From Dream to Drone
Pi, Avy’s founder goes back to where it all began. He reminisces about what inspired him to start this adventure, how he got a team together and shares our fuck-ups and successes along the way.
The big bold boss
My name is Pi and I’m the founder of Avy. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd with a genuine interest in technology. I’ve never been good at functioning well ‘in the system’ and was a school dropout because I simply didn’t enjoy what was being taught. When I made this decision, it was a scary moment and I felt insecure. However, I realised that sometimes it’s easier to be in a situation that you don’t like because it feels easier and you have something to hold on too, rather than nothing. To confirm, choosing not to go to university was the best decision of my life.
"I had a full white canvas in front of me that I could just explore. I could pick my own path and decide what was important and the way I wanted to live my life."
I soon realised that with all this time on my hands, ideas would race through my mind of which I decided to make come to life. Many people - me as well back then - think that if you have an idea and you try it out, then it must succeed. However, whereas most people don’t dare to fail, I found that every time I failed a sense of fulfilment was gained. Some ideas were more successful than others and mistakes were definitely made along the way, but one thing became clear for me: doing things that mattered.
The idea that stuck
The need to help out came an early Saturday morning at dawn when I was leaving a party and stumbled across Ali. Ali was a Syrian refugee who had been in and out of several refugee camps when suddenly one day he’d had enough. From that day on, he became my roommate for a year and a half. Throughout his stay, I learned a lot from him and one story in particular, hit me the most. He’d been one of 3 survivors of a boat crossing from Turkey to Italy. This really touched the heart because I’d seen it countless of times in the news, but to actually meet someone who’d gone through all of this made me realise that something had to be done. So, I got in touch with rescue organisations to get to the root of the problem, to which they claimed they were doing all that they could with the resources they had. The problems would arise because they either couldn’t find the boats on time, there were not enough correspondents on the ground and the helicopters they had were always in use.
During this discovery phase, it wasn’t just Ali’s story that had struck me. A lot of friends I knew living in Africa would tell me all about these poaching stories. The need for wildlife conservation came from the poaching stories I heard from friends and the realisation that the problem would not deter unless something was done about it. I think that when you are determined and committed to helping out as company, and enjoy doing it and are actually good at it, then it’s a matter of...
"Keeping eyes and ears open, and listening to where the problems are coming from and see where you can help out wherever possible."
All in all, it was determination and commitment to helping out that became the foundation behind Avy.
Started from the bottom, now we're here
Once the idea was set, I had to get the right people on board. I shared a Facebook post asking my network whether they knew of someone with experience in aerospace in exchange for dinner. Jim replied and we went to dinner where he helped turn my ideas into a feasible project. We were to combine a helicopter with an aeroplane, that could take off and land vertically, and if possible be electric. According to basic physics, it was theoretically doable, so it was time to get cracking.
We applied to a competition at the European Space Agency and won €50k in funding to get our project started. We soon discovered that technology was in fact ready for what we had envisioned - we had gotten to the point where technology was getting good enough and autonomous technology was becoming more feasible. However, we soon realised that the regulations were a problem and that the actual costs of developing our project was really expensive - we would need about €108 million just to develop a prototype.
We got our first prototype out for Dubai in 2017, but the drone never took off... Our story really started when we decided to look at the bigger picture and started to think small. We realised that we had really big dreams and the only way they would be achieved was to start on a smaller scale. In this way, we could develop and learn from our operations and scale up with time. Since then, I’ve realised that working at Avy is like going for a ride on a rollercoaster with crazy ups and downs. This worried me at first and would even keeping me up at night, but then I realised that I used love rollercoasters as a child.
I can be at the top of the rollercoaster with a really cool view, but then sometimes I'm all the way down again and I can't control where this rollercoaster called 'Life' is going - but why not enjoy the ride.
To this day we encounter many challenges. However, the most challenging thing remains the fact that we what we do is extremely complex. No one else in the world has the experience with the technology that we make because it has never been done before. So when we come across a problem, we depend on a team that is good at learning. We can encounter a problem and within 24 hours, it will have changed. Regarding the IT side of things, it’s complex because for our drone to fly, every single part of the aircraft is crucial. From a business development point of view, we’ve had to penetrate a whole new market and choose a focus from all the opportunities that kept arising. Needless to say, the biggest burden of all has been the regulations. Simply put there are none at the moment, which has made it even harder for us, taking up a lot of work and lobbying with the government to push them towards being more open about drones.
The brains behind Avy
I believe the most important thing that defines Avy as a whole is the trust that we have embodied by the team.
"Sometimes people fuck up, so what?"
That is how we learn. We need to accept the failures and mistakes that come along the way. If we embrace this value in the way we operate, then I think we can achieve anything. At Avy, we’re really agile, fast and flexible in all that we do. Funnily enough, even though I started Avy, I don’t have a specific skill in contrast to my team, which is full of talent.
I hope that by the end of the year we’ll be able to show the world positive results from our flight projects in both Africa and The Netherlands. We’re excited to get to that point where we can share the impact we’ve had: whether it’s delivering medicine in rural communities, flying over 100 times in this park, helping rangers conserve the wildlife and finding poachers, supplying a person in need with an AED or supporting rescuers during the aftermath of an earthquake - it doesn’t necessarily have to be big, but as long as we add value to the lives to those in need.
Avy is a service for good. We seek to break the conventional norms by using technology that benefit those who need it the most, by supplying those in need with vital health products and helping rangers protect their parks against poachers. At the same time, I hope that people will see Avy as their friend, know that we are honest with them even when things don’t go to plan and ensure they have a long lasting relationship with us.