Drone delivery seems to be the hot topic as of late. Alphabet’s Wing and Flytrex both have plans to launch (or have already launched) drone delivery operations in Texas. Zipline, which in 2021 announced plans to launch medical deliveries in Utah, this year also announced medical deliveries in North Carolina. And a relative newcomer to the drone delivery space, Irish company Manna, now says it also has plans to launch in the U.S. this year.
With all these drone deliveries comes a new slew of jobs to actually manage all those drones. But what does managing drone deliveries actually entail? Liang Feng, who has been a Commercial Operations Lead at Manna since August 2021, sat down with The Drone Girl to share a behind-the-scenes view into what actually goes into drone deliveries.
Feng, who is based in Ireland, spent seven years before joining Manna at CarTrawler, which is a provider of car hire and mobility services. Before that, she spent 14 years at hotel giant Hilton.
This interview was edited for clarity and length. Do you know an awesome drone girl I should profile? Contact me here.
Drone Girl: What do you do at Manna
Liang Feng: My role at Manna is leading the commercial operation function. I work with many teams across the company to define our playbook. I work very closely with the core functions, such as operation, commercial, product, finance, etc.
Drone Girl: What’s a normal work day in your life like for you?
Liang Feng: Not a single day is the same for me, but I really enjoy it as I get bored with a lot of routine work. I feel like a journalist in the company sometimes, as I have to gather different pieces of information in order to build our playbook. A vital part of my job is understanding their workflows and gathering data/analytics. This allows us to develop scalable and automated processes, something that is very important to our company.
DG: What drew you to work in the drone industry?
LF: I used to work in the travel tech industry with Bobby Healy, our founder and CEO. When he started to talk about his drone delivery ideas in 2018 I thought he was crazy, but it also made me super curious about how crazy this can be.
I couldn’t help but follow the progress of Manna for years. So, it was an easy decision when I got the call from Bobby last year asking if I’m ready to join the “craziness and fun”.
DG: Wow, that’s awesome to already know about the team you would be joining!
LF: It has been a great journey so far, even my kids are super interested and have started to believe that my job is real.
DG: Okay, so your kids love it. But what are the challenges dealing with the general public, or things that the general public doesn’t understand?
LF: When people have the “3 minutes delivery time” in their mind, they often forget that this does not include the time needed for the restaurant or shop to prepare the meal and for the meal to then be loaded to the drone. We do a lot of customer education and engagement to bridge this gap.
DG: Yeah, for what it’s worth, I’m always skeptical when people actually say “the item can be at my door in three minutes,” because it’s more like the flight itself takes three minutes.
LF: It didn’t take long for most of our users to understand and adapt to drone delivery. As soon as people got used to it, the expectation of the speed of delivery just went through the roof.
DG: And you’ve done tons of deliveries, beyond just one-off tests.
LF: We’ve delivered hundreds of orders in just 3 months at our Balbriggan operation.
DG: One cool thing about the drone industry is that it draws people from all sorts of backgrounds, whether it’s manned aviation, robotics or something completely different. You have a unique background yourself
LF: I have a commercial operation & partnership background in travel tech, but what I do now is a little more complicated than just the normal B2C or B2B set up. There is so much to consider when you have the drone flight operation, from huge brands like Tesco/Samsung to local small businesses, to customers.
DG: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
LF: The most challenging part of my job is making the operation and commercial “marriage” work. This involves constantly evolving new ideas and processes in order to make things seamless and simple. I really enjoy this, after all, solving challenges is really satisfying.
DG: What’s the most surprising aspect of your job?
LF: Before I joined Manna I thought I would get to fly a drone and have one of those cool controls in my hands, but then I realized even our drone pilots don’t get to use the sticks much since it’s fully autonomous.
DG: And they’re only getting more autonomous! Speaking of, where do you see yourself and Manna a year or two from now?
LF: I will be working with the team to roll out our drone delivery services in multiple locations, including Ireland, the U.S. and other international locations.
DG: If you could have a delivery drone bring you anything right now, what would it be?
LF: Bubble tea, any type of bubble tea. It’s hard to make good bubble tea at home. This is always on my list of potential offerings.
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