March 10, 2023

Episode #70: Aaron Pierce – Pierce Aerospace

Mr. Pierce was the Entrepreneur in Residence for the first Techstars Air Force Accelerator program and has a background in public safety – including as a volunteer EMT & UH-1H Huey helicopter crewmember. He is a FAA certified Part 107 pilot with significant UAS operations and policy experience. He has mentored US Army Futures Command & SOCOM C-UAS hackathons & guest lectured at the Eisenhower School for National Security. He’s been twice nominated as Indiana’s Entrepreneur of the year and is a Mitch Daniels Leadership Fellow. He holds a BA in English and is forecasted to graduate with an MS in GIS and Remote Sensing from Indiana University in Summer 2023.

Pierce Aerospace, a Techstars-backed company, is a Remote ID service provider focused on practical and robust integration of Remote ID services into the UAS ecosystem. Pierce Aerospace serves on the Drone Safety Team, ASTM F38 Committee on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and the FAA’s Remote ID Cohort as an industry leader. Funds from the US Air Force and the State of Indiana support Pierce Aerospace’s Remote ID technology – previously nominated as Indiana’s Innovation of the Year by Techpoint and awarded first place in Remote ID technology at AUVSI’s Xcellence Awards. Pierce Aerospace is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, The Racing Capital of the World. Visit


hello this is coach Tim Campsall and I’m your host for the self-made as a myth show where we are talking to folks who are believing in the idea that we make a difference together and that success in business doesn’t happen on our own that we have people in our life that have helped us to build uh our successful business so we’re talking to folks about their journey to building their business and taking some time to recognize and acknowledge the people who have helped us along the way today I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us my guest was a volunteer on a Huey helicopter we’re gonna ask him about that that sounds exciting he enjoys hiking mountain biking Jujitsu sorry I messed that up and all things activity and and Outdoors he and he is most proud of his team that he has developed it’s my pleasure to welcome Aaron to the show today hello Erin hey Tim how are you I am awesome thank you for asking hey let’s start with having you uh introduce yourself tell us a little bit of your personal story like where you were born where you live about your family and your hobbies yeah so Aaron Pierce from Indiana born and raised in Indiana and Midwest Dad was with FedEx uh when I was a kid so we did a lot of moving around the Midwest but majority of Indiana and hobbies you you listed most of them um the running the business is kind of full time right the real things in as I can do it tell us about the uh the helicopter volunteering that sounds pretty cool yeah so always had a passion for Aviation um you know my grandfather b-58 Hustlers uh Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana and those are supersonic nuclear bombers super cool well uh I was uh indoctrinated into Aviation as a as a child and a family friend started a you know restoration historical preservation and search and rescue group here in Indiana back when I was in high school and got the opportunity to uh through and hope to restore right now recruit h1a Huey helicopter that had spent a good amount of its life in military service including uh flying over Vietnam oh wow very cool um tell us a funny story that your family likes to to tell about you that something that you’d be willing to share with us today

oh god um I had no idea that question was coming up it’s probably too many uh

funny story uh yeah you’re throwing me off I’m trying to think of one um

I don’t know for whatever reason like when I was a kid I fell into a pond once and that comes into mind wait like a little uh retention thing when I was out on a school field trip

around water you know my brother it’s always like so

I don’t siblings are awesome they they always enjoy uh giving us a hard time and laughing at our expense don’t they he gets it back too that was good

