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David Kofoed Wind is the co-founder and CEO of Eduflow and Peergrade, a service for providing peer-evaluations and peer-feedback integrated into an enablement platform. David did his Ph.D. at The Technical University of Denmark with a focus on machine learning, data science, and educational technology and previously worked as a software developer for cBrain, Edlund A/S and at CERN.

We discuss how Peergrade was founded, the transition to Eduflow, lessons in pragmatic product management, and David’s personal challenge which led to founding a company.

Check out Eduflow here: https://eduflow.com

Connect with David on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/utdiscant/

Transcript powered by HappyScribe

Welcome back. It’s another episode of the DiscoPosse Podcast. My name is Eric Wright. I’m gonna be your host. This is a really great chat with David Wind for fear of really poorly butchering his name, I’m going to say he’s David Kofoed Wind. He was very kind enough to walk me through the pronunciation. And David is a fantastic human. He’s a founder, part of the co-founding team of EduFlow, and also a professor and really has a great history on what he brings to the educational world around his work with Peergrade and EduFlow. Tons of startup lessons, tons of lessons in how to build a good educational platform. So this is a founder’s rich pool of lessons.

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Hello, my name is David and I’m the CEO of EduFlow and you’re listening to the DiscoPosse Podcast.

I’m really, really enjoying in advance this discussion because this is a passionate area that I’ve really enjoyed a lot of work in around education and collaboration and creating engaging, collaborative ways to help people learn and advance their skills. So when the name EduFlow came up, and I looked at what you and the team are doing. It was like, all right, this is literally the platform and the concept that I’ve been waiting for, for a long time. And I’m only saddened by the fact that I only just recently learned about you. So, David, if you want to give a quick background for folks that are new to you, let’s talk about your story, who you are, and then we’ll get into the EduFlow story and the value. It’s really, really compelling for me.

Yeah. So I think I’ll try to see if I can wrap it all together in one coherent piece. Right. So who am I? Is kind of the start, right? So I’m David, as I said, right? Today, I’m the co-founder of a company, but this whole thing kind of started as I was a programmer. I was one of those kids who started the program when I was little. I was thinking about this the other day. I think I launched my first product or app when I was in 8th grade. So I’ve been, like, 13 years old or something. I built like, a skateboarding website or something.

Oh, wow.

It totally broke. Like, I had no idea about security or anything. All the passwords got leaked or something, but it was a good way to get my hands dirty. I had a sponsor that sponsored a pair of shoes, and it was really cool. So I’ve always been a coder, basically. And then I went to University. I studied math. I did a PhD in computer science. And then during my PhD, I got a chance to teach my own course. And I always loved teaching. And I probably also loved teaching more than researching. I found out during my PhD I wasn’t really good at research, but I had this course, and it was about big data, and everybody apparently loves big data. So I thought I would have 30 students, but I got 150 enrollments the first time, and that was cool. But it was also a lot more than I had planned for. So I had this course summary where it’s like, okay, weekly written assignments solve all these big problems. And then you did back at the envelope of math. When you see, okay, 150 students, weekly assignments, it’s like at least 40 hours a week upgrading. Does not make any sense, right? So I thought, okay, what can I do? And I’d heard about this idea of peer review before Costaro had these courses with peer review. So I thought, okay, maybe I can get the students to grade each other, and then I save some time and they can also learn something. So that’s what I did. I sat down aside of programming, as you always do when you’re a programmer, and thought, I can build this in a weekend, it won’t be too bad. And here I am, seven years later, I’m still working on it, but I started cooking up this peer review product, basically to help solve this problem. And then what happened was that my supervisor thought it was really cool. And he was like an entrepreneurial kind of guy. And he said, you should sell this to somebody. You should sell it to the Department. And it didn’t really make any sense, right? I was just a PhD student. I was doing this kind of at work, and it wasn’t a product. It was more use for me. But he kind of pulled me to the Department heads office and said, David’s going to sell you something.

And I was like, I built this thing called Peergrade, and you can do this and that. And the department head was pretty skeptical, to say the least. And he’s just like, oh, what does it cost them? $1,000 per calls? He just looked at me really scary. And then I said, okay, but then I won’t take any teaching assistance because I have the product. This would be enough. And he’s like, wow, that sounds like a good deal, because the teaching assistant is more expensive than $1,000. So I sold a product now that I didn’t have, and I didn’t have a company. And now I had no CA’s as well. So I kind of went back to my office, and then I called, well, I had one CA left there. I think I got one left. So I called my old high school friend and said, I messed up. I promised to sell something that I haven’t built your program as well. Can you come and help me? You can be my one CA, but just call this thing with me. And then I’ll run the course alone. And that’s how we started back in the day with PeerGrade. So we sat down, we built this peer Review, and we sold the first license to my own department. And then it became a company. We had to make a company to send the first invoice. So the whole story of Eduflow starts with another product, actually.

Well, that’s the interesting thing that you’ve literally given, like, every Silicon Valley story, right? Is that I had a concept. I found a prospective customer. You sold on the idea. They liked it so much that they wanted to buy it right there. And then you go hunting down. And the funny thing is, you had a chief revenue officer who was just basically saying, hey, David, come over here. He’s going to sell you something.

There’s so many incidents that are so random that you can’t bank on it. It just has to happen on its own at some point, right? And in this case, it was like, I’ve seen Cassera do Peer Reviews. I worked on some algorithm a year earlier that I could use for this. I was doing a PhD and I had this problem on my own. I had my old friend, I had a supervisor who was super easy going with entrepreneurship. All of these things combined made this happen. Right. But if any of those things didn’t work, it wouldn’t have happened. Right. So it’s kind of crazy how many random accidents have to happen at the same time for anything to work out. Right. But that’s what most companies are born, I guess you solve your own problem at the right time, at the right place, and then it becomes bigger than you think you go.

Yeah, I think part of the thing that we have as a challenge in telling the stories of startups is often the compression of the time frame. And there are sort of heroic moments that occur like weekends of coding. And like you hear about many, many companies that they’ll have a hackathon and it becomes what it will be, the landmark product for them. Usually it’s just this idea like we’ve got this brand new thing we want to develop. And so they hack it and they code it together really quickly. Then they solidify it and all of a sudden they realize it was built generally because you understood there was a problem that existed. When the reverse happens where you say, I’m going to take a blank slate of paper and I’m going to write down an idea and I’m going to code something towards that idea. It’s very different than you having true lived experience and an immediate problem. So the speed that you had to move at was abnormal just because of that. But it’s really a fantastic story and that’s why I love the background. Now, your own ability to influence what the product is.

