Pramod Raheja | Creating Better Leaders, MIT Entrepreneurial Master’s Program, and Building a Fleet of AI-Powered Drones

Pramod Raheja is the co-founder and CEO of Airgility, a company based in the Washington DC area doing interesting stuff with drones in a commercial application and they are helping large companies and entities such as the US Air Force and Department of Homeland Security with their drone technology. Pramod is an Aerospace Engineering graduate from UMCP with over 30 years of aviation and aerospace operations experience. He is also a longtime member of  Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and has been an entrepreneur for many years, having founded a number of companies while being a full time pilot with United Airlines. 

Pramod has a comprehensive understanding of technology at a tactical and strategic level and he always takes a customer-focused approach to management, new business development, revenue generation, and profitability. He is also a Graduate of the Founder’s Institute and the Entrepreneurial Master’s Program at MIT.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Learn:

  • How Pramod Raheja self-funded his way to flying school
  • Pramod talks about the similarities between pilots and entrepreneurs and how this is reflected in his entrepreneurship journey and in the launch of his first company
  • Why Pramod’s first consulting company focused on healthcare
  • How Pramod’s life as a pilot and as an entrepreneur changed after 9/11
  • How people reacted to Pramod’s decision to go into entrepreneurship
  • Pramod explains why he decided to buy into the Intelligent Office franchise 
  • Pramod discusses his decision to go back into employment in order to shift to a different industry
  • Pramod talks about the history of drones and what his company, Airgility, does
  • What Pramod has learned about working with the government
  • The future of Airgility and the company’s plans of using UV light technology for cleaning 
  • Pramod’s experience at Entrepreneurial Masters Program (EMP)
  • The role Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) has played in Pramod’s businesses and entrepreneurship journey
  • The people Pramod acknowledges for his success and achievements

Resources Mentioned:

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:14  

Welcome to the Revolution, the Smart Business Revolution podcast where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution. John Corcoran.

 

John Corcoran  0:40  

All right. Welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where I get the privilege of talking with all kinds of interesting CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs and companies and organizations like YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, Lending tree, Open Table, x software and many more. I’m also the co-founder of Rise25 where we help connect b2b business owners with their ideal prospects and referral partners. 

And I’m really excited today, my guest is Pramod Raheja. He’s the CEO and co-founder of Airgility, which is a company based in the Washington DC area, which is doing some really interesting stuff with drones in a commercial application, all kinds of interesting applications, helping larger companies, including the US Air Force and Department of Homeland Security entities like that. So we’re going to talk about that. He’s also a longtime EO member since 2011. And he’s been an entrepreneur for many years, founded a number of different companies in spite of the fact, and this is really interesting, that he’s a full time pilot. He flies for United Airlines and has been a pilot for a long time, self funded and bootstrapped his way into it, not going through the military or anything like that, and manages to balance all these things and you know, founding a EO qualified business, which is no easy thing to do. So we’re going to get into all of that in a second. 

 

But first, before we get into this interview this episode is brought to you by my company Rise25 Media. Rise25 helps b2b businesses to get clients, referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing and if you’re listening to this and you like podcasts and you thought, hey should I do a podcast? Well I say, yes sir you should. We specialize in b2b businesses with a high client lifetime value helping you to build high caliber relationships with the people who matter so To learn more, and get more inspiration and ideas about how you can do this go to Rise25media.com or you can also email us at [email protected] 

 

All right, Pramod, so really interested you know, you and I connected through eo we’re at Startup Grind conference right before the whole Coronavirus pandemic hit and everything got shut down. So I was really glad that we got to meet we connected through EO which by the way if you don’t know about EO, go to eonetwork.com or check out some of my past interviews with Verne Harnish, Daniel Marcos or Dave Will, host of the EO 360 podcast if you want to learn more about it’s amazing organizations I’ve been involved with you’ve been involved with since 2011. So let’s first start, I know we chatted before and you self funded becoming a pilot while you’re in college, I believe it was, because you were just passionate about it. And that that’s no small thing to do. It’s not cheap. And it’s also very time consuming to do that. How did you go about that?

