8 Lessons Learned From Running A Startup In The Space Industry

Andrew Maximov, CEO and Co-Founder of Precious Payload, a software company that lets you plan and execute a space mission without leaving your home or office environment, shared a short video regarding a webinar that he participated in as a panelist last week. It was organized by KryptoLabs and the UAE Space Agency. In this video, Andrew is talking about the lessons learned from working on a space startup in the space industry since early 2016. The following information will be useful to someone who is thinking of building their career in the space industry or thinking of an idea for a startup in the space industry.

There are 8 main lessons learned from running a startup in the space industry:

  1. Don’t think that an idea for a space startup should come first
  2. Focus on your network – the space industry is a B2B environment
  3. Don’t make a space startup just because you want to build and launch a satellite
  4. You can’t start a space company from your bedroom
  5. Try to lean on a government
  6. Leverage global talents in the space industry
  7. You have to be neither a space engineer nor an astrophysicist to start a space startup
  8. Be passionate about space

Lesson number one: The idea for a space startup should not come first

I see a lot of people struggling because they have this crazy idea about asteroid mining or some innovative camera system or IT. And they google it or watch some video, and try to come up with an idea fast and they try to develop their company product from the idea. And then they try to go and pitch it to someone.

What is special for the space industry, what makes it different from any other industry where you would like to create a startup? The difference here is that you shouldn’t come with the idea first. First, you should get traction and network, and insights about the industry from within. For example, what is it like to build a product in the space industry? What are the main struggles there? And then the idea will come to you.

Lesson number two: Focus on your network – the space industry is a B2B environment

Remember, the space industry, if you put it in a certain framework, is a B2B environment. It’s defense, and government, and military. It’s passion-driven, it’s vanity fair, and it’s always about networking: about who you know and where you’ve been, and how credible you are and what your connections are.

Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

The space industry relies on events. And again, one of the key insights here is that the number of people you have to know in order to be successful in the space industry is not that big. There are from 800 to 2,000 decision-makers in the aerospace field.

If you want to build a product that leverages the space domain and delivers it to another segment of people, you have to know these people from the space industry, you have to be credible for them to be able to leverage their technology and their domain.

Where to start building a network in the space industry?

It’s hard to build a network in the absence of offline events these days, but here are just a few ideas where to start. First, it’s SEDS (Students for the Exploration and Development of Space), SGAC (The Space Generation), the ISU (the International Space University).

Second, look at the audience of your favorite space podcast. There are a few of them, which have an actual audience of real space engineers and decision-makers in the space industry. And all of these podcasts and communities have their Discord channels and Slack communities. So, it’s a really great way to start building a network, even under the current circumstances.

The majority of offline space event organizers conduct online webinars, where it is actually much easier to engage with a panelist and the audience, especially if you are shy and an introvert like me. I find it much easier to have this engagement with speakers and panelists on the web. So, it’s a really good place to start.

Lesson number three: Don’t make a space startup just because you want to build and launch a satellite

This is a special one for me. The advice that I would give other space entrepreneurs is that you shouldn’t come up with a project for a satellite just for the sake of building and launching a satellite. I know that being able to brag about building a CubeSat is really cool, but don’t just stop there.

The key insight here is that the space industry is no different from any other industry. A startup is still a startup. So, whatever lessons you learned from books like ‘How To Build A Startup’ or ‘Zero To One’ actually apply here. The framework of B2B is a traditional industry and anything you learn about startups is applicable here as well.

Unfortunately, I can see a lot of companies that are stuck on a premise like ‘we are a space company’ or ‘we’ve launched a CubeSat, 1U, 2U, 3U’ and it takes cool pictures up in space, but then we really don’t have any insights or ideas, or a problem solution, or customers. A lot of people get stuck there, and it’s really miserable to be there, frankly speaking.

This is because you can brag about the fact that you work in the space industry, but you are not actually moving anywhere. You’re stuck in this limbo and you spend months and years trying to get the next grant or the next investment to build another CubeSat. So, don’t be there. That’s the lesson learned number three.