That’s where I think is also interesting for folks that you were an instructor, you were a student. So you really understood both sides of it. When you talk to other founders and other folks that are thinking of developing a product, that’s actually a bit of a rarity. Do you find that yourself, like when you talk to other founders or other people that are in the tech space, that the fact that you really had direct experience, that helped a lot, probably in the ability to develop quickly.

Yeah, it totally does. Right. It doesn’t only have upside. Right. It’s massively helpful to be your own customer initially because you don’t have to talk to anybody else. The first 20 features you build, just build whatever you would like to have in the product and then you have one customer that you’re really building for who is yourself. And it makes iterating extremely fast and communication is always tricky, right. When you have an idea in your head and you have to get it in somebody else’s head, that can be complicated. But you don’t have to do that at the beginning if you are the customer as well, you can just take your idea and code it. Plus we had our students, right. So the first four months, five months of Peergrade’s live, we met them every Tuesday for 4 hours. Right. And they would line up outside our office and next to me and just give feedback and tell me how much it sucks or whatever. And then we would fix it and we would see all these weird box. It helped a lot. The challenge is if you’re very weird, then you’re building for an audience of only you. Maybe you are so rare, but the world is big. It’s unusual that you are so rare. Right. But that is the challenge that you could be building for a very niche audience to just build for yourself.

You really highlight an important piece there that getting feedback. So that feedback loop in iteration and feature development, you sort of had a captive audience because they were obviously engaged in it. Right. They had little choice because you had little choice. This is the only way you could host 150 students at once.

And they had even less. Right. I just forced it on them. They’re like, now you’re going to miss this whether you like it or not. This is how I run this course. You have to deal with it.

Well, David, the one thing that I think of, however many University profits that I’ve bumped into, your interactive process is beautiful because it’s so much better. You built this for the benefit of the students to be able to let them do what they could do in a large cohort versus a lot of I find a lot of professors, their whole goal is to write their own text and then they can make it mandatory and charge $180 for the text so that they’ve always got 30 brand new customers every semester. Everything about your approach to it was meant to make their experience better and coincidentally make your experience better. And that in itself, too, is a rarity that most folks just don’t have the ability to change the flow of engagement so well.

I think that’s one of the things that made Peergrade work is, there is a lot of these tech products for education. They only win on one of the sites. Either they help the teacher or they help the students. But then often the trade off is kind of a reverse on the other side. What’s kind of magical, not about peer grading itself, but about peer feedback as a concept is that, it has benefits on both sides. It’s not perfect for students. It’s not perfect for instructors. But it’s pretty good for both parties. And that’s quite magical, I think. And you would see people coming for both reasons, right? You would see some instructors saying, I don’t care, I’ll spend a lot more time. But I really think the learning benefits here are big. And you would have some who snuck up after the worship said, I love this. I don’t have to grade anymore. Right. They were just there for their own benefit, but still the students will learn something, right? So it has the disk of magic doubleness to it. I think.

As an educational content creator, how did it shape your ability to create new curriculum, new content more rapidly? And I say more effectively. That’s really the goal. I’ve created online courses then, you know, of course, it seems like it’s okay when I put it down on video. And then when you go through the peer review process, that’s when you find like, yeah, we have the curse of knowledge, especially as an instructor, it’s difficult sometimes to step back versus that when you have that highly engaged peer review process, it gives you a lot of checkpoints in which you can say like, oh, yeah, I moved past the concept too quickly, or I spent too long on one concept. Did you obviously felt the benefit. And how did you know that this was going to be worth building?

I didn’t know it was going to help in learning, honestly. I was at PhD in math, right. I knew it was going to help with my grading because that was kind of obvious. I could just decide not to grade anything. And there was like 40 hours a week saved that’s a lot of time. And I haven’t read any papers about the pedagogical, psychology or whatever. That happened later when I started interacting with the students and figure out, okay, it works for grading optimization. Now, how do we make it learning effective as well? Some of the things that they kind of come before you even touch the student side. Right? Because you’re like, okay, we have to have them greet each other. Well, how? What criteria are we going to give them? I guess we have to develop some kind of criteria. Oh, you learn something. It’s called a rubric. Then what do we do with what kind of rubric do we build? And then you talk to the students and you say, I’m going to have you do a peer review. And they say, we’re not doing that. And you’re like, oh, no, why not? We don’t trust each other. Okay, what do we do then? What about so we developed this feature earlier on called Flagging, where if the students got feedback they didn’t trust or like, or accept or whatever, they could click a flag and then I would review it. That was kind of like a safety valve for them. But that also gave all sorts of benefits where we would have interactions about all the feedback. That was confusing. We build in such something where, like, if I give you feedback, then you gave me feedback on my feedback with feedback, reflections, and all of these things kind of came as we started running the courses and started seeing, okay, this is where they get annoyed. This is where it stops working. How do we fix it? And then we kind of pile different features on top to make it a good experience. So that all came as we were running it, which I think was super interesting. It’s a good phase, I think, in the product as well. It’s very interesting, like talking to students face to face every day. I kind of missed that, actually.

Yeah, I think that’s really the advantage when you’re doing product development that a lot of traditional engineers start to forget is the interactivity is what really speeds the process. It ensures that you’re actually developing towards something that, you know, be used. And it’s also just great, like to hear real direct, honest feedback, even positive or negative for you. Like, hey, I’ve got this amazing feature. I spent all the time coding it, and it’s beautiful. And we’ve introduced 17 new JavaScript frameworks to make it a really neat user flow. And then you talk to the user and they’re like, no, I would never do that. That’s not the way I use the product. And a very common thing I see is then sort of the engineering team or product management, if not engaged, interactive will be like, well, you’re using it wrong. I know I’m building the product. Only I can know this product as well. You’re like, no, why are the users so dumb? Exactly why do they keep using this product the incorrect way? I always quote that sort of Steve Jobs thing where the Apple when the antenna problem.

They call it antenna gates. And this whole thing is that you’re holding the phone wrong. I’m like, well, I don’t think I agree with that. A lot of people are holding it wrong.

We could probably hold kick it wrong as well. There’s ways to best use the product, for sure.

