Founder Stories

Dronamics: How the Rangelov Brothers’ dream of ultra-efficient cargo drones is taking flight

Founder Stories

Dronamics: How the Rangelov Brothers’ dream of ultra-efficient cargo drones is taking flight

May 18th 2023 / 8 min read

Some siblings form bands together, others play in the same sports team. We decided to go into business together. 

Launching a venture together wasn’t always the plan. We have always been incredibly close, sharing a bedroom and pretty much everything else we owned, but unlike many other fraternal business partners, starting a business wasn’t something we ever talked about. We certainly didn’t feel like any sense of obligation or duty as brothers forced us to do this together.

Rather it was the use case, and our suitability as founders—Konstantin, an aerospace engineer, and Svilen, an economist and an entrepreneur at heart—that compelled us to build Dronamics, the world’s first low-carbon long-distance cargo drone fleet that will change the way people can do business globally. 

It’s been nearly a decade since the inception of Dronamics, over which we’ve designed, built, and got approval to start operating our fleet of Black Swan drones. We’ve raised over $40m to date, and are on the cusp of our first commercial flight later this year. Here’s the story of how we took Dronamics from a piece of cheese to the biggest disruptor to the cargo industry for a generation.

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The lightbulb moment for Dronamics

Every startup begins with a lightbulb moment. Ours began with a piece of cheese. 

Konstantin was studying aerospace engineering in the Netherlands, Svilen was back in our native Bulgaria following his studies in the US. Konstantin was dwelling on the thing he missed most about home—as it turns out, our very own Bulgarian cheese, one you would struggle to find in most places, especially the Netherlands.  

So I [Svilen] said—”I'm not coming all the way to the Netherlands to bring you some cheese, again. You’re the engineer, you figure it out.” With his aerospace engineering hat on, Konstantin set to work. How can you get an object, whether it's a piece of cheese or a crucial piece of equipment, from one side of the continent to the other in the most efficient way possible? 

The concept of delivery drones had already hit the headlines (you may remember Amazon’s Prime Air advert). We were cynical about their use case (the promise of 30-min drone delivery remains undelivered), we felt there may have been a bigger use case for intercity or even international delivery. But a small drone wouldn’t be able to withstand the 2000km flight from Bulgaria to the Netherlands: for this, you’d need something much larger. And to make this affordable, you’d need a much larger capacity and much, much lower operating cost than traditional belly freighters. 

While drone logistics may one have seemed a distant prospect, it was becoming more and more realistic by the day. We felt we were at a pivotal technological turning point.  For one, the cost of carbon fibre had gone down so much over the past 10 years, and as a particularly strong and light material, it became the go-to construction material for aerospace. There were also huge advances in communications, particularly the shrinking of chips enabling automation in a huge range of things at much lower cost. Finally, advances in satellite technology and coverage make it possible to have connectivity just about anywhere—even in the sky. All this led us to realise there was an opportunity to rethink the movement of goods which has largely been stagnant for the last hundred years.

Enter the Black Swan

This was the point at which we got to work on our first creation—the Black Swan

Everything about the Black Swan has been engineered for a reason. First, the essentials: 350 kg capacity and 2500 km range. The 350 kg capacity was chosen because this is the capacity  of a small delivery van - the vehicle that carries out the last mile of the delivery in most environments. The 2500 km range was chosen because this means you can cover the whole of Europe in one flight, it’s also the maximum distance from the midpoint of the US to all of the 48 mainland states, and also allows you to cross the South China Sea. 

Sustainability is at the core of this product. For us, sustainability is all about efficiency though: not being wasteful, looking to create more efficiency and simplicity. For us, this is a necessity, we grew up during turbulent economic times when we learned not to be wasteful and reuse things as much as possible. So in truth, we were on a mission to create the most fuel efficient aircraft, which just so happened to have a huge environmental impact too.  

We’re already up to 60% less carbon emissive than current transportation options. But we’d like to do even more by looking at alternative fuel and propulsion, and building a platform in our system that is modular and adaptable to whatever type of fuel or technology prevails in the future. Partnerships will be key to this (no one can do this entirely on their own), with companies like Zero Petroleum (100% synthetic gasoline).

