There’s a new CEO in the (virtual) cockpit at Raleigh commercial drone startup PrecisionHawk, and he’s got a resume as impressive as the last man in charge.
Michael Chasen co-founded Blackboard, the dotcom era startup that brought college curriculum and coursework online and was eventually sold for nearly $1.7 billion. He replaces Bob Young, the company’s longtime investor who took over as CEO and chairman from founder Christopher Dean in August 2015. Young is a founder of Red Hat, now with $2 billion in revenue, and Lulu.com, another Raleigh tech company.
PrecisionHawk is one of the Triangle startup community’s rising stars, raising $29 million in venture capital, including $18 million last year. It earned national exposure in August 2016 for becoming the first company to receive an FAA exemption to fly drones beyond the line of site of the operator on the ground. It’s been named a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum and to the prestigious Global Cleantech 100 for 2017.
PrecisionHawk serves insurance, agriculture, energy and construction companies with software and analysis tools that turn drone imagery into actionable insights. It also has its own drone for the agriculture industry.
According to news reports, the search for a new CEO came when it was time to scale technology offerings, staff and customers globally. PrecisionHawk has major Fortune 500 customers and in locations around the world, but still just over 100 employees (based on LinkedIn search).
According to TechCrunch, Chasen grew Blackboard to 3,000 employees in 20 global offices. He took the company through an IPO and 20 mergers and acquisitions. He left Blackboard in 2012 after seeing the company through a $1.64 billion private equity buyout. Then a year later, he started SocialRadar, a geo-location startup, and raised $12.75 million from investors. It was sold last year to Verizon—Verizon Ventures is an investor in PrecisionHawk.
Among his first tweets since sharing SocialRadar news in April 2016, Chasen posted the following photo of his new drone and office in Raleigh:
There is a key similarity between PrecisionHawk and SocialRadar. SocialRadar provided the precise location of restaurants and other businesses on a map and was considered superior to Google Maps. Accurate location is critical to the success of the software and sensors powering drones that fly over farms, construction sites or battle fields. And in fact, Chasen told a drone industry publication that he came across PrecisionHawk while improving SocialRadar’s mapping function.
He found the industry not unlike education technology when Blackboard was introduced. Here’s what he shared with Drone360Mag:
“You can easily see how drone technology is going to be ubiquitous, used everywhere. I think not just from what [PrecisionHawk’s] doing, which is to do low-level imagery, using sensors to get better data to make stronger business decisions, but everything from delivery [to] emergency uses.”“Similarly, our very first investor with Blackboard called up a bunch of schools and said, ‘Are you going to use the internet in your classroom?’ and all the schools said ‘no.’ Are you kidding? The luddite professor is never going to want to put his course materials online, and students aren’t asking for it?’ We knew at the time, every school is going to start using the internet.”
Chasen is a native of Connecticut but spent more than 20 years in DC after attending American University. He and Blackboard co-founder Matthew Pittinsky were roommates there.
Chasen always knew he wanted to be president of a computer company one day—Blackboard came in 1997 after both men earned master’s degrees and started their first jobs. Chasen shares much of his story in this interview at Startup Grind in DC:
With use of drones expected to grow tremendously over the next decade—PwC reported a $127 billion market opportunity globally in 2016—Chasen will be responsible for both his company’s growth and the industry’s. According to Drone360Mag, he’ll be an industry spokesperson globally.
And that’s not unlike Young’s early days at Red Hat, when he was CEO of a growing business and also a spokesperson for the emerging open source movement.
Open source is now mainstream, thanks in part to Young’s contributions. EdTech could hit $252 billion in market size in 2020, thanks in part to Chasen’s role at Blackboard. Now both men will have played a key role in drones’ domination.