tell us how the business came about and that what point did you have the confidence that you could run your own business yes so I business came about while I was in college so did my undergrad in creative writing uh uh uh I went in school sensing and while I was there uh University started a drone Research Center and but they didn’t have any Aviation background as it’s kind of an in Vogue thing to do back in you know 2014 2015 time frame but I took the uh air crew on the helicopter and brought that in and helped write the policy and operations manual for the University and while I was doing that started a network with you know government organizations with other universities and Industry and seeing that there was really a lot of opportunity in the Drone world and you know while I was there I realized that kind of the pace of things that I like to do is more on the business side so I uh I jumped off the academic track that I was looking at and just dove in and started the business uh not a clue as to what I was doing and continued to build it and um you know had a bunch of great mentors and everyone that’s really been helpful in helping me grow and you know built the thing through doing uh the good old entrepreneurial fashion and uh I’ve continued to grow it since then fantastic so tell us a little bit more about the company um what’s the name what do you guys do how do you help people yeah so companies Pierce Aerospace we develop uh airspace Technologies uh really this thing called remote identification for unmanned aircraft and it is basically a digital license plate so we we create the beacons that broadcast out this identification message it’s similar to what commercial airliners would do except this is focused on drones and we also make the receivers that can passively monitor for a piece of airspace so we can push that information over to commercial traffic management technologies that help you know keep the airspace safe and managed and then also over to counter drone technologies that are more applicable on the security and defense side and then we do a lot of the back end accoutrements and software to make all the stuff work very cool so is it like um with getting a car that is mandatory that you need to have a a license this thing that what do you call it what what’s so it’s called remote ID and yes it is a requirement it’s a FAA requirements which goes into total effect in September it’s required now for oems so the drum manufacturers to include it built into any new aircraft and then it’s required for operators to be compliant with it whether that’s with an aircraft a new purchase aircraft or by retrofitting an aircraft so that it has a beacon that can broadcast that identification and that goes into complete effect in September of this year okay and I can imagine that a lot of people don’t know that and they’re probably have you know uh their their drones that they just use for fun that does this law apply to them as well yeah it applies to any drone between 0.55 and 55 pounds so the vast majority of aircraft that are out there that are used to drone aircraft that are out there are going to need to have this incorporated into that aircraft fantastic awesome well it sounds like a very cool um space to be in and no pun intended at least put away Aaron share us a story where someone pushed you or inspired you that you could do it even though maybe you didn’t know that you could and the impact that that person had on you yeah so if I were to just sit here and list the amount of mentors advisors people who have helped Pierce Aerospace get to that next step we could take up the entire time of me just listing names so I’m almost certainly going to not give the Credence some credit that’s due to everyone that’s helped us along the way but it’s certainly um by all means not a uh it it takes it really does take a whole village to to get something going like this so um goodness one that you know definitely comes to mind is a gentleman named Warren Katz I have the opportunity uh to work for him the privilege to work for him when I was at techstars as an entrepreneur in Residence and Warren really gave a lot of good mentorship to me and gave a lot of additional insight into doing business with the US government which really helped hone my abilities and like hey this is actually possible you know Warren built his entire business off of Bill off of sbir contracts and became very successful with that and had his company get acquired uh some years ago and you know seeing that hey this can be done and really it’s not as you know that there’s not as much red tape as people think it’s really just are you inspired to go read what you have to do to fill out the form right um so it’s it he was a tremendous one that’s helped push and helped us certainly grow and made an impact in my career fantastic awesome thank you for sharing um others as well yes and I was just going to say that I I wanted to play back what you uh mentioned is yes we all have multiple people in our journey so they’re by no means is this uh is the interview intended to to say that there’s only a couple but we also want to you know share a couple of stories so that those who are listening you can you can hear those and and maybe be it you know motivated and encouraged to reach out to folks that you think could help you but you’re just too nervous or shy to take that step and and ask for help Aaron what’s been your biggest learning as a business owner so far hmm biggest learning I it’s really an accumulation of learning is kind of the way that I look at it there’s literally lessons every single day that if you if you pay attention to them they’re being you know it’s another another line that you’re learning in another chapter in your development as as you go and you know with doing what we do it’s really a diverse type of experience to be an entrepreneur so you know yesterday we were in product and Engineering meetings and today I’m you know mostly heads down in finance so but to be effective in both of those had repeated lessons um you know learning day in and day out for years to be effective in those in those types of environments and as an entrepreneur you need to be really diverse in that so um you mean you mentioned the Jiu Jitsu thing earlier that I do and it’s I would equate it you know the business side is you know you spend especially your early part of the getting a business going really getting strangled every day but it’s a good purpose you’re learning the you know tight little things you know Jiu Jitsu is a game of uh inches and as is business with how you hone those skill sets to get just a little bit better for the next day and you know I’d I’d say I’ve had the privilege of getting strangled a lot so that we’re much better than they were when I first started this kind of wide-eyed and you know highly enthusiastic and you know just dove into it and today I remain wildly enthusiastic and continue to dive after it but now in you know maybe a little bit more of a prescribed this is what I need to do or this is the lesson that I need to learn to get to that next step in the evolution yeah I love that that picture you just painted in terms of you know it’s multiple lessons and it’s it’s continuously growing and learning and evolving as we pick up things along the way right because every you know every business is different so even though there are best practices out there the nuances of implementing those best practices into your you know an individual business is you know is different and it takes a little bit of tweaking and adjusting and and as you said there are a thousand things that that we can learn every day because there’s so many moving parts to a business so thank you for for sharing that for everybody that’s listening yeah yeah I think it’s really a learning how to learn type of of exercise and you know that that’s applicable anywhere Beyond business you know it’s applicable obviously in you know an academic path that any you know any level and been in the business side too it’s if you learn how to learn then you’re going to set yourself up for a lot a much greater trajectory uh than you could possibly even imagine yeah yeah I love that well our founder says one of his quotes is that he he never fails he he succeeds or he learns and I like that philosophy of right every every quote-unquote failure is just an opportunity to learn from it and be a better version of yourself next time yep we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about one of your biggest challenges over the years and maybe a fellow business owner who came alongside you and helped you get through that oh yeah um

