“Very simply, we are living in the next space race, and it's going to have huge implications for the way we build technology, the way we spend dollars in military.” – Mo Islam
Mo Islam is the co-founder of Payload Space, which is building a media empire dedicated to covering the business and policy of space, as in outer space. We discovered Payload and immediately subscribed to their daily newsletter after it was recommended by Delian Asparouhov, co-founder of Varda Space Industries, in episode 71. We asked Delian what newsletters and websites he used to stay on top of everything going on in space, and he had only one answer: Payload Space.
In this episode, we go deep on why we're at an inflection point when it comes to space and how that was unlocked, at least in the U.S., largely by SpaceX, which has brought down the price to get a unit of mass up to low Earth orbit by order of magnitude. We cover the outsized role the military and defense departments play as customers for space companies, ranging from Earth imaging to satellite manufacturing startups. We talk about the space companies that Mo thinks are the most underrated, as well as how Payload is building a media empire, starting with what Mo calls The Modern Homepage, which is their daily newsletter. We discuss how Payload crafted a compelling voice and editorial style in an old school and relatively stodgy industry, making space cool to read and learn about.
This episode is our definitive guide to building a media brand to cover the business and policy of space. In it we cover:
- 00:00:00 – Introduction
- 00:02:36 – How Payload focuses on the business and policy of space
- 00:10:54 – How Elon Musk has changed the space race
- 00:15:17 – Aerospace and defense go hand in hand
- 00:18:11 – Earth imaging illuminates the atrocities of war
- 00:19:36 – We are living in the next space race
- 00:22:52 – SPACs and space
- 00:28:57 – How we’ll move from government to commercial spending in space
- 00:33:11 – Reusable second stages and lowering the costs of space exploration
- 00:36:59 – What scaling Starlink could mean for space travel
- 00:39:40 – Launching a media brand and the importance of voice
- 00:43:32 – Making Payload the most important voice in the space discussion
- 00:51:49 – Learning from feedback and embracing boredom
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Castbox, Pocket Casts, Player FM, Podcast Addict, iHeartRadio, or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.
- Whether we realize it or not, we are currently living in the next space race, as we compete with eastern countries to excel in the space industry and prove that democracy can help create progress and innovation.
- Elon Musk has completely changed the way companies approach risk, encouraging iteration and more bravery in companies, including in the space industry. Partly because of this, the space industry is poised to grow exponentially.
- The creation of reusable second stages for rockets is one of the most exciting advances in space technology, as it can drastically reduce the cost of space travel, opening up the field for more companies to build and innovate.
Our Favorite Quotes
Here are a few ideas we'll be thinking about weeks and months from now:
- “I'm going to say in 30 years, if you want to go to the moon, you will be able to go to the moon. It might cost a lot, but I think you will be able to go to the moon.”
- “Embrace boring. Sometimes there are parts of building a business that are just not exciting, and they're not sexy. You just don't want to do it, but it's okay. Not every single part of company building is like, "Oh, you just won this great contract or you just closed this big customer and let's celebrate." Most of it is actually not that.”
- “I think if you really look forward for the next 10 years, I think that what you're going to see is that those generational defining companies are going to be within space, and they're going to be within climate tech, and they're going to be within biotech.”
- “The government has always been and will for the foreseeable future be the biggest buyer of space services and aerospace and defense services. That's going to continue to drive and shape innovation in the space.”
- “I think one of the biggest issues of the industry is that a lot of civilians don't understand the power of space tech—and that's one of the things that we are trying to solve, helping folks understand this industry is actually phenomenally important to what we do every day.”
5 Ways to Dive Deeper
Want to dive deeper? Here the best content we've curated on this subject:
- Delian Asparouhov of Varda Space Industries on Problem Solving with Space Manufacturing | Outlier Academy: Our interview with Delian Asparahouv covers space manufacturing and exciting changes in the space industry. (62 Min)
- The Best Books About the Apollo Program and Landing on the Moon | Smithsonian Magazine : Mo Islam maintains that there is much to be learned from the Apollo era of space exploration. Check out these recommended books to learn more. (15 Min)
- Payload’s Stories Page: In addition to its newsletter, Payload regularly shares news and explainers on space business and policy here. (5 Min)
- Building the Berkshire Hathaway of Outer Space with Dylan Taylor of Voyager Space Holdings | Outlier Academy: Check out our interview with Dylan Taylor, where we discuss investing in space technology and how anyone can become involved in space industry and exploration. (83 Min)
- A future worth getting excited about | TED: Watch this conversation with Elon Musk to learn more about Starship and SpaceX’s other new innovations. (67 Min)
We covered a lot of ground in this interview. Here are links to the stories, articles, and ideas discussed:
- Payload | We cover the business and policy of space
- Delian Asparouhov of Varda Space Industries on Problem Solving with Space Manufacturing | Outlier Academy
- Miami Tech Week | Meaningful connections made across Tech, Music, Media, Art, Fashion, Real Estate, Finance and more
- Ari Lewis | LinkedIn
- JP Morgan | Investment banking company
- Ryan Duffy | LinkedIn
- Morning Brew | Become Smarter in just 5 minutes
- Rachael Zisk | LinkedIn
- Popular Science | Awe-inspiring science reporting, technology news, and DIY projects
- Rocket Lab | Frequent and reliable access launch is now a reality
- Elon Musk | Wikipedia
- Slack | Where work happens
- Uber | Get Moving
- Airbnb | Vacation Rentals, Cabins, Beach Houses, Unique Homes & Experiences
- Square | Helping businesses of all sizes start, run, and grow
- Instagram | photo and video-sharing social media app
- WhatsApp | Simple. Secure. Reliable messaging.
- SpaceX | Designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft
- NASA | National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Varda Space Industries | Building the world's first industrial space manufacturing platform and earth re-entry logistics
- Merck |Pharmaceutical company
- KEYTRUDA® (pembrolizumab)
- Wernher von Braun | Wikipedia
- V2 Rocket | Wikipedia
- Saturn V Rocket | Wikipedia
- Planet Labs | Earth observation satellites capturing daily change on our planet
- NRO | National Reconnaissance Office
- Black Sky | Geospatial Intelligence | Real Time | SmallSat Constellations
- Apollo Era | NASA
- Sputnik 1 | Wikipedia
- White House Releases FY23 Budget Request | Payload Space
- S&P Global | We accelerate progress in the world by delivering essential intelligence that's critical for decision-making
- NASDAQ | Daily Stock Market Overview
- Lockheed Martin Corporation | American aerospace, arms, defense, information security, and technology corporation with worldwide interests
- Northrup Grumman | American multinational aerospace and defense technology company
- SPAC | Investopedia
- Hadrian | Manufacturing the future
- Starship | Fully reusable spacecraft
- Falcon 9 | Reusable, two-stage rocket
- International Space Station | Wikipedia
- China’s Tiangong Space Station | Wikipedia
- Starlink | A satellite internet constellation
- Wall Street Journal |Breaking News, Business, Financial & Economic News, World News and Video
- The New York Times |Breaking News, US News, World News and Videos
- CNN | Breaking News, Latest News and Videos
- Axios | Breaking news, U.S. news and politics, and local news
- Felix Baumgartner | Wikipedia
Daniel Scrivner (00:06):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of our Outlier Founder Series, where we dig into the ideas, frameworks, and strategies of the world's best startup founders. I'm Daniel Scrivner, and on the show today, I'm joined by Mo Islam, co-founder of Payload Space, which is building a media empire dedicated to covering the business and policy of space, as in outer space.
