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Meet Nolan Ramseyer of Peau Productions (dba MAPIR) in Mission Valley

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nolan Ramseyer.

Nolan, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
In 2008, I was 3 years into my bachelor’s at the University of California, San Diego for biotechnology. The curriculum was getting tougher, and I was beginning to question my career path. The idea of being inside and working in a laboratory for the rest of my life just didn’t appeal to my love of the outdoors and working on something I can hold in my hand. So I decided to take a trip to Australia with my best friend to clear my head. I had to borrow some money from my parents for the trip, since my IT job didn’t afford me much flexibility outside my normal college expenses. I didn’t know if and when I’d be able to pay them back, but I felt it was the best thing to do at that point in my life. My family hadn’t traveled much for leisure, certainly not internationally, so this was a bit outside my comfort zone. My parents certainly tried to talk me out of going, but I just knew I needed a break. At the end of the amazing trip, I knew that not only did I need to finish my degree, but I also needed to find something I was more passionate about it. My heart was never going to be satisfied in a sterile lab wearing a white coat.

My job afforded me many hours of boredom on the internet, and that’s where I stumbled on the use of modified web cameras to track changes in near infrared light on a touch surface. A camera is placed behind a sheet of plastic, which then functions as the touch screen surface. Your fingers are illuminated by the infrared light and the camera then tracks your fingers, which it translates into touch points on your computer. This was in a time where the largest touch screen was a smart phone, so the idea of cheaply making a touch screen of any size was very appealing to the DIY community. There happened to be a large number of people who were building these DIY touch screens, sourcing parts from many companies located in the USA. Many of them were outside our country, and I learned about the import taxes they paid and how sourcing from multiple suppliers was not affordable for them. So I stocked the various parts in my college room and set up a small online store under the Peau Productions brand to help them out. I knew I was on to something when sales increased dramatically over the next few months. I started adding new suppliers and coming up with my own custom solutions to keep people coming back. I was happy to have a distraction from school, earning more money than I ever had and helping people in the process. Fast forward a couple years, I’ve graduated with my biotech degree, and I decided to make the camera thing my full-time gig. I had to hire friends off and on to help me out when a huge order came in, but mostly I worked at it alone. I finally moved Peau out of my home office and into a small rental suite, mainly so I could better organize the logistics and get a non-residential business address.

In 2012, I started getting asked if I modified the increasingly popular GoPro Hero action cameras. They used the same lens mount that the web cameras I’d been modifying had, so I sourced some higher resolution lenses and started offering those. Peau wasn’t the first company to set up a catalog specifically targeted at lenses for GoPro cameras, but I knew I could do better than my competition. By 2014, Peau had surpassed all other mod stores and was the top company in the market. A new market I began learning about was using these small cameras on consumer drones. DJI and 3DR offered gimbals on their drones which held a GoPro, and I quickly discovered their customers wanted narrower, non-fisheye lenses instead of an extreme wide angle. DJI decided to begin selling their own cameras so I also tested those cameras, with my lenses and further expanded my catalog.

By 2014, Peau Productions was mostly known as a hack shop. I took any camera that was popular apart, tested my lenses, and created new product collections around it. I also created instructional videos to show people how easy it was to install my products. I found the best way to sell something to the DIY community was to show them how easy it was to install it themselves. I had also begun selling complete cameras with the lenses installed, which greatly increased my revenue numbers as the average order value grew. In late 2014, I made the move from sole proprietor LLC to an S corporation, and shortly after hired my first two employees to handle the increased sales and customer communications. Revenue was still increasing, so I moved us to our now current office which had lots of room to grow into. Later that year we hired another technician so that order processing delays were rarely an issue.

In 2015, the consumer drone market was an interesting space to be selling into. DJI stopped supporting third-party cameras and 3DR had teamed up with GoPro for their SOLO drone. We developed a good relationship with 3DR during their SOLO years, with their marketing team often recommending our most popular lens to their customers in webinars and on Instagram.
Looking at GoPro’s path thus far, though, I had a feeling that they were in for a tough battle. They may have partnered with 3DR to expand their market, but they didn’t change their products to better support the use of them on a drone. We were selling over 100 modified GoPro cameras a month and demand was only increasing. With GoPro’s embarrassing crash after their IPO the year before, I had a feeling the GoPro modifying market wasn’t going to be around for much longer. So I looked back at the years of modifying other companies’ cameras and thought about how best to address my customers’ needs. I learned about using aerial cameras for creating maps instead of just capturing single photos and videos, and believed that that market would also have huge potential to be profitable. So I created the MAPIR brand to address this specific drone camera market.

