Will Marshall

Co-Founder & CEO of Planet Labs

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON June 01, 2016

Discussion

Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
Thanks, everyone for the fun and smart questions! --- Hi everyone, my name is Will Marshall and I am co-founder and CEO of Planet Labs. Planet Labs builds and operates fleets of compact, highly capable Earth-imaging satellites. Founded by myself and two other NASA scientists, Planet's goal is to image the entire Earth every day. Our imagery is used in markets like agriculture, consumer mapping, and disaster recovery. I am especially excited about OpenCA, an open source release of millions of square kilometers of imagery of the State of California - the largest data release of its kind. Before Planet, I was a scientist at NASA where I worked on projects that included a lunar orbiter and lander, creating a satellite from a smartphone, and a plan for space debris remediation. Now, let’s get started with the questions! Videos: TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/will_m... Satellite deployment from ISS:
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Hi Marshall, Great to have you on ProductHunt! On your website it says that "In 2016 Planet Labs will have enough satellites in orbit to image the entire globe, every single day." That's really impressive. How close are you guys to achieving this goal?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@tomstocklein To date we have launched 133 satellites. This year we are launching roughly the same number as the rest of the world combined. At the end we should have enough to image the whole earth every day!
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Your technology seems like it could be very helpful for providing live/very recent image data to help in the aftermath of major natural disasters. How, for example, would Planet Labs collaborate with emergency response teams, the USGS and others in case of a major earthquake in the Bay Area or LA?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@tomstocklein We share our data in times of disaster response under the 'Space Charter', coordinated in the US by USGS. To give some recent examples, we've helped with the earthquakes in Ecuador, Japan and with the fires in Canada. We provide our data openly for everyone, including the disaster response teams, to help improve their efforts. What's important is not just that we have up to date data soon after the event, but also data from recently before. In Haiti there was the challenge that people quick;ly scrambled to get data afterwards, but the most recent data from before was 5 years out of date so it wasn't an apples to apples comparison. So we can help both quickly after an event and have the data from immediately before.
Thomas Stöcklein@tomstocklein · FoundersFundersFuture.com
Completely understand if you can't/don't want to disclose the following, but I'm just curious: Has Planet Labs any plans for going public or do you prefer to remain a private company? Why hasn't Planet Labs been acquired by Apple or Google yet?
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
How much red tape is there in entering the satellite market? What are some other, non-obvious barriers to entry?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@andrewett Some -- we have to get regulatory approval from FCC, NOAA, and if we launch our satellites abroad, then from State dept. Other non obviousl barriers to entry: it's really hard to get launches, and to show you're satellite is good to launch (like isn't going to break apart during the high-g ride up) and then there;s just the complexity of building satellites and the ground stations around the world. I'd say the biggest barrier to entry is the shear complexity of building and operating large constellations of satellites!
Andrew Ettinger@andrewett · 👟 @wearAtoms // ex @Twitter @ProductHunt
@wsm1 How hard is it to raise money with those complications? Who are the leading VCs in the space?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@andrewett IT wasn't too hard actually -- the leading VCs in space? Well I'd say @DFJ, Yuri Milner, @DCVC to name a few...
Joao Torres@joao_torres1 · Student
Hello Will. I'd like to know what is Planet Lab's business model. Do you intend to sell your solutions directly to the final costumer (e.g.: farmer) or do you intend to sell the images to other companies so that they can create their solutions and then sell to the final costumer?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@joao_torres1 We sell our data to folks in Agriculture, Consumer Mapping, Civil Governments, NGOs etc. Take agriculture: we can tell crop yeild on a pixel by pixel basis -- enabling farmers to more smartly decide when and what to planet etc. In Consumer mapping, folks want up to date satellite imagery layers.
Joao Torres@joao_torres1 · Student
@wsm1 Thanks for the answer. But I would like to know if your business model is based in selling directly to the farmer, for instance, or if your intention is to sell it to another company so that they can add some more information and inteligence to the solution you've created an then sell it to the final consumer. Are you considering both business models?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
Crystal Mendoza@you_go_girl · MBA Student
@wsm1 @joao_torres1 I'm interested in working in NGOs in the future, and would like to know more about how your satellites can be used to help them. Can you share with us a couple of organizations who you have supported and an example of how your services were used to help their missions?
Joao Torres@joao_torres1 · Student
@wsm1 How would this other company have access to the images? Is it using the same online platform used by final consumers?
Alton Wells@alton_wells · Part Time Astronaut
I follow your company closely and am a huge fan of the data labs portal Planet Labs has built. My question digs down into the process of monetization for your satellite imagery, What does it take to get the information from your servers into the hands of paying customers? Who are those customers? How have you structured those relationships? and how would you say the Micro Sat business stack up against the drone business? What are the parallels and contrasts?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@alton_wells Lots of questions here. 1. They can go on our website. 2. Ag, consumer mapping, civil governments. 3. Basically data <--> cash. 4. Satellites are much lower cost per unit area of coverage. Drones are much higher resolution. So if one is trying to track agriculture -- which is 26% of the land area of earth -- one wants satellites. If one wants to monitor a building site brick by brick, one wants drones. I see them as complementary.
Brenda Shih@brendashih · UX Designer