Daniel Scrivner (00:25):
I discovered Payload and immediately subscribed to their daily newsletter after it was recommended by Delian Asparouhov, co-founder of Varda Space Industries, in episode 71. I asked Delian what newsletters and websites he used to stay on top of everything going on in space, and he had only one answer, Payload Space. So I'm thrilled to have Mo Islam of Payload Space on the show for a deep dive into the business and geopolitics of space.
Daniel Scrivner (00:50):
In this episode, we go deep on why we're at an inflection point when it comes to space and how that was unlocked, at least in the US, largely by SpaceX, which has brought down the price to get a unit of mass up to low Earth orbit by order of magnitude, the outsized role the military and defense departments play as customers for space companies ranging from Earth imaging to satellite manufacturing startups, and the space companies that Mo thinks are the most underrated, as well as how Payload is building a media empire, starting with what Mo calls The Modern Homepage, which is their daily newsletter, plus how they crafted a compelling voice and editorial style in an old school and relatively stodgy industry, making space cool to read and learn about.
Daniel Scrivner (01:32):
You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/110. That's episode 110. You can learn more about Payload and subscribe to their newsletter, which I highly recommend, at payloadspace.com. With that, here's my conversation with Payload's Mo Islam. Mo, I am so excited to finally have you on. This interview's been a long time coming. So thank you so much for making time, and welcome to Outlier Academy.
Mo Islam (01:58):
Daniel, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here, and very excited about our conversation.
Daniel Scrivner (02:05):
There's a lot to cover, so let's go ahead and kick off. I normally don't do this, but I want to share some quick background on this interview. We've been working on this for quite a while, but the origin for this is quite a few months ago now I had Delian of Varda Space Holdings on. Love Delian. It was a fantastic interview. One of my favorite questions was asking him, because I'm relatively new to space, what he uses to stay on top of the space industry, and he literally had one answer. It was Payload Space, and it was his favorite newsletter.
Daniel Scrivner (02:36):
As I dug into it more, it made sense. You guys have a very interesting angle in that you cover the business and politics of space, not just kind of general purpose. And then I've subscribed to the newsletter, and it's become one of my favorite all-time reads. So first, I just want to say thank you, and then we'll get in and explore this. But it's a fascinating, I don't know, way to introduce a guest to Outlier Academy.
Mo Islam (02:57):
Well, I appreciate you saying that, and thank you for supporting us and thank you for reading us. Delian has been an early supporter of us, and we're very appreciative of him. I was actually just on a panel with him at Miami Tech Week.
Daniel Scrivner (03:10):
Mo Islam (03:10):
He's a good friend, and he's great. But I love when I hear that folks are marketing the business. So always love that.
Daniel Scrivner (03:21):
Okay. So let's go ahead and get into it. I want to start by having you talk about what you're building and how it's different. Obviously, I talked a second ago. You guys focus on business and politics, and we'll spend a good bit of this episode on the politics side, which I think will be very interesting and different. How do you describe what you're building to others? How did you land on this approach for Payload?
Mo Islam (03:42):
Yeah. The only addendum I would add is we would say policy of space rather than politics of space. It's a minor difference, but I do think it gives off a different vibe, depending on which one you use. But in its simplest form, Payload is a digital media company. And again, we covered the business and policy of the space industry. I co-founded the business about now over a little over a year and a half ago, closing in on two years with my good friend, Ari Lewis, really for two reasons.
Mo Islam (04:13):
I think the first was to bridge a gap that we felt that was present in the industry with regards to media coverage. And then it was also to bring a fresh new perspective and culture to a very, very traditional industry. Aerospace and defense has been around for a very, very long time, since the '50s, pretty much, and even earlier than that. But we're trying to instill a completely new brand identity and culture with what's happening, alongside the commercial space movement.
Mo Islam (04:38):
So our first product was a weekly newsletter. I originally handled the writing. Ari was really focused on audience development and growth. The initial traction was just a lot better than we expected, which is miraculous considering my writing ability. So I don't know how we got through that initial phase, but we had a lot of industry professionals that reached out to us basically saying how refreshing our takes were and style was.
Mo Islam (05:02):
I think the seminal moment for us was when we had a number of public company CEOs that signed up, which was, for us, the signal that, hey, we need to go out and properly build this. So over the past summer, we actually ended up raising a small seed round from a number of just awesome investors, which allowed us to go and start hiring an all-star team.
Daniel Scrivner (05:20):
Yeah. That's amazing. I want to switch and talk about your background now because all this is interweaved. One of the lenses that I use to think about companies is thinking about the founders. One of the questions I ask is, is this person one of the top five, 10, 15 people in the world to build this business? I think in this case, you are, especially for the way that you cover Payload.
Daniel Scrivner (05:43):
So give a quick sketch of your background and talk a little bit about when you first became interested in space and then how that interest evolved over time.
Mo Islam (05:51):
Yeah. So I'll start with the first question. I have been interested in space as long as I can remember, literally, as long as I can remember. I've always been obsessed, always wanted to be an astronaut. I know that's every little kid's dream to be an astronaut. For me, it just really just literally never went away. When I went into school, I was thinking like, "Okay, I'll pursue some type of aerospace engineering job and work for NASA." That was always part of the plan.
Mo Islam (06:20):
But somewhere along the line, I decided to become an investment banker instead. I had a college roommate who basically sold me the vision and the glamor. I'm from New York originally. So I didn't really understand it at first, but it became a lot more interesting to me. I effectively said, "Okay. Well, you know what? I'm going to give this banking thing a shot." And then within basically the first year I was like, "This was a terrible mistake."
Mo Islam (06:46):
Then the rest of my time, I was just really thinking like, "How do I get back to the industry that I was so passionate about?" I realized that maybe there's ways that I can help on the financing side. There was so much going on in the early days, even. But really, SpaceX was one of the big key catalysts for the industry, and I was able to work on that deal when I was at JP Morgan. That really helped solidify in my mind that I was like, "Okay, you know what? My place in this industry is through capital."
Mo Islam (07:18):
If I can provide capital, if I can help other investors understand and learn what's happening in the industry, then that can be my contribution to the industry. That's how I can build my network. So that's really what I did for the bulk of my career. I think it certainly has helped a lot in shaping the investment lens of Payload. But I have to say, Payload is definitely a team effort, from the early days. The fact that Ari and I had such different backgrounds really helped our ability to execute.
Mo Islam (07:44):
Ari really is the media guy. He has a media and he is a policy background. He's consulted for media businesses. He also started one of the largest tech associations in Ohio. My career raising and investing in private technology businesses, I think that just kind of gives us a bit of a dual lens when it comes to what's happening in space. That, I think, helped us really get off the ground. But really, I think the catalyst that's really helped us grow in the way we did was really hiring Ryan Duffy from Morning Brew. He was our founding editor.