 

Pramod Raheja  3:28  

Yeah. Hey, thanks, John. Thanks for having me excited to be here. And yeah, I think the passion for aviation and aerospace and just anything that flew was something that was ingrained in me. I don’t know if it ingrains the right word, but just something I think I was born with is a strong interest. So growing up, I had tons of pictures about videos because we didn’t have videos back then. But pictures and posters of essentially flying machines on my walls and my heroes were like the astronauts, the lunar development. Hello program. And so wanting desire, the desire to fly was kind of inherent in there. And it wasn’t until college that I really had the wherewithal and the, you know, financial ability in terms of like you said bootstrapping, which where I was working at a job and I was pouring all that money into, you know, taking flying lessons. And the ability to do that. So when I did it, I like to say that when people go for their first flight, where they’re actually you know, piloting the airplane, they have a bug or they don’t they have the we call it the flying bug, right? Where they’re just like, oh, gosh, I love this right. And so, then you either do what I did was pursue it professionally, or you pursue it as a hobby and you enjoy it, you know, and do it on the side of whatever you do. And of course, I kind of just immediately identified with this meet the, sort of being a pilot will say, and I yes, myself in those shoes, I could see myself doing it and just follow that out at that point from college. Pass and beyond.

 

John Corcoran  5:00  

And you were not in a small program or an easy program, either you were studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland College Park, which is one of the most respected programs out there for that topic. So that must have been really time consuming, doing both those things. I’m also fascinated with, you know, the personal qualities that go into becoming a pilot and also go into becoming an entrepreneur. Because some people would say that entrepreneurship is inherently risky. And it requires a lot of courage. Same thing with piloting an airplane, there’s a lot of risk involved and requires a lot of courage and requires a lot of preparation. What are your thoughts on the kind of the, the personal characteristics that go into both of those two types of vocations?

 

Pramod Raheja  5:48  

Yeah, well, I’ll even take that a step further from what you just said about the characteristics that sort of align with each other. I like to say so when I was in college, We talked about me being a pilot, what I really wanted to do as a test pilot, test pilot if you go more risky, yeah. And if you go back to, you know, if you google john Chuck Yeager and write stuff there, right? Yeah, there’s a test pilot named Scottie Crossfield, it was the first one to go Mach 2.0. Chuck beer was the first one to go, you know, Mach 1.0, which is the speed of sound. And then 2.0, of course, being twice the speed of sound. So these were, these were here as a mind and I thought, hey, I want to do that because it combines sort of this technical engineering aspect of flying an airplane with the actual flying and then actually being able to evaluate characteristics of different types of airplanes at aircraft. So I thought that was pretty exciting. So now we sort of, you know, kind of wind though that into entrepreneurship. I look at entrepreneurship as going out into the unknown. So when you start a venture, for example, and you’re not exactly sure, I don’t think anybody on entrepreneurs really exactly sure what’s gonna happen, how they’re going to do and, of course, they’re going to do Wherever you can to make work, but you go out into the unknown, you venture out of the unknown. And that’s the way I looked at test flying back then, you know, I said, Hey, we’re actually flying an aircraft that needs to be testable, because nobody knows exactly what the characteristics are gonna come out of it. That’s the same thing as entrepreneurship. So I think that that characteristic is very similar in entrepreneurs,

 

John Corcoran  7:20  

right? I’m sure that we could create a real long list of the overlap between the two areas, but one of them is continually learning, you need to constantly be learning, educating yourself, constantly upping your game, remaining abreast of all the changes that are happening, whether it’s in the market or whether it’s changes that are happening with aviation or the weather, things like that. So how did you apply this when you decided to get into entrepreneurship? Did you take a pilot precision kind of approach to starting your first company? In other words, did you have a checklist? Did you spend a lot of time and preparation before you launched your first company? Was that kind of the way that you approached it?

 

Pramod Raheja  8:05  

Yeah, I love the question. So I think it started with a lot of market research, understanding the market that I wanted to be in, which initially at that time was a consulting company. And so that’s a great question. And so I would say, yeah, that, you know, the, as far as when we talk about entrepreneurship, and more advanced scale, and you know, within eo and YPO, and things like that, it’s all about having process, you know, if you want to, if you want to have an entity that you’ve created, be valuable to somebody else, or even to somebody in your family, if that’s something you’re going to do, you’re going to pass it on, you want it to have the right process. So the process and the checklists, and those sort of things that you’re, you know, referring to, are, are super important and yes, are very much in alignment with, you know, sort of what pilots do. The other thing I’ll add to that, however, is that even though you do all those things, you certainly as a business owner, as an entrepreneur have to just like, consistently core straight So when we fly from point A to point B, there are even though you think you might just it’s a very simple, straightforward way to do that there are things that happen along the way weather pops up, you need to air traffic control needs to go left, right, up down because of other traffic in the area. And so there’s a lot of course braking going on. So the same thing with entrepreneurship, you can have all the processes in the world. But if you can’t sort of be where, you know, you can’t have the situational awareness that we call it in flying in your business, then you’ll probably get left behind and you know, COVID here, unfortunately for most of the world has been that sort of wake up call for all of us to say, hey, what are we doing in our businesses and in our personal lives, that we maybe need to course correct on so that we can be ready for the next thing that hits or even just to get navigate using again, pilot terms is navigate the crisis now that’s happening right now as we’re speaking.