Sustainability also has a strong link to cost efficiency. We called it the Black Swan because we wanted to remind ourselves that new tech is always expensive until it's not—flat screen TVs used to cost $10k, now they’re a few hundred dollars. Cargo is a merciless market, very cost obsessed where margins are everything. So we needed this to be more affordable than the alternatives in order to be relevant. Building something new and cheaper is a great engineering challenge. Now, cargo can fly with Dronamics for less than €5/kg or $2,50/lb, up to 50% cheaper than existing same-day air cargo.

What we’ve built so far, and everything we build from here on, will come back to first principles. Long distance, same day cargo, that is more sustainable and more affordable.

Building & scaling Dronamics on a shoestring 

One of our first big decisions was to build the company in our native Bulgaria. The money we’d received—€25k from accelerators in Bulgaria and the Netherlands—would go a lot further in our home country. But while Eastern Europe already had a growing reputation for software businesses, there was limited innovation on the hardware side: so we really had our work cut out for us to prove the naysayers wrong. 

Fundraising has played a huge role in our development. We’ve raised over $40m to date in our pre-Series A. We’ve demonstrated we can stretch every dollar as far as possible. Before we’d fundraised, we needed to be incredibly flexible about the way we were building the Black Swan. Fundraising was never a certainty, so we always had to live within our means. Sometimes, this meant building stuff ourselves.We became carpenters, welders, we built our own oven and our own tools. We wouldn’t have been able to push through this if we didn’t have the fundamental belief that we were able to solve this problem. 

Another huge challenge for us was navigating regulations, or rather the lack thereof. We were building a technology for which the regulatory environment hadn’t caught up, making it difficult to predict how things would pan out. Fortunately, these changed in 2021, and last year (2022), we obtained a licence that set us on a course to become the world’s first cargo drone airline. 

Once we had built our MVP, we needed to prioritise internationalisation. Joining the Founders Factory accelerator was a big part of this, helping us begin conversations with multinationals and corporations on a global scale, who saw our technology as a great way to transport spare parts across their network. 

Ahead of any of the capital we’ve raised, the guidance we received from Founders Factory has been the biggest help. Many investors can give you money, but not everyone can give you guidance. We were learning from people far more experienced than ourselves, advising us on how we could make better decisions. Entrepreneurship is all about risk-taking on a daily basis. Do I take risks with my time or my very limited resources, by going left or right, up or down? The guidance we received really helped inform these critical decisions. 

Dronamics fleets spanning the globe 

We’re at an exciting point in our growth at Dronamics. Our team has grown to about 170 people. We’ve attracted investment from about 1500 investors across all our vehicles, including two sovereign wealth funds. Fortune 500 companies are already looking to partner with us. 

We’re running tests at the moment, and all being well, our first commercial flight will take to the skies in late 2023. We are in a good position to commercialise years ahead of our competition. The goal is to launch this in Greece and cover the rest of the Mediterranean, before looking to explore other routes across Europe. From here, as soon as regulations fall in place, we’ll look to expand into other markets. 

We’re already seeing the many and varied applications of our solution. We’re participating in Innovate UK’s Future Flight Challenge, We are part of a consortium building a drone delivery network for the NHS in Scotland, looking at ways to transport medical supplies to remote parts of the country. 

In ten years time, we’ve got high ambitions for the business. We hope to look up at the skies and see hundreds, if not thousands, of our drones delivering cargo across continents at far lower cost and carbon emission. 

All this falls down to our unwavering belief in the problem we are solving. Through uncertain regulation and fundraising woes, we’ve never once questioned whether we were the right people to be building this business. The beards on our faces lay testament to this, remaining uncut since the day we secured our first funding —a commitment to our promise not to shave until our full-scale aircraft has flown successfully. And so too does the fact that, from day one, our concept has never changed (high payload, long distance, low emissions freight), speaking volumes for our confidence in ourselves and the business we are building.

About Svilen & Konstantin

Svilen and Konstantin Rangelov are the co-founders of Dronamics. Svilen (right) has a BA in Economics, and held a number of managerial positions in sport and media prior to Dronamics. Konstantin (left) has a BS in Aerospace Engineering, after which he founded Dronamics with his brother.

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