Indoor Drone Tours Turns 1 Year Old!
What started as an extension of Doola Creative Shop quickly grew into a beast of its own. We’re incredibly proud of the work we’ve done this past year and the fantastic opportunities we were given along the way. We’ll take you through our first year as a company, what we’ve learned, and our future goals for what we hope to be many more anniversaries to come.
IDT Is Born
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of caution around in-person real estate showings. Home-seekers were afraid to enter a house, while sellers were hesitant to open their doors to buyers, agents, and photographers. As a result, realtors and landlords started leaning heavily on virtual tours and videos to promote their listings. Enter Indoor Drone Tours! We can film an entire property, room to room, without stepping foot inside the home.
“We first focused on doing contactless drone tours,” Zach Dulla, CEO of Indoor Drone Tours, said, “We wanted to provide a new solution for the market that would help push the residential real estate industry forward during the pandemic.”
IDT pilots would open the house’s front door, place the drone inside, put on the first-person view goggles, and fly through the entire home and back to the front door. We produced a seamless video tour that was also contactless and covid-friendly.
Flying drones indoors isn’t something anyone can do. For example, if you buy a drone at your local Best Buy, it’s likely not meant for flying indoors. At Indoor Drone Tours, we use custom-built FPV Drones that weigh .5 lbs and feature protected propellers. Unlike traditional drone piloting, FPV drones are piloted from the first-person point of view with special goggles that allow you to see what the drone sees while also navigating tight spaces.
This skill takes time and countless hours of practice to master. John Bach, Creative Director at IDT, and Ilya Akhmerov, Head Drone Pilot at IDT, constantly train in an online simulator to develop their skills. Ilya is also the master behind building the drones.
“Ilya is an engineer by trade,” John said, “All of the wiring, soldering, customization that Ilya can provide is what makes our company possible.”
Picking Up Momentum
As time went on, it wasn’t just about contactless tours anymore. Drone tours provided a seamless no-click tour. For instance, buyers get to sit back, hit play, and fly room to room. On the sellers’ side, realtors had a new video asset that excelled across social media, email marketing, text messages, and third-party websites like Redfin and Zillow. As a result, drone tours quickly caught on as a new virtual tour weapon in the real estate space.
Some realtors started replacing their Matterport and 3D Tours with drone tours. Others added drone tours to maximize their social media presence and email strategies, where before, 3D tours wouldn’t work. (Drone tours provide a video file that is easily distributable online and across social media instead of 3D tours that require you to go to a hosted webpage to view within a special player).
In April and May, we were flying around 10-15 listings a week. “It was exciting to see us take off at such a quick rate. I enjoyed selling something that people loved. So many clients were calling me with raving reviews, and that’s when I knew we were really onto something,” said Sales Director Mitch McPherson.
At this point, we started looking towards other applications of this technology. We set our sights on commercial real estate. “Matterport just doesn’t work for a 20,000 sq ft office,” Zach said. There’s too much ground to cover on those commercial properties, and this is the exact solution they needed.”
However, many people who worked in commercial real estate weren’t used to relying on virtual tours for their properties. The industry was built around on-site tours and in-person meetings.
R2 Companies and Madison Rose in Chicago were the first to see the application of Indoor Drone Tours in the commercial real estate space. Within a month, the two companies had a portfolio of drone tours to help lease their office buildings. This marked our entrance into office tours.
Hitting Our Summer Stride
Drone tours picked up steam in Summer 2020. Once the sun came out, there was a massive need for residential drone tours. As a result, we had about 20-30 flights per week scheduled on our calendar. Ilya was driving all across Chicagoland filming houses, condos, and offices for various brokers and real estate teams.
Commercial real estate drone tours started picking up more attention after a post of our Old Post Office video for CBRE caught fire on LinkedIn. “People still bring up that Post Office video in meetings,” Zach said.
“That was probably one of my favorite tours we’ve flown,” John said, “It’s a historic Chicago building that was under construction for quite some time. This drone tour was sort of the revealing of a long-term redevelopment project to the public.”
It was a big opportunity, and all hands were on deck. All three of our pilots were present for the shoot (Ilya, John, and Pendilton Whaley).