 

John Corcoran  9:52  

It sounds like that your background, your training in aviation, has made you a better entrepreneur, would you agree?

 

Pramod Raheja  10:00  

absolutely great. Um, yeah, it’s sort of this approach of if you’re an entrepreneurial CEO as an example, you are kind of maintaining the situational awareness of the big picture, what you’re doing. But then also making sure that you are somebody in your crew is managing the little details. So in the airlines or in military aviation would be your crew. And in the entrepreneurial world, it might be your management team.

 

John Corcoran  10:27  

And so your first company was a consulting company, you did consulting in healthcare, but taking some of your training from the airlines and applying that in a healthcare context. So tell us a little bit about that.

 

Pramod Raheja  10:44  

Yeah, absolutely. So just like, you know, as an entrepreneur or a manager or CEO, you’re continuously learning as you brought up earlier, and you were learning how to be a better leader. Pilots also have to do the same thing. So if just so we Do a little history lesson back in the 1960s was the dawn of the jet age and 60s 70s that timeframe. And what was happening was a lot of airplanes were crashing, and you know, sort of conventional thinking was that there was some sort of mechanical malfunction going on. In reality, these planes were crashing because of bad leadership. And that leadership just meant also potentially poor teamwork. And part of that was the cultural hierarchy. Part of that was just not knowing how to work with each other. And this sort of very high risk, high reliability environment where if you make a mistake, bad things can happen. And so that was in the 19, late 70s and 80s, that this sort of training came about that significantly improved airline and military aviation safety, and the number of accidents significantly went down to where it was a miniscule. Fast forward to the late 90s, where now I’m an airline pilot, I’m actually working in the department that teaches this sort of training and I’m an extreme instructor at the airline teaching leadership training and facilitating others with other pilots, you know, to train them on these principles. Fast forward a couple years after, you know, into doing that, and now it’s you know, late 90s, early 2000s. And I’m seeing that healthcare has a very similar problem. So I start digging up research on how you apply this aviation paradigm to healthcare, start seeing a body of work, start to survey the market to see what companies are out there doing what they’re doing, decide to start a company. And, you know, just like many entrepreneurs have stories in my stories that I was so, so engrossed in this idea, that one night I think I stayed up till like, you know, five in the morning, googling before Google was really a verb, you know, googling everything I could find to see if this was a worthwhile idea to pursue eventually determined it was and that was sort of what I call my first real business but the reality is was like like many entrepreneurs, I was probably selling and doing things on the side menu. years before that, so you go in college

 

John Corcoran  13:02  

right? Now you started this actually not long after 911 how, what was it? Like as a pilot for you? How did your life change after 911? And what was it? Like, you know, I’m always fascinated by this. People who founded a company shortly after 911 of course, the economy went very downhill very rapidly after that, we also had the.com bust. So the first part of the question was, you know, how did your life change as a pilot after 911? And the second part is, what was it like founding a company after 911?

 

Pramod Raheja  13:35  

Yeah, so good book, good questions. And I’d say, you know, the chance of the first one, as a pilot on life changed quite a bit. Uh, you know, airlines, everybody, pretty much all the major airlines at the time went bankrupt, which meant a lot of things, you know, lower pay and all these types of things that come with bankruptcy. potential of not knowing whether you’ll have a job of course or not, furloughs To stuff I was fortunate not to be furloughed, however, you know, still it had a big effect on my life. And I had to tell my wife that, you know, it might be a good idea for her to look for a job. Meanwhile, I was also always kind of, like I mentioned, sort of had this entrepreneurial mindset. And one of the things that I always wanted to do, which you kind of alluded to earlier, which is, you know, continuous learning and education is, I had always wanted to go to, like a good MBA school, I was wanting to go to business school, and I, like you said, had done engineering. So I was looking at, at that time as 911 it happened, I was kind of accelerating my thinking to say, hey, maybe it’d be a good time to go to business school. I have no idea what’s gonna happen with this pilot thing. You know, he’s just, it’s just too, too risky. And it is a big question mark as to what the world’s gonna look like in a couple years here. So anyway, to make a long story short, I didn’t go to business school, I ended up starting another business after the sell button. And I think part of that is just I can’t sit still, I’m a typical entrepreneur that says, hey, you know, I’m just gonna learn by doing and then the learning is continuously happening. My whole nother conversation maybe another of another podcast would be around my sort of thinking and probably many other people’s thinking around how higher education has changed and is no longer just go to school, get your piece of paper and go work. It’s actually always learning, always listening to lectures always, you know, taking courses that are relevant to you at that given point in time. So that was something that was ingrained in me from my dad a long time ago.