Hello!! How has design influenced how Planet Labs approaches solving large environmental or social challenges?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@brendashih Great question. We have an artist in residence programme at planet labs -- a person puts design flair on everything we do. They even put art on the wings of the Doves! We care because we take pride in our work.
Raluca Musaloiu-E.@ralucam · Software Engineer at Meraki
Is it possible for Planet Labs to play a role in climate monitoring by adding greenhouse gases detection sensors (carbon dioxide, methane). I think frequent and accurate planet-wide metrics would be super valuable (as opposed to using various estimations and models). Would this be too costly or not feasible because of the altitude or the size of the doves?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@ralucam We care a lot about helping monitor climate change -- it's much of why we started Planet Labs! Other sensors are possible for sure. We've looked at a sensor for Methane. But right now we're focussed on RGB & NIR (near infra red) daily of the whole globe -- which allow us to do a huge amount. If we get that done we'll think about what's next.
Marshall Moutenot.v5@marsh · Co-founder at Upstream
@wsm1 @ralucam Thermal bands please!!!
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey if you had to swap lives with a tech ceo/founder for a week who would it be and why?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@bentossell Probably Demis from Deepmind....
fares al hasan@alfares2212
Hi Marshalle, I used open california during some courses at wageningen university, Netherlands. It was amazing to work on very high spatial and temporal resolution images. I am looking for doing my internship in your company. Is that possible?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@alfares2212 Yes! We do have internships; send an email to jobs@planet.com
Gregory Lemieux@gregorylemieux · Senior R&D Engineer
Is Planet Labs interested in developing its capabilities to monitor debris or more broadly offer a space situational awareness service?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@gregorylemieux Great question: we've considered that and may do it in future.
Justin Saunders@justin_saunders · international GIS and remote sensing
Hi Will, what overlap are you getting on your images. can we generate a decent DTM from them?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@justin_saunders 5-10% as we image a strip. DTM: yes, in principle, but it's not our main purpose right now.
Justin Saunders@justin_saunders · international GIS and remote sensing
@wsm1 I guess that over time you will have so many images that we could generate a 3-5m DTM for the globe automatically!
Zack Wexler-Beron@zackwb · Customer Service Manager @ Chime
I hear Planet Labs, like so many other great companies, hatched out of a garage. When starting Planet, would you say the people you lived with at the time were a great influence or THE greatest influence on your life? Currently, what is Planet Lab's greatest challenge?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@zackwb Absolutely. Don't they say you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with... Greatest challenge: massive system complexity.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
What has most surprised you about founding your own company?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@ems_hodge That physics is the best training. And, also, it's lonely at the top.
Niv Dror@nivo0o0 · VC at Shrug Capital
Hey Will! Thanks for joining us! :) Would you say SpaceX's recent string of successes in landing the Falcon 9 changes (accelerates) how Planet Labs will do business? And would you say launch frequency would increase / cost to get to orbit decrease sooner than people may have expected?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@nivo0o0 Yes -- more launches and lower cost launches help. LAunch costs have stayed ~flat for the last 40 years, and SpaceX brought US launch costs down to similar to international rates (similar yto that of the Russians/Chinese/Indians etc). However, with reusable rockets they could bring the costs down further, which would be huge.
Thomas Mudway@thomas_mudway · PhD student, McMaster University
Hi Will, Great to see how fast planet labs is progressing, you've made tremendous strides in rapid imaging and I'm sure its going to be a fantastic help to many people in the future. Privacy and security are becoming big topics in the international stage as of late. While fast-updating satellite photography is incredibly beneficial in many areas, some people may be concerned about such regular images of their property being collected. Does PL have systems in place that help alleviate these concerns?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@thomas_mudway YEs, the system we have in place is called our resolution. Our images are 3-5m in resolution -- so you can't see a person or read a numberplate. This alleviates most of the concerns. With drones you can get super high resolution and see things like that. With satellites you just can't. Which is why it became international law that any nation can take a picture of any other from space, but that is not true for air flight.
Thomas Mudway@thomas_mudway · PhD student, McMaster University
@wsm1 Wow, didnt know that about international law. 3-5m resolution definitely helps a lot for keeping people safe, do you think that higher resolution cameras are something that non-military satellites will have in the future? That'd likely require a lot of reworking of international law
Raluca Musaloiu-E.@ralucam · Software Engineer at Meraki
Could the doves be used as communication satellites for providing connectivity to remote areas (billions of people today don’t have internet access)? Is sending doves to Mars off limits? :)
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@ralucam Yes in principle, but that's not really their primary design. Same for Mars. We would love to help those things if we can make a difference.
Guy Nathan@nathan_dao
Hi Will, How is Planet Labs leveraging the Web to support the company's model - selling data to customers / organizations? What is Planet's vision for the Planet Web Platform (https://www.planet.com/apps/)?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@nathan_dao We want to build a place where anyone can come to access satellite imagery. To date satellite imagery has been the province of governments or large companies. At planet we have a vision to democratise access to it.
Thomas Mudway@thomas_mudway · PhD student, McMaster University
I noticed that each of your doves tweets when they achieve their desired orbit. Is this done automatically from base or do you do that manually?
Will Marshall@wsm1 · CEO, Planet Labs
@thomas_mudway It is done automatically as each Dove boots up after deployment. Our Mission Control and Software teams are a very creative group.
Thomas Mudway@thomas_mudway · PhD student, McMaster University
@wsm1 Thats adorable