To the Clouds

By: 
Nov. 3, 2017

For Tim Nilson, the idea of drones delivering packages at consumers' doorsteps or doing police work for a local precinct isn't a matter of if but when.

“The world will change over the next four to 10 years and become a place where you look out the window and see drones zipping by for all kinds of reasons,” he says.

The former chief technology officer for Sony Music is ready to help usher that change along through his Sarasota companies, Lumenier and GetFPV.com. The former designs and manufactures drone components such as motors and propellers, while the latter is an online specialty retailer that sells Lumenier products, as well as drone equipment made by other companies.

While both entities started off serving the consumer segment of the drone industry, Nilson, 46, plans to increase the focus on commercial customers to capitalize on increasing demand. To help that process along, Nilson recently reached a deal with a private equity firm, Chicago-based Pfingsten Partners, for additional capital. The funds, according to a statement, will be used for new product development and to increase production capacity. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed; Nilson will remain at the helm of the company.

“The big growth in the drone space is projected to be in the commercial space,” Nilson says. “On the commercial side, there really is no limit to what could be achieved with drones. I think I haven't established the company well enough in servicing the commercial space yet, and that's what I want to pursue.”

Nilson and the companies have a new headquarters to accomplish those goals. Earlier this year, the company moved from its former 5,000-square-foot Sarasota building into a newly constructed 24,000-square-foot facility just north of downtown Sarasota.

The project, including the land, cost around $2.5 million. Nilson made the building as secure as possible, opting for rebar-enforced concrete-block construction and impact-resistant windows.

Rapid growth drove the move to the new site.

Nilson first got introduced to using drones for first-person view — or FPV — applications while at Sony Music, where he began working after he sold his ringtone company to Sony. “I thought that it was the greatest thing that I'd come across in a long time,” he says. “The first second I saw it I knew this was my calling.”

He started making drone components out of his two-bedroom New York apartment. He soon developed a following, which led to the creation of GetFPV.com, since he couldn't find the right kind of specialty retailer through which to sell the parts he was making.

Nilson left Sony Music in 2012 to focus on drones full time. New York was expensive and wasn't a good place for flying drones, so he sought a new home for the business. After seeing Sarasota on a TV show, he checked it out and was smitten. He originally ran the companies out of his garage, but when business started doubling every year he needed more space. Nilson declines to release specific revenue figures.

Today, there are 28 employees at the Sarasota headquarters, which both designs and prototypes Lumenier products and serves as a warehouse and distribution center for GetFPV.com.

Another 15 to 18 employees work at the business's Chinese manufacturing facility, which produces thousands of components a month. “I felt that if I could have a strong presence in the U.S. with Lumenier but also have the capacity and capability to fabricate these products in a price-competitive way in China, I'd really get the best of both worlds,” says Nilson.

An emphasis on quality and customer service has, so far, been a key differentiator for Lumenier and GetFPV.com. “Our products are always a little bit more pricey than competing products,” says Nilson, “and we like it that way.”