Mo Islam (08:17):
At the Brew, he was responsible for building the emerging tech vertical, and he ended up helping it grow to a few hundred thousand subscribers. So it was very obvious to us when we originally were thinking about, okay, what do we want Payload to be? I hate to use analogies to describe our business, but the Morning Brew space. We said, "Who better to help build the Morning Brew space than someone who was so instrumental at Morning Brew?"
Mo Islam (08:42):
So Ryan was an excellent first hire. Rachael Zisk, who previously worked on the FT and Popular Science as a science writer, was our second hire, and we most recently brought in Jess List, who has worked on both the policy side and the media side working at Insider Intelligence. But really, I think the one key thing you'll notice between all of those people is neither one of us have actual space backgrounds. That was very, very deliberate.
Mo Islam (09:08):
We specifically said, "If we're trying to change the culture of space and the way space is covered and the media side of space, we need to really take a very ground-up approach, from a bottoms-up approach." To be quite honest, in the beginning, we just didn't know if we were going to make the right decision or if that was the right decision. Looking back on it, it was absolutely the right decision. We just hired smart people who understood science, who understood business, and who had a passion for the industry, most importantly.
Mo Islam (09:34):
We've been able to just have a completely different lens on what's happening. I think that's really helped us grow as quickly as we have.
Daniel Scrivner (09:40):
Yeah. Well, I mean I think that also really helps match the approach or the perspective that your readers have. Yes, it sounds like you have some insiders that are obviously subscribing. But by and large, I think it's people who are fascinated by space, want to stay on top of it, but they're not people that are working day in and day out in the industry. So I think that outsider lens is really helpful.
Daniel Scrivner (09:59):
I want to talk a little bit about space first, and then we'll come back to what you're building at Payload. I've got a lot of questions there. But the way I wanted to kind of kick off the space portion of this interview was to talk about the fact that we're at an inflection point. You use that to talk about Payload. For anyone, I think, that's following the industry, you can kind of feel it.
Daniel Scrivner (10:21):
Even just something had happened recently, Rocket Lab did their version of basically catching a booster that was coming down, where they caught it via helicopter, totally crazy different approach, a first for them, a first for the industry, being able to catch that. So we're still in this moment where you're seeing these firsts continue to play out, and there's a lot going on.
Daniel Scrivner (10:41):
So maybe start from there, how would you frame up the inflection point that we're at? What does that feel like? How do you see that day to day?
Mo Islam (10:54):
Yeah. So I would say that the inflection point that I'm really referring to is, really, it can be dialed down to two key reasons. I think the first is more on the investor side, on the financing side, the investor appetite to actually fund commercial space initiatives. I'll get into the first piece in just a second, but the second piece is really this Elon Musk-inspired iterative nature of company building. That's been very prominent in Silicon valley, but now is actually it's something that's being addressed and taken in as an ethos within commercial space. That's never happened before.
Mo Islam (11:30):
So if you take a look, for example, on the financing side, there's been an incredible, incredible, incredible amount of capital flow in the industry recently. I think last year, the number was something like eight billion was invested in startup space companies, which broke the previous record by about a billion. So it was seven billion, now it's eight billion. I will say though, it's end of May right now, we're chatting, and the market is in complete disarray.
Mo Islam (11:53):
There's a lot of macro issues that we're seeing across the board. Space is a bit insulated. We can talk about that later. But space, for geopolitical reasons, is insulated from a lot of it. But there's no doubt that this sort of near-term slowdown will also affect space. I think in the near term, there's going to be some, especially with the SPAC implosion, there's going to be some folks who say, "Okay, let's just take a step back and see what we are investing in and the R&D cycles and how long these companies are going to take to be positive on the profitability side."
Mo Islam (12:24):
So as investors recalibrate, I think that's going to create a little bit of slow down. But we've definitely opened up Pandora's box in a way that it really comes down to how investors perceive hardware-based industries. When you look back at the global financial crisis and you think about the companies that were actually formed during that time, like Slack, Uber, Airbnb, Square, Instagram, WhatsApp, they all started in the midst of the crisis.
Mo Islam (12:46):
So it's really interesting to think, and these are all companies that have really shaped the modern era of mobile compute and enterprise and consumer technology. I think if you really look forward for the next 10 years, I think that what you're going to see is that those generational defining companies are going to be within space, and they're going to be within climate tech, and they're going to be within biotech.
Mo Islam (13:04):
I think perception of how software can be applied to hardware and how that can unlock efficiencies and value that we've never seen before, that's what's exciting about this next 10, 20 years, a true impact era of everything that we've done to get us to here and where it's going to take us. I just think we've opened up Pandora's box, and it's going to be really exciting to see. So that's really kind of 0.1 of the inflection point.
Mo Islam (13:29):
The second point really is just around Musk. He has a very love/hate relationship with a lot of people. I think, especially with his recent comments and Twitter and all this stuff, he's in the news for a lot of different reasons, but the reality is what he's done for the industry is he's changed how risk is assessed. He just completely changed the way that companies approach risk. SpaceX, of course, takes a very Silicon Valley approach of let's build rockets. Let's blow them up publicly. Let's iterate. That's okay.
Mo Islam (13:55):
That's never been okay. NASA's never done that. They spend billions of dollars on developing and testing, developing and testing before they even launch. Now, SpaceX and Musk has turned that upside down. They've created this feedback loop for the industry that's never existed before. I think that that's going to create a lot of opportunity. It's changed the way investors look at risk. It's changed the way companies look at risk.
Mo Islam (14:20):
There's going to be a lot more to say about that. That, to me, is what's led us to this inflection point.
Daniel Scrivner (14:25):
Yeah. I'd love to try to talk about, I guess, a couple of pieces of that. One is I want to come back to the Musk point, but I first want to talk about the business of space because something you've alluded to a little bit that I want to dive into deeper is the fact that space has a couple of different customers. One of those is industry. You can think of something like Varda Space Holdings and the fact that Delian brought up that Merck has been spending, I don't even know, it's 10 million, 100 million, something like that, on the International Space Station to do drug development for quite a while.
Daniel Scrivner (14:55):
They had a breakthrough with KEYTRUDA. That could potentially happen on a bigger scale with stuff like Varda and some of the other companies that are being built. But the other side of the business is defense, and it's very, very, very different. Talk about that side of the business and talk about how that shapes how space companies think about revenue, how it shapes just the business equation of what it means to succeed as a space company.
Mo Islam (15:17):
There's a reason why the industry's called aerospace and defense. I think they've always gone hand in hand. If we really even go back to the '50s, the father of rocketry, Wernher von Braun, was part of the Nazi party. He built-
Daniel Scrivner (15:31):
I didn't know that.
Mo Islam (15:32):
... the V2 rockets. Yeah. I'm not going to go into the politics of who he was, but he was part of the party. He built the V2 rocket that were used against all of Europe, very famously in London. This was the guy who built the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket. Effectively what happened is at the end of the war, the US and the Soviets all kind of descended upon Germany and said, "We need to make sure that we hire these super smart people and, basically, give them two choices. Either you're going to prison or you're going to come work for us, and we're going to give you citizenship."
