wow. So if it’s a million dollars, it’s going to cost them a million and a half to move it.

Taylor: Exactly. Yeah.

Paul: Okay. So how often does this happen, that they use a million dollars’ worth of sand? Is this happening every day? Is this something that’s an outlier? Because I mean, as a normal person — you know, walking the street, getting up, going to work, driving my car, playing with the kids, etc. — I don’t think in those numbers. I just don’t experience the world in those numbers. You know, I buy a loaf of bread. I don’t buy a train car of flour. So is this…? Is that saying that this company A is using a million dollars’ worth of sand, does that happen once a month? Once a year? Once a day? What’s the magnitude?

Taylor: This year, probably for fracking, they will use 60 to 70 million tons.

Paul: 60 to 70 million tons. And how much do they use on one?

Taylor: About 55 railcars. So you’re talking about a major amount. You’re talking several….how many wells are they going to frac? I don’t know. 10,000 wells a year or…

Paul: And each one of them is using a trainload of sand.

Taylor: Well, a half trainload. Yeah.

Paul: Half trainload.

Taylor: Yeah. But they have some that have used two and a half trainloads of sand in one well. So there’s a range, and this is one of the key enablers to get lower and lower cost oil and natural gas. So it’s become an amazing growth story because it’s cheap. It is easily available. It’s really cheap.

Paul: The sand is.

Taylor: Yes. But to get it there is not.

Paul: Okay. So, well, I guess that’s some of the things. We don’t really, as consumers, understand what goes into getting our products to our table or in our pockets with our phones, or whatever it might be. And so we’re sort of peeling the onion back here, and we’re seeing that you’re telling me, particular frac sand or that particular thing, they’re using all of this sand. And I could say, “Well, I could shovel it.” No, you can’t shovel that much sand, you know. So it’s a magnitude of logistics that’s huge in comparison to our daily lives. So I’m starting to get a sense here of… Well you said it’s a million dollars’ worth of sand costs one and a half million dollars to move. So it’s wise for me to pay attention to that one and a half million dollars. It’s hard for me to comprehend it, but the companies are doing that.

Now that’s not the only thing they move. They move lots of other things, so it’s not just sand. Now PLG you said, was in plastics.

Taylor: Originally.

Paul: Originally. So what were you moving then? Was it chemicals?

Taylor: Plastic pellets.

Paul: Oh, pellets. Interesting.

Taylor: So, before you have a pressed plastic product, it usually comes from a pellet that gets melted down and made into that packaging material or the product. So that’s how PLG got started was moving these pellets around and, again, helping people be more efficient in distributing pellets to their customers throughout the country and exporting and importing.

Paul: So it’s not like you decide you’re going to make a new widget and you say I’m going to order the plastic via UPS because it’s just sheer volume. So I think that’s an important thing to pull out here, is there is a whole segment of the economy that we don’t really have good touch with. We’re not in touch with that big world, where they order a trainload of stuff. I just can’t comprehend that. I have a hard time going into Costco and buying the big amount there because I’m not going to use that much. You’re saying we’re really several magnitudes, maybe even a hundred magnitudes larger than what a normal person consumes.

And so you’ve got a company that’s good at making plastic widgets, whatever it might be. And they’re realizing that — oh, my gosh — it cost me a million dollars to buy the plastic, but it cost a million and a half to move it, so I need somebody to help figure that out, who knows all the shortcuts. Is that where you guys come in?

Taylor: Yeah. We probably get in one step earlier in the chain. Whoever is either manufacturing or distributing that plastic, they’re responsible to have it competitively to the person that’s going to use it. So it’s their job to get it there as efficiently, to keep their costs down, to be competitive in the market. So we’ll help those people that distribute it or produce it. And to help you get back to the magnitude of the volume, you’re talking 20, 30, 35 million tons a year of one grade of plastic is used in the polyethylene alone. Just one grade of plastic, polyethylene.

Paul: Wow. I’m just a little over—. You said 35 million?

Taylor: Million tons.

Paul: Tons. And how big is a ton? Is it like a train car or is it…? How much physical space would that take up?

Taylor: So a train car full, a big hopper car full it’s going to weigh, I think, in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 tons.

Paul: So a million of those. Well, maybe 700,000 of those train cars.

Taylor: Yes.

Paul: And that’s just one type of plastic.

Taylor: Yeah. That’s one type.

Paul: And how many types of plastic are there in that magnitude?

Taylor: Dozens. It’s by far the largest in the world — polyethylene, used in packaging and bags.

Paul: But it could be — just a back of the napkin — it could be several hundred million tons of plastic all in, all of the plastic in the world that’s used.

Taylor: Yeah. So again, that’s where we got started with moving bulk material. Again, you see the theme of bulk. It’s much more efficient to move it in a railcar versus in bags. Now there is a plastics company — small, niche plastics company — that buys it in 24 kilogram bags of 60 pounds. Their competitor, though, might buy 10 railcars at a time.

Paul: Okay. So they’re going to get a cheaper price. What’s the magnitude of price change there. So let’s say if a bag… How much does a bag cost, the 60 pounds? Is a $100 or $10 or a dollar?

Taylor: Yeah. A hundred dollars.

Paul: Okay. So how much would that cost if I bought it in the rain car quantity?

Taylor: That same volume? Yeah, it might be 80.

Paul: Okay. So 20 dollars, 20% discount?

Taylor: Yeah. It could be. Yeah.

Paul: So now, if I’m that business, I’ve got a 20% benefit.

Taylor: It’s the delivered cost. Including everything it’s going to be, 10, 20% cheaper. And it’s mostly the pushing a whole railcar in versus lots of bags shipped around, handled. So again, it’s all about scale. It’s about efficient moving. It’s making sure you’ve got the right supply chain set up so you’re most efficient.

Paul: So it sounds like we use lots of stuff. I mean, our consumer world and just we consume lots of stuff. It’s just hard to get your head around using that many trainloads of plastic, you know. What are they making? We’re sitting here. We have phones, and there’s plastic in there, and there’s plastic in our computers and plastic in our packaging and all that. So, it adds up quickly.

