The Three Questions: Pyka

Welcome to the newest installment of The Three Questions - learn more about what T3Q is all about here

What does Pyka do?

From the company:

Pyka is building the future of autonomous electric aircraft. They develop autonomous aircraft to provide people with an affordable and compelling alternative to ground transit using hyper-short takeoff and landing aircraft. Their planes utilize obstacle detection, path planning, custom motors and batteries, and autonomous control systems to navigate their environments and take off and land from almost anywhere. Today, they are serving the agriculture industry and are the first certified electric autonomous airplane flying commercially. They're located in Oakland, CA.  

What do I, Dalton, like about Pyka?

Pyka is a company from the YC Summer 2017 batch. I interviewed them in May 2017, and while the team and high level idea are the same today, their actual market and company focus is far different.

Here is how they described themselves in their YC application:

This description is not accurate at explaining what the company currently does.

What impresses me the most about Pyka is they built a commercially viable business by thinking out of the box to find a novel (and non-obvious) first market.

Specifically, Pyka built a crop duster drone that is currently being used commercially for spraying crops of large farms in New Zealand :) Yes, you heard me right, they went from magical air taxis that could fly me to from SF to Oakland for five bucks on their YC application… to delivering live commercial flights in New Zealand.

In my opinion this is brilliant. To summarize some of my learnings as an investor: it’s hard for drone/aerospace companies to get regulatory approval in most markets and founders often have a hard time figuring out what the best first use case is. Thus a lot of drone startups stuck in some kind of multi-sided chicken-and-egg situation of waiting for regulatory approval, customer demand, and investor interest to keep everything going. The Pyka team figured out a way to bring their technology and expertise to market. Kudos to them for actually pulling this off.

Why should people care about Pyka?

I think it’s safe to imagine that autonomous drones of some sort will be a common piece of future technology. The hard part is not to imagine that this future will happen, but rather to try to imagine why some particular startup (or large tech company) will be the company to actually do it. For those of us that lack imagination, and assume large balance sheet and regulatory sophistication are the most important assets a drone company could have, it would be easy to guess Amazon and Google will capture and dominate this market. Lacking imagination in this way is not very much fun.

Pyka, by virtue of having a launched commercially viable first market, is well positioned to break out of the chicken-and-egg situation drone startups can find themselves in. Pyka is well positioned to grow into a virtuous cycle where more commercial flights -> more data to improve hardware/software/expertise + revenue -> better designs to deploy to increasing market segments -> etc.

Because they have made it this far, and have a real company making real revenue and serving real customers with their autonomous electric aircraft technology, I think Pyka has a real shot at becoming a future market leader.