Mo Islam (16:02):
There's a lot to say about that topic. But eventually, he was brought to the States and he helped accelerate our space capabilities. At the end of the day, when you really think about rockets, they're bombs. We've used them to now explore the great beyond and not just used them to kill people. But I mean if you really think about it, everything has this dual use. Rockets are obviously dual use for clear reasons. GPS Was originally a fringe navigational tool in the '80s that was used by the military. Satellite imaging Can be used to track troop movements.
Mo Islam (16:31):
The government has always been and will for the foreseeable future be the biggest buyer of space services and aerospace and defense services. That's going to continue to drive and shape innovation in the space. So I think that, in my mind, I mean the government effectively helped build this industry. It has its roots in military. I think, going forward, it's going to ... I mean when you think about even imaging data. Imaging data can be used to track troop movements, but it can also be used to monitor greenhouse gas emissions.
Mo Islam (17:02):
GPS can be used to guide military planes. It can also help you find the quickest way to Chipotle. So space tech has dramatically changed our way of life. I think one of the biggest issues of the industry is that a lot of civilians don't understand the power of space tech, and that's one of the things that we are trying to solve, helping folks understand, okay, this industry is actually phenomenally important to what we do every day.
Daniel Scrivner (17:26):
Yes. Yes. I mean yeah. I think one small lens that I've seen that through is satellite imagery, one, from it being used by newspapers, like The New York Times, to do reporting about Jin Jiang or the Ukraine war, to even just small little footnotes. One of the pieces of military assistance we're giving Ukraine is basically opening up and giving them satellite imagery access. Also, satellite imagery is heavily regulated in terms of what you can see and what you can't see by the government.
Daniel Scrivner (17:55):
I would assume that they probably get the best of the best in terms of what's there. So it's just fascinating to see even just that, one, massive, massive, for good general-purpose use cases, but also very targeted and tailored military use cases you just talked about.
Mo Islam (18:11):
No. Look, I mean you bring up Earth imaging. Earth imaging is illuminating the true atrocities and the impact of the war. Companies like Planet and Maxar, whose images have been circulated and shared globally millions of times. If this happened a decade ago, then NRO would have spy satellites imaging areas of conflict, but we would never be able to see it as civilians. We'd basically be taking the government's word for what was happening.
Mo Islam (18:35):
Now, I think you're starting to see some realization among citizens that space can actually create this enormous amount of transparency. It's really just getting started. Resolutions are improving. There are commercial companies pushing the boundaries of not just imaging capabilities, but the insights that you can actually glean from that data. I don't know if you saw, but the NRO just came out this morning and gave Maxar, Planet, and BlackSky billions of dollars worth of revenue via their new imaging contracts.
Mo Islam (19:06):
The government has basically signaled that they want to become more of a buyer of this data, and they want to use the commercial industry.
Daniel Scrivner (19:11):
Yeah. Well, I think that leads in really nicely to the next piece, which is to talk about geopolitics, because then, obviously, I assume even just with this example, like Earth imaging, clearly, the government is investing in the best of the breed, companies that are grown locally. I'm sure every country that's vying for military power and might is doing the same thing with their own local industry.
Daniel Scrivner (19:30):
How do you think about or how do you frame up for people the geopolitics of space?
Mo Islam (19:36):
Well, here's how I would say it very simply. Very simply, we are in the next space race. We are living in the next space race, and it's going to have huge implications for the way we built technology, the way we spend dollars in military. I think that all of the countries and all the players are really just getting started. If you actually look back in the Apollo era when we went to the moon, yes, it was to help progress humanity and advance our technology and be this amazing country that could show the world what we could do.
Mo Islam (20:07):
But really behind that all was we wanted to beat the Soviet Union. When Sputnik went into orbit, that was a defining moment for a lot of people. At the time, no one really knew what that meant. Everyone was very, very scared. So our desire to get to the moon was really built around showcasing to the world that actually democracy is what can help you win as a society. Now, we are sort of facing that same issue again.
Mo Islam (20:36):
I want to tread very carefully about what I say on these points. But right now, we are certainly in another space race with the Eastern world. On the military side, China and Russia have both done anti-satellite tests, missile tests that have led to enormous amount of debris. They're jamming broadband satellites and communication satellites. They have plans to go to the moon and Mars. We're going to be faced with that same dilemma where we have to ask ourselves if those totalitarian countries can make it there before we do, who are we to say that democracy actually works and helps create progress and innovation?
Mo Islam (21:18):
So that's why it's super important. Now, setting aside the geopolitical side of things, there's also the fact that just, in general, military space budgets have gone up. 2021 was a record year for the government when it came to space investment. I think there's $92 billion total. This is a global number. About 20% went to defense. And then Biden very recently requested $26 billion for the 2023 fiscal year NASA budget, which was the highest request ever for the agency.
Mo Islam (21:51):
So in general, military expenditures, yes, they're all going up. That's not surprising based on what's happening in Eastern Europe, but this whole space capital and government budgets towards space has been going up pretty consistently for the next few years. Also, I write, if you actually look at the public markets, the S&P's down something like, I don't know, 16, 17%. NASDAQ's down 25, 26%. But the aerospace and defense sector is down only a few percent.
Mo Islam (22:21):
If you actually look at the Lockheed Martins and the Boeings of the world and Northrop Grummans of the world, actually not Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, they're up 10, 15, 20%. It's just that, in itself, just showcases what's happening.
Daniel Scrivner (22:35):
Yeah. It's really well said. Okay. I want to ask two more questions, and then we'll shift and talk about the business and what you're building at Payload. The first question that I want to ask is you alluded to this earlier, so obviously, did Planet Labs come via SPAC? I think Rocket Labs did.
Mo Islam (22:49):
Daniel Scrivner (22:50):
Mo Islam (22:50):
Rocket Lab did and Planet.
Daniel Scrivner (22:52):
Yes. So we've now seen multiple what I would consider best-in-breed space companies come public via SPACs in 2021. Clearly, one of the things that we're seeing in public markets is, and this has been a dramatic change from 2021 to 2022, is people now taking a much harsher look at businesses where they feel like real revenue or real profitability is a ways out. One of the questions I've always kind of thought to myself for the space sector is how to think about it because it just seems fundamentally very different.
Daniel Scrivner (23:21):
Number one, it is not capital in-intensive, of course, massive amounts of capital and massive amounts of investment, especially upfront. And then, two, I guess I sometimes struggle to come up with a great answer of how much bigger or how much more money is flowing into the industry, say, five years from now or 10 years from now than what we see today. So I won't ask you any of those questions. Those are maybe a little too in the weeds.
Daniel Scrivner (23:45):
But I guess the question I would ask is how do you think about a space business? Maybe you can give a specific example, like Rocket Labs or Planet Labs. Is it important that they have revenue and profitability today? If you were there, how would you think about that? How do you, maybe in conversations with CEOs, how do CEOs of private businesses that are going to be public think about profitability and revenue? It just seems like an interesting moment in space.
Mo Islam (24:13):
Profitability, the age-old question. I think the lesson learned from the SPAC situation is that there were a number of companies that went public last SPAC that really shouldn't have. That's really easy to say now, sitting here and seeing what happened. But I think here's the underlying issue. Well, there's a lot of underlying issues. I think first is when the projections were done for these companies, there was really no oversight on the regulatory side. So people could say whatever they wanted about where their revenue was going to be in two, three, four, five years.
