Around 8 years ago, Mexican immigrant Jordi Munoz left Mexico for the US. While waiting for his green card, he felt as if he were living in a “big jail”. At the time, he was just 20 years old, and he and his girlfriend had moved to LA. He couldn’t legally work until he got the ID card that proved his right to live and seek employment in the US. During the 7-month wait, Munoz, a model plane enthusiast and computer programmer, started to build his own drone in his garage. Using what parts he had around, Munoz made the drone’s autopilot system by taking the motion sensors from a games console controller. To attach the microchips to circuit boards, he ended up heating them up in a domestic oven.
From these humble beginnings, Munoz, now 28, is now the co-founder of the largest US-owned manufacturer of commercial drones. His business, 3D Robotics, is expected to experience sales of $50 million this year. While working on his first prototype, Munoz started putting up posts about his progress on a website for other DIY drone enthusiasts. In addition to advice and encouragement from other hobbyists, one man, journalist and author Chris Anderson was so impressed with Munoz’s story that he sent him $500 to help carry on his work. The two men kept in touch, and Munoz eventually built and sold several dozen prototype drones.
Two years after making his first drone in 2007, Munoz and Anderson decided to join forces, co-founding their own drone-making company. As chief technology officer, Munoz would be behind the engineering, while Anderson, as the CEO, focused on business and investment. Their partnership proved successful, and the company began to grow rapidly with the rising demand for drones.
Before starting this business, Munoz had no prior business training or leadership experience, and hadn’t even attended college. Most of his knowledge came from working on his own and learning from the Internet; “Google PhDs”, as Munoz calls it. However, the company that he created with Anderson grew so fast that Munoz wasn’t able to keep up. Luckily, however, Munoz was able to bring in more experienced people to do the work that he couldn’t. Now, the company employs 357 people across four main sites. Munoz is based in the company’s engineering center in San Diego. Across the border, production takes place in Tijuana, while the company’s sales team is based in Austin. Anderson leads 3D Robotics’ business operations center in the San Francisco Bay area. This location in the Silicon Valley has helped to fuel the company’s growth. To meet increasing demand, the company is going to be sourcing additional production in China.
For all of the success that 3D Robotics has been having, all of their operating software is freely available to any other company that would like to try and make their own drones, a business model that might unnerve the bosses of other industries. Indeed, since his earliest work in his old garage, Munoz has been publishing his work online, asking for help and feedback from fellow drone enthusiasts. This may mean that any competitor can use the software, Munoz claims that the operating system is better because of all the input that comes from other people in its development.