What is Blimp Logistics?
Blimp Logistics is a decentralized drone logistics network co-founded by Camilo Melnyk and Spencer Yaculak. Blimp looks to take over the drone delivery field with their unique business model and providing ultra-fast delivery between local businesses and their customers.
The idea: Blimp Logistics will house their drones inside of shipping containers that are transported and deployed via semi-trucks.
- While the drone is in the early prototyping phase, Blimp's goals for the drone are:
- Range of 60 miles
- Endurance of a little bit over an hour, depending on how many stops you make along the way
- Lift up to 30 lbs
- The cargo carried by the drones will be divided up in different sub containers
- A fixed wing vital hybrid drone
- Takes off and lands vertically
- Transitions into forward flight when going longer distances
- Will be housed in 20 ft long shipping containers
- Each shipping container holds 2 of them
- Each shipping container can be taken off of the back of a semi truck and connected to electricity to provide delivery coverage in the area.
The benefits of drone delivery over standard delivery services:
Blimp will be able to significantly reduce the cost of delivery in comparison to the current delivery methods. 3rd party delivery services such as UberEats, Postmates, and Grubhub all take around 20-30% of the total cost of the food order. However, Blimp has calculated that they will be able to profit off of just a 10% cut. This offers a more affordable service to businesses with delivery services because they can keep the extra 10% to put back into their businesses.
With events such as COVID-19 and same day shipping, the delivery industry has highlighted a need for a more cost effective last minute delivery model. In fact, due to this need, several large companies have been lobbying the Federal Aviation Administration for looser drone regulations. In great timing for Blimp, these lobbying efforts have led to the release of regulation for drone delivery
To learn more about the updates in drone delivery regulation, go to https://www.faa.gov/uas/advanced_operations/package_delivery_drone/
Meet the co-founders
How did you meet?
Spencer and Camilo attended high school together where they were involved in their school's robotics club. After high school, the pair followed each other to the University of Maryland where they both got their internships. Combined Camilo and Spencer are a powerful team with cumulative 10 years of experience with testing/building robots and drones.
How did you come up with the idea for Blimp Logistics?
2 years ago, Camilo took a road trip with his father back to Maryland after a family vacation in Canada. As most road trips turn out, Camilo and his dad talked about anything that popped into their heads. One of the topics that came about was the subject of containerized housing. The containerized housing conversation soon meshed with a past research paper Camilo had written on drone legislation leading to the idea of containerized drone delivery. Camilo immediately clicked with the idea and spent the rest of the road trip brainstorming how to make containerized drones into a feasible business. When Camilo returned home from the road trip, he found a piece of paper and pen and created Blimp Logistics.
How did you go from idea to business?
Camilo started sketching a business plan with his high school friend, Spencer. They strategized on where to start and what they wanted the business to look like. Upon creating the wire-frame business plan, the two sought out resources to give them guidance on their entrepreneurship journey. The upcoming fall semester, Camilo enrolled himself in an entrepreneurship class with Dr. Schlake through the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. In Dr. Schlake's class, Camilo learned a lot and looked to continue his entrepreneurial learning so he applied to the New Venture Practicum for the following semester. This led Blimp to participating in Terp Startup over the summer and being accepted into Startup Shell the following fall. Through these programs, Blimp was able to develop their venture with a great support structure backing them.
What is it like working in the hard technology space?
Camilo and Spencer explained that it has been challenging working in the physical technology space because of the need for capital to develop the product.
Although they would like to be prototyping their drone and building their product's technology, Camilo and Spencer have to first gain the means necessary to build it through funding. Therefore, they've spent the majority of their time applying to grants and competing in competitions for funding.
Over the summer, Blimp Logistics had a productive research and development phase after receiving funding from the Pitch Dingman competition. However, the reality of the hard technology space is that they still need to bring in more money to continue developing.
While the hard tech space is difficult to break into, Spencer is hopeful for Blimp Logistics' future. She highlighted that funding is a momentum thing and that once you get the first push, it doesn't stop!
What did your customer discovery phase look like?
Blimp participated in the I-Corps program at UMD that involved 3 weeks of intense interviewing. Through this program, they had to cold call and cold email local businesses that they predicted to be their customers in the future. From these, they were able to obtain leads on what the current pain points were, what the century market looked like, and other possible markets they didn't consider at first. The facilitated cold calling/emailing process with I-Corps proved to be incredibly beneficial for the Blimp Logistics team.
What is your biggest takeaway for someone wanting to do customer discovery early on?
"You need to make calls. You can't rely exclusively on what you find online, that's just not the kind of inside information you're going to get from people without a phone call".
Spencer and Camilo also emphasized that although the process of reaching out to people may be grueling, once you get someone on the phone, you tend to find a way to get another person on the phone. Therefore, by taking the first step to reach out, you're automatically setting yourself up for success.
Further, by having those conversations, the pair has been able to get unique perspectives and understand exactly what their customer needs from Blimp's.
How do you differentiate yourself from the other competitors rushing to enter the space?
Blimp Logistics' business model sets itself apart from their foreseeable competition. Camilo stated that the majority of their competitors are adopting the standard drone business model, known as the warehouse model. This structure is designed to have a specific logistics center and static launching site to send out their drones. However, by adopting this framework, it limits the capabilities of the drones to deliver to farther distances or other places because they are locked to a specific location. In addition, it is riskier for competitors entering the space because a large sum of capital is needed to buy property and does not guarantee success. Blimp's shipping container hub gives them the flexibility to expand their network rapidly, strategically optimizing their ability to be successful.
In addition, as mentioned in the tech specs, Blimp is aiming for a completely different delivery market with their drone handling up to 30 lbs. Most companies currently developing drones are looking for a small package carrier. Blimp is looking for a higher payload customer who wants multiple packages or a large package immediately.
What is the next step for Blimp?
The next estimated step for Blimp is funding and grant proposal writing. In order to get their startup off the ground, Blimp needs to invest a lot of capital to make a working prototype. Therefore, they will be focused very heavily on grants and prototyping to develop their drone.
Have you read any books that have been particularly useful?
Funny enough, Camilo highlighted Business Model Canvas and Lean Startups, two books he read during Dr. Schlake's entrepreneurship as incredibly helpful throughout the process of creating Blimp. He explained that although he did not use the textbooks that much during the course, he finds himself referencing them now for guidance. In fact, books have helped them avoid a lot of mistakes that beginner entrepreneurs make.
Why did you join Startup Shell?
Blimp Logistics explained that to them, Startup Shell "is an awesome community for people also diving into entrepreneurship" and that they've met a bunch of like-minded individuals who have a lot of expertise in different areas. Also, Blimp is taking full advantage of the resources we have to offer such as Notion!
In the future, they explained that Shell will be useful for finding people to grow their team. Since Shell already selects talented and driven individuals, Blimp knows that they'll be able to quickly get a good group of skilled experts.