Mo Islam (24:50):
The issue is that public markets, and it's fairly efficient and it's really the great equalizer, meaning that if you say something is going to happen and that doesn't happen, you're going to get penalized for it. You're going to get penalized extremely hard for it, and that is exactly what's happening. So generally speaking, the public markets, it's not where you want to be doing R&D. You don't want to be doing R&D in public markets. That's just not what it's built for.
Mo Islam (25:18):
The only industry that I can think of where that's sort of the norm is biotech. But then again, people view biotech as binary options in most cases. Okay, so you're an investor. Let's take a step back. So what do you do? I think if you're a public company and if you're looking at investing in a public space company, I think you need to look at two things. One, you need to look at what is this company actually projecting in revenue? And is there a reasonable degree of probability that they're actually going to hit that?
Mo Islam (25:51):
You have to do the market analysis and see is that market demand there? If you're looking at an Earth observation business and they're saying that, "Hey, we're going to do 500 million of revenue in the next year," but then if you look at market reports and say, "Okay, well, the actual industry," and by the way, these numbers I'm just totally making up. The actual industry is, I don't know, four billion. So the question becomes, okay, can this company be 500 million of the four billion? Does that make sense?
Mo Islam (26:16):
Okay. It doesn't. Okay, so they're probably not going to get there. So if they keep missing those numbers, then the stock is going to get hit. Can they go and raise more money? I think that's the other issue. In the public markets, in order to raise money, you need to do follow-on offerings. If your stock price plummets, that's really not a good situation. So you also have to look at burn. How much money is this company burning, and are they going to actually be able to meet their targets? Are they going to have enough cash in a year or two before they need to raise more money?
Mo Islam (26:49):
These are companies that I'm also assuming from day one aren't profitable. In most cases, a lot of the space companies that are public are not profitable. Now, taking aside the public space companies, what I would say if you were looking at the private side, I think the question is a little bit ... I mean you can sort of use the same lens in terms of how much money does this company need to actually get to their end product?
Mo Islam (27:13):
If they're still in R&D phase, if they're building some type of new launch mechanism, how much money do they need before they can actually start testing and send whatever they want to in space? Are they going to have customers? Do they have a pipeline lined up? Those are the questions I think you need to ask. But, in general, you're starting to see more and more companies that are what I would call second and third-order products of the space economy that they're building XYZ product or service, but it's dependent upon a first layer of the economy, like fuel depots in space, really, really interesting.
Mo Islam (27:50):
I know that that will one day be a product that we need. But the question is, in order for you to actually build that into a thriving business, there needs to be a lot of things in space that actually need that product and service. So how long will it take before there's actually going to be a demand for that product? If it's going to take five years, six years, fine. How much money does this company need to raise or do they have enough money to get them to that point?
Mo Islam (28:15):
Those are the questions you have to ask, and you can never assume that the market is going to be there, meaning the capital's going to be there, that they're going to be able to go out and raise money. That's one of the biggest problems that space companies have is that they run out of money. That's not a novel concept. But it's something that I think, especially in this market, I think you just need to be particularly wary of.
Mo Islam (28:35):
Any company that has a clear dual use when it comes to government and military, I think you have a really strong case because the government is the biggest buyer right now and will be for the foreseeable future. So if you have a way into government dollars, I'd feel a lot safer about that than a true commercial use case, which you need a first layer or the second layer of the economy to actually develop before you actually have a real product that has real demand.
Daniel Scrivner (28:57):
Yep. Just on that question, just going back to multiple times now we've already discussed that the government is the biggest buyer, the biggest source of revenue, the biggest customer today. When do you think that might change, and who do you think that next customer would be? Is it effectively industrial use cases? Is it just space companies using each other's products, almost like an ecosystem? How do you think about that?
Daniel Scrivner (29:22):
Because I guess one thing I wonder is just, A) will that ever be true? So I'd love your thoughts on that. And then, B) what would that look like in your mind? What could that look like?
Mo Islam (29:31):
I think that the government will be a huge buyer for a very, very long time. That's just the reality. I think that the commercial customer really just depends on what kind of vertical within space you're talking about. I mean if you're talking about, for example, satellite imaging, there's a lot of use cases that the industry's been talking about, everything from insurance to mining to agricultural, tracking crop yields to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions. Obviously, there's a climate angle, of course, to all this.
Mo Islam (30:05):
So I think those, as the imaging data becomes cheaper and cheaper, I think there's also an argument of whether it becomes commoditized or not. I know that's a sort of back and forth in the industry, but I think it just ... So, sorry. To answer your question, I think it just totally depends on what vertical. There are going to be certain industries where it's just going to be the industry, really, as the customer. If you think of, for example, what Hadrian's doing in terms of verticalizing the aerospace and defense supply chain.
Mo Islam (30:33):
Most of the folks that are going to be using that product are clearly industry versus Earth observation or communication or launch. So I think it just depends on the industry. But I think commercial's coming, there's no question, because costs are coming down. The one elephant in the room that people do talk about, but I don't think it's too widely used in discussion right now, especially with business models, is what Starship's going to do.
Mo Islam (30:58):
Starship has the ability, and I'm very confident that Elon's going to pull it off, but Starship does have the ability to drop launch costs in other order of magnitude. That does dramatically change unit economics and business models for a lot of space companies. It's going to be very exciting what that does to the industry, very, very exciting. So I think that a lot of what we just said could be accelerated by maybe 2X if Starship works on time.
Mo Islam (31:26):
So that's sort of the outlier, so to speak, that we just don't know what the end result is going to be. I mean we have an idea if it works, but I don't think a lot of people truly understand what the impact is going to be.
Daniel Scrivner (31:37):
Yeah. Well, and it's really interesting. Hearing you say that, it's almost like what Starship could become is an entirely new input into the math equation of what businesses work and what businesses don't. Because today, if you're a founder, the math equation is based off current rockets, current costs, current mass that you can get into space, all of these things. And yeah, if it changes in order of magnitude, that dramatically changes what works, what doesn't work, and even what's possible. So it's fascinating to think about that.
Daniel Scrivner (32:05):
I want to ask a final question, which is, there's a lot of stuff going on in space. We've talked about Earth observation. I was going to say recently, too, I saw a company deck that was basically marketing that they think a future use case of Earth observation is when you have a wedding, to basically get satellite images of your wedding, which I thought was funny. I don't know if that's totally going to work.
Mo Islam (32:27):
Yeah. We need to get to a much, much greater resolution quality than what's commercially available, and the government also has to approve that we're allowed to take pictures of Earth at that resolution quality. So that might be a little ways away, but it's certainly not an possible thought.
Daniel Scrivner (32:41):
It could happen. It could happen. I don't know if you want to be looking at everyone's top of their heads. Maybe there's another angle there. But anyways, it's interesting. So there's a lot going on. Similarly, there's a ton of experimentation happening in launch systems and launch companies. So I guess the question I would just ask in a super wide open way is what do you see that's really exciting? That can be industries. That can be particular companies.
