Xponential or Bust

It’s a little under one week before the start of AUVSI’s Xponential trade show. The booth is in two crates somewhere between here and Denver, the hotels and flights were booked long ago; and now we’re just trying to fill the last slots in our meeting schedules. Before we know it, we’ll be landing in Denver.

Xponential itself is about the same size this year as the previous three years. There were 668 exhibitors in 2017, 687 in 2018, and a quick count of the show floor this year shows 673 so far with about ten empty spots. No doubt these will be filled with last minute exhibitors in the next week and a half.

MicroPilot has been exhibiting at Xponential for at least fifteen years now. Xponential is by far the best show of the year for us. It is the one show where we never have any doubt that it is worth the time and money to attend. The cost of booth space is very reasonable, especially when compared to other, much smaller, shows. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to walk the floor because of all the prescheduled meetings. A fully booked schedule before we set foot on the trade show floor is a sure sign of a good show.

For the second year in a row, the big three Israeli UAV manufacturers aren’t here. Elbit, IAI, and Aeronautics are nowhere to be found. For several years now, Xponential has becoming more focused on the commercial UAV industry and the military segment has been in decline. This is just another sign of that transition.

The China pavilion is much smaller than 2017. The drone market in China is saturated. In China, everyone and their dog makes a drone; unfortunately, the good times are running out as investors discover that not everyone and their dog can make money making drones. The lack of Chinese presence at Xponential in 2018 is a sign of this change.

Another notable absence is Airware. This is the first year since their initial round of venture funding that they haven’t had a booth. After spending 75 million dollars trying, and failing, to develop an autopilot they pivoted into the data post-processing business. Last year, shortly after Xponential, they dumped their founder Johnathan Downey. Life is tough when you take a lot of venture capital and then don’t deliver.

It’s certainly possible, and even likely, that Airware has decided to focus on end-user shows. They aren’t the only company with a big PR budget that isn’t here. I think Airware’s absence is a mistake though. The first reason is that now, people are going to talk. Their absence will be noted, especially when you consider that virtually every other drone show struggles to find fifty exhibitors and Airware is passing up a show with over six-hundred.

The second reason why I think it’s a mistake is that Xponential is an opportunity no one in the industry can afford to miss. For a long time now, trade shows have not been about finding customers; there are many, much better, tools: Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to name just a few. Trade shows are now about relationships. Despite what your millennial children may tell you, face to face is still a powerful business tool. The best way to start, maintain, or build a relationship is face to face.

I’ve been attending drone related trade shows for more than 15 years now and the major shows are undiminished despite the many new means of communication that have been devised in that time. The Paris Air Show is undiminished, Farnborough and Singapore as well. Xponential is also as big as it’s ever been. To pass up on the opportunity to meet face to face with virtually anyone in the industry is the opportunity that Airware is passing up by staying home. In my mind that’s an opportunity that is too big to miss.

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