Blackboard cofounder Michael Chasen takes CEO reins at PrecisionHawk

Commercial drone tech venture PrecisionHawk has a new CEO—again. Red Hat Inc. cofounder Bob Young, who has served as PrecisionHawk’s CEO since July 2015, is handing over the reins to another veteran of enterprise software, Michael Chasen, a cofounder and former CEO of education tech giant Blackboard Inc.

Verizon Ventures, an investment arm of TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon Communications Inc., is a stakeholder in PrecisionHawk.

Young, who remains Chairman at PrecisionHawk, was not immediately available for an interview. Chasen said the reason for the changing of the guard had to do with a spike in demand for PrecisionHawk’s software and services following the passage of the FAA’s Part 107 Rule last summer. Part 107 clarified how businesses are allowed to use drones for commercial and industrial purposes in the US.

The rule limits drone operators, for example, from flying their UAVs in the dark of night, beyond the visual line of sight of a pilot, or over densely populated areas¬ unless they have attained an FAA exemption to do so. PrecisionHawk, as we reported in August, was one of the first companies authorized by the feds to fly drones where pilots can’t physically see them.

The incoming CEO, Chasen, said Young had grown his prior businesses, including Red Hat, to about the size of PrecisionHawk today, but the Raleigh-based company is ready to scale beyond that rapidly, including internationally so the team had initiated talks with him. Chasen declined to disclose exact 2016 revenue for PrecisionHawk.

However, Chasen said PrecisionHawk has current research and revenue-generating engagements in 6 countries. Its customers include: Monsanto, John Deere, and PrecisionHawk strategic investors USAA, DuPont, Yamaha and NTT Docomo.

Today, PrecisionHawk makes money from sales of its own drone, a fixed-wing model for the agriculture market, but more so through its services and software including DataMapper, which helps organizations collect, save and draw insights from the aerial images and data they gather using drones, sensors and cameras. The company faces competition from the likes of other US-based venture backed companies including DroneDeploy, Airware, Kespry and others.

During his long tenure as CEO at Blackboard, Chasen grew the company to over 3,000 employees across 20 international offices, and led it through an initial public offering in 2004, 20 mergers and acquisitions and a sale to a private equity firm in 2011 to a private equity firm for $1.64 billion. He drew a comparison between corporations trying to figure out how to use drones today, and schools trying to figure out how to use the internet and educational software in the late 90s when he cofounded Blackboard.

He reminisced: “Blackboard ended up being successful in the long run because we’d go to schools and say you won’t only supplement traditional classes by putting teaching materials online, you could have long distance learning and new reach. We’d ask what is your strategy for digital? And instead of just buying our software, they’re hire us to develop a real, digital business plan.”

In much the same manner, Chasen intends to help corporations and government organizations figure out how they can best put unmanned aerial systems, sensors and data analytics to work in their operations. He sees PrecisionHawk products and services figuring heavily in agriculture, architecture, construction and energy, long-term.