For the past 3 years, Polarone has been ramping up and escalating at an incredible speed and steep exponential growth rate. From changing public perception of drone technology, bringing drone as an industrial solution and increasing productivity and output, Poldarone has achieved so much in a short span.
Today, you will be following me, Afiq to conduct an interview with Poladrone’s CEO, Jin Xi Cheong. Let’s get started!
(Afiq) Hello Jin Xi, nice to meet you. Before we start, can you tell us a little bit of your personal story? I mean – things like your age, where do you grow up and what and where did you study.
(Jin Xi) Hi Afiq! I grew up in KL and moved over to Melbourne when I was 14 after Form 2. I completed my secondary studies there, followed by a Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering at Monash University before returning to KL in late 2015. After graduating, I worked as a Finance Analyst at Intel over in Penang to build up experience in my financial literacy before starting Poladrone.
Let’s jump right to our topic today, shall we? You founded a start-up at a very young age. What exactly moved you to make this leap of faith 3 years ago? And what inspired you to come up with the ideation of Poladrone?
From a young age, I knew that I would not be able to work in a large corporate. I was often the chief troublemaker throughout my childhood at school and had a problem dealing with authority, especially when it goes against my personal beliefs. As such, I recall vividly that I told my manager at Intel on the very first day that I would only stay to learn until I found better opportunity elsewhere.
This opportunity presented itself in the form of Poladrone. While I was working at Intel, I was actively pursuing aerial photography as a hobby. The initial idea for Poladrone was actually to make aerial photography easy and quick to everywhere, similar to Polaroid – resulting in the name “Pola”Drone. However, what I quickly realised was that while the hobbyist industry is popular in Malaysia, the number of industry utilising drones for solving industrial problems is somewhat lacking and there are pressing problems to be solved. As with all early stage companies, we quickly pivoted according to the market needs. Within 1 year after joining Intel, I left and started working full time in Poladrone.
As my parents’ hometown is in Kuala Lipis (the centre of Peninsular Malaysia – check your map), we were familiar with the agriculture industry and naturally built our solutions around our own problems. Over the past few years, continuous improvements shaped our company into one of the leading UAV companies for agriculture solutions.
I see. That’s an interesting story. Now, it has been a few years since Poladrone started to operate. I’m sure, like any other start-ups and companies, there are ups and downs in this journey. In your perspective, what was the biggest achievement for Poladrone and what was the biggest challenge/letdown that you and everyone in Poladrone faced so far?
One of the most memorable achievements for us was how we secured our first large customer in the oil palm segment in the early stages of our company. For the oil palm market, counting the number of palm trees in an estate is a critical task as it’s directly linked to their yield forecast and fertiliser allocations. As such, accuracy and speed is extremely important. When we met this particular customer, we were selling them a ‘fully automated AI solution” for counting when in fact, we did not even have a product ready yet. When it came to performing the demonstration of the product, what actually happened was that a few of us sat down and manually counted tens of thousands of trees in a short time span. It was a very manual process but from the perspective of the customer, this ‘algorithm’ got the job done quickly, and very accurately! Thus, we got the contract and since then figured out how to make things more efficient and automated.
In terms of setbacks, we had our fair share of them be it lost contracts, uninterested partners, unconverted investments, but one critical mistake that I made was for a product launch. We were planning for the launch of an important product, and I got carried away by putting too much importance in making the launch look good, instead of targeting the right audience. A lot of things went wrong, but in summary, we realised that we trusted the wrong partner and ended up burning quite a lot of resources without achieving our targets.
Before we wrap this interview up, let’s talk about your vision for Poladrone. 5 years time may be a bit intimidating, let’s see where you visioned Poladrone in 2 years time.
I envision Poladrone to establish a solid footprint regionally around South East Asia and potentially beyond over the next couple of years. We had already established a strong profile within Malaysia through our agriculture solutions and will leverage our expertise to scale our products to neighbouring markets in the region.