Taylor: You think about plastic packaging alone. Go to the grocery store. Nearly everything you see in there is some sort of plastic now. You know, it used to be paper. It used to be metal cans. It used to be… It’s nearly all plastic now. It’s probably a graded polyethylene or some other more specialized grade. But you look at a store. Just think about how, if you could just pile up all that plastic.

Paul: Right. Yeah, that would be fascinating.

Taylor: Yeah. It’s all around you, but you don’t realize it. So as you can imagine, plastics… part of globalization is making it plastic because as people urbanize, they used to have their pot sitting there, and the food was there. Now they have to get it on the go. They’re working in the city. They’ve moved to the city. It’s got to be held by plastic. So that urbanization and globalization is making plastic continue to grow. In North America, we use about the same as we did last year. It might go up two percent. But in the developing world, it might go up. In India it might be eight, ten percent growth a year.

Paul: Wow. Okay. So now, do you guys… I mean, this plastic that they’re buying, they have options, I imagine, for recycled and not recycled.

Taylor: Yeah.

Paul: So you’re just trying to figure out how to most efficiently get it there.

Taylor: Yeah. The version material. Get the high-grade material wherever. This polyethylene story, it’s quite interesting because our low-cost natural gas enables the United States to be globally competitive.

Paul: In, in natural gas? Or in what?

Taylor: In natural gas, which then becomes these plastic materials. They’ve refined it and made it into polyethylene. We have world-class prices now because of our low-cost gas. Right now, we export about two million tons a year — just polyethylene — all over the world. That could grow to seven, eight, nine million tons over the next 10 years.

Paul: Where are those countries, those people in other countries get it if we weren’t here?

Taylor: They have some made there. The Middle East is a huge producer because of their low-cost feedstock. And it’s a vast network throughout the world. But we’re going to win because we have low-cost, and we’re going to go from, like I said, two and a half to, say, seven and a half. We’re going to triple that over the next 10 years. And it’s mainly needed in Asia because Asia doesn’t have low-cost feedstock like we do, and they’re urbanizing which drives volume.

Paul: Right. So I need a cup to hold the coffee as I’m walking from my house to…or getting off the train going to my office, I need a plastic cup to hold the coffee. Is that sort of the urbanization?

Taylor: Yeah. Or you know, your breakfast on the go. It’s in a plastic package.
Paul: Interesting, as opposed to having eaten at home or having drank out of a ceramic cup at home and stuff like that.

Paul: So let’s think about this. There seems like there’s this other world going on that I didn’t really know about of all of this moving millions of tons of stuff. I don’t even see it, but I don’t even…I can’t even perceive it, and it’s directly related to my supermarket where I go in and everything is packaged in plastic. So are there other areas besides plastic that… I mean, we talked about sand and plastic. What other bulk things are there?

Taylor: The lots of energy-related products. Coal. Coal is heavily logistics. Very cheap. More, expensive to move it. Forest products to make paper, which is, of course, all around us. That paper product has to have been a wood product, processed and moved. Again, how? Low cost. Low-cost material.

Paul: Is this a thought in the industry: Let’s make the paper where the trees are?

Taylor: Of course, yeah. There’s more mills in the southeast US than anywhere.

Paul: I see. Okay. And the same thing with plastic is I’m going to make the plastic where the oil is, I guess?

Taylor: Yeah. Gas. The gas has come. And the Gulf Coast, especially Texas and Louisiana probably has 75 to 80 percent of the petrochemicals in the country are made there and therefore distributed across North America via rail because it’s the most efficient way to move these somewhat low-value products a long distance.

Paul: Okay. Well, we’ve been talking with Taylor Robinson, President of PLG Consulting, experts in bulk logistics. And it’s fascinating that there’s this whole sub culture, if you will, of the way things are moving, and it’s part of the breath of the country. It’s fascinating!


From the Cutting Room Floor: Working with Video

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about Media Technology and working with video.


From the Cutting Room Floor: Working with Video

Paul: So early on we talked about you were in your studio and in your video practice really, you shoot everything in 4k. Are you doing drone shots in 4K as well?

Brian: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Paul: Wow. So let’s just talk about that for some of our more geek listeners. You get 4K video. What do you record in? Is it MP4?

Brian: Yeah, yeah. We usually use MP4 format.

Paul: H.264?

Brian: Yeah. That’s the codec but the MP4 file size is—, usually it’s in the sweet spot of you have that quality but the file size itself is not really massive.

Paul: So you’re shooting at the compressed.

Brian: Yeah.

Paul: You, you don’t have the raw.

Brian: Right. We’re not getting that.

Paul: Yeah, because that’s crazy. It’s a lot of space. I mean, what is it? 2 gigs a second or something like that? It’s ridiculous.

Brian: I saw Canon just came out with a DSLR, the Mark V or VII.

Paul: Yeah…

Brian: I don’t know what version it’s on.

Paul: Yeah, the Mark IV, I think it’s called. Yeah.

Brian: And that’s shooting basically uncompressed 4K, and I think we figured it was like 10 minutes of footage was like 100 gigs of storage.

Paul: Wow.

Brian: Which is crazy.

Paul: I mean, it’s a lot of space. So you’re having it in-camera compressed.

Brian: Yeah. Correct. So we already have like a pretty digestible, usable format coming out of that.

Paul: So you take that and what do you do with it? It’s on an SD card or is it…?

Brian: Yep. It shoots the micro SD card.

Paul: Okay. So you got that. You bring it back to your shop and you plug that into a computer, and you copy those files to it. You’re backing it up, I imagine. You’re putting it online, or what are you doing? Just keeping it local in a sand or something?

Brian: Yeah. We have our own internal processes for storage and backing up. And yeah, for the most part, we’re just getting the footage off the drone, digesting it. A lot of clients are taking it raw, just need footage or pictures to use what they want to use of that. And then other times, we’re editing pieces together for them.

Paul: And what do you guys use for editing?