 

John Corcoran  15:26  

And to that point, you actually relatively recently completed the MIT entrepreneurial master’s program which entrepreneurs organization NEOs involved ns. We can touch on that in a second. I thought it was interesting that you did that recently, in spite of all the different balls that you have in the air. Now, one of the things I want to ask you about is as an entrepreneur, one of the challenges is when people doubt you when friends or family question, why you’re doing it or they doubt that you can succeed, something that every entrepreneur has to deal with. Was it harder for you in particular, given that you have this successful career? I mean, you’re flying big planes for United, you’re flying the 320, the 777 727. You know, did anyone at any point say Hey, what are you doing, man? Why are you starting this side company? You should be focused on this.

 

Pramod Raheja  16:20  

Yeah, absolutely. I think two things, one that definitely came up. And I remember a good friend of mine, who actually, taught him how to fly as an instructor way back in the day. And he was a successful real estate entrepreneur in terms of his family business in the Washington DC area. And he said exactly what you just said to me, he said, Hey, Pramod, you know, like, You taught me how to fly. You’re a great pilot, and you know, I respect your ability and I would fly with you any day of the week. However, you know, why are you starting a business And oh, by the way, I know that business really well. You know, you’re going to get crushed. There’s no there’s no need for you to do that. And he’s talking about a franchise which I subsequently started and, you know, and and and it did scare me honestly, I it was kind of I had to think twice about it. Um, and I went for it anyways because I felt like I was able to differentiate enough, we had enough value drivers and, you know, to make a long story short, we actually became the most profitable at that time we became the most profitable unit in the franchise at that given time.

 

John Corcoran  17:25  

Let’s talk about that. So Intelligent Office is the name of it. Did you find Did you found the concept or was it you start a franchise within a larger

 

Pramod Raheja  17:34  

organization? A second I bought a franchise location where you know, within the concept, right? And geographically and then I expanded that over the next few years, from one to four eventually before Yeah, okay. Okay. Why did you decide to buy into a franchise instead of starting your own company? Well, it goes back to your question before about Hey, being a You know, being a pilot, did you find it harder to people kind of say stick to the flying or what have you, whatever the, you know, whatever the sentiment was, well, the reality was, even though I had a strong interest in entrepreneurship and probably had some inherent, you know, whatever things in my head that that I had with either very entrepreneurial in terms of character traits. I also didn’t know a lot, and I wasn’t really interested in franchising to answer your question. Like, I used to look at the, you know, back when we used to read papers, there was this big franchising section in the USA today and the Wall Street Journal, and it was, it was every Thursday, I remember, and I would pull, I would pop that open and look at all the franchises and I would see all this food and all this retail and I would say, that doesn’t seem interesting to me, margins are low, you know, all these kind of reasons why you might want to do not want to do a business like that. And then one day I saw the Intelligent Office, and it was a b2b business. And I and I immediately understand the business I used to understand the business model. I know And then eventually, after digging in a little bit learning about it, I loved the margins and I loved you know, you potentially could have really large margins. And so I had enough business knowledge to know that and to figure that out, and then you know, fast forward after doing a little bit of research, I sort of dropped the idea and then by maybe five, six months later, this is now in 2004, early 2004 I get serious about it again and you know, decide to go in the in the franchising world they call it a discovery day, you know, what a discovery day learn about the franchise meet the management. They tell you all the great things that are happening, you know, and so I did that and I was really interested so shortly after that we purchased our own our first our first franchise,

 

John Corcoran  19:43  

okay, and this is an idea was this an idea that was ahead of its time, or, or not? Because it seems like now is definitely you were talking beforehand and you said Now certainly given what’s happening in the world as we record this in late May 2020, Coronavirus, pandemics still happening worldwide, you know, did you feel like it was ahead of its time or no?

