Tech entrepreneur Bobby Healy’s objective is as simple as it is enormous. He wants to use the momentum he’s created establishing Manna Aero as Ireland’s hottest aerial tech business to transform it into the biggest and best drone delivery company on the planet. And to do that, he’s readying its launch across the European Union in the coming months, with the US following hard on that.
The prospect of a tech startup rooted in a small nation – and pursuing an emerging, still-to-be-proven activity – becoming a world beater may seem too incongruous for skeptics not to bet against. But that could be a risky wager with a force of nature like Healy at Manna’s helm – especially given what he’s done in developing its drone delivery business in a short period.
After founding the company in 2018, Healy spent the past three years introducing and improving Manna’s drone delivery services in limited Irish locations and perfecting the model he’s now moving to scale and export. To do so, he’s preparing rollouts in several EU markets next year, concurrent with work in the US to attain certification of the ZX UAVs the company manufactures – the sine quo for launching last-mile aerial services in North America.
Once that’s done, then comes the rest of the world.
“We don’t want to win one or two markets and then sell into a bigger, you know, Death Star,” Healy tells DroneDJ during a detail-packed hour-long interview. “We want to be the Death Star – the one that scales to as many markets as are viable and open for business as possible.”
Central to the goal of becoming Master of the Universe – by way of Dublin suburb Balbriggan – are Healy’s paired convictions: That by considerably benefiting businesses and consumers alike, drone delivery is a growth-assured, can’t-miss service – so long as it’s deftly developed – and that both he and Manna are in just the right place and time to use drone-friendly EU regulations that Ireland additionally enhances to expand the activity internationally and scale it rapidly.
History suggests he might just pull it off.
A trained programmer and video game creator who went on to found, build, and sell successful travel sector businesses – including thriving CarTrawler – Healy says that experience, along with the current landscape he sees in Europe, convinced him that Manna and its growing staff of 103 are in an ideal spot to become the world drone deliver champ – and not despite being in a small market like Ireland, but because of it.
“The reason I’m in Ireland is because this is where to build a business for drone delivery,” says Healy, who – perhaps coincidentally – is Irish. “My last business was built in Mexico City, and the one before that was built in France. So, I’m not stuck in Ireland – I’m here because it’s a very business-friendly place, and it’s got a regulator that really wants to help businesses like ours to get going.”
In fact, that supportive environment – and Healy’s success growing Manna within it – was clearly a major factor behind Google-cousin Wing recently deciding that it, too, will introduce drone deliveries in Ireland. Far from being defensive in his reaction to that, Healy welcomes the competition and thinks the energies and enthusiasm it promises to generate will stimulate drone delivery generally.
“I think companies like ours, and Wing, and Amazon… are setting the standard,” he says. We “are demonstrating how to do this.”
And doing it Manna is, with over 100,000 combined drone deliveries in its initial Oranmore, County Galway test market and in Balbriggan – population 25,000. By comparison, Wing, which has been operating longer in three different nations – and is backed by Alphabet’s far deeper pockets than Manna’s $30 million in funding – has logged 250,000 deliveries. Healy wants to surpass that mark in Ireland alone as fast as possible.
To that end, Manna will in the coming months begin drone deliveries in a still-unidentified Dublin-area town of 100,000 residents, nearly quadrupling the company’s potential client base as it does.
After that, Healy will turn to the continent and looming rule changes next year that will facilitate beyond visual line of sight flights for companies like Manna that have obtained the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s light UAS operator certificate. That allows Manna to initiate and orchestrate its drone delivery activities in all EU nations without further regulator approval – a key to fast expansion and scaling.
“In Europe, our goal is to have three, maybe four markets operating towards the end of 2023, and in 2024 we’d like to be in a position to be in every European market that’s ready for our service,” Healy says of Manna’s growth strategy. “We’re focused on making things happen in Europe and preparing for scale here, with one eye on making progress in USA… So if I had to bet, I would say the sequence will be Europe, and then USA and everywhere else altogether in two or three years.”
The above are the broad strokes of DroneDJ’s interview with Healy about Manna, its future, and that of drone delivery globally. Condensed details that chat will follow in two segments this week, featuring Healy’s views on UAV entrepreneurialism, drone delivery activity, transcontinental and trans-Atlantic craft certification, and on how aerial transport is already transforming life and work.