Australia is a small, restricted marketplace for the world’s first drone delivery company.
With regulatory approval processes required for flying the aircraft and only a small pool of capital available for investing, Flirtey is having to look beyond Australia for its next stage of growth.
The Australian unmanned aerial vehicle startup company, founded only a year ago, is on the way to the US for high-tech testing and setting up operations in New Zealand after conducting over 100 successful test deliveries in Sydney during its partnership with Zookal.
Now it has hooked up with The University of Reno, Nevada, which has taken an equity stake in the company to contribute to research and development to help get its commercial drones up in the sky and doing business.
While commercial drones are restricted from operating in the US, and Australia has legalised the practise but is hindered with lengthy approval processes, the New Zealand market is ahead of the game.
Today Flirtey is announcing its launch in New Zealand, seeing the country as its fastest path to market, after the local aviation authority approved the launch of Airshare, a UAV online platform where commercial companies list where they will be flying.
Eyeing off international markets
Despite backing from the entrepreneurial community, including relationships formed with Sydney Technology Park and Smartmate, Sweeney told Business Insider the challenge for the company simply comes down to the Australian population being too small.
“Sydney has a smaller market which means there is less capital available from an investing perspective. Being in the US enhances our ability to access larger pools of investment and find a broader range of engineers to work with us.”
The issue was a common problem for innovative Australian businesses, which if they want to be an international business have no choice but to go into international markets, he said.
“Australia is exceptionally good an inventing new technology, I mean we invented Wifi, the person with the largest number of US patents is an Australian, but to commercialise it we need to be in larger markets,” Sweeney said.
“Australia’s population is like 24 million, the US population is 320 million and California’s population alone has a larger population than Australia. So it’s really a question of market size.
“The US has a large population, Silicon Valley with a lot of invest capital and a really great engineering talent. So we had our start in Australia but to grow and expand we really did have to move to the US,” Sweeney told Business Insider.
He said the collaboration with the University was an important step in Flirtey’s growth, with the region positioned to become the biggest little city in the world UAV space.
While at The University of Reno in Nevada, which is only one of six areas in the US where drones can be operated, Flirtey will be working on delivery trials. Sweeney forecasts this will be a consumer reality a lot faster than people realise.
“From the beginning we’ve said we think, in the not too distant future, seeing a Flirtey making a delivery will not be any different to a postman or a courier making a delivery.
“It is going to happen a lot faster than people realise. I would like to see drones starting to become ubiquitous within five years,” Sweeney said. He said drone delivery trials would be running in New Zealand “in months, not years.”
He said the drone is set to revolutionise industries that require urgent delivery applications. With hopes to disrupt the tradition operations of medical, fast food, and mail deliveries, Sweeney said Flirtey was trying to democratise delivery in aviation.
“Everyone recognises that this is going to happen, and now it is just about putting in place the frameworks so that it can happen safely and in a way that people’s privacy isn’t violated,” he said.
“We think it s really important that companies in this industry genuinely respect privacy. We’re very conscious that we don’t want privacy to be a roadblock for this tech rolling out and as a consequence we are treating it seriously.”
Because drones are an emerging industry, new rules need to be written and there are still a lot of grey areas that need to be clarified.
Helping define these rules are technology giants Amazon and Google, which is currently testing its own drone delivery platform in Australia.
Instead of seeing these companies as competition, Flirtey sees as them bulldozers that will to help push along the regulatory changes needed in the space faster than they could themselves.
“Because these companies have a lot of resources, we see this as a positive. Google and Amazon will be building the market and we will be first to move into that market.
“Yes they are our competitors but we don’t see that in a negative sense, we see that since we are creating an industry, it is big enough for all of us.”