so I would say fundraising is an interesting one because it’s one that in Indiana there’s really not a lot of companies that go do this sort of activity uh it’s I mean it’s no shock that the East and the West coasts are kind of where the action’s at for that but when I got into techstars I started to build relationships with other techstars Founders who had successfully closed financing and Investments um you know we we got pulled into techstars invested in Us in 2021 and our managing director Jonathan finsky gave a lot of input which really helped to kind of open up um some of our ideas about how we could go about doing fundraising and how we could go about growing the business and from a fundraising perspective and taking his experience with that and he was also a dual use founders of a dual use meaning that building technology for both government and Military as well as commercial applications and you know him and all of the other Founders that are you know were in that techstars environment just you know banging ideas off of each other you know hey how did this work for you what type of you know how did you structure that raise you know that was that was crucial um you know some of the other folks within our cohort some of the other folks that had come before us as well giving the input and what that did was gave me a much greater idea about how we could go about and be successful in that financing and really what it did was it also allowed me to go back to a uh a family office that had been watching us since 2018 and you know that family office is unique in that they have perspective into what we do specifically one of the members you know one of the the folks over there had about 20 years active DOD U.S army experience oh wow in the exact sort of thing that we do and the response was is that they hadn’t seen anything on the market that could actually achieve the mission as it was outlined by us and their response was you guys are the only ones who are doing this that can actually accomplish the mission right now and we were able to you know take that long-term relationship that we had built built with that financer and take some of the lessons that we had learned with techstars and actually worked with them to go and capture matching grant funding to match the investment so we were getting additional bang for buck when we closed that precede round it’s fantastic I I um it’s got to be an interesting juggling balance to both be running the company and be focusing on the the fundraising aspect just talk a little bit about that in terms of how do you balance the the two different worlds yeah definitely a balance um you just gotta do it uh there’s no there’s no magic to it it’s um it’s just really time management like with anything is you know setting aside okay today I’m going to be focused on you know looking at the finances what do we need to be doing today what do we need to be doing in the next 12 months from now sure um versus picking up the phone and doing the business development type of thing uh some days you got to split up between morning and afternoon you know somebody wants to get on a call with you and you’re like oh I gotta do a quick task swap but um really it’s trying to it’s getting into that balance in that group of um really thoughtfully blocking out your day and focusing on these certain activities during that time frame so you know we’ve got a lot of proposals a lot of report writing that we do as well um you know I I put that liberal arts degree to use and uh do a lot of the writing and drafting on on our side so I’ve got a couple days out of the week that I’ve blocked out to focus just on that so that when I come into the other task like the financing piece I can be much more focused and thoughtful when it comes to that task at hand for the day I love that that you’re you’ve got that discipline of blocking your calendar a lot of folks can get into the the challenge of just hopping from activity to activity or from you know email to voicemail to right whatever the next buyer is or having that that discipline that you just described of you know being proactive and setting time aside and and of course things come up and you got you’ve got to shift it around but um you’ll you’re in a much better place when you’ve pre-planned your calendar than when you’re just reactionary yeah yeah and I mean some days it’s not perfect and you gotta be able to bang bang bang you know move with the flow um that’s just part of the entrepreneurial Pursuit but really getting thoughtful in whatever it is that you need to do that day is critical to success in my opinion you know I’m not I’m not a tab king that’s got you know 60 000 different tabs open at the same time whenever I see that I see that as risk for failure and it’s you know gotta close that stuff down gotta make sure that you’re actually focused on being thoughtful at what you’re trying to accomplish and make sure that you can close that goal out yeah there’s actually been a number of studies done that has proven that people can’t multitask what we can do is jump from task to task very quickly but there’s a lot of inefficiencies in you know pulling in and out of a an exercise so I love that simple suggestion right of hey everybody that’s listening you know don’t have multiple windows open on your computer right give yourself the the permission to focus on one task at a time and do it very well turn off your email and text message notifications so that you’re not distracted by that as well we have one client who you know they did a Time study and found that they wasted seven hours a week playing on their cell phone so with that aha they’re like wow right they just got back seven hours to work on the business and and you know have significant success in their business just simply by you know keeping their phone Upside Down and Out Of Reach yeah that that thing is it’s electronic drugs for some people it’s not uh it’s not necessarily you can use it for productivity but it a lot of times gets used for non-productivity so yeah the other thing that I hear a lot is well Tim I have to respond to my email right away I and so I have to have it always open and and what I what I always ask back is so if you’re meeting with a customer and another customer called you have to tell the first customer hold on a minute because I have to answer the second customer and they’re like no of course not never my okay so then why couldn’t can you not do the same thing with other working on the business tasks right why can’t you just wait to a predefined time during the day to return customer emails and customer phone calls because they’re not going to expect that you’re always available for them or or that probably means you’re not a very good business if you’re always free right yeah go go ahead oh no please please I was gonna say The Only Exception is if you’re a dual use customer under contract working on a national security thing right probably answer that call if it comes in later fair enough all right I’m gonna put you on the spot here I know you said there’s multiple people I’m going to ask you to pick three people in your business owner Journey your entrepreneurial Journey that um you’re most grateful for being there for your businesses growth who are those three people and how they help you oh

