Investing in the Future – Together

In the last 30 years, global GDP has grown from about $11 trillion1 to a staggering $70 trillion . A major driver of this sustained growth has been the power of science, technology, engineering, and innovation. From computers to robots, from medicine to agriculture, and from transportation to manufacturing, the world economy has benefited enormously from the commercialization of new inventions and technologies.

Key to all of this are entrepreneurial start-up companies, the founding team members who drive them to success, and the investors who share their vision. History is replete with examples of visionary entrepreneurs who brought world-changing products from idea to reality –individuals such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Elon Musk have accelerated the progress of humanity by building their companies. In general, the products and services of start-up companies improve the lives of millions of people around the world, and in so doing provide millions of new jobs annually and create literally trillions of dollars of wealth over time.

And while there are many ways of funding innovative entrepreneurs, one of the most effective and most critical is through angel investing.That is why it is so important for the world right now to really work to grow the global community of angel investors. Angel investors are true economic heroes – people who give back to society by investing in many cases part of their own hard-earned wealth to support the start-up businesses that make inventions and ideas real. But let us not assume angel investors are acting solely in charity, either. In fact, angel investors have traditionally done quite well. A Kauffman Foundation analysis found that the average return of hundreds of angel investments studied was 2.6 times the initial investment in a 3.5 year period — an approximate internal rate of return of 27 percent2.

I am proud to be an angel investor myself, and I am equally proud to participate in an organization that is doing more than any other to facilitate angel investment in the critical field of commercial spaceflight – the Space Angels Network.

The recently-formed Space Angels Network is the leading source of capital for space startups, having made several investments in member companies in the first few months of its existence. It is a community of bold investors who are helping to build the next generation space industry, one company at a time. My fellow members make exciting investments in startups that fly spacecraft, launch rockets, orbit payloads, or otherwise relate to the burgeoning business of aerospace. The network’s success continues to attract some of the best entrepreneurs and angel investors around and has become a valuable place for me to meet like-minded investors.

Joe Landon, its Managing Director, and the entire Space Angels Network team have done a fantastic job of building a flourishing community of aerospace investors. With the growth of commercial spaceflight and NASA’s recent $1.2B commitment toward developing commercial human spaceflight capabilities, we are seeing more interest in angel investing in space than ever before.

So, the takeaway is this: If you are financially able, it is important to invest in what you believe – and if you believe in commercial spaceflight and the “Star Trek future” that we all want, then I would highly encourage you to get involved in Space Angels Network! The returns will be stellar … not only for yourself, but for the world.

Historic Month for the Commercial Spaceflight Industry

Last week’s announcement by Sierra Nevada Corporation, that they have successfully completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) milestone of the design, architecture and performance of the Dream Chaser piloted space vehicle, caps off a historic month for commercial spaceflight.  The last few weeks have seen one important accomplishment after another.  This progress is truly opening a new chapter of 21st century access to space.

Here are some highlights:

-       Elon Musk’s rocket company,  SpaceX, successfully launched its Dragon capsule atop their Falcon 9 rocket into low Earth orbit, maneuvered the Dragon to the vicinity of the International Space Station, executed a successful berthing and docking operation, and returned cargo safely home in a picture-perfect splashdown.  Truly, awe-inspiring!

-       The Boeing Corporation entry in the Commercial Crew Program, the CST-100 space vehicle, marked an important milestone by completing the PDR of its entire software system.  CST-100 will fly atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on its future missions to carry astronauts to orbit.

-       Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems conducted a successful atmospheric captive-carry test of its Dream Chaser lifting-body vehicle in the skies over Colorado, in addition to the PDR milestone mentioned earlier.

-       Blue Origin, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos, met a key NASA milestone in the Commercial Crew Program by passing the official System Requirements Review for its orbital space vehicle.

-       Virgin Galactic received a critical FAA approval to begin their rocket-powered test flight program with SpaceShipTwo.

And, of course, there’s exciting work going on at Planetary Resources and Space Adventures – two pioneering companies that I am involved with – but more about those efforts in future blog posts!