Brian: We use a range of tools. I’ve gone through the whole Avid, Final Cut, Adobe stack. And for me, it’s less about the tool and more about what people are comfortable on. So as we’ve grown as a company, we’ve evolved with those tools and we’re primarily in the Adobe product line.

Paul: It’s a broad suite where, you know, when you have Photoshop…

Brian: When they switched to Creative Cloud, you’re getting all the tools for a monthly cost, it made sense to use them because they really try to create a synergy between the products at that point. Whereas before, you were buying kind of the products piecemeal, which I think works out better when you have a whole array of tools vs. I have my editing tool for this, my color correction tool for this.

Paul: Right. Exactly. So I’m trying to paint a picture for our people at home. Alright. They go out and buy a drone, so now I’ve got to get Adobe Creative Cloud. Okay. I mean, it’s what? $60 a month. So it’s not terrible. But I’ve got to learn Premiere now, Adobe Premiere to edit.

Brian: Yeah. It’s the same thing. You know, there’s different ways to get around it. You can go buy a $400 drone from BestBuy and have something like iMovie and edit on.

Paul: Okay. So that’s fair.

Brian: Yeah. I mean, you can definitely do things. If you’re a budding professional or starting a business or something along those lines, there’s definitely ways you can get in at a low cost and work your tail off too.

Paul: I want to put this together. I’m just trying to give people a window into the process. We’re, not going to teach them how to do it. So, I edit it. I want to put some text in, things like that. Now, it’s never as easy as it seems. It seems, so you just put the text it. But now what do you guys do for that? Is that after effects or…?

Brian: Yeah. We’re using that Adobe product suite. So yeah, we use a ton of tools out of that. It’s really up to our editors. We have three fantastic editors on staff. So I leave it up to them as far as what they would do. If I was to go in and dust off my video production skills and get back into editing a project, I would be caught in a completely different league than our, our lead editor. So it really depends on the comfort level of what you’re using the tools for.

Paul: Right. So now, you bring up a good point. I mean, editing has two aspects. One is cutting it up but actually deciding where those cuts are for what you want the end user to experience. And so you have different people. How variant is that? You know, if you had three editors, are you going to get three different stories? In different subtle…?

Brian: You definitely could. Yeah. For sure. I look at our team as each person has their own kind of strength, and depending on the project is how we divvy up who’s doing what.

Paul: Sure. So you select the right person for the right task.

Brian: Yeah.

Paul: Yeah. Cool. So if you had one that was more of let’s say a school project. You know, you’re doing a university or something, you’d choose one of your editors over maybe a corporate project.

Brian: It’s even within projects.

Paul: Really?

Brian: Yeah. You lay out the rough cut, and the other person will finish the color correction and the titling and all that stuff. And while one person may be working aftereffects, creating templates for the assets, and the other person may be implementing them.

Paul: Yeah, and as you’re listening to this, don’t let what Brian said go by too quickly. The color correction. That’s probably one of the most under, or unknown, aspects for a normal consumer. You take a picture inside and you take a picture outside and then you come back and take it a different day. The color of the scene changes dramatically in all of those. And somebody has to make those all look good together. And that’s a lot of work.

Brian: It is. It’s very time consuming. We get budgets and projects that range quite dramatically. So, you know, I would say that’s probably one of the first things to go on a on smaller budget project, just because the general nature of time to put together even like a rough cut and eventually a final product is very time consuming. And then when you’re short on how much time you can actually put into the project because of the budget, you have to look at ways like, “Okay. You know, what can we do here to get the project done at what the customer can afford, essentially?”

Paul: Right. Now were you ever involved in film or tape editing?

Brian: Yes.

Paul: So we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the amount of work it is to do that. So hopefully, you know, as things go on, it will be easier and easier.

Brian: Yeah, it’s definitely happening with tools and things like that. But, you know, there’s just so many…video is a very hard final product to convey to a person who’s never done anything with video or photos before because you’re so used to seeing it in media, TV, online.

Paul: And we’re very sophisticated consumers because we see good production.

Brian: Yeah. A lot of lead-ins are like, okay, we’ll shoot it in 4K video. Well, I can shoot 4K video on my iPhone.

Paul: That’s right. Exactly.

Brian: And you can. But it’s a whole different process once you start putting together a story. And it takes time to do that. And that’s where I think people see these final products, and if they’ve never edited a video before, they don’t understand a lot of times how much time goes into that product. So that’s one of the challenges of my aspect of doing sales and business development is to kind of convey, what a person could do at different levels of budget. It’s like, well I’m comfortable in this budget area. Well here’s some examples of different things you could do with this. So you’re like, let’s get creative with what you want to do and how could we tone it back a little bit so that we get that effect but don’t have hundreds and hundreds of hours into it.

Paul: So let, let me ask you. You sort of touched on something there, that there’s probably multiple aspects but there’s two aspects. There’s the technical —getting the pictures, getting the video, editing it, all that kind of stuff, color grading it. But then there’s the story. And which one do you think is more important? How do they mix? Is it 50/50? Is it 10…?

Brian: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s like a percentage balance. I mean, both are equally important. It’s kind of like you could shoot beautiful video, but if you have crappy sound, it could ruin a project. I think the technical aspect is: if you have people who are good technically capturing video and audio, then editing becomes a lot easier. You can dedicate more time to the story. Versus, if you are spending a lot of time in editing, cleaning up what, what should have, could have, been better onsite when you were doing production.
So the story part is important because you could have the greatest footage in the world. If you don’t have somebody who can tell the storyline and explain… You know, we ran into this with, a lot of profile pieces that we were doing a few years back. And we were shooting hours of footage and trying to reduce it to a five-minute snapshot of a company’s 100-year history and rolling it in a package with two other videos that were doing the same thing. How do you successfully recognize someone’s accolades and tell a company’s story of their innovation and their 100-year history in a 5-minute piece, you know?

Paul: The story becomes critical.

