Bill Kimberlin, the dynamic brain behind the new 500Below app, says the idea for crowdsourcing drone support “hit me like a ton of bricks.” A serial entrepreneur, Kimberlin says that his business model is simple: “I like to find emerging markets, and figure out what the problems are – then I try to solve them before they emerge.”
The problem of getting support for drones seemed like an obvious one to Kimberlin, who first heard about drones a couple of years ago and got immediately enthusiastic. “I went out and bought a drone that night…I flew it in my living room and promptly crashed it into a wall,” he says, laughing. “On the 4th of July, I flew my drone in the rain – and I started having problems with it after that.” Kimberlin won’t call out the drone manufacturer, but after trying unsuccessfully for days to get answers from support, and sending the drone back for a replacement, he knew there was a need to fill. “What I really wanted to do was just talk to someone else who had a drone like mine,” he said. “That’s when it hit me – I could work in a shared economy model, and match people up to help each other.”
The idea is so simple – and so relevant – that it immediately attracted attention. Kimberlin introduced the idea at InterDrone 2015, where he told drone operators that there was a way for them to earn money with their drone expertise – without a Section 333 Exemption. The response was astounding: over 2,500 pilots applied to join the 500Below network. The early success feels appropriate given the famous entrepreneur Richard Branson of Virgin Airways refers to Bill Kimberlin as “the drone guy.”
The app allows drone operators to specify their expertise – what type of drone they use, what accessories and equipment, etc. – and operators with questions that they need answered in real time can use the app to find an operator experienced with their specific requirements. Qualified operators can earn money for supporting customers by logging in to the app whenever they want to: the system works along the lines of Uber or other shared economy models.
The free app is currently available in the Apple AppStore and Google Play.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.