Yeah, because I was doing some work myself around creating, engaging and mentoring with a lot of folks. I mentor people, and then I would talk to other people who are doing mentoring. And I would often say, like, how do you find the way that you best match with somebody who would be a good mentee or mentor? And it was funny. The more I did research on it real quick research, not super formal. I would say they look for the skill sets, they look for their current role. Is it something that I would like, you ideally want somebody who’s done the thing you would like to do and help them guide you towards it. But the most common features that made it a good relationship and a good outcome was common hobbies, other shared interests, other historical things, geolocation. There’s a lot of things that increased the chances of a successful mentoring outcome. And so I actually built this app that was really mostly a dating app that in the end you didn’t get a date, you got a mentor. And using all these criteria, it was like, this is fantastic. I could actually match people up very beautifully.

And so I built this thing, and I had a couple of other quick features that I was thinking would be important at the moment that I shared it with somebody. They’re like, I need these three things. And they never clicked on the tab that I thought would be, like, spectacular. You get to go beautiful dashboard, and you can see this information. They used it anecdotally much differently than I thought the data would drive. So it was a good lesson. And then I realized as a solo non-coder that I was in real trouble. So I sort of abandoned the project, unfortunately. But it was a good experience.

Yeah. And I owe you the rest of the story. Right. So we got to the point where Peergrade is up and running. Then it became a real company. Right. We found our third co-founder, Simon, because I’m a mathematician, he’s a physicist, and we can build things so we can’t make them nice. So Simon is a designer, and he kind of came in and helped us. Then we went down the classical startup path, right. We raised some capital from some angel investors. We went to Y Combinator in San Francisco, and that was a physical thing. And then we raised some more money and kind of hired a team and so on. And Peergrade worked kind of, well, it was growing. It still grows today. But I think after was it like three or four years. We started to see the limitations to the product in the market that we are product team. We like building products. We like coding. We like that kind of we can sell our own product, but we’re not driven as a sales culture or whatever. And peer grading software was not a big demand in the market overall. There was some demand, but not enough. So we would have to go and create demand everywhere. It’s like, hey, you need to do peer feedback. And then when we convince them of that, then we could start selling them feedback software. But there wasn’t even really a need. So that was one part of what happened. And then people really loved the product, but they just kind of wanted a little bit more than what we had. Like, oh, you can do peer feedback. What about teacher feedback? What about self reviews? What about other forms of peer feedback? And what about submitting again and all these things? And we’re like, yeah, I guess so. We kind of tried to make it work, but it was already too late. Period was getting a little bit technically complicated at that point. So we sat down in the summer house in 19, I think, and said, okay, what should we do? What about starting over? And then I think it was April 19, and we came up with the name a couple of days later, and we had zero lines of code again. And we said, okay, we’re building Peergrade if we had all the knowledge we have now, we would start over.

So basically EduFlow started as Peergrade 2.0. It’s just like, let’s build it again, slightly more flexible, better codebase. And then over the next year we realized a lot of things. But one thing we realized is that maybe we should do a better version of period, maybe we should build something different. But we rethink things a little bit more and that’s what eventually became Eduflow. So EduFlow is a learning platform called it has many names, right. But it’s a way to run online courses. And where we differ from the 9 million other online course tools is that it’s a way to run online courses that are very active and very collaborative. And that’s where the story is important. Right. Because everybody will say they build active and collaborative and social learning experiences. But we have a whole product just about collaborative feedback that we took as foundation for Eduflow. So everything you could do in Pivot, you can also do an Eduflow. So there’s a lot of functionality that is inherent to social, collaborative and active in there. So the courses that people run in Eduflow today that you can’t run anywhere else are the courses that are much more than videos and quizzes. Basically. I think that’s a huge differentiator too. That the thing we’ve got a lot of these days. I’m a user of a few platforms myself, right. Is this purely like video hosting and flow, of course. And purely in the like, getting from beginning to end chopping, measuring, maybe a couple of surveys in the middle. But most of the collaboration is just comments, which is not actually collaborative. It’s like when people always tell me, they said, like I said, I’ve got too many meetings. They said, well you like collaboration so you must enjoy it. I said, I like collaboration, I don’t like meetings. And that’s the difference between comments and collaborative feedback. Collaborative feedback allows you to take that comment and comment on the comments and then take that and feed it back into a total course. Like there are a lot of things that go beyond just someone writing. Good module really fast. I struggled with it, you get those. So that’s interesting. But then there’s no carry on.

And that’s what we saw. Right. So we’re looking at all the competitors and seeing what are they saying on their landing pages. And 50% of them say we have peer feedback functionality and what they have is people can submit something, which means they can upload a file and then you see a list of all the files in the course and then for each file there’s a comment feed like on Facebook where you can comment and people write awesome exclamation mark. That’s peer feedback in their world. For us that’s like nothing like peer feedback needs so much. You need rubrics, you need careful allocation of who’s giving feedback to the room. You need feedback on the feedback you need flagging. There’s tons of things you need to take care of if you want peer feedback to work. And that’s the key, I think. Peergrade was complicated because there’s a lot of things you need to do to make peer feedback even work. If you don’t do all the things, you’ll get nothing. You’ll have no effects. And if you do all the things, then it suddenly starts magically working. And that’s I think another kind of underlying thing in EduFlow is that the learning processes you build and can build in EduFlow are very scaffold and very structured.

It’s not just like come and take what you want and go here and there. It’s very carefully, like you do this. What you do here is then fed into this other activity where you then see something, but it depends on what you did in this third activity, what you’ll see. And you can create these very custom learning experiences that it requires a little bit of like almost like programming. Right. But like setting up the flow on the instructor side. But then the learning experience for the learners will be like personal and very interesting. So that’s where we try to differ. But the challenges on the landing pages, we all say we could do everything right. So you have to really get in to the product and start playing with it before you really see the differences I think.

I would say that EduFlow is to online course hosting what Salesforce is to Outlook contact management. So while there are notes features in my local contact view, it’s not collaborative, it doesn’t get better. It doesn’t let me take that thing and do another thing with it, because you can drive flow through feedback, because you can create that customizable flow and then engagement. At our true rubric of measurement, it is really head and shoulders above what these other things do, which is purely course hosting, like video hosting. Like I said, it’s fantastic. There’s a lot of folks that’s maybe all they need. But if you truly are creating corporate enablement, even sales enablement, like true enablement content versus lecture content.

