Layoffs Reflect New Turbulence at High-Flying 3D Robotics­

3D Robotics, the drone maker that began life in Tijuana and San Diego, has been consolidating its operations after stumbling in its bid to go head-to-head against China’s DJI, the world’s biggest maker of consumer drones.

In an interview yesterday afternoon with Xconomy, CEO Chris Anderson confirmed that 3DR has been ­reorganizing to focus its drone business on big companies and other enterprise customers, but downplayed the significance of the high-flying robotic company’s layoffs over the past six months.

The Berkeley, CA-based company is closing its San Diego facility, with three years still remaining on its lease, and has reduced its staff at its Berkeley headquarters and in Austin, TX, where it has pared all but a sales and marketing group led by Colin Guinn (formerly of DJI).

The latest staff reductions, disclosed Tuesday, follow more sweeping layoffs that took place at the end of 2015, when co-founder and president Jordi Muñoz left the company. Anderson met Muñoz after creating the DIY Drones website in 2007 to serve a rapidly growing online community of designers and hobbyists who wanted to build their own drones. They founded 3D Robotics in 2009 with the idea of selling both components and drones.

Last year, 3D Robotics also shifted its manufacturing operations from Tijuana to an outsourced manufacturer in China that was dedicated to high-volume production of the Solo, a ready-to-fly quadcopter drone 3DR introduced last year, targeting what Anderson described as the professional consumer market.

In the latest shuffle, Anderson is shifting away from his operational responsibilities to focus more on the external and strategic side of 3DR’s business, although he will continue to be identified as CEO, according to a report posted last night by MarketWatch columnist Therese Poletti. Anderson did not mention the change in his phone call with me yesterday, or disclose that Jeevan Kalanithi, 3DR’s chief product officer, was named president.

In my interview, Anderson described the organizational changes as something that was part of 3DR’s plan all along. “This is a consolidation we’ve been working on since before October of last year. As we shifted from the DIY era to consumer and to enterprise customers, we ended up with a different organization each time,” he said.

But the company had to change its business model, according to a former 3D Robotics employee who would only talk anonymously. The company was more successful at developing and selling its autopilots than it was at selling drones, but according to this source, “They went down the path of developing the Solo drone” in a challenge to DJI’s prominence in the market for consumer drones. The strategy became particularly evident after 3DR hired Guinn to head sales and marketing, as Guinn was previously the CEO of DJI’s North American operations.

3D Robotics is shutting down its office near San Diego, along the U.S.-Mexican border, with three years remaining on its lease.

3D Robotics is shutting down its office near San Diego, along the U.S.-Mexican border, with three years remaining on its lease.

“They stumbled in their execution of building these vehicles,” the source said. Meanwhile, DJI was developing its new Phantom 3 line as a … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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