there’s more than three anyone who’s listening so I I’ll can I bundle I’ll do three so um

Jason Pennington uh he was over at the Indiana iot lab for a while he was a constant Advocate always supportive of us um constantly going to bat for Pierce Aerospace as we grew always willing to make introductions he he was a phenomenal uh advocate for us as we continue to grow the business um you know he’s you know right with him John Wexler uh John’s been you know well-known Indiana entrepreneur he’s been mentoring me since you know the early days of what we’ve been doing here uh he’s been tremendously thoughtful and you know a good strong local Indiana advocate for what we’ve been doing and then um just I talked to him recently uh David kervin who’s one of our advisors uh met David during the path with techstars uh he’s been very engaging with us uh can always you know open to take a phone call he came from a defense background where he was an operator and had the unique journey of being able to also work in venture capital for a while and worked his way into you know being a entrepreneur as well and he’s always able to give us that kind of dual perspective of uh you know from a defense perspective of how is the technology working how can it work to solve a you know customer need in that in that realm and make their lives safer and also the what are some of those next steps that we need to think about and start planning for and doing in the financial side or the other business development side and the process Improvement side of making the business run more efficiently so um you know that’s just three like I mentioned I could go on literally for hours and you know so kind and thoughtful and contributing to the Journey of Pierce Aerospace fantastic thank you for sharing and um the the reason that I ask folks to go into detail is more about the how they help right because I think that’s uh impactful and helpful for folks who are listening to understand the different ways that people can help us in our business and the different types of people that can help us in our business so Aaron thank you for for sharing that as you think about the next three to five years what are the biggest challenges you see that you’ll face in getting to your goals and who are the types of people that you’re going to need to overcome those challenges yeah so biggest challenges that we have the privilege of marching through the valley of death so you know we’ve come from government contracts we are able to go uh deploy our technology to support those governments um customers and all of that is some news we’ll be able to share hopefully in the next coming weeks but you know that that really sets us on the position to work with people who want to look at a company that has that privilege of marching through the valley of death any company that’s going to be successful has that opportunity to be where they’ve been marching through the valley of death and I think one of the major differences for overcoming and getting out of the valley which mind you oh a lot of businesses I would say most businesses don’t get the opportunity to truly March that value of death and so I’m you know we feel privileged that we get that but I think some of the things that really need to occur to make that leap out of the valley are those customer Acquisitions you know in our case both commercial and defense and those different traction points that show that this is inevitable this is a successful business this is one that you know five years from now that investor is not going to think twice about this is a good idea to put money in to that business or a customer on the government side who’s an early Advocate and an early adopter you know they’ll look at stuff on the Dual use technology side going I’m happy you know I’m thrilled that we got to be a part of that working with that business to get that technology out to the Warfighter or you know to help that company grow to not only get that technology there but also get that technology out on the commercial side so that it can sustain and continue to provide that value to you know that government end user for many years yeah so I think aligning those different pieces up as we March the valley is some of our biggest challenges um they’re not unique challenges but really working with people who want to see us succeed and get out onto the other side of that Valley is going to be a good hard grind work that we’re going to be doing um you know to to overcome that and to have that business be successful in that three to five year time frame awesome for those uh listening that may not know the terminology can you explain the valley of death yeah so startups you know get going have if they’re you know fortunate enough they’ll have some successes that allow them to get to what I would call the point of inflection where we go okay we’ve hit our early proof points which are going to be different for every business but we’ve hit those early proof points we’ve got revenue we’ve got traction we’ve got that you know piece where hey this is something where we can start to take from you know could be from prototype to to product or you know