Daniel Scrivner (33:05):
What do you think doesn't get enough attention that we should be talking about more or that people maybe aren't noticing that's kind of beneath the surface?
Mo Islam (33:11):
I think this dives into your second part, which is a little bit under the radar, but I think companies currently that are building reusable second stages. So when you think of a rocket, in traditional rockets, you have two stages where the first stage, often the larger part of the rocket, helps accelerate the rocket to the upper parts of the atmosphere, so in the case of Falcon 9, about around 75, 80 kilometers, in which case the first stage jettisons off and then returns back to Earth, except then the second stage goes off, reaches orbital velocity, sends the payload into its proper orbit.
Mo Islam (33:43):
But then the second stage either continues to float into the atmosphere pretty much or not the atmosphere, just into orbital debris. The first stage comes back and lands. We figured out that first stage part, but the second stage, and that's the vacuum-optimized engine part of the two stages, getting that back down is something we haven't done yet. Now, Starship is going to try to attempt to do that. That's the whole plan behind it, and I suspect it will work.
Mo Islam (34:10):
But even for all the smaller launch vehicles and the medium-lift launch vehicles, that isn't something that's happened, and it's very crucial to lowering the cost of space even further. I think one of the big issues there is heat shielding and the fact that you are traveling much, much faster up when you're trying to get to orbit versus where the first stage is traveling. I think it's something like, I want to say, 5 to 7,000 kilometers per hour versus 18,000 or something.
Mo Islam (34:36):
I don't know the exact number. But the point is that you're coming back down to Earth at a much, much faster velocity, so heat shielding is particularly important. There's also a lot of other underlying issues that there are a few different companies that are looking to solve that I won't name, but it's really easy to Google and see who they are. I think the other breakthrough is really just what we had been talking about, Starship. We don't need to belabor the point, but I really do think that's going to be a breakthrough in the industry.
Mo Islam (35:00):
The pace at which they're iterating and they're retiring technical risk is really just breathtaking. I would highly, highly recommend anyone that even has a remote interest in the industry to actually look at those tests because they're so cool, and they're really inspiring. In terms of an industry or vertical or just part of the economy that I don't think gets enough attention, I think is really the space station side of things.
Mo Islam (35:23):
I don't know how many people know this outside of the industry, but the International Space Station is going to be retired, I think, by 2031 or 2 is the date because it's old, and it has many, many issues. If you actually look over the last couple years, they've had some pretty significant issues as it relates to their propulsion and just staying in orbit. I mean it's old. It's an old system. But NASA has basically said that they're going to de-orbit the ISS and drop it into the Pacific Ocean. That's going to be the end of its useful life.
Mo Islam (35:56):
So there are a number of commercial space station businesses that are trying to build a future ISS. We need it, to be quite frank, because without the ISS, we don't have any orbital outpost station that we can send astronauts to. Congress has actually a directive where they want humans in lower Earth orbit for many, many years. Without the ISS, we actually don't have anything else. So the government now is actually relying on the private sector.
Mo Islam (36:29):
Just bringing in the geopolitical side of things, China by the end of this year is going to have its own orbiting space station called Tiangong. And then Russia has their own plans. I think it would be a huge disappointment in, I think, our industry If we don't have something like that when the ISS is ready to retire. But the good news is there are many companies that are trying to do this, some that are farther along than others. But I have a lot of confidence that we're going to have a successor, and it's going to be a lot cooler.
Daniel Scrivner (36:59):
Yeah. I want to ask one more question, which is around Starlink. This was kind of inspired by one of the crazy ideas that I heard around why Elon Musk might be interested in acquiring Twitter is that if you think about the way the internet works today, it all basically goes through sub-sea cables, and so it's very geographically bound. Basically, if you are a company, it's very easy to control the data that's coming in and the data that's going out.
Daniel Scrivner (37:25):
With satellites that are now orbiting the Earth, you potentially have the ability that you're going from receiver in the US to receiver on the other side of the world. And then all of the data is basically propagating outside of geographic boundaries to this other substation. So one of the ideas that I heard was just it could potentially usher in a more democratic or open internet. Any thoughts on that or any thoughts on the implications of what something like Starlink at scale means?
Mo Islam (37:55):
Yeah. I mean that's a good question. I think Starlink at scale, and you're talking about internet connectivity from anywhere, literally anywhere in the world, I mean ultimately, that in itself is exciting. I think that there are still question marks, if I'm being honest, on the economics of Starlink. It's actually a huge model yet to solve because Elon is relying on it, on the free cashflow that he assumes that he'll generate from Starlink to be able to fund a lot of his other projects.
Mo Islam (38:27):
The obvious reasons of why internet connectivity globally is so important is that there's still parts of this world where there's no broadband connectivity, and it's a huge issue in terms of country development, in terms of education, in terms of just general progress. So Starlink can definitely, especially if they can get it cheap enough, it'll be massive for all those reasons. Of course, we also know that in Ukraine currently they are using Starlink. So you can already see the benefits of what it can do in disaster scenarios.
Mo Islam (38:59):
Starlink is used in situations like that all the time. Now, thankfully, most of that is not always in war-torn areas. But also, when it comes to natural disasters or when you don't have cell towers and you don't have the capability to connect, satellite broadband can definitely achieve that goal. So I don't know. Hopefully, that answers your question. But obviously, it can turn into a lot of different things.
Daniel Scrivner (39:24):
I mean no, no, no. Yeah. It's interesting to think about the economic side of it. Obviously, it's not just Starlink. Amazon's working on their own constellation, OneWeb. There's a whole host. Like every area in space, there's many, many, many people chasing the same grand idea. It'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Daniel Scrivner (39:40):
I want to transition and talk about Payload Space. Where I wanted to start first is I think I want to start with the brand voice. You talked about being the Morning Brew for the space industry, and you talked about bringing Ryan Duffy in, I think, as a founding editor of that. For someone who is unfamiliar with what a founding editor does and what it means to try to have a media product where what you're really doing, if I'm understanding it correctly, is building a moat in a brand in a lot of ways around voice and how you show up and how you analyze.
Daniel Scrivner (40:14):
Talk about that a little bit and how you guys approach that problem and how you developed your voice or landed on, yes, this is it. No, this isn't it.
Mo Islam (40:24):
Yeah. I think it was the voice was actually a fairly easy decision in what we wanted. If you think about traditional media in space, it's actually very boring. It's very technical. You don't know what insights you should be gleaning from it. I mean I hate to say it this way, but it can be boring sometimes, and space is definitely not boring. Even the most seemingly boring topics are actually very interesting when you actually figure out what the implication of that technology is for society and what is happening in the industry.
Mo Islam (41:06):
So for us, we wanted to build a product that it felt like it was speaking to you. I know that sounds a little cheesy, but we want Payload to become a habit for people every single morning, especially if you're in the industry. That's who we're really catering to right now. If you're in the industry and you want to know what's happening, you have to read us every single morning. How do we make it more fun? I mean we want to add pop culture to it. We want to make it relevant. We want people to laugh.
Mo Islam (41:41):
We want to throw in jokes. Ryan threw in a joke the other day from Mean Girls. I think that pop culture reference, which I mean you'll definitely ... Not everyone will get it, but those that do, it's going to be really resonating for them. They're going to really enjoy that. For us, the other side of it is space is becoming a lot younger. That's just the nature of what's happening. There's a lot more people who are interested in what's happening in space, who are engineers in other industries, software engineers, mechanical engineers were like, "Hey, I could work in this really cool new industry."