My thoughts on the TED 2012 talk on “Abundance”

Diamandis’ talk was by far the best of the TED 2012 event. Not only was it well delivered, but the points were spot on. The crowd absolutely went wild here and deservingly so. The is a good chance that the future will be better than we all would expect from what we read in the news media. You should watch Peter’s talk to get the full story:

Click to watch: “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis at TED 2012

In the age of information, improvements are not linear – they are exponential. As the technology to acquire resources shifts from a linear performance curve to an exponential one, our society has the potential to rapidly expand the prospect of prosperity for future generations.

Sure, there will be ups and downs, and of course we have lots of problems today — but insofar as innovators within humanity are free to invent and deploy technology that can provide incredible value to their fellow people, then the long-term trend of abundance will be inevitable. This is a great vision and if you look at history it happens to be true! We have categorically failed to predict technological advancements and their unparalleled ability to solve the then-problems of the time. Future generations will look back and think we didn’t have such big problems after all!

So, the future is bright …. except in one case.

The law of exponential progress unfortunately applies to the rapid increase in leverage and “capability” for technology that can kill us as wel. Nuclear weapons and their potency, bio-engineered super-viruses, and the ever-increasing power of one individual acting alone to do great harm to many many others is sadly increasing.

So, if human prosperity is to continue far into the future then three things must happen: 1) free peoples, free markets, and freedom of thought and speech need to flourish 2) we need to actively to prevent the realization of global threats capable of catastrophic loss of life and 3) we need to become a multiplanetary species. All of these goals are within reach!

If you are interested in working toward goal 2) above, please think about supporting the Planetary Security Foundation.

Diamandis approach in “Abdunance” is not only the best way … it is in fact the only way we can rapidly increase and maintain a sustainable improvement in the quality of life for our children and children’s children.

The Most Important Activity at Intentional Software

I just uploaded the video “The Most Important Activity Intentional Software is Doing” to YouTube.

The YouTube description reads, “Hiring the most passionate, creative, capable, and entrepreneurially-minded developers is our number one priority.” And it is so true. Being at the TED conference in Long Beach always reminds me of the importance of having great minds working on great ideas.

You can find the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cebq4N0cLc

Put ideas into action!

There is a famous saying by Thomas Edison, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” That is as much a fact today as it was during Edison’s time, and in reality, probably far more so.

Technology has provided a network of systems for communicating ideas. Information is basically free. Because so much information is readily available the average level of human knowledge is higher than it was during Edison’s time. And of course, more knowledge enables more creativity, which then seeds and cultivates more ideas. Originating, communicating and sharing ideas is more easily achievable.

Now with regard to implimenting an idea, while it is certainly easier to execute a plan given all the tools we have today, the scalability of execution is a far more difficult problem than the transfer of information. We are lagging in terms of automating execution. People still have to do all the work.

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that the relative value of execution is even higher today than it was in Edison’s time. I’m not sure most people realize this, but they should! If they did, then we would spend a lot more time focusing on successful implementation and less time worrying about who originated the idea.

I cannot tell you how many times people have come to me a ‘new’ idea that they want to be in some way compensated for . . . but, more times than not, labeling their ‘new’ idea as ‘half-baked’ would be a compliment. Remember the old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun”? It still rings true. If someone thinks that no one before them has thought of what they thought of, they are misguided. One does not have to create something new to be successful. Far more people are successful by doing what ever it is that they do better than anyone else, rather than doing something that has never been done before.

My intention is not to degrade the value of great ideas. Of course, great ideas are, well, great! And it is only part of the point that having a great idea is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for success. It is also the fact that a majority of people have a skewed view of the value of their own ideas even in the absence of any tangible actions and achievements in the pursuit of them.

An idea without action is not worth very much at all.

So, simply put, actions speak far louder than words. Don’t expect to be compensated for your idea if you have not done anything about it.  Take whatever it is that you think is your best idea and go make it happen!! You will create all of the value with your actions.

Letter From Space Adventures to Congress Regarding Commercial Crew Issues

October 26, 2011

Honorable Ralph Hall
Chairman
House Committee on Science, Space & Technology
2405 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515-0001

Dear Chairman Hall:

I am the Chairman and Co-Founder of Space Adventures, Ltd., the world’s leading space experience provider. Our company has sold all eight spaceflight missions to the seven private space explorers who have visited the International Space Station aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft over the past decade. We are also proud to be partnered with Boeing Space Exploration as a member of their Commercial Crew Development team.

