Campus Celebrities: Nassim Aoude & Luke Dowley

Name: Nassim Aoude                                                       Name: Luke Dowley

Age: 21                                                                            Age: 21

Year: Senior                                                                     Year: Senior

Hometown: Worcester, MA                                              Hometown: Cambridge, MA

Major: Mechanical Engineering                                        Major: Political Science

Occupation: “I fly drones!”                                                              Occupation: “I fly drones as well!”

 

Nassim and Luke are the President, and Vice President of their own company, Alpinax, which offers various multimedia drone services.

HC UMass: When did you two first meet?

LD: “We met through the Ski and Board Club, which I am now the President of, and [Nassim] is the Media Director for. Also, that is how the whole drone concept came about, in terms of filming, and now... here we are! (Laughs) But we met around our sophomore year.”

 

HC UMass: Can you tell us a little bit about your company, Alpinax?

NA: “So, we were trying to expand the Ski and Board Club’s media presence, and basically from that we found a niche market for aerial photography and cinema work. I had experience flying [drones] and our previous Digital Director was all up to date on the latest camera technologies and what not. Together we started developing the early stages of the drones. That summer, I had gotten contacted for a couple of jobs, people wanted some pictures of their wedding and this and that. The following semester we began to get more involved with it, and Luke started helping me out, because he had been filming things all his life. Luke’s parents are in the film industry.”

LD: “Yeah, and one of the things we began to realize was that this field has obviously blown up in the last few years. I mean you hear about people flying drones in the news all the time. The cool part about getting in this field so early, and with Nassim having so much flying experience, is that we are pretty far ahead of the game as far as technology goes. We are now looking to move even beyond the filming aspect, into many things, some of them being surveying landscapes and creating 3D interactive images, so it surpasses the traditional photography and film.”

 

HC UMass: Other than being members of the Ski and Board Club, what else inspired you two to create a business like Alpinax?

NA: “Well, I’ve always had a passion for aviation.”

HC UMass: What do you think sparked that interest?

NA: “I am not even sure to be honest. I feel like I was interested since I was a baby!”

LD: “I mean, who doesn’t want to fly?”

 

HC UMass: What makes Alpinax a unique company in your eyes?

LD: “Like I said earlier, we are kind of ahead of the game in terms of experience. I mean, Nassim has been flying for a pretty long time. Also the particular equipment we use makes us unique. The drones that you see people using to crash into the White House and what not, (Laughs) are constructed from kits that you can buy on Amazon, and when you open it up, it gives you ‘Quick Steps to Fly a Drone.’ Well, first off, there are no quick steps to flying a drone! (Laughs) It takes time. But when you see the kind of equipment we use, which you can hear from like 500 ft. away because it is somewhat large, you can see that we carry pretty much any type of camera on it, not just a GoPro. So there is a huge market as far as film production goes, and as I said my father has been in the film industry for a while, and I can put any of his cameras on our drone.”

 

HC UMass: How long did it take for Alpinax to take off?

NA: “Well, it was a gradual process as most things are. I didn’t all of the sudden have all this money to start our company. But, a few summers ago, when I worked some small photography jobs, I made good money from doing it, which was great. But, slowly I realized that I needed to put myself ahead of the pack because I was just operating on a smaller scale using a GoPro and what not. But I had visions that were much bigger than that! I’d say over the past year, we stepped things up to a much more serious level.”

LD: “Yeah, we started investing in more serious equipment. We also started to look at where we wanted to go as a company.”

HC UMass: What do people think initially when they hear the word “Drone”? Is it negative?

NA: “So far, I haven’t encountered any negative press. I hear a lot of negative stories about ‘drones’... but generally there are never issues with our drones. Although, the police have come to almost every shoot we’ve had!”

LD: (Laughs) “Yes, but it isn’t because of any bad experiences!”

NA: “They just get calls that they have to respond to, but there are never any issues. They just have to do their job, but unfortunately it takes an extra chunk of time to talk to them and to settle what it is we are doing. It can take around 3 hours to do a shoot, but then it will take another hour to ground the equipment and talk to the police, and they always tell us that what we are doing is fine anyway.”