Mo Islam (42:16):
So we also wanted to cater to a younger generation that they want bite-sized. As Axios would say, it's smart brevity and insights. That's how we're thinking about how we tell the story of what's happening.
Daniel Scrivner (42:33):
Yeah. Super interesting. I want to talk a little bit about ... I don't want you to give away anything because before we were recording, we were talking a little bit about just where you're at now as a company, some of the things you're thinking about. But one of the questions I wanted to ask is, again, from somebody who I don't have a ton of familiarity with what it is like to launch a media brand, to pick a specific vertical or form factor, and then think about how you expand out from there.
Daniel Scrivner (42:58):
But I would assume that it's very much an exercise of the ambition at the end of the day is very large, and you need to choose exactly where you're going to focus your resources early on. So what I wanted to ask was how did you go about making the decision to focus on a newsletter? Maybe for those of us that aren't familiar, why is the newsletter a thing to focus on? And then how do you think about, at a really high level, expanding out from there?
Daniel Scrivner (43:23):
I think again, the reason I'm really interested is just I have no context for how to think about that. So I want you to try to decode maybe how you think about it at a high level and share that.
Mo Islam (43:32):
Yeah. So to your point, we're a newsletter-first product, and it really is. I don't actually know who said this quote, but it's an important quote and it's one we sort of live by, which is, "The newsletter has become the new homepage." We live in a world where most news is read on mobile, and there's been a huge proliferation of newsletters, especially with the success of companies like Axios that have just ... There's so many businesses that have built on the concept of emails and smart brevity.
Mo Islam (44:01):
The way that consumers consume media and news has changed very significantly, and that's one of the things that we really wanted to tap on. The other side of the coin is really it kind of comes down to the revenue model. The way you generate revenue as a media business is generally through ads. Right now, there's a huge opportunity in advertising for media in general, I think, just sort of new digital media, but even within space.
Mo Islam (44:28):
What I will say really quickly in why we decided to do the newsletter format is, one, because it's our top of the funnel. It's free, and it's always going to be free, at least as the current product stands. We just wanted to create something that would grow a huge audience. It's a lot harder to grow an audience in the very beginning if you charge them for a product. So for us, it's like, let's build a huge audience. Let's make the newsletter the top of the funnel. And then over time, we'll figure out other products that could be more monetizable for us.
Mo Islam (44:57):
We're launching a podcast actually next week. We're doing webinars. We're doing events. We're going to do a paid research product down the road, but it's going to be different from the core newsletter. The core newsletter will always be free, but we are going to have a paid product down the line. But ultimately, the newsletter really is the top of the funnel because it's just how people consume these days.
Mo Islam (45:17):
No one really wants to click out. I mean I don't know the last time you may have gone to wallstreetjournal.com or New York Times or CNN or what have you. Most people now just read their news on this, and that's just how the industry's evolved. So that's why we decided to go down the route that we did.
Daniel Scrivner (45:38):
Yeah. That makes sense. So talk a little bit about what that vision looks like. What do you hope Payload looks like in 10 years' time? Is it having a broadcast program? Is it going into other mediums? Or is it just expanding out thoughtfully, as you've talked about, of you have a newsletter, then it's a podcast, then it's potentially paid research and you're just kind of organically growing that surface area over time?
Mo Islam (46:02):
I think the vision answer to that question is I would love Payload to be the most important voice in the industry. Success, for me, would be if we became the largest and most respected media company in space that can help inform decisions for the most influential people in the industry, whether you're in policy, whether you're in commercial space, whether you're an investor, a member of the C-suite, or just starting an internship.
Mo Islam (46:27):
I do believe that we have the right team to achieve that goal, but that really is the goal. The goal is how do we become the most important voice in the industry? If we have become the most important voice in the industry, then I know we've built a really, really big business. There's no special sauce on the media model. It's really just about execution. You build your audience, and you sell ads. Sorry. You generate content, build audience, sell ads. That's really the flywheel.
Mo Islam (46:57):
The generate content piece of it can be in a lot of different forms. It can be through voice. It can be through print. Well, print is dead right now, but I mean it could be through some forms of print. It could be-
Daniel Scrivner (47:09):
It could come back.
Mo Islam (47:10):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, who knows? But probably not though. But the generate content piece of it can come in a lot of different forms, and we're going to, obviously, continue investing in content and making sure that we always look to that north star of becoming that important voice. But, to me, that's really the overarching goal.
Daniel Scrivner (47:32):
Yeah,. That makes sense. So it's much more of a goal of how you want to be seen in the position you want to have in the industry, which is being the most respected voice. And then from there, it doesn't matter. It'll be whatever makes sense, whatever's workable.
Mo Islam (47:43):
If we've achieved that goal, then I can guarantee you that we have become a huge company. Because the industry, it is at its inflection point. It's just starting, and it's going to be really exciting to see what happens. There's so much money flowing into the space. Companies are just now starting to understand the value of paid advertising and what that means for their brand. That's not something that was really often thought about in the space industry, but it is definitely part of the market that's going to grow.
Mo Islam (48:09):
The ad side of the market is really exciting and really interesting to see how it develops. We're seeing it firsthand. We're effectively creating this new market, at least for the newer commercial space companies that don't have marketing people. They don't have folks that really focus on brand building. One of the biggest challenges for the industry right now, if you ask me what's the biggest friction point for the industry for the next one to two years, it's actually going to be hiring.
Mo Islam (48:35):
There are so many companies that have raised a lot of money, and the first thing that you do when you raise a lot of money is you go out and hire. Everyone is hiring off of that same pool. So it's become a very, very tough and very competitive job market. I mean that's the case in a lot of industries but, specifically in space, I'm seeing it even more exacerbated.
Mo Islam (48:54):
So there is a real value in getting your name out there and getting your brand out there because there's a lot of great companies. Oftentimes, the reason why companies die is because they're not able to tell their story, and people don't understand it. Anyway, this is all to say that we're all very excited.
Daniel Scrivner (49:11):
Yeah. Well, no, and it's interesting to hear just you talk a little bit about that one of the major forms that ads will be used is just basically to share the story of what you're building as a space company to try to, one, get candidates, to try to build your notoriety. Because it's also, as being a subscriber of Axios for a long time, it's amazing. There are very few direct-to-consumer ads that you're going to find in Axios. It's very much a brand-building kind of exercise that people are doing through ads, which is fascinating.
Mo Islam (49:38):
Well, I'll tell you. The science side of space has always captured a massive global audience, even on the brand side. Think of the OMEGA Speedmaster, the Moonwatch, and the Apollo missions and number of brands have helped fund research and science on the ISS. Actually, not a lot of people know this, but if you actually look at NASA's social media presence, NASA has something like, I don't know, something like 50 or 60 million Twitter followers.