 

Pramod Raheja  20:05  

Yeah, so a really good question. And I’ll answer that in a couple different ways. One, the whole concept was about working from anywhere. In fact, that was the motto at the time, it was Intelligent Office, work from anywhere. And it’s interesting that, you know, I’m gonna go back and forth a little if I go back, if I go now to 2020. It’s interesting when I watch CNBC or you know, something like that, and they talk about working from home and how this is new trends from working from home. This was something that I embraced and saw happening in 2004. Not that I’m a visionary, nothing like that. Just the point being that there was this whole concept out there that you know, working from home was a thing. And to answer your question a bit further. Yeah. When we would sell. We had to educate people on the concept. We had to really, truly educate them. We had to say, Hey, this is how this works. And they’re like, Huh, you mean, you don’t have to have a fixed office, I can get all these services and all this, all these office things that I would normally get if I had to fix Office, but I can do it and I can still work from home or my boat or wherever I want to. Yeah, you can. Now fast forward to 2020 where, you know, I would say even before COVID it was more commonplace to work remote work from home. But now there’s a whole new population of people that have never worked from home that are finding it, you know, a challenge you’re finding new obstacles to overcome and eventually that alone Of course, they’ll they’ll do that. But so I would say yes, this business now is probably more valuable than ever in terms of the services it provides to the clients that it has.

 

John Corcoran  21:34  

Yeah. Now as you moved on from that to something else did you tire of it? What was your reason for the decision to switch into a completely new industry by the way?

 

Pramod Raheja  21:45  

Yeah, so um, I, I had brought in some partners as we were, you know, growing the locations and growing revenue base and all that sort of thing that happens when you obviously want to grow and scale a business, and eventually after about six years almost seven of doing it, you know, full time being the managing partner being the CEO. I decided this, you know, hand over the reins to one of my partners and just kind of decide what’s next for me. So, interestingly enough, I took a little time off, like probably many people would do and kind of did a six month call sabbatical. But also being an entrepreneur, I really couldn’t sit still. So some of my clients kept hiring me for different types of consulting work. And so I did that. And a friend of mine said, Hey, Pramod a, you know what, never had a real job before. You’ve always been a pilot entrepreneur, but you’ve never worked in corporate America. And oh, by the way, I’m, you know, I’m going to go be VP of sales at this full internet company in Virginia. You want to come work for me? And I said, Sure. And so I went into the interview. And in the interview, I had interviewed six people to company VP of sales, VP of Marketing, oh, you know, much of the executives, and they said, Hey, the CEO is here today. He’d like to interview me, Craig said. Sit down with him. He looks at my resume and he goes, wow, you flew Boeing triple sevens. I said, Yeah. I haven’t done it in a while. But yeah, I was doing that. And he said, Well, that’s great. I’m really impressed. And I like you a lot. But you’re never gonna make it here. Because, you know, you don’t know what we’re looking for. We’re looking for somebody with 10 years of software sales experience, you know, doing some sort of SAS sales type thing. And I said, Well, I disagree. I think I have the right characteristics to work, you know, with you with your sales team and be effective. And anyways, make a long story short, he didn’t want to hire me, but it wasn’t really up to him. It was up to the guy who was bringing in, you know, the VP of sales and management. He brings me in and, and six months later, I was their number one sales account manager. And and so

 

John Corcoran  23:44  

Now, do you think what the CEO was saying was that tactic or is he being genuine? He just didn’t think you know,

 

Pramod Raheja  23:48  

I think he was being genuine in his sentiments of, hey, look, you don’t even meet the minimum qualifications. I don’t know why we’re looking at it. It was the kind of the sentiment you know, right. And,

 

John Corcoran  24:00  

and that’s an interesting culture that the CEO felt that way. And yet you were hired anyways.

 

Pramod Raheja  24:05  

Well, I was hired anyways, because when I missed, I kind of skipped a step there. As we were walking out of the interview, he walked me to the last day of the last interview, which was with my boss, who was the guy who was actually bringing me into the company who recruited me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t even be there. And he looked at him, he said, Hey, I don’t like being promoted a lot. I think he’s gonna make it here. And my friend who was bringing me and said, You know what, I don’t waste your time. I think, you know, I wouldn’t waste your time. I do think he’s a good hire. And then the CEO said, well, as your number you gotta make it work.

 

Unknown Speaker  24:42  

In the world of sales, are you Right, right.

 

Unknown Speaker  24:45  

It’s on you.

 

Pramod Raheja  24:47  

Yeah. So then, about a year into that, um, I got bored. I was the number one sales guy. I was, you know, really enjoying it, by the way, but as an entrepreneur at heart. Yeah. So I went off and started another channel. It had been sitting in my, you know, in my wheelhouse for a long time. And that was kind of a thing that, I’d say, came out of the Intelligent Office in terms of ideas in terms of the ability to hire remote virtual talent. So it was a company I started calling my staff now calm and the idea was you. You could have sort of vetted nowadays that’s very ubiquitous. You can go to lots of websites. Yeah. Yeah, a lot. Yeah, they’re very, there’s a lot of niche. There’s marketing, there’s engineering, there’s top towel. There are all kinds of things. So this is the beginning of 2012. Yeah, this is the beginning of 2012. And I did that for a few years and sort of melded that into another company eventually. But the bottom line is my heart was with aerospace, my aviation aerospace.