 

HC UMass: That is interesting. Do you think there is a misconception around the term “drone” because of what flies around in the media? (Pun fully intended)

LD: “What people don’t understand is that the ‘drones’ that people hear about in the media, which deserve negative connotations, are the size of this floor. I mean, they are airplanes, just without pilots. Ours are pretty big and loud, but they are only 4 or 5 feet long. It is funny to see how people crowd around, though, when we are flying.”

 

HC UMass: What are some of Alpinax’s greatest successes?

NA: “It is definitely hard to pinpoint one!”

LD: “I think the coolest thing has been the fact that even though we struggle the most with marketing, we still have had a steady stream of clients, and that’s because everything has been from word of mouth. That is is really cool because it reflects on how worthwhile our services are to our clients. It is nice to get home everyday and have 2 or 3 emails from clients requesting services, especially with no marketing besides our website.”

HC UMass: I have seen the website, and let me just say it is top notch. Does your relationship as business partners benefit from you two being good friends?

LD: “It has just been a lot of fun for the most part.”

NA: “We both very much enjoy what we are doing. It has been really beneficial for us to be friends outside of the business. We will go to a set, and we both know what each other is thinking without saying anything. (Laughs) So the client may not know what we’re thinking, but we will give each other a small look, and we don’t need to verbalize anything. We can just tell! It works to our advantage so that we can achieve what the client wants.”

 

HC UMass: It is great that you can focus on the fun aspects of your job together. That must make it really enjoyable. What were some initial challenges that you two faced when starting the company?

NA: “Our age is definitely a challenge. Clients sometimes see us, and may think, ‘Oh, you are only 21 years old, you don’t know what you’re doing.’ They might try to cheat you out of something, but you just have to stay on your toes, and get in the mentality that we are business people, we are not just kids anymore, and that we need to stand up for our business because this is our future. And, we can make it however we want it to be.”

LD: “Also, I feel as though one of our biggest challenges- and don’t get me wrong, we both love UMass and have had amazing experiences here- last semester was juggling class and work. We’d have a client, let’s say, in Worcester at 2 p.m., but I’ve got a class in Hasbrouck at 3 p.m. Obviously, the client takes precedence. Most of our professors were very accommodating, because this is our career, but sometimes not everyone was as accepting of the idea. But, now that we are in the home stretch with a few months left until graduation, things have been much easier since we take fewer classes. It does open up a lot of free time.”

HC UMass: I bet! I was going to ask if class ever became an obstacle. You must be so busy, what would a typical day look like for the two of you?

LD: “Oh my gosh, even today alone! There is always a lot of running around! You do homework when you can, between answering emails, and phonecalls... (Laughs) I mean he [Nassim] is at my house every morning at 8 a.m.! If he isn’t, we’ve got problems!”

NA: Yes, (Laughs) I have to make sure he is up, and if he is not up getting to work then something is not right!”

 

HC UMass: Besides each other, of course, who are your biggest supporters?

NA: “Definitely my parents, they are huge supporters. They are there for me no matter what.”

LD: “Definitely. I’d say my dad in particular. He’s pretty hyped that I am going into the film industry like he did.”

 

HC UMass: Post-grad plans?

NA: “Oh yeah, our office is almost all finished, so we will be setting up shop in Worcester!”

LD: “We can’t say too much about it, but we will be meeting with some big name clients soon, which is definitely something to look forward to.”

HC UMass: What bit of advice can you share with our aspiring entrepreneur-readers out there?

NA: “You just need to go for it.”

LD: “Yes, honestly just try. I mean, I have tried starting 2 companies before Alpinax, and they both failed, but I learned so much from failing. So much. Also, Isenberg- even though I am not in Isenberg- has a really great entrepreneurship program. But, just do your research before getting into your field, because it generally turns out to be a lot more work than you may anticipate.”

 

HC UMass: What are your favorite parts about your jobs?

NA: “I don’t even think I can pick just one thing. Everything! I love everything about this job.”

LD: “It’s definitely really nice going to work, and almost every time you show up to a client, they are very impressed with the level of the equipment we have, and the way we conduct ourselves. I can’t remember a time where anyone has ever been disappointed by what we bring to the table.”

NA: “Yeah, the technology aspect is amazing too. I am all about it. It is a constantly developing field, and this is just the beginning. We are always researching the next thing and how we can be there before anyone else.”

 

For more info on Alpinax Drone Services:

Official Website

Facebook: Alpinax Drone Services

Instagram: @alpinax

 

Photos courtesy of Hope Kelley