Brian: Yeah. So, you know, it depends on the project. And then we run into that too with customer testimonials. Like grabbing those parts that really encapsulate and excite people versus somebody just getting on camera and saying, “Well, I really like this company because…”

Paul: Right. Right. Right. So, you had also touched on something there. Sound. It seems like people are willing to sacrifice video quality — I mean, they consume YouTube. They do all these different things, and they sort of give it a pass. I mean, obviously, if you can have a high-quality image, it’s great to see that. But people aren’t going to stop watching something just because it’s not a high quality. But if the sound is bad, I’ve seen people won’t even engage. So, what’s with that? I mean, how do you talk about that at all? Is that true? Do you find that?

Brian: Yeah. I’ve found that because of things like the iPhone and us being a very camera-centric world, that getting quality video is not as difficult as getting quality sound and knowing how to get quality sound.

Paul: Yeah, that’s an art. I mean, it seems like, “Well, no, just put a microphone in front of somebody.” But it’s just not that.

Brian: No, it’s not at all. Especially when you go out and shooting on location. The studio is pretty simple if you have decent gear and it’s quiet, you’re going to get good sound. You go out and shoot in the city with traffic going by or even just doing an interview outside and a plane going overhead, you don’t realize… That’s where I think you can see the big difference between, if you watch something on TV versus something someone shot homegrown.

Paul: Well it was interesting. We had a video crew here, I think, in January. They were doing something on the Craigslist killer because one of the companies I was with, we helped catch him with the technology.

Brian: Oh, no kidding.

Paul: Yeah. And but what they did is they brought in two high-end Cannon cameras. They were dual. They had the interviewer-interviewee, and we’re in the middle of it, and they had me wired, a lapel mic, and I think the other person had a lapel mic, and they had a sound for the room, and in the middle of it, he said, “Wait.”
I’m like, what?
The water cooler went on.

Brian: Or the AC or something.

Paul: Yeah. And he said, because he says he didn’t care that it was there, but he didn’t want the change. It’s almost like color grading, you know. It’s like, imagine, if you will, in the middle of a shot, you turned on fluorescent lights. The color just changed dramatically, so it’s going to be disturbing to the viewer. But sound, you know, is something that people, I’ve found, just are not tolerant of bad sound because they can’t deal with it. There’s no way to fix it. With an image or a video, I can sort of imagine what it is. And so that’s interesting.

So sound is critical. So do you guys have… Are your editors doing sound as well or do you have different people for sound?

Brian: Yeah. Again, I’m fortunate. I have a lot of talented people in our group. And, they know what a good quality production is, and they know how to get that production value. And we’ve invested in equipment that helps it a lot.

Paul: Yeah. So you’ve got the best advantage. But it’s really taking… I think the critical thing you’re bringing out here is that the person sitting in the seat is what makes good or bad content really sing. You can only do so much with the content. And the person there making it all work together is critical.

Brian: Yeah. And from a business perspective, knowing what, what medium you’re playing to… I mean, most of our stuff is going online. And most of our clients have a finite budget of what they want to spend or can spend. So getting the best quality for that medium, for that project budget, I think, is a tricky thing to refine. You know, going back to your photography days, you know, you could put tons of time into editing photos, but at some point you need to say—

Paul: Print it.

Brian: Exactly. And I think for anyone in the creative space, there’s a perfectionist in them all. And finding the balance of time and how to do things quickly but efficiently, and with high production quality. We’ve gone in and nailed that down. And that’s why I think we’ve been successful.

Paul: Excellent. Now is there anything else you want to talk about, that we haven’t covered? Any areas you want to touch on?

Brian: I’m happy to talk about anything you want, really. I think we did cover a lot about the different pieces, of how we got into drones and, you know, came into this thinking, talking primarily about drones, but what I’ve enjoyed about this conversation is that you can see how the drone piece fits into the whole scope of what we’re doing, but it’s a lot—

Paul: It’s evolutionary.

Brian: Yeah. But there’s a lot of other components that go into creating the products that we’re putting out, one. And two, like, the reason why we’ve engaged in drone stuff is really at the epicenter of our company — technology. It’s a media. It’s all those things wrapped into one. That’s why the space for us is very exciting.

Paul: Yeah. Very cool. And I think that as we — I think we touched on earlier — if you’re using stock photos on your website, don’t do it. Stop. Go take them down. It’d be better to have a blank space, and nowadays, we need to have video. Gotta have good video.

Brian: Agreed. And to that point, we’ve been through an exercise with clients lately where because of the designs of websites now, the photo — or photos, I should say — and video are changing the whole look and feel of it. And we had this interesting project recently where we were tweaking all these style elements, fonts, and this, and colors, and, and really, like we changed a couple of different photos, and all of a sudden, it made sense. And then, then it became, alright, well, you know, the photos are driving the page, so, like this is kind of like the type of photo that you need to fit in. You can switch your photos up whenever you want, but, you know, certain ones are going to work with the other elements of the page a lot better then. And I think that’s a big… It’s not like something that’s just come about. This has been happening for years, but it’s one of those things that it’s changing the course of how you’re designing sites is that imagery is almost becoming… You almost need to put that first and then build around it versus the opposite way, which I think was kind of the way it was being done, which is you built the shell and you pop some photos in. And the photos helped it along but yeah, it’s very different now.

Paul: Yeah. I agree. You have the creative director of a magazine or even a video shoot, and they’re thinking of holistically how it works. And that’s magic in a lot of ways. And I think because of the ability now for just the average person to produce a website, they aren’t used to having to take all those things into account. And then they don’t know why. Why does mine not look as good as theirs? Well, because they’re taking in all these subtleties into account. And I think you’re absolutely spot on. And I think the same thing’s happening with video, but I think people are a lot more tolerate with video than they are with photos. Because a bad photo, just sitting there, not moving is a bad photo, and it just yells that at the top of its lungs. But a video, you know, boy, you get a connection with that person, and, it’d be nice to have it high quality, but even if it’s not, it’s better than not having it.

Brian: Yeah. Even in video, like video use as assets in sites versus just a click play video, you know. Like how it’s presented, how it’s formatted, and how it renders on a phone or a browser. We have people, believe it or not, who are still on things like Internet Explorer 9 or 8. And you…

Paul: They should have their internet taken away.

