Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey and unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Didi Horn, CEO of SkyX, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Since 2016, SkyX has been carrying out its mission to arm infrastructure asset companies across the globe with unique, actionable, long-range aerial data on an ongoing basis. Why? Because we believe this untapped layer of data that only we can provide has the potential to make a significant impact on the environment.
Our current industry of focus is Oil and Gas pipelines, but our goal is to be able to track 50,000-100,000 kilometers of land every day. This kind of coverage provides benefits that go beyond the needs of the Oil and Gas industry—ranges like that could help teams track and contain wildfires or save countless animals from poaching. Like the technology itself, the possibilities are endless.
Tell us about yourself
I first had the vision to start an aerial data company during my ten years as a Special Ops commander for a drone squadron in the Air Force. In my last position in the military, I was responsible for the development and implementation of future unmanned systems within the military. I saw the aerial data that we were able to capture via cutting-edge drones and recognized the technology’s unlimited potential. I wondered, is there a commercial use for it? How do I make data from the sky accessible to the commercial market in the simplest way possible?
After I left the Air Force, I decided to attend oil and gas industry conferences. I knew very little about the industry but had a gut feeling that if I was patient enough and sat at the booths of the oil and gas giants, the CEOs and senior executives would eventually stop by. When they came, I would speak to them as if I had the technology that I envisioned and asked if it would interest them. What struck me was that every time I asked the question, they would admit that their current pipeline monitoring processes were inefficient, and the data they were collecting was limited.
These conversations validated that there was not yet an efficient way for oil and gas companies to proactively monitor and prevent potentially dangerous pipeline issues like leaks, sinkholes, vegetation encroachment, and theft. I knew there was a significant opportunity to bring a simple solution that provides actionable aerial data collected via drones to the oil and gas industry. In 2016, I founded SkyX.
What motivates me is the opportunity to completely revolutionize the way aerial data is acquired, analyzed, and actioned and how this will literally change the world.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment so far? I’d say it was when we were 18 months into the SkyX journey. We were on the ground in Mexico in an area that was deemed the Red-Zone by the United States Federal Government. Among free-roaming goats and vast farmlands, there I was, in Mexico, with 12 people who had never been on a pipeline before, with equipment that had never left Toronto, with locals who had never seen such a vehicle before in their lives.
And we did it. We covered 107 kilometers in one flight, identified 600 POIs (points of interest), of which approximately 100 were urgent and highly valuable, according to the Integrity Manager of the entire region.
Yes, we had a cutting-edge patent-pending drone that we built in-house. Yes, we had proven the concept at our flight test facility outside Toronto. And yes, based on more than three years of extensive market research, I knew the Oil and Gas industry was on the verge of shifting to autonomous aerial vehicles solutions for pipeline monitoring. But, as I stood there in the field and watched our drone take flight, it was like I was walking on water. My vision came to life, and it was rewarding and fascinating, and indescribable.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Coming from leading special-ops teams in the Air Force, I find that leading the company comes naturally to me, but the process of finding the right people with the right qualities and skillsets to bring to the company is the most challenging thing I face in the day-to-day.
In an interview, I have a very limited amount of time to figure out a person's personality, and I'm not interested in the resume. What I look for is people who understand the vision, who perform well under pressure, and who are disciplined enough to work without anyone looking over their shoulders. I trust the people who I bring to the table and provide them with the vision and everything they need, and expect them to fight their way through.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Start earlier. I "wasted" a year and a half before starting SkyX on the "what-ifs," pondering whether or not someone else already did what I wanted to do or if someone would do it faster than me. Just do it. If you have the idea or the path, get yourself going. You'll know on the way if you missed the train or are on track.
Always look for opportunities to do better. When I was in the Air Force, after each flight, my Commander would ask me, what could you have done better? Even if I executed a flawless mission, there was always something, even a small thing, that I could have done better. It is not about getting a pat on the back; it is about always being better than you were before. Be humble and kind, so next time you won't be cocky and waste a mission over ego. Today, I apply this in every aspect of my life.
Trust. It's one of our core values at SkyX. But for me, it's more than a core value. It's essential and has to be present in every relationship. To build a successful team, first, you need to bring great people, and then you need to put your trust in them. When you truly trust your team members, they will go above and beyond, and your business will thrive. My day is full of people trying to explain why it won't work, why there are not enough resources, or someone else already built it, etc. The fact is, five years after inception, this is nonsense. If your people don't trust your vision and you don't trust that they are capable of executing as best as they can, then you can close the doors. No matter how much money you've got, it won't thrive.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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