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Creating jobs, 1 drone at a time

Chris Anderson the award winning former editor of Wired magazine set up DIYDrones in 2007 as a community (on a Ning platform).  A few months after Chris had set up Jordi MunozDIYDrones a ‘few hundred’ members were active when a young man of about 19 years old, Jordi Muñoz signed up and discussed a software hack he had worked on to fly a toy helicopter using a Nintendo game controller and Arduino, a new open-source microprocessor board.

In his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution Chris describes what happened next:

I got in touch with him to ask some more questions about Arduino, and we started a friendly correspondence. I liked his energy and was impressed by his fearless experimentation and effortless grasp of software concepts that I had struggled to understand. I had a feeling that he was on to something; his instincts kept leading him to more and more exciting technologies, from sensors he found and figured out how to use to algorithms he tracked down in obscure papers.

Eventually, we started to do some projects together on DIY Drones—first an airplane autopilot and then an autonomous blimp controller board. We’d trade circuit-board designs back and forth and we both spent our evenings hunched over soldering irons on our respective worktables, attaching components and testing them. He taught me how to program Arduino and the best places to buy components and get boards made. I wrote the blog posts describing our progress and documented the projects with online tutorials.

After a short while Chris, the editor of Wired, much quoted author of several books (e.g. The Long Tail) and respected member of the global tech community and Jordi realized they could offer kits to other community members to help them create their own mini ‘drones.’

Of course all Chris knew of Jordi was his ability to work on circuit boards, design, etc. but he thought it a good idea to co-found a company, as Chris writes:

That, in turn, meant starting a proper company. I asked Jordi to join me as cofounder. And when he agreed, I thought that might be a good time to ask him a bit about himself.

Here’s what he found out:

At the time of his first posting, Jordi Muñoz Bardales (his full name), was nineteen years old. He was a native of Encinada, Mexico, and had gone to high school in Tijuana. He had just moved to Riverside, a suburb of Los Angeles. His high school girlfriend, who has dual citizenship, was pregnant, so they had recently got married. He was playing with the helicopter in their Riverside apartment because he didn’t have anything else to do while they waited for his green card. He had never been to college.

Needless to say, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was what he could do, which he had already resoundingly proved.

Initially, Chris continued to work at Wired whilst Jordi became CEO and co founder (with Chris) of 3D Robotics Inc., which within just 5 years is a multimillion-dollar company with state-of-the-art engineering operations in San Diego and manufacturing facilities in Tijuana, Mexico.

Jordi didn’t speak great English, and didn’t do terribly well in school, but he did have access to the Internet. Because he was curious and driven, “he used the greatest information resource in history (Google) to make himself one of the world’s leading aerial robotics experts.”

Within 4 years Chris Anderson quit Wired magazine and took over as CEO of 3DRobotics so Jordi could focus on being Chief Technology Officer (CTO). The company has since raised over US$40 million in venture capital funding and has over 180 employees in North America and more than 28,000 customers worldwide.

At least one report predicts the US Drone market alone will create 250,000 new jobs and be worth $35 billion per annum. Jordi’s success story shows there is hope, that not sitting back, being proactive and using the great tools and communities available on the Internet instead of getting stuck in ‘average,’ is possible for all of us – we just have to take the initiative and create our future.


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