maturing of a service whatever that may be but we really got to the point now where we’ve got some early adoption and now we get to track through the valley of death to build the business and make it into one that’s sustainable and has whatever those elements are which again will be different for every business but it has those elements that can now put it on to the trajectory of stability for growth yeah and that Valley varies in size in time frames um there’s businesses that we know that have worked on the defense side that lived in that Valley for a decade and though they’re now multi-billion dollar companies um wow you know that’s that’s on the longer side of it um they they eventually evolved a commercial product that was able to to be successful as well but you know some of them are much shorter some of them are longer it all kind of depends on market dynamics and where the customer is at and where they’re they’re growing to but um you know that that’s the valley and you need to go on that journey through there at every startup that’s going to be successful is going to have that Journey it’ll look a little different for everyone but it it’s really a crucial point to get to to get to that sustainable you know successful business awesome thank you for sharing that for folks who are are listening and I you know I I believe that that same concept applies to any business even if it’s not a you know a new idea or startup right if you’re a franchise owner you still go through that that that that Valley of Death right we may call it something different but it’s the you know you put in all that time and effort and and uh you know we know the stats are you know they’re actually pretty the stats are pretty bad right that 80 of businesses fail so everybody goes through that journey of figuring things out and learning and adapting and pivoting and until right until enough things click and you know enough people know about what your what you’re offering and enough people say yes I’m willing to pay for what you’re offering and and then the the sustainability side kicks in where you now have a repeatable business model that you can start to scale yeah I mean to be frank entrepreneurship doesn’t have good odds but uh you know that’s that’s also why not as many folks do it and why at you know at some degree you kind of gotta you know the the Han Solo quote of don’t tell me the odds comes to mind and yeah you just gotta do it and get through and it is called the Valley of Death because most businesses don’t make it through there and that’s okay you gave it your shot and no one else did um so you were the only one that could have gone and done that yeah exactly yeah it’s big risk big reward right and if we didn’t have people like you who were willing right to go through that Journey right we wouldn’t have all the awesome technology and inventions that we have in the world so that’s exciting I’m happy for you it’s fun last question here Aaron uh Jim Rohn said that we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice would you have for for entrepreneurs or business owners who are trying to do it on their own and feel like they have to do it on their own feel like they can’t ask others for help uh always ask others for help always always ask um more often than not people especially if it’s an entrepreneur you’re asking they’re they’re more than willing to give you you know 30 minutes of their time to talk through a problem uh sit down and have coffee whatever that may be because they’ve been there themselves and there’s a strong Pay It Forward type of um you know thesis within the entrepreneurial Community um you know we’ve got interns at Pierce Aerospace and I’ve never once asked one of them to go get coffee for me you know it’s always no hey let’s let’s make sure that we can get them onto a track where they’re getting exposure to things that they would otherwise never get exposure to and get it through doing and at the same time I’m an open book to them so if they want to hear you know something they they’re they’re going to get the full Raw Story So that that can help them as they think about what their steps are after they’ve done their internship at Pierce Aerospace you know my my goals that my interns they turn into CEOs by their time they’re in their mid-20s so um you know I I take all those lessons and those mentorship things and those advice pieces that I’ve had the privilege of having and you know go through my journey make sure that I can apply them to what we’re doing and then at the same time try to pass that down to the next set of folks um who could potentially become entrepreneurs and go do wonderful things on their own right I like what you said about you know the Pay It Forward mentality because something I the concern I hear a lot is well hey that person’s too busy they’re not going to have time for me I don’t want to bother them I don’t want to you know that they’re not gonna you know be willing to gift me some other time because they’re so successful so what you just described takes that fear and completely crushes it so just expand on that a little bit more why why is there that pay it forward mentality