Brian: Amen to that. I should say the same thing, but you know, the whole experience changes if you can’t… If that video is not loading, and it’s your whole background to your page, yeah, it looks cool on that Mac that the 17 year old has on running Chrome or Safari, but to someone who’s making a decision about whether or not to engage your services or not, and is on an older browser or something that it’s not playing, they’re like why is this big black screen?

Paul: Reflects badly.

Brian: Yeah. It’s always part art, part function. Right?

Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. So anything else you want to cover? Any particular topics?

Brian: No. Thank you very much for having me.

Paul: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Brian: Any time you want to geek out, I’m happy to have a conversation.

Paul: It is a lot of fun. It is a lot of fun, and we’re also open. If you come up with something you want to talk about, we’ll put it out and talk about it and we tend to be a little eclectic, you know, and not just when we’re talking about this part of business or whatever. We love technology and it just sounds like just like you guys do. It’s a great time to be alive. I mean, 30 years ago… Well, let’s say 50 years ago, you couldn’t do all these things. You know, you had to be in a dark room. You had to do all these different things. You couldn’t even buy a video camera, you know. So, it’s a wonderful time to be alive.

Brian: Yeah. And I’ve been fortunate enough over my lifetime and my career to really go through these unique set of stages with technology. You know, I filmed on VHS tapes and eventually mini DV and then I was like, why are we recapturing DV tape when we could shoot the SD card? And so from a video standpoint, I’ve seen, even my freshman year of college, which I don’t want to date myself, but back in early 2000s, the cameras alone, like what you could do, with shooting on little Canon Elura that were shooting standard definition, and now, even like six years, seven years later, people are shooting high def video on their phones.

Paul: I know. It’s amazing. Isn’t it?

Brian: Crazy.

Paul: You couldn’t have predicted it. I just like wow. Just the storage needs of YouTube. It’s just incredible.

Brian: I remember we built this site. It was called Boston Nocturnal. It was a nightlife site, and the whole premise was we’d deliver a weekly video about bars and nightclubs and events going on in Boston. This was 2005, ’06 timeframe. So YouTube was just coming along, and we made a very conscious decision at the time that we did not want to put our videos on YouTube. We wanted to embed them in flash player on the site because it was more professional.

And I think about a decision like that at the time, not knowing, you know, where YouTube would go. And it’s eventual acquisition by Google and things like that is to, how different your mindset goes in just a short amount of time. And now if a client asks how we’re going to put it on our site, I’m like, “You’re going to put it on YouTube, and you’re going to embed it on your site because you’re getting more bang for your buck as far as getting it found and sharing it and so on.” So yeah. You’re right. It’s a neat time to be in technology and the creative space. And I’m just amazed by young people coming out of school and even, you know, stories of like 11-year-olds who are hacking and things.

Paul: No barrier. They’ve never seen a world where they didn’t have these tools.

Brian: Or even my two-and-a-half-year-old who, you know, consistently asks me for “his” iPad. I said…

Paul: Well, he has it right.

Brian: Yeah. It was like, okay. And he wants to watch his videos, and he can go through YouTube kids. And that’s just, to me, amazing. And I think the people who embrace technology and realize that it’s not everything but it is the way of the world, you know, those are the people who will end up having that good balance.

Paul: That’s right. I agree. Well, we’re here with Brian Gravel, and he’s with GraVoc in Peabody, Massachusetts. He’s the vice president of creative technology. And we’ve had a great talk. I think this will end up being a couple of different podcasts. So if you’re hearing this, go back and listen to the other episodes as well. So, Brian, thank you for coming. Really appreciate it.

Brian: Thank you for having me, Paul.

Paul: Absolutely. Thank you.

The Amazing New World of Drones

Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about The Amazing New World of Drones.


Today on the Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Brian Gravel about The Amazing New World of Drones.


