Africa Multirotor

Knysna’s drones fly high

For most successful business owners the sky is the limit, but for Knysna’s ace drone developer and manufacturer Duran de Villiers, it has become his playground.

And the founder of SteadiDrone’s passion for his trade has not gone unnoticed as he recently made the 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30: Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs list, which recognises the continent’s top young businessmen and –women who are set to become future business leaders. This just more than two years after establishing the company.

“It is has been an honour and humbling experience to have won various awards over the last two years, the latest being named one of the Forbes 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa this year – to be among 29 other amazing young people who are doing amazing things. I really believe it’s simply a mindset: doing instead of thinking. There are many problems out there to be solved, one just needs to get stuck in, and one thing leads to the next,” De Villiers said.

SteadiDrone designs, develops, manufactures and exports small, unmanned aerial systems, commonly known as drones. These are used for various applications including search and rescue, feature film-making, aerial photography and videography, mapping and even agriculture.

“Our products can fly various cameras and payloads from 200g up to 8kg. Our systems include full GPS flight controllers, autonomous flight and missions, stabilised camera gimbals and advanced multi-rotor drones.”

SteadiDrone currently manufactures three models, including a small unit, the FLARE, aimed at flying small action cameras. They also produce a medium drone, the MAVRIK, for larger and more advanced cameras and then a large drone, the X, for long endurance flights and delivering payloads of up to 8kg.

The locally produced products is also very competitive on the global market due to several features, including its ‘rapid deploy airframe design’ which is foldable and allows the drone’s owner to ‘fold’ the device for easy transportation. “They are also fully ready to fly with everything needed to get off the ground. We have a very unique look and design and our systems are of a very high quality.”

All the research, development, testing, manufacturing and marketing are done locally and products are distributed worldwide.

The establishment of SteadiDrone did not happen overnight and was built on the foundation of his previous business, Motion Pixel – a media productions company.

“With our media production company I saw the need and potential in offering our clients aerial media that simply was not possible and available with traditional equipment. There was a need for capturing aerial images at a fraction of the cost and many times faster and more effectively than the full-scale aircraft alternative. After building our very first drone, I just fell in love with the technology and again saw the potential for manufacturing instead of simply offering the service. We quickly transformed our media production company into an international drone manufacturer and two years on we are one of the leading companies in the industry.”

De Villiers, who grew up in Knysna and matriculated from Knysna High School, did not think twice about establishing SteadiDrone’s headquarters in his hometown.

“People seem to think Knysna is a tourism town when in fact it was and should be a manufacturing town, a hub of excellent local pioneers selling abroad and bringing money into town, creating employment for locals and actually making a difference. It’s easy to make an impact via media and the news, but we need more deep-rooted, growing businesses in town, not necessarily more tourists.”

Over the last two years, the business also expanded rapidly due to the booming international drone industry. “We were fortunate to get involved when we did. We’ve gone from three staff members to 12, from working in a small studio to a large 800m² workshop. Not much has changed in terms of how we run the business, simply improving our products and marketing.”

And he attributes his success to, among other factors, the realisation that hard work pays off. “I think everyone wishes and hopes to do well but very few actually ever do, and again, I think it’s a mindset. I’ve realised early on that if I don’t push hard, work hard, put in the late nights, effort and time – something no one ever sees – it won’t happen. If I don’t make it happen it simply won’t. I don’t want to be just another number, I’d like to make some form of impact and I think that is the kind of thinking that has brought us here – along with God’s grace and blessings.”

He added another key ingredient in his recipe for success was good support. “The first ingredient is the best wife anyone could ever ask for, Alexa. April marks our 10th wedding anniversary and everything I do is because of her and her support. She is very much a part of this, often more than I am, and I think it’s the key to our success thus far, nothing beats a good team and passion. Great staff are vital – having a core team that you can trust and depend on – and then pure and simple hard work.”

De Villiers is no stranger to awards and in he 2009 won a Sony Professional Photographers of South Africa gold award and in 2013 received a Step-Up Technology Innovation Award. Last year he also made the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans list and won a Sanlam Outstanding Achievement Award.

“It is really awesome to receive this recognition as it really pushes us to do more and go further.”

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