Funny story… At this time, Ilya was drained from the non-stop flying and had booked a quick vacation to Colorado to relax for a few days. When this job got signed, Ilya saw how big of an opportunity this was for the team. He canceled his trip the day before leaving! He stayed and flew the iconic building to perfection and then went off to celebrate and enjoy his time in the mountains.
The End of 2020
Towards the end of summer, residential and commercial business was steady. We then started to attract some special projects. One that stood out was the opportunity to fly at the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks. “The Bulls had reached out to our team to fly a segment for their Lollapalooza live event. I’m a huge basketball fan in general,” John said, “So watching Ilya fly through the United Center and working with the Chicago Bulls creative team was super fun.”
In the latter half of the year, the company continued to perfect the drone tour. “Our main goal was to define what a drone tour was to the market. We didn’t use the term ‘fly-through’ or drone video in our sales or marketing. Everything we wrote, said, and sold was a drone tour,” Zach said, “It was satisfying to hear the term catch on in everyday conversation and to have people posting online and call in asking specifically for a drone tour.”
It was also around this time that Indoor Drone Tours was featured on a segment for WGN News.
We then locked in our focus on the customer experience end of the company. The goal was to provide exactly what the brokers needed to go live with the listing while making it as easy as possible to book, schedule, revise, and finalize. The message was simple. “You’re going to get an amazing product, with incredible service, and we’ll make your life as easy as possible,” Zach said.
We worked on adding more elements to enhance every drone tour. Realtors could now add a custom voiceover to the drone tour. They could add lower third graphics. They could introduce the listing on-camera in an interview format.
Heading into the winter, Indoor Drone Tours took the snowy season to work on several different property types. We flew industrial properties, apartment complexes, hotels, retail spaces, and more.
Although Chicago had its snowiest winter in recent years (snow and drones don’t mix), we had some of our most profitable months from November 2020 to February 2021 by adding new listing types to the arsenal.
Staring Out Strong in 2021
The new year kicked off with a brand new website. (You can see our updated offerings laid out below)
Meanwhile, our team was hard at work building out all of these different services. An apartment building drone tour is an entirely different flight style to a retail property. Our sales and marketing team defined these services. Pilots were working hard to develop each flight style. And our production team locked in on a unique editing approach for each.
We continued to develop more ways to improve drone tours for these different types of properties. One in particular that made the option more appealing for apartment buildings and office complexes was introducing our Interactive Video Player.
All of the new listing types opened the doors for new business across the country. We started to accept commercial projects across the United States. Pendilton Whaley flew state to state, California to Florida, and everywhere in between. “Penny was the sole reason we were able to start offering our services in other states. It’s not easy to find a pilot with his skill and creative vision. He’s a crucial part of the operation, and we love having him on the team,” said Zach.
It’s Been A Wonderful Year
We’ve had the privilege to fly in a ton of iconic Chicago buildings. From the Merchandise Mart to McCormick Place to the Viceroy Hotel, our portfolio is full of buildings that make Chicago the magical city it is.
At this time, the company has 11 highly skilled creative individuals who make IDT run smoothly. Pilots flying, editors editing, sales reps educating, marketing team marketing, etc.
Heading into 2021, we’re continuing to service the entire United States for commercial tours, hotel tours, and other special projects. While our company focuses on real estate, we’re also finding more applications and industries in need of indoor drone video. i.e., Trade Shows, Construction, Wedding Venues, etc.
The pilots are excited to put their skills to the test in more extreme conditions outside of real estate and hotels.
“More extreme sports would be fun, ski chasing, cars, motorcycles, just more sports in general,” Ilya said. “More sports venues and big stadiums would be amazing,” John added.
Also, we’re working on an expansion plan to begin servicing residential real estate in other major markets as we do for Chicago. “Realtors from other markets want Indoor Drone Tours,” Zach said, “We’ve heard you and we’re working hard on it!” With that said, keep a lookout for Indoor Drone Tours in your city soon!
If you’ve read this far, we’d like to give a huge thank you to all of the people who have helped Indoor Drone Tours grow this past year. We’d be nothing without our clients, team, friends, and family. We are looking forward to celebrating more wins and many more anniversaries in the future!