I think that’s super interesting. That’s very important. Right. Because and that’s also why no product is for everybody. Right. There’s a ton of people who are using the thing they want to do is they want to sell a calls, they want to make some money on Twitter by selling a course. If that’s your goal, I don’t think it’s a bad idea necessarily to do a video course, because if people pay for the course, whether they complete it and whether they learn something will not make you richer. Essential, right. Of course, it will be good if they like the course and they’ll share it. But people buy houses for non-obvious reasons sometimes. It’s not always trivial to figure it out. Right. And another example is Coursera. Right. The way they make money, if they sell the certificate at the end of the course, if nobody completes the course, they don’t make any money on certificates. So if you look at Coursera’s paid courses, there’s no peer review. Why? Because peer review is hard. Right. You have to write something. It’s very effective for learning. But learning is also hard. Right. So if your business model is getting people through the course, you don’t necessarily want to make it hard. If your business model is built on getting people to learn something, well, then the causes might have to be hard. And that’s why I think we have fewer customers in the category where people are selling online growth marketing courses or whatever on Twitter. And we have more customers in internal company trading. So, for example, Google is one of our customers, maybe the biggest customer. And what’s interesting about Google is when we talk to them a while ago, I asked them, why did you buy Peergrade and ask you for, like, what’s going on here? When they bought into it a long time ago, we were basically a school product, and I didn’t get it. And they said, that’s exactly why we liked it, because you guys, everything else we look at is like corporate training software built by corporate training people, and they don’t really get it. But you came from education. You came from a place where you had rubrics and you had all of this. Because in a University, you don’t want students to complete the course. You want them to learn. Right. As a Professor, I’m okay with stating half the students, if they don’t know anything, it’s fine. Right. So the incentives are different, and I think we cater more to the community of people where they actually have to learn something. So process you can build an edge of law can be really hard. It’s not for everybody, right?

No. And I think that’s the best thing you can do as a founder as well as immediately disqualify folks that seem like they could be customers but will take you down a very different path. And understanding who your real customer persona is. Google would be in hindsight. Now, it’s like they’re obviously a great fit. They’re dominantly, well-educated engineers. They’ve been through that system, so they would map to it very beautifully, and they would understand the value of that. And the funny thing is, if you thought, I’m going to go to somebody to sell them, Google would almost seem like the last one. Like they’re filled with millions of hundreds of thousands of PhDs. Wouldn’t they just have built this themselves? But for them, it’s not their core focus. They don’t want to build an educational product. They want to build products that will drive revenue in other ways. So it actually is a perfect pairing. So Congratulations on that customer, because they will be just by scale and capability. A really fantastic way to get into the industry.

Yes. We love working with them as well. Just really nice people, actually.

And this is where it’s interesting, too, this idea of customization, I think I mentioned sort of the Salesforce as a comparative. Right. I’ve even called Salesforce for a couple of small, like, say, real estate companies. There’s folks that I was helping out years ago, and they said, I need a good CRM. Well, I would call Salesforce and say I need to get set up to walk them through it. And they would say, no, you cannot do that. We need to interview them. And what was interesting about the onboarding process was they really wanted to qualify their customer. So I’m interested in your team, David. When somebody does come to Eduflow, what is that onboarding process look like?

Yeah. So we actually have two types of customers. We have self-service and we have premium customers. We’re a small team, and I don’t think we’ll want to be a big team. We don’t mind being bigger, but we don’t want to be big. So I don’t like many teams, honestly. I like working with good people, but I don’t want to have middle managers. Then I know I’m fucked it up. Right, exactly. I like working with the people directly. Right. And to stay small and grow, you have to do things at scale. And self-service is part of that. Right. So we have a self-service component to the product where people just sign up and use it. The last customer I think I saw on Stripe was like a Romanian Church. Never thought about that. Right. And never talked to them. They just found out they could use it and signed up. But then we have the premium customers and those who qualify more, we talk to them. And this is also where I actually turn down people regularly. I try to be very honest on a sales call. If I can hear they’re looking for something we’re not, I’ll recommend a competitor because that’s much better than trying to win a deal we’ll lose eventually anyways. So talking about, like picking your customers. Right. One of the features that we don’t have that everybody thinks we should have is payments. You cannot pay for a course in Eduflow because of the thing I said before. Right. That the people who charge for their courses generally don’t have the right incentives. You can still do it. Right. But you have to make an integration with another tool and then you can charge with the other tool and then enroll in Eduflow. But we know that once we start going down that path of charging people for courses, then we become a marketing tool and not a learning tool like many of our competitors are doing that they have a ton of features around giving coupons and sending out grip email campaigns. And it’s not really related to the learning, which is what we care about. But yeah, we talk to the customers in these early calls to figure out what do they want to do? How can we help them do it? If they want to do something we’re not, recommend them to go somewhere else. If they are doing something with us, then they should start. And we try to get people in small and grow with us. Often people come to us and say, okay, I think according to our plans, we’ll have 10,000 learners in a year, but right now we have none. And then it’s perfect.

Start with the free plan, set up your courses and start growing. And if you hit 10,000 learners, here’s the price you’re going to see at that point. But don’t talk about it. Don’t do that right now. You don’t need to pay us money before you have real scale. And for us, it’s fine. Because if they already started building their courses in our product and they start growing, then comes kind of complicated for them to get out again. So it’s easier for us to just say, like, we have a free product, go test it, go play with it. It’s the way to have a small sales team and have a lot of customers is to make the customers able to look at the product themselves.

Well, in looking at your tiers of the platform, you actually do something, which is fantastic. And I would use it to measure most of the people that have the bronze, silver, gold type of tiering. Your free platform has very few limits, almost no limitations other than just like the amount of course content, like storage wise. But you’re not limiting users, students, anything. And it’s funny that as you move into the paid platform, then you begin to sort of like segment it a little bit more. So I love that. And it’s kind of like the way that when somebody won’t post any pricing, guilty as charged. Right. I work for a company and we didn’t post pricing publicly because there was a nurturing process to understand the customer story. And so it was. But I sort of joke when I want to buy a platform or test a platform out, and they had this real difficult sign-on process, they want to interview you. They don’t have pricing. They say, look, I can tell you how much it costs to send this to Space. I can go to SpaceX.com/rideshare and I can find out exactly what it costs for it to send that. And maybe I want to add a couple of stuffed cats. I know how big they are. I can send them to Space, and it cost me exactly what it says on the website. So if you’re a goofy sass product, doesn’t have public pricing, I’ve got a question. What you’re doing in this onboarding process.