Paul: So, if you were to split up, or we’re talking sort of about media production here but you do a lot of websites. Do you do any book publishing or things like that? Or document creation?
Brian: I mean, we have done traditional print materials on the design side. We’ve sourced out printers and local artisans, if you will to do the actual physical creations. But most of our, our work ends up, is in the digital space, and then we outsource anything, you know. We’re not printing any materials really, in-house or anything like that.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we run a copy service. So, alright. Well, we’re here to talk about drones. And drones are, it seems like, everywhere in the news. And they certainly have—
Brian: It’s pretty crazy. Right?
Paul: Yeah, it’s just like, oh my gosh. So, I’ve been watching drones. I don’t own one. I don’t play one on TV. And you know, drones are anywhere from the tiny little things that you can go to Brookstone and buy, and they have bigger ones too, all the way up to military drones, that are 15, 20 feet long, 50 feet long. I’ve seen those. Recently went to the air and space museum, and they have some drones there. And they were like…well, these are huge. I mean, they’re like airplanes. It’s like a Cessna. First of all, what, what got you thinking about drones?
Brian: Yeah. I think probably in 2012, 2013, we consume a lot of media, through different sources online. And, our video team kind of had their eye on, like, wow, there’s a lot of drone footage popping up. And then, I think, the company DJI, which is the brand that we use, really, got out at the forefront of focusing on kind of this prosumer level style of drone. It wasn’t really, though, the one you’re buying at BestBuy now, but it also wasn’t your military style investment where you’re spending $100,000. They were, they made it kind of like the DSLR boom, with like Nikon and Canon and companies like Sony, that they made quality product affordable.
And when we started seeing that we took what we were doing video-wise, and we were thinking like, “Well, what can a drone replace?” It can replace a dolly. It can replace a crane shot. It can replace… It gave you all these tools in a fairly inexpensive package. We were already using GoPros at the time and their Phantom series interfaced with GoPro. So it made sense for us. Like, “Let’s get one and try it out and see what we can do.” And, it became a love affair after that.
Paul: Okay. So that was pretty much the Wild West, compared to where we are now. I mean, things have progressed quite a bit.
Brian: Things have happened fast.
Paul: So back then, there were no rules, per se.
Brian: There were rules, but it was very gray. Things were always changing. You know, there was no… There was- the process was very convoluted to how to do things by the book.
Paul: So let me as you this. How heavy is your drone?
Brian: Our drone…it’s probably the size of, like maybe a backpack, I guess I would liken it to. And it weighs probably about 10 pounds.
Paul: 10 pounds. Really. Okay.
Brian: Yeah. It’s not super heavy.
Paul: Alright. But it is over the limit.
Brian: What’s that?
Paul: So I was just reading an article about this. And apparently, if you have a drone that’s over five— 0.55 pounds up to 550 pounds, you have to have a license to fly it for commercial use. So taking pictures.
Brian: Hmmm. Are you talking about registering it?
Paul: Registering it. Yeah, you have to register anything over 0.55 pounds.
Brian: Right.
Paul: And then… I mean, you as a person, just as a, as a consumer. You can go out and buy a drone that’s 54 pounds. I can’t imagine buying a 54-pound drone. Like, how much money would I have to spend for that? But you have to register that. Over 55 pounds, there’s a whole bunch of, a whole different role.
Now, from what I understand, and I know we’re not experts on this, but I think it’s a good discussion for people to hear, if you go out and say, “Hey, I’m going to put up a sign and charge $5 for every drone shot I do. And I’m going to sell to my real estate people.” If you’re doing it commercially, you have to have a license from the FAA.
Brian: Yes. So there’s two… The, the history behind it is there was at first what was called the FA333 exemption, which was basically like, like, it was more or less a company exemption. So you had all these rules attached to it, specifically one that was very hindering was that the person flying the drone had to have a pilot’s license.
Paul: Wow, a real pilot.
Brian: Yes. I think the minimum requirement was a sport pilot certificate was basically like the minimum requirement you could have to film…well, to use it commercially, which was still 30 hours of flight school and X amount of time in a plane. So that became very challenging for people to really accommodate. And then last August, they released what’s called Part 107, which is more or less the new set of standards and rules. And in that, you can acquire a remote airman certificate, which is more or less you take a knowledge-based test and based on a passing score, you can get a certificate to fly commercially.
Paul: And do you have one of those?
Brian: We have both.
Paul: You have both of those? Wow.
Brian: We have FAA 333 exemption. And, we also have staff who are Part 107, are remote airman certified.
Paul: Cool. Now, just so our listeners are there. I mean, we’re not lawyers, and we’re not giving you legal advice. But you need to be careful about this stuff. If you go out and buy a drone today, and it weighs less than 0.55 pounds, you don’t need to do anything. You can just fly it. Do whatever you want.
Brian: Yeah. I mean, if you have that Brookstone drone, you’re pretty safe. But there’s a lot of drones that you can buy. I mean, you can buy a pretty decent drone at Best Buy and I just saw some stuff that may change that. If you’re flying as a hobbyist, you don’t have to register it.
Paul: Right. That’s the big loophole.
Brian: Yeah but as of right now, you’re right, if it’s over that weight, you’re supposed to register the drone regardless of if you’re flying it commercially or just for fun.
Paul: So if you do buy a drone that weights a pound you need to register with the FAA. It’s an easy process.
Brian: It’s an easy process. It’s like a $5 registration fee.
Paul: Right. Now there is a difference though between me, you know, just general citizen, and you, a company. I understand you guys actually have to file flight plans.
Brian: Flight plans, dependent… Like Boston and greater Boston are particularly tricky areas to film because there’s a lot of airports in close proximity to kind of like the places where people want to capture media. With the 333 exemption you had this blanket certificate of authorization.
Paul: Really. That’s cool.
Brian: And that gave you certain filming capabilities within X amount of miles from the airport. I think it was five or seven, depending on the space. Now, basically if we wanted to fly in Beverly, you file for a certificate of authorization to go along with the pilot in command’s remote airman’s certificate. So yeah, there’s some processes. Not to mention if you’re flying commercially, you definitely want to carry insurances, but for both the drone and for the company and liability so… Yeah, what I’ve seen is there’s a lot of people who are getting into the commercial aspect inside of it a little willy-nilly and not thinking through all these other things that go along with it.
But, you know, there are also a lot of people out there and you know, one-man shops and guys who are out there starting businesses just based on drone usage and flight, that are doing things the right way and really trying to take advantage of a market. We’re kind of somewhere in-between. You know, we’re using it as a tool in addition to our video production services.
Paul: Right. So you’re actually producing some sort of show or video — an end product. You’re not just coming in and saying, “Hey, I want you to…” Do you do real estate?
