A Sit-Down with Nicholas Horbaczewski, Founder of the DRL

7 min read

Nicholas Horbaczewski, CEO and Founder : The Drone Racing League

Industry: Sports
Location: NYC
Education Harvard University (Bachelor’s, Master of Business Adminstration)
Previous Gigs Bain & Company, Blauer Tactical Systems, ADS Inc., Tough Mudder

On What Inspired the Drone Racing LeagueNicholas Horbaczewski, Founder of the DRL

The first time I saw drone racing, I was just blown away. I thought we should be sharing it with more people. It just seemed like an amazing vehicle to put a new and exciting form of technology out in the public in an exciting way. At the time, I think people were trying to figure out how to think about drones, and when you bring them in a sporting context, you kind of sit back and enjoy all the excitement without having to interrupt it with all the broader questions associated with them.

On His Proudest Moment

One of my proudest moments at DRL was the very first true race we ever did. We did some experiments that went pretty poorly, to be honest, in the earliest days. The first time we did a race, which was at the end of 2015 in Dolphin Stadium in Miami, we designed this very elaborate course line, and we flew a drone through that entire course line. Through the tunnels under the stadium, to the concourses, to the bowl, and it flew the whole line. And it was just an incredible moment. That was just a really satisfying feeling, and it’s about setting the ambitious technological goal and achieving it.

On How AI Will Change the World

I’m one of the true believers. I think it’s going to change the world in every way. I think, specifically, the type of AI that we focus on here around computer vision and autonomy. You already see the power that gives. When we equip any form of remote robotic system with the ability to perceive the world the way we do, through stereoscopic cameras, and understand and navigate its environment, you are going to transform all the incredible things that we do right now. That’s going to be a total evolution to what’s possible and what we can do with technology and how we interface with technology on a daily basis.

On What Makes a Great Business Leader

Running a professional sport now, we think a lot about what makes a world champion. I actually think there’s a lot of overlap with what makes a great business leader. I mean ultimately all of our pilots are highly skilled, very dedicated. But the champion is typically the one who really can demonstrate calm under pressure. As situations get more complicated or difficult for them on the race course, they don’t let that affect their flying. And I think the same is true in business. I mean a lot of what you’re doing, in a leadership role, is having challenging situations thrown at you, having things elevated to you, and you have to maintain a level of clarity and really zone in on what’s important.

On His Ultimate Goal For DRL

We’re building the sport of the future. We want to build a sport that engages a whole generation of people whose passion is really around technology—build a sport and really giving something authentic and relevant to them. So our passion, as we build out this league, is we take it global as we show the world drone racing, and we introduce young people to the STEM skills necessary as they’re designing and building drones.

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