People Behind the Kespry Products: Parker Clark
Today I’m excited to speak with Parker Clark who is the CTO at Kespry.
Thanks so much for joining me today, Parker.
To start off our chat, could you describe who Kespry is?
Kespry is an aerial intelligence company that’s focused on aggregates, mining, AEC, and insurance.
It’s all about delivering valuable business insights to our customers.
For someone who has many years of experience in Aggregates, Construction, Insurance or Mining but has no experience with drone technology – how easy would it be for them to use Kespry?
We’ve been autonomous and focused on autonomy since the first day this company existed. There has never been a joystick or a controller of any sort. It’s all about automation and ease of use. We’ve sold drones to customers who have never even seen an iPad before. Typically within about 15 minutes, they’re able to use the system to gather all the data that they need for their particular business insights.
You are personally regarded as an innovator in the drone industry and have seven patents pending around autonomy and aerial data precision. In what ways is the Kespry system autonomous?
This goes back to the founding principle of Kespry, which is all about autonomy. When the company was founded, we looked around at the other companies that were trying to build commercial drones and most of them got into the commercial drone industry because they were hobbyists who were interested in using drone technology for industrial use cases. This meant that in all cases when they were developing their products they still kept joysticks involved. It was very natural to have a human there to take an SD card out, to pilot the drone and land it. All of these flaws in the user experience were kind of mitigated by having a person there. Whereas at Kespry, none of us were drone pilots. Our perspective was a human is not going to make it better if the drone is encountering some sort of problem. The drone has to be able to rescue itself and behave itself in all sorts of different environments and events that other people assumed you’d have a human there to solve. Once you make that decision, you have to make the drone able to respond to any environment or event, which then drives a massive amount of development in autonomous robotics.
Kespry builds the entire system, both the hardware and software. In what ways does this make for a really unique work environment?
One of the greatest parts about this company is the different types of people and specifically the engineers that we have. We have maybe twelve different types of engineer. They’re all incredibly strong at their roles within the company. I wake up every day and I’m excited to come into work because there are all these incredible people working on exciting things.
When I’m interviewing software engineers, one of the things that they’re most interested in is whether they’ll also get exposure to hardware. I think it’s one of the most interesting things for them to be a part of. They’re not working on hardware, but they’re getting exposed to it and working alongside the hardware engineers and integrating with them. On the hardware side, everyone’s really interested to be working alongside many different types of software engineers.
For companies out there who are currently considering launching an in-house drone program, why should they pick Kespry instead of other drone companies?
Some of our most vocal customers are people who have tried other drone solutions in the past, and they’ve gotten so fed up with how unreliable both the drone and the data delivery is. The data was often so low accuracy that they didn’t want to base their business decisions on it. They’re running a company and want a solution to help them operate their business more effectively.
Accuracy is incredibly important. How does Kespry ensure accuracy?
We’ve done a number of tests of our system versus other drone systems that people tend to use out there, around accuracy, reliability and data quality. We’re always looking at the state of the art that is beyond Kespry, both in the consumer and in the industrial markets. We’re always measuring ourselves relative to that and making sure that we’re delivering the highest value to our customers.
For companies who are currently researching which drone technology is the best one for them – what are some of the questions they should be asking?
There’s a huge amount of vaporware in the commercial drone industry right now. Companies throw out accuracy specifications all the time that aren’t backed up by any data. I see it all the time from all sorts of different drone companies.
One of the most important things to ask is how can you demonstrate or prove to me that you’re able to hit these sort of specifications.
Another question to ask is – should you create an in-house commercial drone program or hire a service provider that’s using a consumer drone?
As a business owner, you have to ask yourself if you want someone who is using a consumer drone to be responsible for capturing the data that’s going to drive your business. There are all sorts of different questions and concerns surrounding the reliability and accuracy of that data, depending on what the person capturing the data happened to do on that day. Did they clean their camera lens? Did they fly the right path? Did they upload all the data? There are so many different factors that can feed into the accuracy and reliability of that data.
As CTO, what is your usual day like? What are you currently focused on?