 

And so and ironically,

 

John Corcoran  25:47  

of all your different entrepreneurial ventures, it took a while to get around to something even related aerospace, but let me challenge you on that. aerospace. I mean, drones. I got four young kids drones are our child Toys, right? I mean, like, how are you taking drones? And or let me put it another way? What made you think this child’s toy would have commercial applications?

 

Pramod Raheja  26:10  

Sure. And if you really look at the history of it, they didn’t start out as child toys. Right? It started out in military aviation, right as sort of these things that could go up in the air without a pilot and do things whether it’s surveillance is a big one, right? And that’s how it started out with these big what we call unmanned pilot unmanned piloted vehicles, and then form factor shrink to where now you have small drones and or small unmanned aerial systems as they call

 

John Corcoran  26:37  

Yeah. Also with batteries, batteries becoming lighter and lighter and more efficient. salutely. So

 

Pramod Raheja  26:42  

all of the different elements of technology that you would imagine that would cause you to be able to do something in a smaller factor. So batteries, components, all of that, you know, computer boards, you know, you know, just thinking back to the days of the early super Cray computers and now that Besides of that computing power is in our phone, you know, associate similar things with drones, right? If we use the same analogy, that everything shrank to where you can do it, almost miniature, and they do have drones. But to your point about being a toy, yeah, they didn’t actually start out that way. And then eventually, you know, there was a strong interest in there’s always been a strong interest in model aviation. People have been flying, little remote control, RC airplanes and a long time. And this just kind of became a Natural Bridge to that to drones as well. Right.

 

John Corcoran  27:28  

And so even though it started out of military application, you went and you sold it to the military, he sold it back to Homeland Security and the Air Force. Some of those are some of your clients now. So talk a little bit about what you do what Airgility does,

 

Pramod Raheja  27:47  

Yeah, so we build essentially unmanned aerial systems or drones, as we’re talking about them. They use that terminology, and we focus on the artificial intelligence and autonomy that accompanies this actual hardware. Or peace or drone? So in other words, how does the drone fly around on its own, think on its own and make decisions and then accomplish a mission and a mission example of a mission like the something that we’re working on. You mentioned the Department of Homeland Security. We’ve been working with them for the last couple years early on in the life of the company, where they engaged us through their Science and Technology Directorate, which is really their innovation arm of the government of the DHS, specifically, to develop tech, more robust technology to go into confined spaces indoors, when you don’t have GPS signal, you don’t have the satellite signal, and to do important missions around public safety. So those missions include search and rescue as an example, disaster recovery or if it is just general security of, Hey, we need to keep a place secure. We need to protect infrastructure. How do we do that and how do we go in and out of buildings because most drones need GPS signals they need, they need to use GPS to fly. So solving the problem of how do you navigate and see without GPS is a problem. So that’s the one we set out to solve and, and have solved and are now launching products around as well.

 

John Corcoran  29:15  

Right now what has been like selling this concept, which is evolving is a new bleeding edge type of product and also selling it to the government, which tends to be more stodgy longer sales cycles, stuff like that.

 

Pramod Raheja  29:29  

Yeah, and that’s definitely something a myth I’d like to dispel. But that was my thinking to the government was Wow, I don’t know if I ever want to work with the government. I see my friends who run government contracting companies and you know, you’ve mentioned I’m a member of yo we have a lot of government contracting members and yo and I wasn’t something that looked attractive to me, but that my my thinking has changed around that. And here’s why. Because what I’ve seen in the last few years and it has been rapid and just in the last 18 months to 24 months. The government, especially the DOJ have really increased their sort of desire for innovation. And when I say that what they’re really trying to do is they’re trying to meet young innovative companies. And so by doing that they’re providing fun when they you know, basically non diluted funding to companies like ours mine to say, Hey, we will give you money if we like whenever your ideas to, to develop something, and then the goal being to actually put it to use in the DVD, but also in the commercial world. Many, many inventions have come about because of the military trying to do something GPS is one of those. So now they actually take a different approach. They actually say, Hey, we only want to really talk to you, if you’re also trying to do something commercially. Otherwise, we’re not we don’t know if we’re really interested unless you have something really super, super, super secret special that nobody else has, then maybe you know, we’ll talk to you. But that being said, a company like mine wouldn’t even probably be able to exist or be informed if it wasn’t for some of these innovations. mechanisms now exist within the government to go out, find early state Stage like a Gemini, meet them, get to know the stand of what their technology is, give them an opportunity to put in proposals for funding. And then and then if they win, give them that funding and then give them even further ability to get more fun, continue and keep going. You know, the traditional model always for a company like ours, who was Hey, go get some Angel funding, then go to the VCs. And, you know, if you’re early on in a project like ours, which is a complex hardware and software combination, you know, early stage money’s hard to come by because they don’t see it. They can’t see the vision because you don’t have something tangible to show them early on. Right? Not till something becomes tangible and usable. But you need some money to get to that point of it because it does take a lot of effort to