In summer of 2015, we launched our MAPIR Camera, later renamed Survey1. The Survey line is designed to be simple to use with all the default settings set up for surveying from a drone. It’s affordable and allows anyone with a small budget to use their drone as a survey tool. The Survey cameras in their current form are simply customized, rebranded versions of a lesser known Chinese manufacturer’s existing camera. While we tweak them specifically for our survey customer market, it is still very limited in capabilities since it’s not of our own design. So there I was, months after launching MAPIR, and already I knew I needed something else to offer or I wasn’t going to stay successful. I had two choices: I could continue selling my existing product lines, hoping we could pivot as needed to low risk catalog changes as the markets evolved, or I could start an ambitious R&D project to make my own custom camera. I didn’t know when I’d be in a position to be able to even consider doing such a custom project, so I went for it.

We didn’t have the staff or budget to support a fully custom project, so we outsourced our Kernel camera to a 3rd party R&D company. This kept costs down and also meant we didn’t need to let go of any temporary contractors after the project was completed. I was the sole lead on the project, in charge of designing how we wanted Kernel to perform, look, and interact with other systems. Our embedded systems engineer worked on the software to communicate with the camera while I left the actual circuit board and core software design up to the R&D company under my guidance.

With Kernel, I want to make a completely modular camera platform, one that is as powerful and compact as possible, yet able to be used in any industry. It allows for the complete customization of which sensor, lens, and filter you can build each camera with while also being able to connect together into a multi-sensor array. Instead of connecting a bunch of sensors to a single computer, each sensor has its own brain, just like a GoPro. We don’t need a battery, since the majority of our customers use them on a drone, which already has a large battery to connect to. I also made sure that the newest communications standards would be supported, so when we launched it would be cutting edge in the advancing drone industry. This modularity means it is most appealing to my largest target market: high volume drone manufactures and integrators.

We expect to begin shipping Kernel and Survey3 in Q4 2017.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
From 2009 to 2014 the business ran smoothly with very little overhead, including no employees besides myself. In 2015 I hired my first 2 employees, moved to a larger office in Mission Valley and started spending more on R&D to advance our product lines. Some of those R&D projects proved to cost and take more time than estimated and that began to cut into our profits. Ultimately we have had to take on more debt than expected to bring our next generation products to market, but we’re confident it will be worth the struggle.

Peau Productions (dba MAPIR) – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The company’s core product lines, and thus the targeted customer segments had pivoted over the years as markets have increased and decreased. At the core though has always been a concentration on small cameras, such as the GoPro Hero and the various related modification accessories for them.

While the touch screen setups that the first product lines addressed still sell well, those customers are no longer using cameras for tracking due to advancing in touch tracking. This side of the business is mostly drop-shipped from our manufacturer, so there is little innovation or R&D expense involved.

The modified GoPro camera business was much better a few years ago when GoPro had a larger share of the market. Using the GoPro cameras on drones increased our sales and we actively engaged with and advertised on drone related sites. As the drone companies started using other cameras besides GoPro though, we decided to brand our own cameras, and created the dba MAPIR. We still continue to sell parts for modifying other company’s cameras, but our concentration is on our own products under the MAPIR brand.

MAPIR is really where the concentration of our company is right now. All R&D is being spent specifically on advancing our 2 camera lines and their related accessories. We’re attempting to offer something that no one else in our niche market does: simple, affordable and modular cameras. The level of customization possible with our new Kernel camera arrays should give our customers more choices in how they setup their cameras, something that not much of our competition is currently offering.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is running a profitable business that is constantly innovating. It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, be it large or niche, but if the company is stagnant, it’s not truly successful no matter how much money it’s making.

If you’re making good money in a highly competitive market, you’re not really succeeding on your own. You’re succeeding along with your competition. So, there has to be more than that to true success.

If you’re succeeding in your own market but don’t have much to show for it, then that’s also not success. That’s where I was prior to 2015. I had a highly profitable company but I wasn’t really offering much to push the industry forward. I also couldn’t do the volume necessary to really support true growth. So I added employees and got aggressive with R&D spending. Turns out it cost a bit more than I had thought, but I’m optimistic 2018 will be our best year yet.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 7592 Metropolitan Drive
    Suite 401 San Diego, CA 92108
  • Website: www.mapir.camera
  • Phone: 619-554-8848
  • Email: info@peauproductions.com

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