Private equity executive Mike Israel has combined his hobby — piloting drones and other radio-controlled aircraft — and his business experience to create AirVūz, a rapidly growing Minneapolis-based website for sharing aerial video and photography.
Israel, president and CEO of AirVūz, was a managing director and co-founder of Mill City Capital before launching AirVūz in 2015. He continues as Mill City investment adviser and director of several portfolio companies.
With his interest in radio-controlled piloting growing as consumer drones entered the market, Israel said a Mill City investment in a radio-controlled products company offered insight into turning his pastime into a venture.
With heavy social media promotion, AirVūz traffic has grown to 1.4 million visitors a month since its May 2016 launch, Israel said. It ranks as the second-most viewed industry website, trailing only a drone manufacturer’s site, according to estimates last month by Alexa.com.
AirVūz has more than 200,000 registered users who have posted more than 38,000 videos. AirVūz, with 23 employees, produces video content including industry news reports and interviews with leading contributors. The company was the exclusive drone video provider to the Minnesota State Fair.
Israel is focusing on monetizing AirVūz, in part through ad revenue generated by sponsored content, perhaps from travel companies, car companies and makers of hiking boots, backpacks and other gear that appears in drone videos.
Israel, who has an economics degree from Stanford University, was a managing director at Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison, another Minneapolis-based private equity firm, before going to Mill City.
Q: Was starting a company a goal of yours?
A: It was a matter of having an idea that I felt I could run with. I saw some things happening that led me to believe this would come along at a good time and have the benefit of some good tailwinds. If this hadn’t come along I think I would still be doing what I was doing.
Q: What competition are you facing?
A: The real competition for this type of content is YouTube and to some extent Vimeo. We’ve been able to show that this type of content does deserve its own home. We’re curating all the content that comes onto the site. We’re highlighting and promoting the best content and the best contributors. That’s not something the universal platforms are equipped to do.
Q: What’s your pitch to advertisers?
A: We have the ability with this platform and our original production functions to create the content, get it distributed on our site and on social media at very effective terms. Video content that has an embedded message that is consumed voluntarily and has a viral component, which a lot of ours does, is something I think advertisers are going to find attractive.