 

John Corcoran  31:42  

get there. What is the potential for you? What do you see in the future for Airgility? And I know one of the things we talked about when you and I chatted last was interesting applications for even cleaning inside spaces like inside of stadiums, not using chemicals as you might Think but using like UV UV lights, I was one of the areas they said you were looking into.

 

Pramod Raheja  32:05  

Yeah, great point. So yeah, we are just in the last month and a half or so have partnered up since this Cova crisis have partnered up with a company that specializes with UV light technology for cleaning, specifically. And they are subject matter experts and they have a little sensor that’s about the size smaller than the size of your thumb. If you put it on your you can put it on your phone, and to it, but it’s very, very, very powerful. And to use this on our drone, so our drones are probably the most maneuverable agile on the whole market and the ability to go into confined spaces or indoor spaces, and be that maneuverable and agile gives it a very competitive advantage as a vehicle to do something right. And in this case, as you’re saying to do something is actually using this UV light to actually clean without chemicals. And so yeah, we are in the what I call the integration stage right now of doing that, meaning that we have hardware that we fused together using the UV technology and drone, and will, you know, over the early part of the summer here, go into what I, you know, testing, making sure that it works and safe. That being said, UV UV cleaning technology, usually, you don’t want humans in this space that you’re cleaning because it’s very powerful light and can burn you. So typically, we’d be going in after hours or an empty Stadium, as you pointed out, or wherever faces it would be where nobody is at that moment in time.

 

John Corcoran  33:25  

Interesting, really interesting application there. I wanted to circle back to what we mentioned earlier, you completed the EMP entrepreneurial master’s program at MIT recently, in spite of all your education over the years, and you said you were mentioning how you need to constantly be learning and that’s one of the reasons that you did it. So talk a little bit about what you learned from that program, what it and what it is for those who don’t know?

 

Pramod Raheja  33:51  

Yeah, sure. So the entrepreneur most entrepreneurial master’s program is not your traditional master’s program. You’re not going to walk away with a piece of paper that says you have a master’s degree. It is more of a certificate of executive education just like many schools have, you know, executive programs, Stanford, Harvard, everybody has their own executive programs. There’s a specific program at MIT called the entrepreneurial master’s program. It was formed many years ago with Vern harnish and a few others. And it formed an alliance with entrepreneurs organizations or eo early on. And so anybody can apply for it and get and go there. If they get in. However, get accepted. However, EO has a, you know, very strong partnership. So it’s marketed heavily within the EO circles. And it’s, it’s, it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done with any Oh, and there are many things I’ve done that have really been great. No. And the reason I say that is because it is a Master’s it is a graduate level program designed specifically for entrepreneurial CEOs. So yeah, you everybody knows about the great business schools at Harvard, University of Chicago or u Penn or what have you. But those are designed, you know, more The purpose is, hey, let me get an MBA and go, you know, go do something in business with that. And that’s not necessarily being an entrepreneur. Sure, there are lots of entrepreneurs that have come out of those programs. This is designed specifically for entrepreneurial CEOs that are already established and want to up their game. And they want to do business globally, perhaps as well as a big one. And, and so it’s a three year program. You go there for five solid days each year for three years, 14 hour days, very intense mulk many, many, many speakers. So you kind of show up, like you’re about to go play a big game, show up in the zone, ready to learn, ready to pay attention, ready to drink caffeine if you need to. so long, absolutely long days, but really super worthwhile. The network that comes out is incredible. Each year they have a new class of approximately 60 CEOs from all over the world. In our class we had about 24 countries represented

 

John Corcoran  35:57  

well and aside from Talk a little bit about what role being part of yo has played for you specifically being in, you know, the format is you’re in these small forums, which are comprised of other peers, basically other CEOs, what role has that played for you over the years and helping you starting different companies selling different companies navigating different challenges? Talk a little bit about that.