Brian: We’ve done real estate. We’ve done all different markets. And we have gotten hired more than a handful of times just specifically to do drone stuff. But a lot of times, what it is is like — going back to the B-roll conversation — we’ll be shooting a piece and we’ll use the drone to to get accompanying shots for that specific piece. Maybe it’s a piece of the city of Peabody and we’re shooting, shots of downtown. That’s just one example, but that type of thing. We did these profile pieces all across the country a couple of years ago for a client, and we would just bring the drone out to get kind of like that establishing shot. You know, when you’re out in an oil field, out in, South Dakota, or if you’re out in wind turbines in Oklahoma, it’s to give that perspective of like flying in that, even at 200 feet, you get that…
Paul: It’s cool.
Brian: Yeah. It’s that shot you can’t see. You get the big picture. And it’s funny how mentally, you know, when you start that wide, like 200 feet looking down at something versus shooting something on the ground, it kind of tells that story of where you are.
Paul: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think it’s fascinating because we’ve never really… Roll back 20 years. You’d have to get, rent a helicopter, you know. Or maybe out of a plane. But it was unique. And there was very little time for normal citizens, normal consumers, to actually be at 200 feet. They just couldn’t see. You know, because when you take off, you go to 30,000 feet pretty instantly. So this is a very new view. And it’s cool. Do you think that will wear off?
Brian: Maybe a bit. It could be, it could be a little faddish. However, I think what I’ve seen in the drone market, at least, is people thinking of different ways to use them.
Paul: So what have you seen?
Brian: Surveying, mapping, inspections search and rescue, you know. I’ve seen… Take any industry, and people are finding ways to apply drones to it. When you mentioned Wild West, it really is that. That feeling that’s a bit of a Gold Rush in certain regards because people are just trying to find ways to take this device and apply it to a business.
There’s a company over in Danvers for a while that I thought had a really unique model. They were doing construction asset tracking with a drone. So basically, they were taking these RFID-type devices, embedding them into concrete, and then the drone would fly over, ping these devices, so they could figure out how much material they had on the ground at any given time at a construction site.
Paul: Oh, that’s a cool idea.
Brian: Yeah. So that’s the stuff that goes beyond just putting the drone up and getting that picture from 200 feet. Right?
Paul: Exactly. So you sort of should have a drone exploitation division. How can we better exploit the drone?
Brian: Yeah. For us, I think we’ll grow with the industry a bit. But, you know, I think it’s still going to be one of those things that we’re using in addition to our video production versus, “this is our primary service.”
Paul: Right. What do you think about Amazon using drones, potentially for delivery? I mean, they’re testing it. When it came out, it sounded like a joke, when the first announcement came. But it turns out, I think it’s going to be real. What’s your thought on that?
Brian: I don’t know. I mean, it’s hard to imagine seeing hundreds of drones in the air all moving at once. But if you think about it, in the ’30s and ’40s when commercial airlines were starting to bud, like the people must have thought it was so weird that, you know, “Oh, there will never be planes overhead.” And we don’t think twice about it, so…
Paul: But they are pretty far apart. I mean, they are a couple of miles apart, at least. So I mean, but I think the Wild West thing is this whole drone… Like, what if there are 10 drones in the area, and they hit each other, and they’re not really trackable on radar, certainly for the smaller ones?
Brian: I think that’s where one of the things that separates out… You know, the technology is just moving so fast. I mean, even, even a drone you buy off the shelf at Best Buy has avoidance collision and all these safety mechanisms built into it. Now, not saying that they’re foolproof. But I mean, the technology is really driving the product. So I think that crashing is less of a worry more. I think it’s going to be more of, in particular case of like Amazon, like, how much of a, of a noticeable nuisance is it to the people on the ground where that product… You know, specifically if they’re having like delivery drop-off points or something like that and you’re near one.
Paul: Yeah. All the time, All the buzzing.
Brian: Think about how many packages I get from Amazon just delivered by ground. I’m like, “Hmmm. I wonder if my neighbors would be really pissed if I had a drone coming to my house every other day.” So, yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I have mixed feelings on it. Our drone, it’s fairly quiet. It sounds like a really loud bee, I would say. But you know, there’s a noise factor involved. As you mentioned, they’re a lot different proximity to you than like a plane in the air. But, I don’t think it’s going to be like that commercial where the people are walking out of the building and all these drones are buzzing overhead. I think that’s a little extreme.
Paul: So… Alright. So we go out. We go to BestBuy. We buy a drone. How much is it going to cost me? A thousand dollars?
Brian: Yeah. I mean, a thousand dollars, you can get a pretty decent model drone. You, definitely can get them under that pricewise. But a thousand dollars, you’re really paying… There’s three parts of a drone that you’re really paying for. You’re paying for the, the drone itself, which is the, you know, the aircraft, and that’s going to, that’s going to have certain features and functionality, depending on your price, just like a camera would.
Then you’re paying for the camera itself. You know, the quality of the footage. Are there detachable lenses that go with it? The functionality of that. And then really, the unsung hero of it is the gimbal, which is the piece that attaches the camera to the drone. And depending on the quality of that and the functionality in that, that’s really what delivers the stabilization. So, you know, when a lightweight drone that weighs five, ten pounds like ours does is getting pushed around in the air, you know, that, that gimbal is holding that camera in place to give you that smooth shot and adjusting with it.
Paul: Okay. I imagine there’s like probably infinite numbers of those of you can buy, all different qualities.
Brian: Most people, if you’re going to BestBuy, you’re buying what’s most likely what’s called the ready-to-fly system, which is basically like all those pieces are going to be together. So you’re not really assembling it as much. You’re not, you’re not really swapping out parts. It’s kind of like, you know, get it, turn it on, register it, and you’re good to go.
Paul: Okay. Well that’s good to… I mean, I think that’s important. He said something there. You might have jumped over, but he registered it. And you’re not talking like warranty registration, you’re talking FAA registration. So that’s important because, you know, you’re going to be flying. And I have a good friend that’s an air traffic controller, and they’re special people. I mean, they have the attention of… I mean, they’re looking at so many pieces of information. And now drones have the potential of mixing that all up, you know. And you have a pilot flying and sees a drone and gets sort of, oh my gosh, and has to move. And then there’s this impact in the air traffic control world. And so you need to do all those things.
So okay. We go to Best Buy. We, we set it up. We charge it. We register it, and I go outside just for fun. What can I do? Can I just fly it over my neighbor’s house? Can I fly it up and down the street?
Brian: Yeah. You know, you bring up an interesting point and one that comes up in a lot of the legal discussions and privacy discussion is, you know, if I own a piece of property, what do I own? How far up?
Paul: How far up the atmosphere does it go?
Brian: Right. you know we, as a company and as a person, we’ve always taken the approach of best practices as much as possible as far as we realize that people are concerned about these things in that they don’t want it hitting their space or capturing their space in a lot of cases. So we try to be very respectful of that.
