Exclusive - Matternet and FedEx are Different Animals

An ordinary shed in Palo Alto, California, the walls full of drawing boards, a ping-pong table in the foreground, some bikes hanging on hooks for fast use and in the background a group of busy people doing their jobs. That’s the everyday working ambience at drone supplier Matternet’s facility.

It all began in a Californian shed  -  pictures Matternet
It all began in a Californian shed - pictures Matternet

At first sight, the situation resembles the origins of Hewlett Packard, now HP, which kicked off their business in 1939 also in a Palo Alto garage, starting from scratch to develop into one of the world’s first addresses as producer of printers, laptops, desktops and other devices.

That’s where Matternet wants to be one day as well, becoming eventually the leader in this still young but extremely dynamic industry, states self-confident Andreas Raptopoulos. Together with Paola Santana he founded drone specialist Matternet in California’s Silicon Valley focusing on operating quadcopters for delivering small and light items over the last mile in the framework of complex supply chains. 

Oliver Evans joined Matternet on 1st November, becoming one of the firm’s stakeholders.
Oliver Evans joined Matternet on 1st November, becoming one of the firm’s stakeholders.

Taking chances
Only days ago, former Swiss WorldCargo Chief Oliver Evans came on board, becoming the firm’s head of global business development (CargoForwarder Global reported). According to him it was the right moment to switch sides, exiting a renowned cargo carrier with its fine-tuned business model and skilled team to join a company that is still small but aims to rise high. “I’ve always been interested in testing new frontiers, technological innovations in the logistics field and putting the results into practice when applicable,” says Oliver. Matternet, he adds, is not a provider of unmanned aerial vehicles for the fast growing group of drone enthusiasts but “of entirely different while highly professional caliber.” This he realized in many meetings with Andreas, the positive outcome of a testing series of Matternet drones in Switzerland this year and prodominantly during his two-week stay in November at the firm’s Californian facility, gathering the necessary insights. What really convinced him to become a member of the Matternet team was his conviction that the new drone technology will massively impact the industry by creating completely new solutions. “That challenge really hits me,” he says.


Small shipments prevail
Matternet’s ambitions are propelled by the thriving e-Commerce business, breaking one growth record after another. Interestingly, most of the items ordered online are surprisingly small. Andreas explains that: “transport data shows that 90 percent of the courier traffic consists of shipments weighing less than two kilograms.” Out of this portion, 75 percent of all packages are even lighter than one kilogram, he adds.   

Matternet chief Andreas Raptopoulos wants his firm to become world market leader.
Matternet chief Andreas Raptopoulos wants his firm to become world market leader.

It’s a huge future market for any drone supplier. However, only if he provides the right transport solutions based on a profound market analysis and in close cooperation with partnering firms. As so done by Matternet last summer, when testing their Matternet ONE drone model to transport items on behalf of Swiss WorldCargo and the Swiss Post. The outcome was very encouraging for all parties involved, says Andreas, announcing a new round of trials during the next six months, this time on a more elaborate level resembling future commercial operations. “While in phase one we deployed drones on a dozen routes within Switzerland we will enlarge the operation and test the vehicles in different weather conditions and also over populated areas,” Oliver explains. Switzerland, he says, is keen to play a key role in the drone business because they are convinced that this technology will partially revolutionize the transport world. The test series serves as a proof of the concept to clarify the legal framework, consider different weather and geographical conditions and explore the technical and commercial capabilities of the drones beyond line-of-sight operations.

No new FedEx
However, “we don’t intend challenging the package delivery firms of this world,” emphasizes Andreas. This, because drone suppliers and integrators are pursuing completely different business models. Big boys like FedEx, DHL Express or UPS take care of the entire supply chain, from pick up to delivery. In contrast, drone providers concentrate on the last mile, picking up shipments at warehouses, distribution centers, hospitals, pharma production plants or at postal offices to bring them the fastest possible way to the doorsteps of the recipients. Hence, both actor’s businesses do not conflict but complement each other. “I promise, we don’t intend to become a second FedEx,” assures Andreas Raptopoulos.

Heiner Siegmund

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