Lia Reich called a career audible that took her down an unlikely path to PrecisionHawk in its early stages
Tell us about yourself and your background.
Much of my life, even the part that led me to the drone industry, can be tied to sports. Growing up my dad played in the NFL, so, as you might expect, I was an athlete myself. I received a scholarship to the University of Maryland where I could pursue my athletic career as well as my passion for digital media and story telling.
I had always dreamed of being a journalist. I grew up watching Suzy Kolber and Pam Oliver on football Sundays and never doubted I would follow in their footsteps. I spent the summers covering sports at my local TV station, and eventually landed an opportunity I couldn’t refuse… to intern for an NFL team. The “catch”? It was in public relations, not media.
During the year I put on my journalist hat working for our campus TV station and then spent the summers soaking in the fast paced and constant excitement of working on the “other side”. I got to see how the media worked, how you manage a major brand, how to manage crises, crazy fans and critics. Most importantly, I learned how to build stories around a brand vision and promise. This allowed me to interact and learn from well-respected and recognized individuals on both sides of the camera (media personalities and athletes), and the relationships I built during this time, ultimately led me to PrecisionHawk where I now serve as the VP of Marketing and Communications.
How did you get started in the drone industry?
I met Christopher Dean, one of the co-founders of PrecisionHawk, while working at USA Football, the youth development partner of the NFL. Under his leadership, I was focused on architecting educational campaigns to address the growing concern around head trauma and contact sports, which translated surprisingly well to my first year in the drone space.
One day Chris took me to lunch and told me how his brother-in-law, fellow PrecisionHawk co-founder Ernest Earon, had been building small drones to collect data over farm fields. (This was in 2012 and to be honest, I’m pretty confident I had never heard about drones being used outside of the military at this point.) But I was looking for a full time job and he was looking for a hungry, motivated (and cheap) individual to take a shot at developing a new brand. Naturally, I packed up my car and my dog, Mr. Darcy (I’m a literary nerd), and I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina to open what is now PrecisionHawk’s headquarters.
Tell us about your organization and your role there.
PrecisionHawk provides an enterprise platform that uses drone technology to collect and analyze data that can ultimately improve business intelligence. Our platform includes automated flight planning, tracking, data collection, and analytics, and we integrate that platform across multiple industries including agriculture, construction, energy, insurance and government.
What has set PrecisionHawk apart since the beginning is this idea that we provide a platform that fits holistically into a business workflow, so you have drone hardware, drone software and drone services that all work together to give our customers an end to end offering.
While I was hired to focus on brand growth through external communications, as many of you know, in the start-up world you do a bit of everything to get off the ground, so I have worn many hats. Today I spend most of my day to day working with partners to highlight the work we are doing across industry verticals, brainstorming and optimizing our strategic brand campaigns, which span across events, advertising, public relations and a number of others.
What do you like most about being in the UAV industry?
One of the things I love about this space is that there is such a variety of backgrounds and expertise that have to come together to build a new market. There are aviation experts and policy experts, industry professionals and entrepreneurs. We are defining the industry now, and no one says you have to be an engineer or geospatial expert to be a leader. So, I’m not intimidated when I see new companies and thought leaders emerging. It’s exciting to see and meet those new faces! We are in the first inning, and by continuing to bring innovative minds to the table, from all backgrounds, we are advancing the industry as a whole. I think our hiring process at PrecisionHawk reflects that idea that first and foremost let’s find the rock stars in each field. These are the people that will help us define the business (and this industry).
What You’ve Learned:
What has been your most significant “lightbulb” moment since you entered the industry?
I have learned so much about starting a business, raising capital and scaling a company, but I think one of the biggest things PrecisionHawk has taught me, and I am a product of this, is how to see potential in people and then give them room to succeed. Much of PrecisionHawk’s early success has been built by talented individuals who assembled around a vision and weren’t afraid to try and fail, do a demo/crash the drone, call a Fortune 500 company/get turned down.
That said, I feel like there couldn’t be a better forum for me to stress the importance of putting women in leadership positions in early stage, tech companies. Whether it was intentional or not, Chris and Ernie gave me a seat at the table. I was flying across the country meeting potential investors, strategizing with Fortune 500 companies, talking to the likes of the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. This also set the trend within our organization early on that women would be well represented across departments. And I’ll be honest, we aren’t there yet, but as we grow from 150 to 250 to 1,000 people and beyond we have the mindset to be intentional with our hires.
Is there a tip you learned you would like to share with other women in the industry?
Partnerships have been a valuable part of PrecisionHawk’s development and growth. We aren’t building products in a vacuum and we, as women, are great at building alliances. We value cooperation and collaboration and in a budding industry this is critical to building technology that will change the way we live our lives. There is so much innovation happening from the established companies to the new start ups, and women have a great eye for seeing potential matches, ways we can bring technologies together, leverage relationships and trust to create better tools faster through these partnerships.
Also, find a female mentor. There is something to be said about having a professional and personal relationship with a woman who is experiencing planning a wedding or balancing children while also running a company. Someone who has asked for things, whether it be a job or a raise, and has been successful and has failed. I believe that if we commit to sharing these experiences it will absolutely accelerate women’s leadership roles.
What’s the best way for W&D readers to connect with you?
The Final Word:
Is there anything else you would like to share with the Women and Drones Community?
There is this strange feeling that I sometimes experience, and I’ve read this is common particularly in women, that while I believe to my core I am very good at something I simultaneously think I don’t deserve to be there, I’m not cut out for it, people will recognize that I “don’t know what I’m doing”. But self-doubt only breeds failure. Above ALL, believe in yourself. Expect more of yourself than you believe is possible. If you work hard, you deserve a seat at the table so make sure you have one, both figuratively and literally. Know that you will have challenges, but know you are capable. Good luck!