Sky’s the Limit: How Up Sonder is Changing the Drone Game

How team Up Sonder is changing the game.

Many incredible small businesses shared their stories with us during #TheGameChanger contest this fall, but none created quite as much of a buzz as Up Sonder! An online marketplace of FAA-certified drone pilots across the United States with over 160,000 hours of flight time, Up Sonder handles drone projects for the oil & gas, construction, real estate, and agriculture industries across the country. Their network of professional drone pilots are available in over 850 cities nationwide, delivering valuable and critical drone footage to help businesses survey, scout, analyze, inspect, or simply have a drone’s eye view of any project. We loved working with Up Sonder so much, we added them as Fiverr Pro sellers!

Read Up Sonder CEO’s Derek Waleko entrepreneurial story below, then head over to our Instagram account as Up Sonder takes over with a behind-the-scenes (or should we say above-the-ground) peek at the day in the life of a drone company.

Tell us a little about yourself. Who you guys are, where you’re from, and a little more about UpSonder.

I am a former investment banker for the South Korean government who has an insatiable hunger for drones. When I’m not traveling gathering drone footage from around the world with my wife and daughter, I’m building and shaping Up Sonder to change how an entire industry uses and thinks about drones. In the near future, there will be millions of autonomous drones improving every aspect of our lives and Up Sonder is making this possible.

The Up Sonder team is a brilliant seven-member crew made up of drone pilots, engineers, rocket scientists, and Ph.D.’s who have done past projects with NASA, Boeing, DARPA, US Army, and Airforce. Everyone on the team is passionate about drones and we all have a common goal to change the world. Up Sonder is America’s drone company with main operations in the US, with international expansion plans not far behind. Up Sonder does a lot, between our drone pilot marketplace active in over 850 cities and solving the energy crisis facing the drone industry with our development of drone charging stations for last-mile-deliveries via drone. Simply put, Up Sonder helps industries like oil & gas, construction, real estate, agriculture, insurance, journalism, and entertainment do more.

Tell us about your brand. What inspired you to start it—and what are your goals for the future?

The Up Sonder brand stands for the future of all things drone built by the community. Up Sonder is nothing without its members and it’s our die-hard drone pilots who breathe life into the drone industry.

At my core, I’m a science dork (went to school for biology and chemistry) with bucket list plans to walk on the moon and travel to Mars. My fascination for the sky started at a young age with a styrofoam glider and I continue that love with drones. I can remember a time when the only way to hire a drone pilot or have access to a drone was Craigslist. It was this inefficiency that drove me nuts. I knew there had to be a better way and now there is. I’m proud that we made the Up Sonder marketplace not only for business but also for the everyday person. Also, It’s impossible to fly a drone and not have a good time.

Up Sonder’s head of public relations, Joseph Fenity, is proof. Fenity, as he’s known on the team, used to work for CBS. He and I met on a plane from Texas to Los Angeles and I knew that very moment I wanted him to come to work for Up Sonder. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Fenity you’ll know what I mean. His energy is infectious! The only problem was how to convince him to leave a great institution like CBS? Why, I let him fly my drone of course. One flight and a job offer later and the rest is history. Up Sonder launched its marketplace in March of 2017 and it’s been growing ever since.

Drones have so many applications that it made a lot of sense to have Up Sonder be even more. I’m originally from Texas and my family raises cattle on our ranch. It’s a great place but in the middle of nowhere, and AmazonFresh won’t even deliver. I believe in eating right and keeping a clear mind. Food plays an important role in what diseases we get, how we perform in school or work, and not enough people around the world have access to simple healthy fresh foods, and my mother is no exception.

I know drones will deliver our goods in the future and great companies are already looking into this like Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, but for all the glitz drones have real limitations with battery life. Most people don’t know but these amazing devices can only stay airborne for 20 – 30 mins with few exceptions for longer times. This means while drones can dramatically decrease the time it takes to deliver goods, it also means drones are dramatically limited in how far they can deliver. Only 15 miles from a distribution warehouse before they have to turn around to recharge. Unless I can convince Jeff Bezos to build a new fulfillment center next to my ranch my mother is out of luck… well almost out of luck.

Up Sonder is solving the energy crisis facing the drone industry with our Infinity Flight (“if”)™ charging stations to extend last-mile-delivery by drone. In the near future, drones won’t be confined to limited flight with Up Sonder’s network of “if” charging stations throughout the United States allowing drones to recharge and continue flights and reach my mom and other rural Americans.  

How do you use freelancers to make your business ideas a reality? Any favorite Fiverr sellers you like to work with?

As a startup our brand is more than our presentation to the outside world, it’s our philosophy. Fiverr gets this and its community of doers get it too. Up Sonder uses Fiverr to help us relay our philosophy that drones are good, here to serve, and here to stay through graphic art design, video editing, and commercial voice-overs.

One of my favorite Fiverr works is the motion graphic logo created by seller Karnakzed that plays during Up Sonder’s podcast. It’s one of the simpler projects Fiverr has done for Up Sonder but it never fails to mesmerize me when I look at it. I feel like a deer caught in the head lights.

We’ve also worked with Fiverr sellers  Toddabarsness for commercial voice-over work and Photoshop pro Swaqar for a special 4th of July theme ad.

What inspired you to enter #TheGameChanger and how did you go about putting together your video submission?

I’m not sure much inspiration was needed when you have Johnny Damon, Fiverr, and the New York Yankees teaming up – The Game Changer was perfectly named. When preparing our video we decided to share for the first time our autonomous drone landing software with all of us out at the test site. The video went over well with the general public and was one of the most watched. We were all shocked to learn we had won. That was a great call to get!

What motivates you as an entrepreneur? Why do you do what you do?

Possibility. Technology is magic in real form and shapes the future we humans dream up. That’s exciting. I love connecting people through drones – that piece of magic flying through the sky, and I, like any other son, love my mother and would give her the world if I could. And maybe one day I will, but until then an organic apple is a good start.

What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs just beginning their business journey?

Use  Fiverr—and use a drone 😉

Have questions for Derek and the UpSonder team? Ask them in the comments below—and then tune in as they take over our Instagram account on 12/8!

Hannah Curran
Hannah Curran is Fiverr's Social Media and Content Manager. Originally from Connecticut, she lives in California and works out of our San Francisco office. Have an idea for the Fiverr blog? Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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Really inspiring. Thanks for sharing 🙂