It’s something we think a lot about. Right. And I think the bad news is that it would probably benefit us, at least in the short term, to not have pricing. Because the premium plans that we have are significantly more expensive than our self service plans. And then when people see the premium pricing, they’re like, Whoa. I thought, but pro is so cheap. Why is premium so expensive? And like, I shouldn’t have shown them the pro pricing. So I think we could win in the short term by not showing any pricing. But I think personally, I never touch a product that doesn’t have public pricing. And that’s because I’m a technical co-founder for a small company. I’m the persona that also reads news. And these kind of people were like, I’m allergic to sales people. I do not want to talk to them. If I can’t buy self-service, I’m not doing it. Not everybody is like me, right? Google is not like me. They take calls. They have security processes and whatever. But long term, I think the way to dominate and win a market like this, where we have a list of competitors in our Notion database, it’s like two other products in there, right? There’s ton of competitors. The way to win here is to do something different. And one of the things we’re able to do is that we have a self-service product that people can actually start using on their own. So we will become the entry-level product will become your first learning platform for internal training. We won’t be the biggest one. We won’t be in SAP competitors necessarily, but people will when they’re small, when there are 50 people, they don’t need SAP yet. They need to run onboarding codes, for example. And then they’ll be like us, and they’ll buy the product that fits them, the self-service product with public pricing. And then when there are 100 people or 1,000 people, they’re already in it to flow. They’re already used if they’re happy. So they won’t ever go to SAP. Right? That’s kind of the goal. And I think it can be a winning strategy. Paul Graham has a good essay about being the entry-level product in your category. And that’s basically our approach, right. Premium entry-level pricing. We still make most of our money on the premium customers, but a lot of those premium customers start as small customers, right? They start on their own, they start free, they do $20 a month, and then suddenly, boom, they’re premium customer.

So Paul Graham, many of his essays stand out. And actually that’s one of the ones is this concept of and it’s led really to a lot of people that call the topic of value pricing, and you’re getting this touchless self service experience. And so it’s actually very smart to price it according to quick entry. And then the moment you go to this next level, HubSpot is a great example. They do the same thing. Now, I won’t quote their numbers because the pricing may change but it’s something like $20 a month, $40 a month, $1250 a month. The moment you have a certain trigger. And it’s either, like, number of contacts, type of email, like adding if, then else flow into your email nurtures, you immediately move to this massive price bump. But if you’re using the free or the lower tier product already and you’re really involved in it and you’re using the adjacent products, you start to say, well, what’s the value I’m getting from this? Like, well, I’m selling product. I’m getting customers. Then you attach the value to the price.

We’re using. Right. I love it. We use hubspot of course. It was easy to start when we didn’t have any money when we were young and when we needed our first CRM, we didn’t want to go with Salesforce. We had to call them. I actually did call them. And then we’re like, oh, but HubSpot is kind of the same, and it’s free. Let’s do HubSpot. And here we are. We’re still in HubSpot, right? Seven years later.

That’s it. That ability to do that is fantastic. And I think if you’re looking for just, like, mass market, quick turn, like you said, if somebody wants to sell courses on how to do amateur photography, how to do like, I have a simple course on how to do effective product demos. It’s very fixed. It comes with an ebook at the end. I have an interactive thing, but it’s like I set up a Zoom call every month. So it’s very different. But it’s fixed. It’s simple. You consume at your pace. There’s nothing more to it. I honestly don’t want feedback other than I liked the course or I didn’t like the course. And the number of people that buy it is my greatest feedback because I don’t want to really build a truly interactive educational experience. It’s meant to be like, I’ve got a couple of things that it’s basically a webinar that I’ve cut into slices so that you don’t have to watch a two and a half hour webinar and people like it. And it’s great. So fixed value, fixed price, that’s all that I need. But the moment that I want to, I look at corporate enablement products all the time and what they do.

And David, you know this pain, right? If they just take those platforms and then even worse, they give them these awful 1990 pictures of people sitting around tables and pointing at things. They’ve taken the worst clip arts. And then a little pop up comes over, click here. And they force you to interact with it. But it’s more for, like, compliance training and human resources stuff. Like legal and compliance stuff. That’s what drives that. They don’t care about someone actually being involved in the enabled as a part of it. They’re just like, make sure they take the anti-money laundering training every year. You’re required by law to do it.

Yeah. And that’s one of the challenges, right. A lot of the people who come to us to look at our product, they come with an Excel sheet in their hand and say, like, Dear Eduflow, we have investigated the range of products, and you’re one of our top whatever. Can you please fill out this short Excel sheet? And then I open it. It’s like 250 rows of requirements. And then I said, oh, there’s a column called Priority. Oh, it’s all high priority then. Never mind. So then I have like a 250 row high priority requirements where it’s very important that we can do all these insane things. You wonder, like, how do they do this again? It’s probably like they send it out to everybody. Everybody can add their own requirements and then they just sum it up and they generate this massive list. And then that’s how they buy. Like, how many points do you get in a massive requirement dark? It’s a terrible way to buy products, right? It will make everybody kind of mad. Nobody will be super angry, but nobody will be really excited. Right? And the way for us around that is if they’re already using our product, if they already know the value it brings, then the requirement darkware looks slightly different when it ends up in our hands of density, because they know now what they should be asking about, not all the other things. Right? So I hate the conversations that start with that doc, because just know, nobody’s going to win. Nobody’s going to be happy at the end of this.

I’ve gone through RFP processes in so many places and it’s like even just competitive. Like, how are you different than X? Right? And so what do you do? We do exactly the same thing that every company does. You hand them a feature matrix with Harvey balls, you’re on the left with all full Harvey balls and one, three quarter Harvey ball because you don’t want to be arrogant. And then all of them are like, one quarter Harvey ball. And then I tell people, when I do competitive training for my own company said, you know that if you just move the logos and switch them, that’s what the competitor will say. And they can say it because they’re going to box us out with a word they use in the sentence.

And it seems like non-meaningful things, like, great support we have that, the other don’t, like meaningful pricing. What does it even mean? Right? They’ll make up things that don’t exist or like they’ll just have vague terms like the best user experience. Well, that’s us and not the others. It’s like totally opinionated stuff. And I hate those. We don’t have any of those matrixes because I just don’t like them. That’s the problem.

Well, that’s it. It unfortunately becomes, especially when you get to a true RFP, the measurement, the questions become very vanilla. The responses become very vanilla. You try to nuance words so that will isolate you as being differentiated. But in the end, it isn’t. The only advantage that those things get is quite often it gets rid of some of the marketing language. We try to hammer it in there because that’s how we differentiate by messaging. And you’re like, no, use the bloody product, use the product and you’ll see the differentiation. And that’s what you’re hoping to get to. This whole pre-qualification process is sad that we still have to go through it.

Well, I’ve started saying no unless they want to talk to me. So if they sent over a doc, I say, like I looked at the doc for five minutes, it looks kind of fine. Are you willing to take an hour on the phone with me and figure out what’s actually important here and see a demo of the product? If you’re not going to do that, I’m not going to fill out your 250 row Excel sheet because then you just send it out to it’s easy for them to just send it out to 100 vendors rather than they hope they get the work done for them.

