Betterview just raised $2 million to analyze drone footage for insurers

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Betterview, a 2.5-year-old, San Francisco-based company whose software can analyze detailed aerial footage captured by drones to help insurers better understand a property’s condition, has raised $2 million in funding from a long list of investors.

Compound led the round; other participants include Maiden Re, 645 Ventures, Arab Angel, Winklevoss Capital, Chestnut Street Ventures, Pierre Valade (who co-founded the calendar application Sunrise), angel investor Edward Lando and earlier backers Haystack and MetaProp.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the company, which currently supports DJI drones and says its special sauce is the more than one million photos of roofs and properties in its database. That data set has been analyzed on an individual photo basis by claims adjusters, roofers and other experts and it ostensibly continues to grow and improve via machine learning with every new image it processes.

Though co-founder and CEO David Lyman isn’t at liberty to disclose the company’s customers publicly, there’s clearly a market bubbling up here. Insurance companies Travelers and Allstate have said they now use drones to take pictures and video — and for fairly straightforward reasons, like the ability to keep their inspectors out of harm’s way, and to view areas where it might be harder for a human to see. Insurers are also deciding that it’s faster to send up an image-capturing drone rather than have someone traipse around a property looking for damage and taking notes.

A year-old FAA rule that makes it easier for drone operators to fly legally as long as their drone is within sight doesn’t hurt, either.

Betterview is chasing a sizable market. There are more than 8 million commercial properties in the U.S.. More than 300,000 of these buildings are valued at more than $5 million, which is the segment that Betterview — which sells it software on a subscription basis — is targeting right now. Should it enter into the business of helping to inspect single family homes, charging perhaps on a one-off basis, the market opens up even further. According to the latest U.S. census data, there are more than 76 million single family homes in the U.S., and 83 percent of them are insured.

Somewhat amazingly, Betterview doesn’t appear to have many direct challengers at the moment, discounting minor efforts by the big insurance companies themselves, which could well decide to pour more resources into their own analytic capabilities (but could also decide instead to snap up Betterview).

Then again, the field isn’t wide open, either. Similar aerial intelligence platforms simply have a different approach. Kespry, for example, a four-year-old, Menlo Park, Ca.-based startup that has already raised $28 million in funding, has built an entire system — a drone and software platform — to sell to insurance companies, as well as to mine operators and construction companies.

Both companies will undoubtedly be useful this fall, particularly in the aftermath of the catastrophic Hurricane Harvey. Asked if Betterview’s tech is being put to use in Houston right now, Lyman tells us it is — that one major carrier is having it survey photos taken south of Houston to assess wind damage. He says a multi-family property owner has separately hired the company to assess 17 regional properties.

“Our greatest challenge,” says Lyman, has been getting FAA approval to fly.

Currently — and understandably, he adds — a temporary flight restriction has been imposed, with priority given to flights for rescue operations, as well as for news crews.