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Has investors’ perspectives for drones shifted? An interview with Manna Drone Delivery

08.06.2023

We sat down to speak with Bobby Healy the CEO and Founder of Manna Drone Delivery, which recently went through a funding round led by Coca-Cola HBC, bringing the total funding for the drone delivery company to around $40 million as of March 2023. This is on top of the news that Manna Drone Delivery will expand operations to Dallas, Texas, another city in Ireland and one other major European city. 

Bobby Healy is well known in the drone industry for being a somewhat controversial figure due to his witty personality and ambitious operational goals, which have thus far led the company to the success it is seen today. As he told us during the interview, “And literally, we think now, end of this year, early next year, we're going to be leading in terms of our ability to generate profit from selling hamburgers.”

Is Manna Drone Delivery the most operationally advanced drone delivery organisation in 2023?

In Washington, Manna announced their intention to participate in the Texas-First Pilot Project alongside their strategic partnership with Coca-Cola HBC, their most recent investor. These two new announcements put Manna Drone Delivery on a different level compared to other drone start-ups who are still struggling to get the operational authorisation approvals needed to fly. Currently, the company is making around 300 deliveries per day in their home of Dublin. 

Bobby also hinted to us that another announcement is coming soon to begin delivering in another town in Dublin, which is around 100,000 people in total. Their plan is to begin doing between 500 and 1,000 deliveries per day. Bobby admitted to us that “we're still not ready to scale. Don't want to scale, but demonstrating more and more capability and throughput. And this year, we think we're the first company to be able to say this, but we would be profitable at the flight level, so we will make more money than we spend on every flight, which is a very important milestone for us as we think about scaling across the rest of Ireland and even parts of Europe.”

They know that investment is hard to come by these days, and they want to make sure they’re using the investments they’ve already received wisely instead of “burning their investors’ cash with every delivery.” A huge milestone for this is being able to operate commercially with the required certifications, which Murzilli Consulting played a huge role in as the outsourced regulatory department for Manna Drone Delivery. Bobby also told us that he’s thankful to EASA and the Irish Aviation Authority for helping them through the certification process to even be able to serve customers in Ireland and Europe.  

Investors are looking for realistic and profitable drone operations

While Bobby does consider himself a Coca-Cola person, he joked with us that the investment relationship isn’t an exclusive one. The main benefit of having Coca-Cola as an investor, Bobby explained to us, is that “they see the future. They know that drones, drones are going to be delivered to every single suburban house in the world in the next ten years.” Their desire to be part of this new and innovative industry means that it makes sense for them to invest in a future where drone delivery is part of our everyday lives. 

The main challenge for investors is being able to find an organisation that’s ready to scale, which is why they’re looking at companies like Manna Drone Delivery who are at the front of the queue and are almost able to scale operations profitably. For larger brands like Coca-Cola, this means they can start to think about how to get straight to consumers’ houses and bypass a lot of the traditional methods. 

Considering that Manna delivers a large portion of coffee (around 30-40%), it also pairs well with Coca-Cola’s Italian coffee brand Caffè Vergnano, which they added to their portfolio after completing a minority acquisition of 30% in June 2021. Investors that have a large infrastructure like Coca-Cola have translated to a good endorsement for drone delivery, explained Bobby. He told us that “This is one of the biggest food brands or FMCG brands in the world, recognising that the future is going to have drone delivery.”

Still, investment mentalities have never changed, he explained to us, only the parameters and filters have. Before, many investors wanted to offer start-ups a lot of cash to be able to deploy operations, so even if they have the same level of interest and capital as before, they are no longer willing to offer this to irrational business cases. 

Bobby explains that this means “no one wants to invest in a business that does a million deliveries a day if you lose money in every delivery. So, we need to get to rational businesses that are always investable. So, that's why our focus is on generating a profit on our operation.” That means if they can start to generate profit in one location, like in Dublin, they can use those same processes to scale operations in other areas as well. 

Why pick Texas as the first location for last mile drone delivery in the United States?

When we asked why Bobby picked Texas as the first location, he explained that after speaking to a number of different states in the US, which all had a fairly enthusiastic reaction to enabling last mile drone delivery, Bobby decided to pick the one that was the most convenient in terms of logistics (a direct flight from Dublin) and the headquarters of their partner Hillwood, which is part of the Ross Perot conglomerate. 

Not only did Texas offer support with local regulations, but the backing of Hillwood, which functions somewhat as a political lobby group, can support the much needed regulatory changes in the United States. Bobby told us that, “At the end of the day, the difficult part of the USA, as we know, is getting some form of scalable operations through regulation, which is just not there yet.”

As in the industry many already know, regulations in the United States are far behind what they are in Europe. Still, the decision to expand to the United States makes sense for Manna Drone Delivery as they continue to demonstrate the value that drone deliveries can bring. Their goal is to reach profitability at a location-based level to demonstrate that their operations are economically viable, even under existing regulations. 

Depending on the investment environment in 2024, Bobby plans to open up three or four new European markets. 

About Manna Drone Delivery

Manna Drone Delivery was founded by Bobby Healy in 2019 in Dublin Ireland. They’re currently one of the top drone delivery companies in the world, rivalled only by Wing, a subsidiary of Alphabet Company (Google). This might soon change, however, as they have received funding from Coca-Cola HBC, bringing their total financing to around $40 million. This is a huge contrast in comparison with our interview with Manna Drone Delivery in 2020 when the company was still in its early stages.

CEO of Coca-Cola HBC stated in an article announcing the funding, “Our investment in Manna Drone Delivery, one of the most innovative drone delivery start-up companies in the world, encapsulates our ambition to deliver our products in new and more sustainable ways,” says Zoran Bogdanovic, CEO, Coca-Cola HBC. “We are excited about this partnership which allows us to be at the forefront of disruptive technologies across the worldwide consumer packaged goods (CPG) market. Furthermore, with up to eight times less CO2 compared to car delivery, this partnership with Manna Drones is another step in our journey to achieve net zero emissions across our value chain by 2040.”

Manna Drone Delivery will launch operations in Texas in the near future and another European city soon. Their goal is to launch an additional three cities in the upcoming year. 

About Bobby Healy

Bobby Healy is an entrepreneur with a diverse professional background. He started his career developing video games for Nintendo and other platforms. In 1992, Bobby transitioned into the tech industry and founded Eland Technologies, an airline tech company, which he sold to SITA.AERO after 11 years. He then established CarTrawler, a globally recognised mobility marketplace for airlines, and successfully led two leveraged buyouts for the business.

In 2019, Healy founded Manna Drone Delivery, a Dublin-based drone delivery service. In addition to his entrepreneurial roles, Healy is also a board member at DEBRA Ireland, an investor and chairman at Coindrum, and the founder of Meili. He previously served as a non-executive director at Chill Insurance. 

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