Now talk about meaningful work and stuff that has a greater impact. Your description of when you went from this idea of what can I do around peer measurement, we’ve got this great product, we’ve got a company, we’ve got a successful company that’s running. Then you say, we want to create what would become Eduflow, wiping the slate and beginning from zero. Did you think that you would do that? And what are the real sort of both advantages and disadvantages to you taking that approach?

It’s very hard, right. I think there are some easy wins. Right. You can start over on the code base and you can delete my old code. When I was programming, I didn’t know a lot. Right. So that goes away. That’s nice. You get a lot of customer feedback, customers, data, all of these things that you have a much clearer picture because when I started, right in Peergrade, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know it was going to be a product. So I didn’t even have a table of users because it was just for me. Right. So I didn’t even need to log in. If you have this happenstance beginning, it evolves to be some kind of Frankenstein. Right. And then when you start over and you know, we already have hundreds of customers and so on, you can paint a much more clear picture of the end. So the sign wires, it just becomes a lot more coherent. The big problem is that things take time. I think what most entrepreneurs do wrong is that they stop too early. It really takes a long time to get something to work often. And if you just go for long enough, random things will happen once in a while that will just tell you forward and what we underestimated is how much momentum we had on Peergrade, right? So we’ve been going for three, four years. We’re like, things are going well, it’s growing. And we think, okay, we’ll build a better product, then it’s just accelerated even faster, right? So we spent a year building Eduflow from scratch and they were like, okay, now Eduflow is ready. Keep rate is still going up. And Eduflow row is just like, nothing is happening. And we’re like, yeah, we just invest a whole year and it’s much worse. It has to start from scratch again. We had to get momentum again. And then slowly it starts building up. And now age, of course, growing faster than Peergrade. But it took a while, right? It took a while to get the ball rolling because we’ve gotten to the point with Peergrade where people started writing academic papers about, we started getting mentioned in books people were writing and like, that takes a while, right. To get to the point where it’s such a household name. We have all Danish universities as customers. We have most Danish high schools as users or customers today. But they know us as Peergrade. We’re the Peergrade people. They are from Peergrade, right? The brand becomes so strong as well. So starting constraints is hard. But you can start with a bang, right? You can start with customers, you can start with revenue, with knowledge and a brand and an audience, right? So it is easier to start the second time, but also it will still take time, I think, yeah.

Even if I think it’s sort of the biggest example, if the founders of Google left Google and started another startup right now, the only thing they would get a lot of is investors, not customers. Even though we know what as a customer of Google services, I can get from it, what we do know is as an investor, you’ll probably make a gargantuan amount of money in ROI. There’s that level of trust. So like, as a founding team, people are like, yeah, these are the guys that brought us something that we know and we trust and it’s got this incredible market momentum. But as much as they love it, they’re always going to still wait before they buy the product or they license the product. They’ll watch. And it’s always funny, even in stuff that I’ve done in tech community stuff all the time. I started running sort of an online competition. We literally did a reality competition for IT architecture. And we took like twelve people and then narrowed it down and made it almost like an Ink Master. We called it Virtual Design Master. And I would go to everybody and say, like, they knew what I did as far as speaking engagements.

They knew how I engaged people and ran these small community groups. And so I had this fantastic thing. I had all of this recognition. I have all of this trust of this incredible peer network. And I said, what we need is we need sponsors to have prizes. And every single one said, this looks great. Love the idea. We’ll be in for season two. It won’t be a season two if there’s no season one. And I need prize money for season one. And so it was through grinding and scraping, even with that history that I could have brought to it, it was really, really interesting. So I love that you’ve highlighted that as a thing. Like even YouTubers, right? They could have a fantastically strong YouTube channel and following. And then they say, I’ve got another channel. Well, it starts from zero and it may tick up faster as they’ve got if they’ve got a huge fan base. But it’s more than zero friction to move people over to that thing. And that’s literally click and subscribe. That’s the simplest possible low friction thing you can have. You are bringing people into a different product that has different outcomes.

I see it over and over also in consumer rights. So recently there was a housewife. It’s a big thing, right? They really managed to drum up a lot of attention with the help of their investors and reason horrors and so on. And then people are like, this looks like it’s going to be massive. And then it took a while, but then the inner mechanics retention started really showing, right? And then like, oh, it didn’t actually work, but they got very last before people started training. And now it’s slowly dying, right. And you see this constantly with famous people, especially who launch products. They’ll get a lot of attention coming out the gate. They’ll get a lot of sign ups in the early days. And then when the PR is over, right? Then it’s just a slow ramp down to nothing because the chain is too high. Why the people just disappear. So I think if your retention is good and all of that, like PR and so on, can help a lot. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter. It will just take longer for you to die eventually. The more you get up in the beginning.

When you begin, how did you introduce measurement of success in product consumption?

Measurement of success? I don’t know, actually. So we’ve always been asked by people in the old days like, hey, so how do I know if Peergrad and Eduflow works? Do you have efficacy studies and so on? And I was always like, honestly, I was just like, first of all, it’s complicated to run an efficacy study on an educational product because maybe it’ll work for Mrs. Anderson in 6th grade in Ohio or whatever. And then one word for the next person. So that’s hard. You need real big intervention studies. Second of all, what if it doesn’t work? I don’t want to run some kind of third party unbiased study. And then they published that period made to go sucks, right? So I was like a little bit hesitant, even though I had a pretty good feeling about it to do anything. Then I started thinking more about it. And then when I started to see how complicated it would be to do an actual efficacy study, we decided to ignore it and say we don’t know better than the users. But if the instructors, if the teachers keep coming back and they keep using this product semester after semester, something is working, right? They know their classrooms and they’re busy. Right? There’s an opportunity cost using one intervention in their courses, right. Using peer review means they can’t do another thing. So if they keep using that, then surely there must be some value they’re getting eventually. And this is actually also by combinators internal tech startup advisors. Like just talk about user growth. If your users are growing, something is working. Don’t worry too much about efficacy studies. And that’s kind of how we landed on it. We’ve done some and it works. So it’s all good. But we didn’t go all in and trying to set up some official study. I think it would have helped with sales. Sometimes they would have liked some kind of cool looking white paper, but for us it didn’t matter too much. As long as people like this we were having yeah.