Mo Islam (50:05):
I know these numbers because we've looked at this before. NASA has something like 50 or 60 million Twitter followers, and the NFL has like 30 million. The NBA has 37 million. On the Instagram side, NASA has something like 75 or 80 million Instagram followers. That's pretty much as much as a Dua Lipa or a Gigi Hadid. A lot of people don't even think about that. And then also, do you remember back in it was 2012, I think, fall of 2012 when Felix Baumgartner jumped off the balloon from the stratosphere?
Daniel Scrivner (50:39):
Mo Islam (50:39):
It was the stratosphere jump.
Daniel Scrivner (50:40):
The Red Bull.
Mo Islam (50:41):
Yeah. It was Red Bull. There are a lot of brand consultants that ended up doing an analysis on that and, basically, came to the conclusion that that generated billions of dollars of brand value for Red Bull. Now, that is a spectacle, and I'm not saying that that's what space is evolving to. But it's more to say that space can command a really, really large audience. So you have the industry side of things where the industry needs to know about each other. That's one advertising angle and marketing angle.
Mo Islam (51:13):
And then there's, of course, how do you use the visionary side of space, the romantic side of space to help elevate your brand? This is not to say that we're focused in on that side of it, but that is something that we're just paying attention to and just seeing how it evolves.
Daniel Scrivner (51:30):
Yeah. No, it feels like another way to talk about it is space is becoming a bigger and bigger part of popular, cool culture. It's no longer just for nerds, which I feel like, back in the day, if it was 20 years ago and you had an NASA T-shirt on, you were definitely a nerd or you just wanted to be an astronaut.
Mo Islam (51:46):
Well, yeah. Sure, sure.
Daniel Scrivner (51:49):
I want to ask two closing questions. One is you talked about that you've been building Payload for almost two years now. You're building the, from my experience, from my purview, the first and the best media brand dedicated to space, which is, I think it's been fascinating and a ton of fun to watch. When you look back at that journey so far, what are one or two of the biggest lessons you learned?
Daniel Scrivner (52:12):
You talked about that moment where you started seeing CEOs in the industry signing up as being really exciting. What other moments have just, I don't know, fed you guys as you've been building Payload from day one?
Mo Islam (52:24):
I would say the thing that still keeps us going is just we get a tremendous amount of just reader feedback. I mean it's really awesome to see when a reader says, "Hey, you really helped shape my view on the industry," or, "Hey, you really convinced me that this is where I want to work," or, "Hey, it's so cool. I had no idea there was so much happening in this industry. Thank you for illuminating it for me." That, to us, is the easiest way for us to just say to ourselves, "Hey, look, for what it's worth at the end of the day, we are providing a tremendous amount of value to people, and it's awesome."
Mo Islam (53:00):
That really helps keep us going. We really didn't expect the extent of how much feedback we get. We have a Slack channel that's just called Feedback, and it's constantly pinging throughout the day. So it's always nice to see that and does help us. It's a tremendous motivator.
Daniel Scrivner (53:15):
That's so cool. Any one or two lessons you feel like you've learned over the last 18 months that are generalizable or that you'd pass on to other founders that are maybe tackling a similar problem?
Mo Islam (53:25):
Yes. Embrace boring. Sometimes there are parts of building a business that are just not exciting, and they're not sexy. They're just you just don't want to do it, but it's okay. Not every single part of company building is like, "Oh, you just won this great contract or you just closed this big customer and let's celebrate." Most of it is actually not that. Most of it is just dealing with, I don't know, HR stuff.
Mo Islam (53:53):
We're actually dealing with this administrative issue now that we have on the HR side. We didn't register something with one state. It's just like, "Ugh, am I really going to spend half my day on this?" But you know what? That's just part of it. You just have to be okay with it. You just need to do it, and you need to move on. So embrace the boredom is what I would say.
Daniel Scrivner (54:11):
No, that's very good advice. Okay. Last question, we're at an inflection point. Clearly, part of that is it seems like future generations, space will have a much, much bigger place in their life, whether it's just news that's happening, whether it's the industries that they work on, whether it's having their own satellite up in space. Try to paint a little bit of a picture of what you hope space looks like 20 or 30 years from now. What do you hope that it looks and feels like for the next generation?
Mo Islam (54:41):
I think this is my bold prediction. I'm going to say 30 years, not 20 years. I'm going to say in 30 years, if you want to go to the moon, you will be able to go to the moon. It might cost a lot, but I think you will be able to go to the moon. I do think it will cost a lot, but I actually don't think it's going to be prohibitively expensive that only the the ultra-wealthy can go. I think it will be one of those expenses that it's going to be very expensive, but ultimately it's not going to ... It's going to be you can chalk it up to a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the cost of, I don't know, the cost of a car, something like that, which I know is crazy to say, by the way.
Mo Islam (55:16):
A lot of people might hear me answer this and just laugh and say, "Okay. Well, that's obviously not happening." I think it's important to be humble about where this industry is going because I don't think anyone predicted 10 or 20 years ago that we'd be here. So I really don't know if in 10 or 20 years ago, we're just going to have the cost structure of everything is going to change dramatically. It's going to get so much safer. There's going to be a entrepreneur that changes things even more than Elon has.
Mo Islam (55:42):
Yes, a lot of people say that Elon is sort of a generational, once-in-a-lifetime entrepreneur, but he has really paved the way for a lot of future entrepreneurs to really turn the rules upside down. I think that in 30 years, I think we'll be able to go to the moon. I hope I'm right. It doesn't look like that right now. I think if you just run the numbers, my statement probably doesn't make much sense. But I'm also just banking on the fact that there's a lot of innovation that we just sometimes just can't predict.
Daniel Scrivner (56:12):
Yeah. You're banking on that the power law is going to play out and things like Starship that can change via an order of magnitude, the cost structure will work, which clearly we're headed in that direction. Thank you so much for the time, Mo. For the space nerd inside me, the kid that went to space camp early on, it was super cool to chat with you and talk through all this. If you're listening or-
Mo Islam (56:33):
Daniel, thank you for having me.
Daniel Scrivner (56:34):
Yes. If you're listening or watching, you can sign up for Payload Space's daily newsletter, which I highly recommend, at payloadspace.com. And you can also follow them on Twitter at Payload Space. Also, Mo, I really like your Twitter account, so I'm going to share it, which is just it's Mo Islam on Twitter. Thank you so much for the time.
Mo Islam (56:50):
I appreciate that, Daniel. Thank you so much. Thank for having me.
Daniel Scrivner (56:55):
Thank you so much for listening. You can find the show notes and transcript for this episode at outlieracademy.com/110. That's 110. At outlieracademy.com, you can find all of our other founder interviews profiling incredible companies like Eight Sleep, Commonstock, Varda Space Industries, Superhuman, Primal Kitchen, and 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, among many, many others. In every interview, we deconstruct the ideas, frameworks, and strategies they use to build these incredible companies.
Daniel Scrivner (57:23):
You can now also find videos of all of our interviews on YouTube at youtube.com/outlieracademy. On our channel, you'll find all of our full-length interviews as well as our favorite short clips from every episode, including this one. So make sure to subscribe. We post new videos and clips every single week. If you haven't already, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn under the handle, Outlier Academy.
Daniel Scrivner (57:44):
Thank you so much for listening. We'll see you right here with a brand-new episode next Wednesday.
On Outlier Academy, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today.
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