Thank you for holding a full committee hearing to gain industry’s perspective on NASA’s vital commercial crew initiative. I am writing to you on behalf of our partner to provide you and your colleagues some additional insight into the existing and potential commercial market for orbital human spaceflight.

First and foremost, it is not fair to say that because “only” eight seats have been sold there is no significant market for orbital human spaceflight. The primary limiting factor in the sales of orbital space missions has been the relative lack of supply. For the last few years, especially, Russia has provided 100% of its available seats to the NASA and the other international partners.

Second, while no one knows exactly how large the market is, I can assure you that Space Adventures is in contact with many, many prospective customers who are interested in flying, able to purchase a spaceflight, and ready to sign up… if only there were seats available. Furthermore, even as Russian costs and seat prices increased substantially over the past decade, we saw no significant reduction in interest on the part of customers.

Third, every customer who has flown to space from Russia has had to spend six months away from their regular lives undergoing tests, extensive training and language instruction in Russia. For many, this cost is actually greater than the price of a ticket. One of the first questions every prospective customer asks in some form is: “when can I fly from the U.S.?”

That question is a good one for your hearing. Why shouldn’t America, as we seek to lead the world in exploring beyond Earth orbit, also lead in the commercial application of human spaceflight? Shouldn’t space tourism create new jobs here, rather than in Russia?

Of course, it is not NASA’s or Congress’ job to create a space tourism industry. But it is NASA’s mandate, as Congress defined it in the NASA Act, to promote the fullest possible commercial use of space. I can tell you that my industry is just waiting for safe, frequent, and affordable access so it can start to satisfy the pent-up demand of tens of thousands of people around the world that want to experience spaceflight.

That is why it is so important that Congress provide NASA with full funding for the Commercial Crew Transportation program so that multiple companies can compete against each other in developing new systems as quickly as possible. By creating safe, robust and affordable access to low Earth orbit, NASA and industry will not only solve our space program’s need for astronaut transport to and from ISS, we will also begin to drive down the cost of human activity in space, and discover entire new industries and other beneficial opportunities in low Earth orbit.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my thoughts on this important and timely topic.

Sincerely,

Eric C. Anderson
Chairman
Space Adventures, Ltd.

Cc: Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson, Ranking Member
Honorable Steven Palazzo, Chairman, Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
Honorable Jerry Costello, Acting Ranking Member

Entrepreneurial Decision Making & Risk: A Formula for Success

Being an entrepreneur myself and interacting with them on a daily basis, I find it notable that successful entrepreneurs generally tend to have excellent risk assessment and business decision-making skills. As my friend Elon Musk has said, “Business is like a multidimensional probabilistic chessboard. The rules aren’t set, and the same moves don’t always make you win. A lot of people can be really good in a set-piece battle; my biggest differentiating skill is I can invent new pieces.”[1]

Working hard and executing well are a given, but significant value creation early in the life of a business often comes down to handling a few critical decisions well. Though seemingly risky at the time, the right choices often result from a calculation whose risk-adjusted net present value was high (i.e., the risk was worth the potential gain). There are six keys to implementing this type of decision-making process successfully:

  1. Risk Quantification. Step one is to accurately assess and quantify the risks. Successful entrepreneurs are able to do this extremely well. They go deep in their analysis. Others often overestimate real risks and underestimate their chance for success, inhibiting potential success.
  2. Creative Thinking. Next, one must formulate potential solutions to a problem considering all of the available arrows in the quiver. Assets and tactics not seen by most people are often seen by the entrepreneur, and as Elon notes the same approach will not work consistently in all situations.
  3. Speed. It has been said that true leaders are quick to make decisions and slow to change them. Many are the failed managers whose major shortcoming was indecision.
  4. Bold Action. Once the path has been chosen, run (not walk) down it.
  5. Backup. So many of my friends who run companies have turned a bad situation into a win by having been successful with a backup plan. Even after the most cleverly chosen path is pursued, things may not go your way. Cover your downside with a backup plan – a good one.
  6. Debrief. Finally, when all is said and done, review what happened. My friend Esther Dyson says “Always make new mistakes.” This is very true, and while it is absolutely part of business to make mistakes, what separates the winners from the rest is that winners rarely make the same mistake twice.

Entrepreneurs who approach risk and decision making using the formula above will accelerate their growth and significantly improves their chances of success!

[1] http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/may2011/ca2011055_046963.htm