And I guess in some spaces it’s necessary. Especially large like enterprise products. They have to have the sort of like the Gartner and the Forester like economic impact, valuation study and stuff like that. But it’s way further down the road and very different target audience. It’s that big enterprise buyer, but they’re looking to affect the PNL for a business unit in their company versus you’ve got a better niche and an easily measure more easily measurable value. Just like I said, retention. If I can get retention, then that’s where we know that if people are still using it, we’re doing something right. And now we can dig in further on it.

I think also as a researcher mathematician, I’m also just like a skeptic of any simple answers, right? Like my wife is also researcher and she researches in complexity theory in like the humanities. But the common thing at home is it’s complicated, right? It’s always complicated. All these companies will try landing page with like better, whatever. No, like it’s not that simple. Nothing works that simple, right. If I send more code emails, but they’re worse still won’t get me more money, right? Or if I do my support tickets faster, that doesn’t lead to revenue growth in itself. It’s so complicated. And I think that’s my stance on everything, especially with our product. We’re like a training product. Of course, if you train your employees better, something good will come out of it at the end. But I have no possible way to connect the use of Eduflow to top-line revenue or something for corporate. I could try and I can make some numbers up in Excel. Right. But don’t trust it. Right. It doesn’t make any sense. And if our competitors are doing it, they’re just lying. Right. But I don’t really believe in those kinds of things.

Yeah. And it’s a really tricky thing, especially talking about the educated founders.


You’re a mathematician, a physicist, and a designer. You’re the most perfect sort of set of folks to put into a room and said, you’re going to come out of here with a product, and you know, it’s going to be all the things. You could just go back to Y Combinator every year probably, and create new products. I love that. The diversity and the strength of your own backgrounds really are.

That also ties into the curse of knowledge that you mentioned. Right. It has many sides to it. One is like the knowledge of things, but also this idea that as a statistician, I did machine learning and statistics. I know stats are fake. Right. Most statistics are just lies, and it means that I don’t trust them. But you have to remember that other people do. You can have this weird bias to not do things that work because you will see through it yourself. And I think that’s a trap sometimes to fall into not selling enough, not marketing enough, not talking big enough words because you wouldn’t fall for it. But most customers aren’t like you.

That is a tricky one, too, especially when you’re a technical founder. You’re already like, I know this is BS. I don’t want to say these things because it’s like, but I joked with somebody recently and I realized I should actually quote this. So my podcast happens to be the top 1% of all podcasts. And it was like three different platforms that kind of showed me the statistic. And like, okay, this is really cool. I could say I’m in the top 1%. Well, there’s 3.3 million podcasts. So I could be the bottom of that 1%. And there are hundreds of thousands of competitors who have me. But to most people, you just say, I have a podcast that’s in the top 1% of all podcasts. They’re like, holy moly!

Very effective marketing. Right. It’s good pitch, and that’s kind of the challenge. What does that even really mean? Like, what is it measured on? What do anybody even have those numbers? There’s surely some power law. There’s all these things underneath that. Once you really dig into it, all these numbers are kind of weird to think about. But on the surface level, because I told this not 1% thing to my wife, she’s like, Whoa, for people who don’t do math, it’s like these things just are very impressive on the surface. Right. But yeah, it’s very interesting how to use that effectively because never lie. Right. But always like, don’t undersell necessarily is also a good idea.

Yes. I often tell people even who are in product marketing and engineering. The best thing you could do is go through the writings of Daniel Conneman and Amos Tuberski, like the idea of prospect theory and understanding how these heuristics work. It can help to guide you on these things. I had a founder. He was really incredible, such an incredible knowledge that he brought stuff. But he was almost like people thought he was an absent minded professor. He just had no bother with speaking. He’s just like he’s always thinking. And when he didn’t speak, it was meaningful and loud. He’s Israelis. He was argumentative. And it was a really fun relationship. And I remembered at one point, someone would talk about the product, like, what’s game changing and unique way we solve this problem. And he would finally say, like, stop, stop. Did you have a lot of friends when you were in high school? And you’d be looking around going, oh, no, I’m in trouble. I don’t know what’s going on.

You’d say like, yes.

And you’d say, Was it because you were unique? And you be like, no. Then why do you use the word unique to describe our product? And he just like, caught what’s an actual thing you can describe about what we do that’s meaningful to somebody game changing, unique industry first. Like, all these superlatives are throwaways, however, on the front page of every marketing website, right?

Yeah, unique and so on. And I think it’s also wrapping a few threads together. Right. It’s around, like when you’re looking at a product, trying to sell a product, and there are some things that are very important that are very hard to measure. If one of them is user experience, is it a good user experience? And I get this question weekly, at least from a customer or potentially customers, like, how’s your user experience is it good? And I always answer, like, that’s a terrible question because all of my competitors and me, we will say we have the best user experience. You got to find a way to measure it somehow, right?


And I tell them, you can’t trust me. I’m just going to say we’re the best, but you have to find a way to figure it out. And my only way to give some form of validation of our user experience is that we have a self service product. It has to be good in user experience. Otherwise people won’t start using it without, like, talking to a salesperson, whereas our competitors, generally, you have to buy it before you can use it. So they don’t need to have a good user experience. Maybe that’s why you should trust us, but honestly, you got to try it yourself. So there’s something about these things that are hard to validate. You have to find a method of validating them anyways.

I often describe user experience is like a painted room. When you walk out of a room and then someone paints it, you walk back into it. It just is done, it feels done, it looks done. So user experience when it’s done right is non obvious. User experience when it’s done wrong, very obvious. And retention. And there are measurements that you can have as far as the way that they engage in the product. But yeah, it’s such an odd thing to get asked, but we get it because unfortunately, this is how we’re measured of the words we describe as a fantastic user experience. Low friction, self sign up, no sales calls, all of these things you say in the end, it’s the greatest thing that you can say. It’s here, it’s $0. Try it.

Yeah. See if you like. I guess if somebody could come up, maybe this is a hypothetical. Right. But if somebody come up with a way to measure user experience in a number of a product, then it would help the enterprise buyers a lot because they could put it in their requirement Doc and give it a weight and say User Experience 30% will use this novel method for calculating user experience in a good way and then base it on that. But because there is none, then the vendor has to tell you how good the user experience is. And would you ever believe that? Honestly, that makes no sense, right? That’s right. So they should either test it themselves or they should have like a third party company that will just go and test products and give them a score, one to five or something. But that’s so bad. Nobody can do it.

No. It’s such a dangerous amount of influence. Even NPS scores are like, I know we all have to do this as an industry, but it’s like the NPS score is such a false because you go to your existing happy customers. I need you to fill this NPS survey. You never go to a customer. That said, can you fill out an NPS survey for me.