uh because if people didn’t help that entrepreneur then they wouldn’t have gotten where they’re at and you know everybody’s busy but you know another example one of you know our MD through Tech Stars his you know responses that you know when it comes to time he’s always going to take a call from an entrepreneur um unless he’s got a family thing going on and hmm I don’t know if he wants me to put that out on a public thing but I’m like later today there’s a student at Purdue who reached out to me and was wanting to you know get an idea of where they could go with an air uh their studies in Aerospace um you know it it in all likelihood it’s probably what he wants to do at least was described in email was one mechanical side of things you know building Jets um that may not be something that’s he comes to pierce Aerospace to work for but I’m going to take 15 minutes listen and go okay someone in my network you know Joe here let’s connect you with Joe and see where we can where we can go from there and you know it could be that that person’s you know everybody is busy could be like hey love to chat with you can we do it in a month you know something like that but don’t feel like you can’t reach out to people um I’ve reached out to you’d be surprised I reached out to people who are in charge of a multi-billion dollar organization and gotten a yeah let’s do 15 minutes you know three weeks from now love to chat and give you know see if I can be of any help and keep in mind whenever you are taking advice um I’m gonna I don’t remember the exact quilt but there’s a great one from uh from Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings about advice from the wise can be the most dangerous thing in the world but it’s a great way of saying take any piece of input you get as a single data point and go gather more data points so yes um because I if I say something to someone I always tell them take whatever my input is as a single data point and go gather more information because what I just said could be wildly off the rails and totally incorrect so yeah great advice on um on getting multiple data points and forming your own ultimate decision but leveraging the expertise of of other people so thank you for sharing because I know there’s a lot of people that are hesitant to to reach out to folks who you just heard that busy busy entrepreneurs are more than willing to gift It Forward because somebody did it for them so never hold yourself back from asking the worst thing that can happen is they say I’m busy for a month all right let’s get something booked on the calendar later and um and so yeah go ahead and reach out folks um Aaron it sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people who have helped you on your journey if they were all on the show here today what would you want to say to them uh certainly thank you

in all caps exclamation points

yeah I mean that that’s really the that that’s the best thing that you can say to someone you know is that thank you piece and that you made a difference and you know uh all those folks have made a difference that’s not lost on me by any stretch of the imagination and most other entrepreneurs that I I know of are also very grateful for their own inputs so it’s a it’s a good you know entrepreneurship is a good community of people that really help to drive things forward and they know that that is not easy and you get to see a lot of greatness and good come out of people when you go drive onto that entrepreneur entrepreneurship Journey awesome Aaron it’s been a pleasure speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show yeah thank you Tim I appreciate it to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made is a myth show with your host coach Tim cancel be sure to help us spread this Movement by liking the show and posting about it on your social media and to join our movement go to be mad all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and I’ll see you all next time take care