The following feature is Part 1 in a two-part series telling the unique story of Jordan Nelson – a Millennial-aged entrepreneur whose success story is rooted in the Blue Ridge Mountains region. A version of this article first appeared in High Country Magazine.
Most residents of the western North Carolina mountains know Jordan Nelson.
They may not realize they know him – “Oh, yeah. He’s that drone guy.”
The guy with the compelling aerial flooding videos on Facebook? That’s Jordan.
The breathtaking mountain vista videos on Instagram? That’s Jordan.
Since 2014, Jordan has helmed Nelson Aerial Productions (nelsonaerialpros.com) and to date his amazing drone videos have been viewed almost 10 million times and he boasts more than 36,000 Instagram followers. As of this press date, Jordan is two clients away from hitting the 200 mark.
“It was all organic,” Jordan said. “I only started by posting a few videos on Facebook and Instagram. The business all grew by word of mouth.”
Using unmanned vehicles – usually multi-rotor copter drones – mounted with the latest in video and photo technology, Jordan shoots footage for a variety of clients from construction companies to Realtors.
What started as a local business has expanded nationwide. One week may see Jordan on the coast filming aftermath damage from hurricanes for safety officials while the next may see him in Florida piloting his drone in Jacksonville, Fla on a tunnel inspection gig.
In total, Nelson Aerial Productions have launched almost 2,800 flights. Oh yeah, and Jordan also used his drone in a marriage proposal – we’ll get to that.
But had you asked Jordan Nelson in 2013 if he’d be the biggest name in the Appalachian regional drone game, he would have replied: “What’s a drone?”
He Was Born in a Small Town
Jordan grew up in Hudson, N.C. – population, 3,776 – and attended the same high school as MLB wunderkind pitcher Madison Bumbarger. Jordan later attended Guilford College as a geography major. He played football and baseball and intended to pursue a career in city planning or civil engineering.
In 2011, he transferred to Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., graduating in 2012. Three months later, he took a job three months at the university’s building services department to pay the rent fresh out of school.
As with so many folks in the Boone area (also known as the High Country), Jordan had a passion for snowboarding. By 2013, he already had a keen interest in photography but described himself mostly as an amateur iPhone buff.
As with most successful businesses, he got his start by asking, “I wonder how?”
In Jordan’s case: “I wonder how I can get capture better snowboarding video?”
Snowboarding’s Loss = Jordan’s Gain
In the winter sports world, the GoPro is the Mercedes of videography equipment – from high-resolution cameras to study camera mounts for helmets and snowboards. A quick “GoPro” YouTube search opened Jordan’s eyes to a whole new world of videography – a view from above.
“One of the top searches turned out to be from some company called DJI,” he said.
In 2013, videographers had started to see the marriage of drone tech and GoPro mounts as the Reese’s candy-bar combo of amazing footage.
“I thought,” ‘that’s a really cool perspective to capture my snowboarding,” he said.
At the age of 24, Jordan bought a DJI Phantom 1 and attached a GoPro camera without a gimbal (that keeps the camera/footage stable with the ability to pan up and down). Since he could only point the aerial camera in one direction, he never got around to using capturing snowboard footage.
And that fateful decision turned out to be a watershed moment that would define Jordan Nelson’s career – a literal watershed, in fact.
On a torrential day in 2013, Jordan decided to use his new-found gadget to capture video in the wake of heavy flooding on the nearby Watauga River.
He posted footage to his Facebook profile with the term “viral” never crossing his mind. Within hours the videos went there – garnering thousands of views.
“After the flooding video – seeing how many people saw it and shared it and commented on it – the lightbulb went off for [future clients], Jordan said.
“That’s when I started to get calls.”