Chapter 0: Recap
What I've been doing for the last 5 years or so
The story thus far
Over the pandemic, I helped launch the Carbon Mapper public-private partnership and convinced NASA HQ to explore an alternative acquisition strategy for the next, next big earth science radar mission. Then, last October, I left my perfectly good job at JPL to make something even bigger. What, exactly? Not sure yet.
I’m sending you this newsletter so you can track how it’s going. Today’s topics are
My kids’ soccer league
A calculated risk
A vision for the future
Something really useful I found on the internet
Scorecard and shameless plug
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The Soccer Club
I help run AYSO Region 13, the recreational soccer club in Pasadena, CA. Now, it’s no secret that youth soccer has been on the decline for the last 10 or so years. Pundits have many theories as to why, and they’re all wrong. So when my kids got into it, being the child of economists, I dove in to understand why and see what I could do. After all, I love doing startups and turnarounds.
The youth soccer enterprise had been running in Obvious mode, which means you observe effects & apply best practices. But … the world has changed and the heuristics don’t work anymore. So we step back to Complex mode: when there are unknown unknowns, you don’t know what’s a cause and what’s an effect. The management strategy should be: 1. Probe 2. Sense 3. Respond. Do experiments that are safe to fail, and expect that actions may change the system unpredictably.
Long story short, the problems are deeper than branding and perception. Pretty much every function of the league needs to be upgraded continuously, because society is always evolving. So I did a lot of experiments, like A/B testing on how to persuade parents to volunteer to coach a team, started a new winter program to appeal to underserved audiences, and developed a data management system that could scale.
Most importantly, I got not just our club, but the entire AYSO national organization, to commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Inviting more people to play soccer involves fundamental attitude changes, which were what really tipped the scale for Region 13 to grow from serving 2100 kids (and declining each year) before the pandemic to 2400 today. To handle 15% - 20% compound annual growth, email and data moved to GSuite for Nonprofits, we worked with a company in Texas to develop a registration system that can handle the volume, and we burned the web site to the ground and started over (coming Saturday) with a modern narrative (more on that if you scroll down).
Sorry, that was all about management, not kids. Sun Tzu’s OODA Soccer will come later. Here are the Unicorns posing with Jackie Robinson on April 15. Mini-me is in front.
Next Big Thing
I’m investing in Rivelin Robotics in Sheffield, England. They make robots to sand, nibble, chisel, grind, and polish small metal parts. It’s hard enough for a human to use a Dremel tool without making a mess. How do you get a robot to do it?
What are you trying to do? The robot touches up manufactured parts, using vision, feel, sound, and proprioception to manipulate Dremel tools, sanders, grinding wheels, and nibblers.
How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? It takes a skilled craftsperson to remove just the right amount of material without damaging a metal part. It takes many years of practice for a metalworker to become good at it, and there are only so many of them.
What's new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful? Rivelin’s robots assimilate data from many sensors and adapt to changes in the workpiece, and also changes in the tool. These are all things a human metalworker would do, and it took Rivelin’s founders 7 years to figure out the algorithm. Rivelin has also invested in software to make it easy to program a metalworking plan. This delivers more consistent and measurable quality than humans can, and it can run 24/7 (including stopping if a tool’s moments of inertia feel “off”).
What difference will it make? Rivelin’s customers can increase production for a fixed cost that is less than the overall compensation for a metalworker. A small factory can add lights-out shifts and triple sales.
What are the risks and the payoffs? Another company could enter the market by spending a lot to catch up. To derisk the product-market-fit, Rivelin has just raised funding (including from the Rao Family) to get 2:1 government matching funds and start a paid pilot with a leading aerospace manufacturer. The payoff is an uncountably large TAM that nobody even is aware of.
Related companies doing surface finishing with dexterous cobots
Rivelin (dexterous manipulation with force feedback for small parts)
Gray Matter (scan and sand for large parts)
Besnovo (laser paint stripping of airplanes)
My related investments
Olis Robotics (exception intervention and remote-control recovery for lights-out operation)
Iris Dynamics (force-feedback linear motors)
Two startups, WeatherStream and TempoQuest, have what’s needed to deliver real-time weather forecasting. Today’s weather models typically have 30 km spatial resolution, which is too coarse to understand swirly things like convection cells. You can imagine that convection would matter, right? Combined, this tech will be able to make a 6-hour forecast, updated every 30 minutes.
TempoQuest’s GPU acceleration of the WRF code enables forecasts with a 1 km spatial grid on affordable computer hardware
WeatherStream’s global atmospheric sounding constellation will measure boundary conditions, feeding a unique algorithm that keeps the forecast anchored to reality
Who would want this? I predict that the public utilities in every major city (500 of them with > 1M people, many in China) would want to know where and when to expect severe weather. Imagine an app that tells a work crew, “Storm clouds near site X from 2:45 - 4:30 pm. Better have your light poles down before then.” Do you think that would be worth a $250k/yr subscription, for each of the 5-10 major infrastructure providers in a city?
Ride the macro waves
Privatizing managed living services (now you can sell the same information many times within a territory)
“Smart city” planning and routing (enterprise software integrations are sticky)
Awareness of climate risk (FOMO for investors)
Mind you, this product doesn’t exist ... yet, and both companies need to raise money and expand the teams substantially to get there. It’ll be expensive. Do you want it to happen? Would you invest? Tell me!
It’s a startup trope that when you’re challenging an incumbent, optimize for something that’s the responsibility of two vice presidents, and they’ll not only never see you coming, they won’t be able to do anything about it. Well, Jasmine Bina’s Concept Bureau brings that to an individual level, with brand strategies that bypass mental defenses. Control someone’s thoughts, and you control their decision.
That sounded creepy. Well, free will is a myth.
Jasmine publishes all her ideas for free, so you should read These 3 brand languages will change the playing field.
Identifiers tell you what to compare to. Slack has “channels”. Starbucks has the “third place”. Rivelin compares its robot to a human metalworker because the job market is tight everywhere. AYSO identifies as a community worth investing time into.
Metrics tell you how to compare. Rivelin measures product yield and total cost of ownership, metrics where robots outperform humans. AYSO measures personal growth for children and parents.
Vocabulary channels emotions. Words like “tedious,” “grueling,” and “dangerous” suggest a job that humans don’t even want. Words like “friends”, “teamwork”, “cooperate”, “learn”, and “encourage” promote a growth mindset.
Space 11 active 3 exits
Robots 4 active
Other 3 active 1 exit
If you want in on my dealflow, just ask. I can hype my book all day!
Whether you’re standing up a new sovereign space agency or just a regular old aerospace project, I’m available to consult on precision instrument design, technical due diligence, market analysis, review boards, failure investigations, and strategy/policy around public-private partnerships.
I’d also be happy to discuss the Big Data From Space Playbook, How To Create A Space Mission Out Of Whole Cloth, the Application Readiness Customer Journey, or the Mad Max Theory of Management. I can also talk about soccer. Go ahead, make an offer!
Thanks to Starburst Accelerator and Creative Destruction Lab for introducing me to many of the cool people receiving this newsletter.
Thank you for reading! If you don’t want more of these, just hit the unsubscribe button. But I really do hope you’ll stay around for the continuing adventure.