AiThority Interview with Mary-Lou Smulders, Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone
Hi, Mary-Lou. Welcome to the interview series. Please tell us a little bit about your journey and what inspired you to start at Dedrone.
I’ve been in enterprise software for over 20 years, and this is my third CMO position. I was previously the CMO at 9th Gear Technologies, a fintech company, and at AtHoc, a crisis communications company. During my time there, I supported their acquisition by BlackBerry.
What attracted me to Dedrone first and foremost is the mission: We protect people, from fans in a ballpark to soldiers on the front line, from the persistent and escalating threat of drones. As an added bonus, I relish the opportunity to build a brand that’s on the cutting edge of its industry. I’ve been at companies like Oracle, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil — all leaders in their fields. And Dedrone is defining what secure airspace looks like in the 21st century.
What is Dedrone? What are your core offerings?
Dedrone is the global leader in smart airspace security technology. What that means is we help public safety, security industry and soldiers counteract the threats posed by drones through an end-to-end drone incident command and control (C2) platform that offers capability to detect, track, and identify (DTI) and mitigate drones.
Drones have a huge potential to do good by acting as first responders (DFR), making deliveries faster and more eco-friendly, and more. But in the hands of bad actors, drones carrying a payload or spying with a camera can cause havoc at critical infrastructure sites, stadiums, airports, correctional facilities, and on the front lines.
At the heart of our offerings is DedroneTracker, which is our best-in-class sensor-fusion AI-driven C2 solution for automated drone DTI and mitigation. By taking inputs from multiple sensors including radio frequency (RF), radar, video and acoustics, DedroneTracker confirms drone presence and determines precise location of drone and pilot. Based on behavior, imagery, historical flight data, and other inputs, the AI engine offers the operator a single queue of prioritized targets through autonomous background interrogation of unauthorized drones while simultaneously tracking multiple friendly drones.
Most recently, we launched Dedrone City-Wide Drone Detection, the largest global network of urban drone detection services. It’s housed entirely in the cloud, accessible both at Security Operating Centers (SOCs) and on mobile devices without any hardware installation, and already has the infrastructure in place to cover approximately half of the US population. We also offer DedroneDefender, a precision jammer to mitigate drone threats; DedroneRapidResponse, which is a mobile drone detection unit housed on a trailer; and DedronePortable, designed to be carried and rapidly set up in dynamic situations and is in use in Ukraine.
What are the unique challenges that you face as the CMO of a drone technology company?
I keenly feel the urgency of our mission to protect people from drones, but I’m concerned that many security officials and public safety entities don’t or won’t recognize the need for a secure airspace until after a significant incident has occurred. No one wants that to happen!
Could you please tell us about your customer retention strategies and how you leverage Customer Experience management to reduce churn?
Our approach to customer service begins at the very first point of contact with the client. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for counterdrone security. With that in mind, Dedrone works closely with clients to design a security apparatus that not only meets current needs, but is built for as a foundation for future needs as drones increase in number and capabilities, because the drone industry itself is constantly evolving.
This understanding that it’s not a one-time interaction, but likely the beginning of a long-term relationship, informs everything we do, and it has been foundational to our ability to reduce churn and instead leading to stronger customer relationships. Additionally, the flexibility and security offered by our products speak for themselves once they are installed.
How do you promote the use of AI for Marketing and Sales at Dedrone?
AI and ML are at the heart of why DedroneTracker is so effective and stands out against its competitors. We deliver true predictive sensor fusion versus simple sensor correlation. At this point, we are working with a database that covers three years and over 240 million drone detections’ worth of drone behavior, as well as 18 million images. That is one of the biggest if not the biggest databases out there and means that DedroneTracker’s AI has depth in data to autonomously interrogate drones to deliver a real-time view of drone activity above.
Autonomous interrogation also means that security teams can have the peace of mind that if something does happen, the AI will respond and alert them quickly. AI is far better at quickly identifying and tracking a drone flying than the human eye is.
Having AI at heart of drone detection technology- does make your work easy in marketing and sales with AI as a branded proposition?
Yes. Ultimately, the security industry is quickly recognizing that drones are a threat that is not going away anytime soon. We offer them a solution that is AI-powered and working with the largest database of data and imagery out there, one that’s constantly fed into and updated with new drone models, flight patterns, etc.
Would you bargain your best marketing talent for AI-led assistants and virtual workers? If no, please elucidate with examples of your customer wins and marketing ROI?
No. There are things that AI does well — obviously, it’s far better at identifying a flying drone, for example — but the relationships that our team builds are just as critical to our ongoing success. Our technology has already been implemented in 40 countries, including by four of the G-7 nation governments; 30 U.S. federal entities, including the Department of Defense; more than 100 critical infrastructure sites; 30+ airports; 50+ stadiums; and 20+ non-US governments. We actively provide counter-drone solutions for some of the most high-profile events around the world and work closely with over 35 law enforcement agencies. That speaks to the power of our sales and marketing teams.
Do you think AI would ultimately replace people and make organizations leaner and faster?
Not in everything. As I said, AI is better at some things than others. Where it shines is in using and synthesizing vast amounts of data and imagery to make informed specifics and predictions on a drone that’s entered the airspace, including its model and capabilities, whether or not it’s carrying a payload, and so on. But for building the relationships on which our business rests, our team has the ability to work together with security professionals, public safety and military to devise a solution that fits their needs and, most importantly, build trust. AI works best when it works together with people, not all by itself.
What’s the future of AI-based drone detection and intelligence companies:
They are here to stay! Drones are rapidly proliferating — one report has the drone services market size growing to $63.6 billion by 2025. AI offers significant benefits and capabilities that can help keep an airspace safe — whether that’s a stadium, an entire city or a frontline.
What I do think will happen, though, is that there will be continued market consolidation (see our recent acquisition of Aerial Armor). Additionally, as drone security becomes a real concern, existing counter-uncrewed aerial solution (cUAS) technologies are being tested under real-world conditions. Security professionals will quickly understand which solutions actually work outside of demo environments. This dynamic will quickly push the industry to pick winners and losers. I am proud to say that with our technology and our team, Dedrone is taking the lead position in counterdrone solutions.
Thank you, Mary-Lou! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
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As Chief Marketing Officer at Dedrone, Mary-Lou is on the frontline of driving business strategy, marketing, and communications. Prior to Dedrone, Smulders served as CMO at financial technology company 9th Gear Technologies as well as at crisis communication systems leader AtHoc, growing the brand and supporting their acquisition by security software and services provider BlackBerry in 2015.
During her 20+ career in enterprise software, Smulders also served as Senior Vice President of Global Applications and Services Marketing for Oracle Corporation and has advised on strategic transformation initiatives at Booz & Co. Early in her career, she was an engineer on multiple oil rigs for ExxonMobil and also worked for Shell Oil.
Dedrone is the market leader in smart airspace security. Hundreds of commercial, government and military customers around the world trust Dedrone’s comprehensive, counter-drone command and control solution to protect against the persistent and escalating threat from drones. By leveraging AI/ML, Dedrone is the only solution that provides continuous, autonomous interrogation and verification of drones. Whether on-premise / air-gapped or in the cloud, Dedrone customers can easily detect, track, identify, analyze and mitigate drone threats. Established in 2014, Dedrone is headquartered just outside of Washington, D.C., and has offices in San Francisco and San Diego, California, Columbus, Ohio, London, United Kingdom and Kassel, Germany.