Quadrocopter’s offices and production shop along Montana Highway 40 between Whitefish and Columbia Falls are a far cry from the company’s first home, a living room in Coram. But Quadrocopter has also come a long way from its founding in 2010. So, too, has the hobby and industry it serves.
When Quadrocopter first took off in 2010, most people had never even heard of a drone or unmanned aerial vehicle; UAV for short. But five years later, footage and images from drones can be found just about anywhere on television and in movies.
Adam Paugh, chief financial officer and one of the founders of Quadrocopter, said the increasing number of personal drones is amazing. When he and Florian Seeger first formed Quadrocopter it was one of the only companies in the country selling complete UAVs. Now they can be purchased from a growing number of businesses and even online at sites like Amazon.com.
“If you look at the industry over the last few years there has just been some amazing growth,” Paugh said from the company’s office last week. “Our company really took off when we started selling ready-to-fly copters. That’s what turned us into a multi-million dollar company.”
When Paugh and Seeger first started Quadrocopter it was primarily a side business focused on helping people build their German-made drones. But then Quadrocopter started buying parts and building the mini-choppers on its own. Today, the company’s 12 employees build and ship anywhere from 200 to 300 UAVs every year.
“I like to describe Quadrocopter as a systems integrator. We take the best frame systems, the best flight systems, the best blades and the best cameras and we put it all together,” Paugh said. “We basically take the best ingredients and make the best stews.”
But it can be a pretty expensive stew. According to Paugh, a Quadrocopter can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000, depending on the type and how much weight the buyer wants it to carry. However, Quadrocopter’s customers also get some additional perks. Buyers can chose to take part in training sessions so they see how their copter is built and how to operate it.
Paugh said the training sessions are growing in popularity and that they benefit both the customer and the industry as a whole. As more people buy personal drones, more stories about mishaps are emerging. One of the most notable instances happened this summer when a tourist crashed a drone into a hot spring inside Yellowstone National Park. Since June, most National Parks have banned the use of drones inside their boundaries. Paugh said more incidents like that could hurt the growing hobby and that’s why Quadrocopter offers training sessions. He said customers don’t get that same level of service if they just buy their UAV online from other sellers.
“When you buy from us you have a full support staff to ask questions and help you learn how to fly it safely,” Paugh said. “We do a lot of hand holding because we want you to succeed… And we don’t want people crashing into buildings.”
Another growing segment of the company’s business is supplying spare parts. Quadrocopter also provides custom parts that it designs itself so that products from different suppliers can fit together. Engineer Larry Garlough, who uses a 3D printer to test out designs before ordering the final piece, creates many of the custom pieces himself.
“It’s nice to have this 3D printer so we can make sure the piece we design will actually work before we order hundreds of them,” he said.
One of Quadrocopter’s co-owners, Jeff Scholl, also owns GravityShots.com. Many media companies have hired Scholl, including the Outdoor Channel and ESPN, and he said that the mini-helicopters offer users views they have never been able to get before at a cheaper price. He said in years past if someone wanted an elevated shot, they would have to rent a helicopter, which can cost up to $5,000 an hour.
“The technology just keeps getting better,” he said.
Paugh said that he is still surprised by how much the company has grown in recent years, but that the company doesn’t plan on outgrowing its local, homegrown roots.
“We want to stay small and stay connected to our customers,” Paugh said. “We know most of our customers by their first name and that’s what will keep us moving forward.”
For more information visit www.quadrocopter.com.
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