July 2020 Pilot Spotlight | Southern Oregon Drone

Southern Oregon Drone

Name: Michael Carlini

Year Established: 2015


July 2020’s Pilot Spotlight is someone who seemingly has a love of all things aviation.  As a private pilot by day, Michael is logging his fair share of hours behind the controls of a high flying jet.  On evenings and weekends, he’s creating happy clients by delivering ‘Aerial Memories’ through his Drone Photography and Videography Business, Southern Oregon Drone.

The Droney-What propelled you to start your company?

Michael Carlini-While working a job I couldn’t stand right after college, I found an ad by a real estate agent who was looking for a drone pilot to photo and film her listings. Her requirement was that the applicant had an airplane pilot’s license (this was a requirement at the time). I had a private pilot’s license, so I applied and got the job. I had never flown drones before, but I did a pretty good job. I realized after a few months that my work was as good as, if not better, than a lot of the videos I saw on YouTube, and thought to myself, if these people are charging hundreds of dollars for their work, so can I. So, I bought a Phantom 3 and started my own business. My degree was in business and marketing (SEO specifically), so that really helped me out with establishing my web presence.

The Droney-What did you do before you built your company?

Michael Carlini- I was a college student, and then briefly a marketing coordinator for a food importer and distributor. My first experience flying drones was for a real estate agent.

The Droney-Which of your Drone Services are in the greatest demand?

Michael Carlini- Aerial real estate videos, by far. I used to do more work with production companies, but I don’t get much of that these days, which is okay because I don’t do this full-time anymore.

The Droney-What is your best method for finding business?

Michael Carlini-I credit my success so far with two things: my website’s SEO allowing my site to be on the first page of Google when people search relevant key phrases, and the ability to make a great looking final product. I think both of those factors are necessities because you need to be found first, but if your stuff doesn’t look good, then people will just leave your website and they won’t hire you.

The Droney-Best thing about running your own business?

Michael Carlini- I can accept or decline as much work as I want. The more I put into my business, the more I will probably get out of it. These days this business is just my side project (I fly private jets for a living now) so whenever I need some extra money or want a creative outlet, I start accepting work. When I can’t do work, I have other companies that pay me a small referral fee in exchange for me sending inquiries to them.

The DroneyWorst thing about running your own business?

Michael Carlini-There really aren’t any downsides to this business because it is extremely lean – no debt, very low expenses, no employees, and virtually no risk. If I can’t deliver for whatever reason, or if a client rejects my work (has never happened), I just don’t get paid, but I don’t owe any money on any inventory or vendors. I use Verifly to insure per project, so I only pay for insurance when I need it. I guess the uncertain income is a bummer, but I feel that if this was my primary source of income and I needed money, I would spend every minute of each day pursuing work and I think I could make ends meet that way if I had to.

Michael obviously has a keen business sense.  Sure, he could buy the ‘hottest’, most expensive drone on the market, but he is smart to keep things lean, and avoiding debt.  You can still make a darn good living by keeping things lean, and delivering a quality product to your clients.  If you want to learn more about starting your own drone photography business in 2020, along with tips to find clients and deliver a winning product, check out my recent post.  

The Droney-What accounting software do you use for your drone service?

Michael Carlini- Simple Google Sheets spreadsheets to keep track of my revenue and few expenses. I use tax software when doing taxes each year, and that takes care of all the paperwork, besides W9 forms, which are super easy. Because this is kind of my “backburner” business these days, I try to keep everything super simple, easy, and cheap.

The Droney-Did you start a professional entity for your drone business? LLC? Corporation? S-Corp? C-Corp?

Michael Carlini- I kept mine a Sole Proprietorship. I’ve been meaning for years to create an LLC, and I probably will soon just for legal protection, but so far the SP has worked out just fine, and it’s so simple.

The Droney-How do you handle liability for your flights?

Michael Carlini-Per flight or is your entity covered as a Drone Service Provider? I use Verifly. It usually costs me $10-$25 for an hour of $1M coverage within ¼ mile, which is normally plenty. I pass this on to my customers without any upcharge. I used to pay $1k-$2k per year for insurance. Verifly has been a lifesaver!

The DroneyWhere do you see the drone business in 5 years, 10 years: It is going to be huge. Drones for just about everything you can think of. My true passion is flying real airplanes, so that is where my career is headed, but if that weren’t the case, I would certainly be working to be on the forefront of UAS operations. There is just so much out there that can be done with them, even today. I stick with photos and videos because I know it and I already have the equipment, but the uses are endless.

The Droney-What is the most interesting drone “Use Case” you have heard of?

Michael Carlini-Any kind of load-carrying by drone fascinates me. The firefighting drones are cool, and the drones that people can actually ride in. When I first started my business, I actually ordered advertising banners that I was going to attach to my drone and fly around. I thought that was genius marketing! It turns out that attaching what is essentially a giant drag chute to the bottom of your drone creates immense aerodynamic forces that pull the drone down and it’s really just not a good idea!

Southern Oregon Drone

This is a cool one:

Mt Ashland had closed down early in the season due to COVID. I drove up super early one morning to catch the sunrise, and had the entire mountain to myself. The background photo on my website’s home page might be the best photo I have ever taken, but you will have to visit the site if you want to see it!

In my airplane flying career, our passenger had us fly him and his wife to Maui for a week. I brought my drone along and though I only got it out once, the shot I captured came out really well. I went up into the Iao Valley, just west of Kahului. Drones are forbidden in the park, so I took this photo from outside the park looking in. I can’t help but be reminded of Jurassic Park whenever I see this photo:

This shot was one of my favorites for years

This was from one of my first shoots. I did a project for Monrovia and was out at sunrise to film their facilities. The colors on this one worked out really well the way they fade from bright yellow and green to blue and purplish going left to right.

The Droney-What other services do you provide?

Michael Carlini-I stick with aerial photos and videos, including all the editing. I do have gimbal equipment and ground-based DSLR camera gear to provide conventional filming as well. Interior walk-through shots, combined with the exterior aerials, are very popular with my high-end real estate agent clients. With the recent Covid quarantine, I decided to delve into capturing 4K aerial stock video, so I have quite a bit of that available for sale now. I had been wanting to get out to film the natural beauty of my state for awhile, and Covid finally gave me the chance to do that.

The Droney-Where can we find your work?

Michael Carlini-And how can we contact you? My Website is probably the best place to see my work and contact me. I am particularly excited by my latest stock video shots, so be sure to check these out if you ever need stock aerial video shots of Oregon. I also have an instagram account which I have been working on growing lately, so check that out too.

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