To talk about what I’m currently focused on, I should first talk a little bit about all the different roles that I’ve held within this company. I’ve been here pretty much since the beginning, and there was a time where we were selling drones, but we didn’t have any manufacturing capability. I was in a back room assembling the first few drones. We then had customers, but we didn’t have any customer success department, so I was interacting with customers and making sure they were all being successful. Now Kespry has grown significantly, and we’ve gotten to the point where I can focus a bit more. One of the main things that I’m taking ownership of right now is all of the IP strategy. There’s a lot of innovation around the machine learning and artificial intelligence aspects of our data analytics. I handle a lot of strategic partnerships with some of our customers and other companies whose technology we’re interested in. For my team, the things that I’m most focused on are hiring the right talent and removing any blocking factors that my engineers have in their way, to make them as successful as possible.
How do you empower your team?
The most important piece of empowering my team is building relationships with them. Everyone is unique, and I’ve always found it very beneficial to understand the individual and affect what you’re doing by how you think that person will best be managed.
What are your thoughts on the ways AI is being used in the Commercial Drone Industry?
Currently in the commercial drone industry, I hear so much talk of theoretical solutions that in the future, might solve a particular problem but there are relatively few examples of how AI is being applied today to solve real problems.
Right now at Kespry, we’re using artificial intelligence throughout the entire technology stack. There’s intelligence on the drone, in the data pipelines and in the analytics that are layered on top of the data.
There’s a lot of concern surrounding AI and it possibly replacing people. What are your thoughts on that?
AI will augment people. We have a customer who spent his life climbing around these large piles on mining sites and measuring stockpiles. One day he had a heart attack and was no longer able to do that.
Something that I’ll always remember is he told us that he wouldn’t have been able to continue working if he didn’t have a Kespry system which allowed him to step back from the dangerous, physically demanding aspects of his job and focus on making the entire site run more efficiently.
The Kespry system helped him keep working rather than replacing him.
How do you judge success?
I judge success by how delighted our customers are to use the Kespry system. We’ve had a number of our customers comment that they couldn’t perform their job without the Kespry system. The Kespry system is now so deeply ingrained in their work lives that they can’t envision a world in which our product does not exist; that to me is success.
You graduated from Stanford with an electrical engineering degree and a minor in computer science. You also received the Henry Ford Scholar Award for graduating at the top of your class. That’s an incredible achievement. How did you accomplish this?
One of the things that I’m personally best at is remembering and applying information very quickly. I would see one type of problem and be able to deconstruct it and then apply all the different pieces of the problem to new problems that I would see. Which made it possible for me to take so many different classes and perform pretty well in them.
When you’re creating new products or new companies, how do you stay focused? How do you say yes to the things that are important and no to everything else?
The most important thing is being able to say no. It’s one of the things that I try to instill in every engineer that works at Kespry. To understand what to say no to, you have to identify very deeply with something that you’re going to adhere to. For us, that’s making the customer successful and delivering significant value to the customer. With every single thing that comes up, even though it might seem like a great idea, you have to ask yourself – is this going to deliver a lot more value to the customer? You have to examine every single decision from that vein.
When you’re not busy working at Kespry – what do you like to do for fun?
I work at Kespry quite a lot and when I’m not here I try to squeeze in as much fun as possible in a short time span. I tend to do some fairly extreme sports. I go snowkiting in the mountains, rock climbing and kiteboarding. My favorite thing to do is backpacking the Sierras. I really love Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.
What are some of the incredible things you’ve seen while backpacking?
There are a few views that I’ve had where you’re kind of at a loss for words because you’re just taken back by the enormity and the beauty of the event. A lot of times it’s around either sunrise or sunset. One of the things that I’ll always remember is that seeing the sunrise from the top of mountains is phenomenal. It’s not completely dark and then the sun rises over the mountains and it’s just blindingly and brilliantly bright. It’s pretty incredible seeing that from the top of the world.
Parker, it has been so great to chat with you today. Thank you so much for your time!
Thank you. It has been a lot of fun.