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2024 BizBash 40 Under 40: Ashley Ellefson

Ashley Ellefson, 39, is chief operating officer of Drone Racing League.

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Ashley Ellefson, 39, is COO of Drone Racing League. She's based in Brooklyn, N.Y. A quote from her nomination: "A fearless risk-taker, Ashley re-imagined the sports entertainment industry. She built the teams, systems, and reliable operational strategies to transform visionary ideas like professional drone racing and mud-running into scalable, sustainable, award-winning businesses, which have attracted millions of fans, driven hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, and delivered dozens of events annually."

My career journey: "I really fell into the event world when I moved to New Zealand after finishing college at UCLA. While I lived there, I worked for a company that produced corporate and team-building events, and ultimately worked to create a conference called TIME, where we brought together professional speakers and coaches to present to Auckland’s business community.

From there, I fell in love with producing events, disrupting traditional models, and creating new live experiences from the ground up. My favorite challenge has been building the teams, systems, and reliable operational strategies to transform visionary ideas into scalable, sustainable, award-winning businesses. So after New Zealand, I joined Tough Mudder, the endurance mud-run series, as their first employee. There, I brought to life the event concept and scaled the event globally, bringing the series to Australia, Canada, and the U.K. for the first time. I set up the company's U.K. operations and expanded its events in Europe. I ultimately served as their vice president of new event development, where I led the incubator for new event concepts and worked closely with our then-CRO Nicholas Horbaczewski, who left in 2015 to start his own company, the Drone Racing League (DRL).

When Nicholas told me about his vision to create a global, professional drone racing property, I knew I wanted to be involved. As one of DRL’s first employees, I helped grow our teams of event producers, media creators, and tech developers; oversaw company innovations to drive impact; and educated myself on new disciplines including broadcast production and tech engineering to ensure expertise throughout the company’s ecosystem. I worked with my team to design video game-inspired race courses through iconic venues like palaces, museums, and sports stadiums around the world; developed government relations to overcome regulatory hurdles around drones; and defined standard operating procedures to ensure seamless delivery of DRL’s complex productions."Ellefson found her way to DRL after working with the company's CEO, Nicholas Horbaczewski, while working for Tough Mudder, an endurance mud-run series.Ellefson found her way to DRL after working with the company's CEO, Nicholas Horbaczewski, while working for Tough Mudder, an endurance mud-run series.Photo: Courtesy of Drone Racing League

My most memorable event: "Definitely our championship race in Miami! Last February, we held our event Miami 30FLY that transformed the MLB Marlins’ LoanDepot Park into a real-life video game. The world’s best pilots raced the fastest drones through an incredible neon-colored aerial course with thousands of fans in attendance.

We completely revamped our approach to the fan experience and produced an event that had everyone in their seats cheering on their favorite pilot and counting down with the countdown to race. At the end of the night, we crowned the DRL World Champion Pilot MCKFPV, who joined earlier in the season as a rookie from South Korea. The event welcomed our largest audience ever, and over 90% of fans claimed they would attend a DRL race again."Though Ellefson is a master at producing events highlighting drones, she has spent time becoming an expert in all aspects of a successful event, including F&B, security, parking, and health and safety. She advised young event profs to do the same.Though Ellefson is a master at producing events highlighting drones, she has spent time becoming an expert in all aspects of a successful event, including F&B, security, parking, and health and safety. She advised young event profs to do the same.Photo: Courtesy of Drone Racing League

What inspires me: "I am inspired by challenges and imagining how to do things that have never been done before. Also, working with teams of people who are experts in their craft and make me think in new ways."

Impressive stats I'm responsible for: "In overseeing DRL’s event production and broadcast media over the years, I’m proud of our impeccable safety record at DRL; the global audience we’ve scaled to 90 million young, tech-obsessed fans; and the over 100 hours of media we’ve filmed and edited that’s aired in 320 million households across 170 markets (nearly tripling DRL’s reach across the past three years)."Ellefson cited DRL's Miami30FLY event in February 2023 because it touted the company's largest event audience turnout ever.Ellefson cited DRL's Miami30FLY event in February 2023 because it touted the company's largest event audience turnout ever.Photo: Courtesy of Drone Racing League

The advice I would give my younger self: "Learn as many aspects of events as you can—F&B, security, parking, health and safety—and say yes to as many experiences as you can.

Be positive. Events can be hard and exhausting, but they are also fun and the people you work with become like family. A positive, can-do attitude makes a world of difference."

My ideal day OOO: "Put me on a boat in crystal-clear waters with sunshine and a hammock!"


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