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Lesson number four: You can’t start a space company from your bedroom

Don’t think that you can start a company from your bedroom. I see a lot of people who do a bit of googling, then participate in a webinar, and think ‘okay, I’ve got it, I have this idea, it’s really cool, it worked for SpaceX, let’s do it’. Don’t do that.

You have to have a network and have a startup mindset, that is finding a problem from within the network. Even if you are thinking of launching a satellite to get the imagery you will then sell to a large mining company, you should establish a network there first to know how they solve their problems today and what they need to get solved.

Again, this is about the B2B environment. Do not stay in your comfort zone, your bedroom or your office. Go out there and talk to people.

Lesson number five: Try to lean on a government

It’s also a special one for me. Always try to lean on some government, be it the government in your home country or in some other country. Because governments love space companies. They love creating jobs and especially they absolutely love the connection of space companies to the defense domain. Governments like to spend money on defense and military applications, even under the current circumstances, even in the moments of crisis.

So, one of the key insights for me was that almost three-thirds of all companies in the space industry have some funding, or advance, or contracts from the government. So, you should know that and leverage that to your advantage. Not everyone may do it, not everyone may talk about it, but you should definitely think about it. This is something I learned after only a couple of years in the space industry.

Photo by Aditya Joshi on Unsplash

Lesson number six: Leverage global talents in the space industry

The reality is that the space industry is extremely fragmented. Do leverage all global talent pool that is available to you. Especially in this time of layoffs, there are a lot of talents available. Don’t say ‘I’m stuck in this country, we don’t have space engineers, we don’t have space factories’. Try to quit that mindset.

Try to understand that being a remote organization is the right way to do that. Of course, you can say ‘how can you build hardware or satellites remotely?’ And you’ll be right. The solution is to utilize university labs. Governments support them usually, and this gives birth to dozens of hardware startups. So, search for talents across the space labs in your favorite universities.

Lesson number seven: You have to be neither a space engineer nor an astrophysicist to start a space startup

Don’t think that in order to start a space company you have to be a space engineer or you have to be a technical person. I’ve seen great examples of absolutely fantastic companies that are design agencies focused on new space companies and startups.

I’ve seen legal companies, and crypto companies, and image-processing companies, whatever. You don’t have to be a space engineer or any engineer yourself to be associated with the space industry and work within the space industry. If you dream of working with SpaceX or Blue Origin or others, you can do that! 

Just focus on networking first. Face problems and find solutions whatever they may be for you.

Lesson number eight: Be passionate about space and space industry

Last but not least is number eight. You have to be really passionate about space in order to be successful and build your career or your company in space. It’s not like you have to be passion-driven so that it gets you out of bed in the morning.

Space is slow. Live with that!

Remember this famous sloth from Zootopia?

The fact is that the space industry is extremely slow. I’ve heard that from other people as well. You go to all these space events and you listen to the pitches, and you read the reports, and you think ‘wow, this is crazy, by the end of this year, we will have all these wonderful systems, space stations, satellites, and imagery’.

And people do this to give you this fear of missing out, in order to accelerate things a little – investments, contracts, and everything. They want you to come back to your office, and speak to your boss, and say ‘we have to do this thing, otherwise, our competitors will do that’. This tries to push you a little bit. In reality, it’s extremely slow. 

Whatever the company is promising to you, you should multiply that by two or three in terms of your timing. So, if you are building a company, you should prepare to say that your exit is going to be in like 5 or 7 years. In the space industry, it’s going to be 9 or 10 years, at least. So, you have to be really passionate, because without passion you’re gonna quit.


Check more interesting posts from Precious Payload if you want to launch a startup in the space industry:

Three Eras Of Space Launch For Smallsats

How To Build a Business On Hosted Payloads And Space Expertise?

The Future of Secure Encryption: In-Orbit Quantum Key Distribution By SpeQtral

Modular Satellites And Ridesharing Beat Price Of Space Mission

How To Make Satellites Cost Like Cars?

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