P | P | P feat. Skyports

We caught up with David Stubbersfield, Tech Lead – IT Development at Skyports as part of ‘Product | People | Potential’.

The intention of our ‘Product | People | Potential’ content series is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups grand potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Can you please introduce yourself, what your business does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your business and offering unique?

David: I’m a tech lead for IT development at Skyports Infrastructure, focused on the vertiport product offering (more on that later). For background on Skyports, we are a leader in the Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) space, with two distinct business areas: Skyports Infrastructure and Skyports Drone Services. On the infrastructure side, we focus on the development and operation of AAM ground-based infrastructure – commonly referred to as ‘vertiports’ – for the passenger electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft – air taxis. Our Drone Services division is focused on improving access and efficiency with drone operations, such as deliveries and surveys, for a broad set of use cases and industries. 

We play in one of the most disruptive – and fasted growing – industries to emerge in the last 10 years. With huge amounts of funding pouring into the industry, there are a lot of companies that want a shot at success. What makes Skyports uniquely positioned to succeed is our ambitious and creative approach to product development, and emphasis on building a strong foundation. Given the industry’s trajectory, traditional aviation players are keen to be a part of the growth. However, one of the reasons we have had success to date is our non-traditional thinking, which has allowed us to stay lean whilst scaling a global business.

Can you share the story behind the origin of your business and Service / Product?

David: With the advent and growth of the air taxi industry, our founder and CEO Duncan Walker saw a clear opportunity. What come up must come down; these vehicles need a safe place to land, taxi, and recharge. Seeing this opportunity, Duncan sought to provide these critical sites for the vehicle operators. Skyports Infrastructure was born.

Speaking of People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with those businesses faced with the same issues?

David: Skyports is critically focused on spending at the right time. The implications of this is that our headcount, and thus burn-rate, is very calculated and measured against our fundraising targets and CAPX requirements. This has allowed us to be one of the leanest organisations in this space whilst also being a market leader.

As a global and continuously growing organisation, one of the challenges we’ve faced is around fostering communication across different time zones and cultures. After multiple years of doing this ‘in the wild’, we’ve found that there is no substitute for regular face-to-face engagements to ensure the organisation is consistent in terms of its commitment to values. It can seem like a large investment but in our experience, it’s worth it!

Moving to Product, what has been your approach to understanding and implementing product market fit or sales cycles?

David: One of the challenges with product market fit in our domain is the potential large capital outlay required to get user feedback. We’ve successfully utilised workshop sessions, which certainly have value. However, it is through the use of advanced modelling and simulation techniques, where users and customers can experience the vertiport in 3D & virtual reality, that we are able to provide a much richer experience.

And then Potential, can you share some challenges or barriers you had to overcome to create a Product / Service offering with potential?

David: Skyports isn’t the only infrastructure provider in the space, but we’re on our way to realising our potential – and reach – as a global leader. During the pandemic especially, we had to double-down on prioritising opportunities which enabled us to hone our product offering.

A secondary consideration is development and investment in skill. We’re incredibly selective with the expertise we bring in-house versus that which we outsource. We prioritise product first and foremost to focus on the requirements of creating a best-in-class, scalable solution. By maintaining our philosophy as a lean business, we achieve three things: we continue to operate with agility, we ensure that we always work with the very best people and organisations of a given industry, we benefit and learn from new insight.

Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?

David: Our CEO was extremely active in the fundraising process. In our experience, investors want to see the grit of the employees rather than a 3rd party organisation.

Additionally, rather than just targeting private equity firms, target investors that can bring relevant experience and expertise to your domain.

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