The goal of Hardly Hustle is to provide inspiration, drive and motivation in a 10 minute read or less. What you see is what you get. This is hot off the press without an editing team. Chris Lewis is up.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am Chris Lewis a Marine Corps and US Army veteran, NC State graduate, husband and father of three. I founded the Vets to Drones program to introduce veterans to the commercial drone industry for a few reasons. First, our veteran community, the community I am a part of and came from, needs a place to land when exiting the military that provides fulfilling, meaningful and purpose driven work at wages acceptable in modern American Society. Second, the American Drone Industry is in dire need of experienced and vetted drone pilots who possess the skills necessary to travel and inspect assets in austere environments. Lastly, the American Drone Industry plays a critical role in America's future economic prowess and development. STEAM careers are the perfect place for our Nation's veterans to get involved, and becoming a drone pilot has become a gateway into STEAM!
What did it take/how did you get started?
I exited the military in 2018 and graduated from North Carolina State University in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While still new to the civilian world and having a bachelor's degree in hand without an official graduation, I was lucky enough to meet a Raleigh local who offered me the opportunity to travel to California to begin working in the commercial drone industry. Once I became a commercial drone pilot, I began to meet other veterans who had found opportunity in this new and exciting career field. After traveling for drone work from coast to coast for about 2 years, I knew I was ready to establish my own organization to impact the industry as a whole while giving back to the community I came from, so I founded Vets to Drones.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Vets to Drones is moving full speed ahead! we now have over 300 enrolled trainees in our program in over 20 states across the US. We have access to 3 different airfields across North Carolina and have created partnerships with UAS technology companies across the country and internationally who support our mission; provide veterans with meaningful careers in UAS technology. We plan to grow our student numbers beyond 1000 this year and will begin establishing chapters in different states across the US by February of 2023. We have also partnered with an international NGO, One Tree Planted, to provide reforestation surveys using UAS as a way to give our trainees the experience needed to enter the workforce as professional commercial drone pilots.
What drives / motivates you on a daily basis?
Change, impact and progress motivate me. I love to collaborate by bringing individuals and organizations together and create situations where everyone involved wins! Plus, there is no greater feeling than when I get a veteran hired on to a commercial drone company after training them from the ground up.
What advice would you give someone interested in doing what you do?
Fly everyday! Respect your craft and dive in! Do not settle for the bare minimum in this industry. UAS technology moves at a rapid pace and if you are not constantly learning new ways to improve your craft, you will get left behind. Always remember to stay grateful, and that when you do good work; good things happen.
What has been the hardest part of your business journey?
The hardest part of starting the Vets to Drones program was turning down the comfortable and large salary Drone Service Providers were offering me to come fly for them and manage their UAS teams. I knew had to make a stand to create impact, so I turned down the largest salary I had ever been offered to found Vets to Drones and create a gateway for veterans in need of a path forward. It's been completely worth it and highly fulfilling, but the thoughts of that incredibly comfortable salary haunt me from time to time.
How have you managed burnout thus far?
Grit. I'm a US Marine first. I've been through some hard times in the past, but I stay focused on my mission and keep pushing. The burnout definitely comes and goes, but now that I have over 300 fellow veterans depending on me, it has become much easier to push through the lows. I also have huge support from my community, fellow veterans and volunteers that have helped me grow our program to what it is today. I cannot thank them enough and I would not have been able to make it this far without their support.
What are a few resources that you'd recommend?
I have read books, watched YouTube videos, listened to podcasts and been part of cohorts, but in the end it is up to you to decide to make your dreams become a reality. Studying history helped me realize that creating a massive impact was possible, but I had to begin building the image in my head for it to come to fruition. Trust yourself and start building!
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