Paul: Sure. Of course. Commercially, of course.
Brian: Yeah. Commercially. Even when I go out. I’ve done just test flights and stuff in my neighborhood, and you know, I try to be respectable, respectful of how close it is to anything, how low it is, you know, where it’s flying over, just because it’s a lot different if you’re in a field or a park than it is when you’re over a neighbor’s house or in a neighborhood.
Paul: Yeah. I’m not sure about this, but I think it’s the case that recently there was a ruling that you can shoot down a drone over your air space, if you will.
Brian: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know about the law or the ruling on it. But yeah, some people have taken it to that extreme.
Paul: Yeah. Or just a big net or just put big covers over everything.
Brian: I don’t know if that would be in the Boston area but, you know, you get somewhere out a little more rural, you probably run that risk.
Paul: Okay. So we’ve just bought this drone. We’ve registered it and there’s something cool going on in one of the small baseball teams, AAA is there, and there’s an event going on. Can you go and fly it there? I mean, I’m a normal person. I imagine I could. I can’t imagine I’d get in trouble. The police might be upset with me. I don’t know that they could do anything, but they could look and say, “Well, you know, you’re parked wrong, and we’ll give you a ticket for that.”
So it’s sort of the Wild West in that kind of stuff is that you need to — and I think it’s what Brian’s saying here is you need to respect the area, but we’re in a new world, you know.
Brian: The FAA has put out a lot of educational pieces for both hobbyist and commercial vendors on what to do, safety, rules and regulations.
Paul: There any good sites you could recommend?
Brian: Yeah. BeforeYouFly. I can give you the link. That one is a pretty good one. There’s a few out there that are just like good quick resources to get information. The FAA site is a government site.
Paul: Yeah, it’s hard to use.
Brian: A little bit difficult to navigate. But once you have those other links to the outside sites that they’ve partnered with, the information is pretty concise and clear and documentation on it is pretty good.
Paul: Right. So now, it used to be years ago that you’d go out and have your portrait taken as a family. You’d sit down with a professional photographer. They’d use professional equipment. They’d tell you to smile and the flashes would go off, and then they’d print these out for you professionally. That whole world has changed dramatically. First of all, with SLRs and there was still a big investment, and it wasn’t instant. And then digital came in, and now everybody can be a photographer. And I can take lots of pictures that I never print. I just have them in my computer. And the same thing, I think, is happening in the drone world, you know. So because we talk about a lot of people with their websites. And they’re using stock photos. And it’s, to me, it’s a death knell. You don’t want to use a lot of stock photos. Stock video is completely different than stock photos, but they just look like stock photos.
Brian: You mean guys shaking hands, corporate woman.
Paul: Yes. And so, you know, we say run. Let’s find a professional photographer that can take good photos of you and your team and your assets and things like that. And they make such a big difference. So I think the same goes for drones too. I mean, hey, my nephew has a drone. I’ll go and have him take a picture and well that’s going to be better than nothing. It’s nowhere near what some of the… sort of, intangibles of, I imagine what you do is staging it. Do you do storyboards? Do you do things like that?
Brian: Yeah, not for the drone stuff. It’s pretty much like a call up. “We have a location we want to film. You know, we’ve seen your demo reel. What’s the cost?” That’s kind of typical process of, of getting hired to do it. And then obviously presenting all of our documentation that we’re insured and we’re certified and the whole nine. But yeah. So storyboarding out isn’t as much of a thing. But I agree with you with the direction where you’re going with the sentiment is there’s a whole range. Putting a GoPro on a drone, like we did at first was cool but when you see the difference in quality when you have a good camera and someone who knows how to fly, you know, it goes from having that picture that looks nice on Facebook to someone that’s lit the shot and…
Paul: Yeah. Those are sort of intangibles and a lot of people don’t know what makes a good photo, but they know it when they see it. It’s like, “Wow. That’s incredible.” And I would imagine, you know, for the video, all those rules apply. So I would encourage our listeners, go ahead and play with a drone. Buy one yourself too. But that’s a hobby. If you’re in business, I would seriously talk to somebody like Brian or if you’re not in New England, talk to other people that are doing it and see their demo reels and see what kind of quality they’re doing and talk to their clients too.
Brian: Yeah, and I think anyone looking to get in the drone space should really go in with a clear vision of what they want to do with it because your investment, your life blood is what you invest in your equipment. And if you’re buying a drone and you want to get into, for example, like measurement points and surveying and stuff like that, an off-the-shelf drone at BestBuy is not going to do what you need to do. If you want to get into video stuff, how far are you going to take it? Is it good enough to just put the drone up or are you trying to get hired for feature films where you need to put a camera with a payload on it? You know, so yeah, that, equipment investment where you get like the DSLR movement where people can go and buy these things at BestBuy, it’s a great way for people to see if they like it and, and try it out and get good at it, if you will, but it’s like any profession. You’re going to need to invest in the right gear and the time and the training to get to where you want to be as far as growing it as a business.
Paul: Right. I guess it’s sort of similar to the, you know, anybody can build a WordPress website, so why do they hire professionals? Well, first of all it’s not your job. I mean, you know, if you’re a plumber, you gotta go out and plumb stuff. And what are you doing building a website? It might be fun. That’s great. Okay, that’s a good reason to do it if you want to enjoy it. But if you’re a business, you really need to think hard about where you’re spending your time. And, yeah, you could become a drone expert but is that the best use of your time? And there’s a lot of people out there who are doing the drone stuff. So I think it’s important to highlight the insurance, the registration, the licenses. Those are all critical because, I don’t know where the liability would be. But if something bad happened, and it were your company had hired company ABC to do a drone shoot, and something bad happened, that would be pretty sad.
Brian: Sure. We contacted our insurance company that we had for our business side—
Paul: They would say, “What are you talking about?”
Brian: Yeah. It was new. It was a new feat for them for sure. But, yeah. I mean, we did go out. We insured the, the drone itself. We had to have a separate rider for coverage as far as liability is concerned.
Paul: Now does your insurance company know what a drone is?
Brian: Yeah. Oh, yeah. And it’s funny. There’s companies — we just ran into one recently — it’s like an ad hoc insurance model basically like they’re paying like a per day. They’re insuring companies per day for, so you can get like… You know, I’m going out and flying in this location with these sort of parameters, and you can buy insurance for the day to supplement existing stuff. Yeah. So I think one of the interesting things about the drone industry is it’s not just using the drone. It’s the technology surrounding it. It’s the insurances. It’s all these other industries that are on the peripherals. You know, figuring out, well, I guess how they can make money off it. But you know, also figuring out how it’s applicable to what they do.

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