 

Pramod Raheja  36:25  

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so that what you described is really like a CEO peer group that becomes your private Board of Directors, you know, board that you can count on to be there for you and you for them, as well, on a regular basis, so you get to know each other, you know, you meet at consistent intervals, typically once a month is the average, and you get together and you have essentially like a board meeting where you spend about three or four hours and then have a meal together. It’s a typical format. Everybody’s got different formats, but that’s probably a very good average one. In that three or four hours when you meet anybody in the group, and usually this is planned ahead of time and scheduled and prepped for, but people are coached, so that you get the most effectiveness out of this. But really what happens in those groups is people bring present issues that they may be facing in their personal lives and their business lives, and bring them to the table so that the CEO group, their peers, can, you know, weigh in and share experiences really is the big takeaway from that, and those experiences and what it might install, in my case, to answer your question about how it’s helped me and how it’s played a role? Absolutely. There are many times where if I was facing an issue, that I brought it to my peer group, where people sharing their experiences in that private setting, being vulnerable. You know, what state was set in the room stays in the room type of environment plays a significant role in the decision that was made subsequently. Usually for the better because you’re learning that in those groupings that hey, you’re not alone and Probably somebody experienced something that was similar to what you’re experiencing, and they were able to share that with you, which now gives you insight that you didn’t have before in order to make a good decision. So more data points, empathy, vulnerability, that all kind of plays into helping you navigate those difficult times in business and in your personal lives

 

John Corcoran  38:18  

as great. Well, I want to wrap things up, this has been great Pramod, and I’m gonna wrap things up with a question that I was asked, which is, let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, much like the Oscars or the Emmys or whatever word they give out for drone or aerial surveillance or whatever. You know, and you’re receiving an award for lifetime achievement for everything you’ve done up until this point, what I want to know is who do you think and Asian family and friends you know, who are the peers? Who are the forum members? Who are the business partners of the people you acknowledge?

 

Pramod Raheja  38:47  

Yeah, absolutely. So I would start in my case, and you know, I would start with my parents, they were immigrants who came to this country. First generation first generation Indian American. They instill Jimmy’s superb work ethic, constant drive for education and knowledge. My dad, I don’t think I ever saw him go anywhere without a book, no matter where we went, if we were waiting at the doctor’s office, or whatever he would be reading and I’d be like, what are you doing? And you say, Well, you know what, we’re just sitting here, there’s no point not learning. Right? So that’s stuck with me and I act the same way now. And then, absolutely. My spouse who this year will be 25 years together, that if I think that if you don’t have that partner with you just doesn’t make it as worthwhile and they’re there to support you and help you in good times and hard times. And then, you know, if you go to the larger community, I’d say AEO definitely changed my life in 2011 makes you know, I became a better CEO, a better entrepreneur, a better dad and a better husband. All that and, and so there are many people in eo too many to name here that I would, I would, I would thank myself. My forum mates, I am a past president of the DC chapter. So even the Presidents that I’ve worked with before and after, you know, we share a common bond of having the role of President so we, you know, it’s easy to pick up the phone and talk to one of them and be able to talk confidentially, because that’s sort of as President, you sort of had to do that sometimes. And, and that’s always nice. And, and there’s a lot of mentors along the way, in terms of just, you know, people that actively mentored me or people that I watched, you know, I’d say, there’s a lot of eo speakers that I’ve seen, Warren Rusthand comes to mind that, you know, never actively mentored me, but I’ve seen enough of his talks that I consider him a mentor. Right. And then finally, I’ll thank my kids who, who, you know, in spite of the fact that they’re the next generation and younger, still teach me on a daily basis, a lot of things and I consistently learn from them as well.

 

John Corcoran  40:54  

Yeah, that’s great. I didn’t want to break up your flow in the middle of that. But Warren Rusthand is someone who is like the impossible person To get in touch with doesn’t have a website, as far as I can tell, speaks heavily eo but I’ve tried to reach out to him to have doesn’t have a LinkedIn presence or anything like that. So anyone listening to this, if you have a connection to Warren, please introduce me because I’d love to introduce it. I’d love to interview him on the podcast. This has been great. airgility.co is the website. Where else can people learn more about you and connect with you?

 

Pramod Raheja  41:29  

Awesome. Thank you so much, John, for having me. I’ve enjoyed this.

 

John Corcoran  41:32  

Anywhere else anywhere LinkedIn anywhere else, they should connect with you.

 

Pramod Raheja  41:36  

Oh, I’m sorry. I missed that. Yeah, absolutely. I’m on LinkedIn. You can find me there, Pramod Raheja. I’m also on Twitter, same handle Pramod Raheja. And as well as Facebook and Airgility. We have a presence on all of those as well.

 

Unknown Speaker  41:51  

Great. All right. Thanks so much for Thank you.

 

Intro  41:53  

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more At smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution, revolution, revolution, and be listening to the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution podcast.