One of Silicon Valley’s most talked-about and heavily funded companies, Airware, shut down suddenly in fall of 2018. The news came as a shock to many employees — and the broader industry, especially since the drone darling had raised $118 million from big investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Google’s GV, and Kleiner Perkins.
But the company that acquired now-defunct Airware’s assets has a different story. That company is one you might have never heard of, but they are quietly growing, a sleeping giant that is slowly expanding its reach in the drone industry.
The company that acquired Airware’s assets is called Delair. It’s a French company that has received significant investment from Intel Capital (both parties would not disclose the financial terms, but experts peg the investment in the eight-figure range).
Delair started on a similar path to Airware (as well as plenty of now defunct — or significantly smaller — companies, such as 3D Robotics) by making hardware. Delair makes fixed-wing commercial drones used mostly in utilities, agriculture and construction.
But while Delair still makes hardware, it’s increasingly focused on software. The company in September 2018 announced that along with its Intel investment round, it would expand its software platform.
Delair is the brains behind The Intel Insight Platform, a powerful piece of software for storing, organizing drone data. Analytical and monitoring tools allow users to manage drone imagery, 2D and 3D models.
Software companies like Delair became the next drone industry wave over the past few years.
The reason being: with the prevalence of drones comes an influx of data, yet not an efficient way to otherwise manage it.
“The hardware by itself is useless,” said Michael de Lagarde, CEO of Delair-Tech.
De Largarde said the partnership came about because Intel, which has invested in other hardware companies, including DJI competitor Yuneec, wanted to develop their own software platform to analyze and manage aerial data. But rather than devote their own engineering resources to developing their own platform in-house, they chose Delair to develop it for them. Delair’s software essentially serves as a building block for The Intel Insights Platform. De Largarde would not disclose the terms of the deal.
But for many of those burgeoning companies, DJI’s drones were so good, that they couldn’t compete. Once-promising competitors like GoPro laid off hundreds of employees in a few different layoff rounds. 3D Robotics burned through more than $100 million in venture capital.
So what makes Delair’s story different than the hardware-turned software drone companies that have failed? De Lagarde says the reason they’re successful is because you haven’t heard of them.
“We are a lot less famous than a lot of names in the industry,” he said. “We don’t spend a lot on marketing.”
And the strategy seems to be paying off. It’s been a busy stretch for Delair, with fund raising from Intel in October, the acquisition of Airware in November, and launch of its new delair.ai software platform last month. De Lagarde said the company has plans to hire dozens of employees this year.
In the past two years, the number of employees at the company quadrupled in size. But only a couple of Airware’s U.S.-based employees ended up moving over to work for Delair. However, the team from Redbird, a construction and mining startup that Airware bought in 2016, does now work for Airware (the Redbird team was also based in France and built software for drone data analytics). Those employees have since merged with the Delair office in France and are now working on Delair products.
As far as Airware’s customers, it’s a work in progress. Delair did acquire Airware’s customer base — a big boon for the company’s expansion into U.S. markets.
“Onboarding Airware’s customer base is a process,” de Lagarde said. “It’s not done overnight.”
Today, Delair’s biggest competitors are other big software companies like PrecisionHawk and Kespry, another Silicon Valley startup.
De Lagarde said another differentiator between Delair and other competitors is Delair’s approach to knowledge.
“We don’t pretend to be specialists (compared to their customers in those fields,” he said, adding that they leave specifics around construction to the construction companies, and specifics around agriculture to the farms (some other competitors heavily target verticals like construction or agriculture. That might not necessarily be the wrong move, but it’s not Delair’s move.
“We are experts in the software,” de Lagarde said. “We are experts in drones.”