Please go to D two and Captera and rate our product. Now we know you hate it. Sure. Everybody has 4.8 or whatever on D Two and keptera because you only ask your favorite customers to go there. Right. It makes no sense.

Yeah. And the interesting thing about feedback, too, is it’s middle of the road feedback is tough to get. And what’s interesting about your peer review, I know we don’t have much time left, but I want to start tap into this real quickly. You either get edges of feedback, ten out of ten or one out of ten would not use again. How do you get effective use of four to seven? Like that middle of the road feedback? And how does that affect your rubric inside the product yourself?

Yeah. I never use a scale that’s more than three levels myself because I’ve seen the one in ten problem on Imtb and so on. Everybody’s just I hate it. I love it. So personally, I always go for very small scales. I think one of the things we’ve done a lot of work on with Rubrics is to make every level meaningful. So it’s not numbers like, how good is this? One to five. It’s like, how good is it? And then the five levels will be very explanatory. Let’s say it’s a video pitch, right. That you’re giving feedback to. They’ll be three questions. One is about style, and then you’ll have how good was the style? And then they’ll be like, the style was bad. It had some of these problems. The style was okay, it had some of these, but not some of these. The style was great. It had all of these. So it makes it very clear for the reviewer, am I giving one, two or three here? It also makes it very clear for the receiver, like, okay, I got a two, to get a three, I need to do these things. So to tie actionable constructive feedback into the numerical ratings is the way to make really good assessment rubrics, I guess. And this is maybe even more important, like feedback. You don’t learn anything from getting feedback. You only learn if you do something with the feedback. You have to at least read it. You probably also have to think about it. And mostly you have to work with it. And I think that’s what most people forget, right. They go to school, they hand in their paper, they get it back, they put the feedback in the backpack, and they never look at it. Feedback wasted. Nobody learned anything from this. Maybe the teacher learned a lot, actually, because they wrote the feedback. That’s pretty hard. But they’re not supposed to be learning. Right. It’s the students. So feedback. Everybody thinks about how good the feedback is, but nobody thinks about how do we get people to learn from the feedback? People totally forget that part, which is kind of scary, actually. So almost all of the work we’ve done since then has been since we realized this. It’s like, how do we get people to use the feedback? Learn from it.

Yeah. It’s the difference between an UDA loop and confirmation bias. Right. You’re just like simply I read out of feedback what I want to get out of it, and then I shed it altogether. This is meant to support my current feeling. Well, David, thank you very much. This has really been great. And for folks, I would love to actually have you back and talk a bit more longer form. But the Y Combinator experience, because that’s an interesting one that I didn’t want to dabble in because it’s a very unique thing. And given that you went through it and your team make up is very interesting to me. A lot of people could learn from that. So we’d love to catch up again on future. But for folks that do want to get connected with you, of course, we’ll have links to Eduflow and make sure people can get access there. What’s the best way if they wanted to reach out and give some feedback?

Yeah, they can always find me on all the social media like Google my name I have my own name, nobody else has it. So you’ll find me on all the social media profiles and everything but Twitter, LinkedIn or write me an email to even a day to flow a car.

Perfect. Yeah, that’s how I ended up with DiscoPosse, people. At this point I don’t even have to explain it anymore. I feel like it’s just sort of stuck. It was a band that I was in and if you Google Eric Wright it’s like Eze his name was Eric Wright. There’s a very prominent US NFL football player named Eric Wright. There’s a Canadian author named Eric Wright. I didn’t stand a chance of getting social media anywhere for Eric Wright so my DiscoPosse bands was the one I picked as my domain name way back when. That’s as unique as I can get. Well, good stuff, David. Thank you very much. It’s been a real pleasure.

Yeah. Thank you, Eric. Awesome to be here.

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Tyler Browder is the CEO and Co-Founder of Kubos, the world’s first cloud-based mission control software.

Kubos’s “Major Tom” software is a cutting edge mission control platform for low-earth orbit satellites. 

This very fun chat delves into the challenges of creating a true “mission control”, the lessons of a founder, and also lots about how to build both products and a company.  Super fun discussion and thank you to Tyler for sharing time with me!

Check out Kubos here: https://www.kubos.com/ 

Connect with Tyler on LinkedIn here:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/tylerbrowder/ 

More about Techmill here:  https://www.hackntx.com/about-techmill 

Transcript powered by Happy Scribe

Ground control to major. Oh, hey, sorry. This is Eric Wright of the DiscoPosse podcast.

And the reason why we started in that fun little way is because this is a great conversation with Tyler Browder, who is the CEO and co-founder of Kubos. They are doing really cool stuff around creating cloud based mission control software.

So this is like the nerd heaven for me as a space fanatic and a startup fanatic and also just, Tyler is such a great human. We talked about Kubos. We talked about the approach to the problem they’re solving.

Why it’s so unique and how they got to this level.

The pivots of the company, their background to some of their open source work and also TechMail. Really great stuff that Tyler worked with around incubation in the area.

So anyways. Let’s just listen. This is a really great conversation.

Tyler is a super cool guy, but in the meantime.

Let’s make sure that you also help to make this podcast grow and continue to bring these amazing conversations. Number one, you can head on over to our YouTube channel, go to youtube.com/DiscoPossePodcast. Click it on subscribe and make sure you get signed up. Hit the like button.

Do all those things because we’re now launching, simultaneously, on video and audio. Really fun. Beyond that, of course, head on over to make sure you support your data because your data needs to be protected. And the only way to make sure that that’s going to happen is to get everything you need for your data protection needs. With our fine friends at Veeam Software, Veeam have been huge supporters of the podcast.

And I love it because I actually trust the platform. I trust the product. I’m literally married to the company. So very cool. But if you want to do that, it’s easy. Go to vee.am/DiscoPosse.

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And of course, speaking of protecting yourself in space and in transit. Protect your data in space. Go to tryxpressvpn.com/DiscoPosse. Make sure that you ensure that privacy is a human right. And I believe that it is so do that.

Go to tryxpressvpn.com/DiscoPosse, get signed up. I’m a fan. I’m a user.

Oh, and get Diabolical Coffee, diabolicalcoffee.com.

All right, let’s get to the good stuff. This is Tyler Browder from Kubos.

My name is Tyler Browder. I’m the CEO of Kubos. We build mission control software for spacecraft operations, and you are listening to DiscoPosse podcast.

This is really cool, Tyler. I want to thank you for first of all, doing what you do as a fan of things that leave the Earth. I really enjoy. When I saw your name come up, I thought, oh, all right. We’re in a cool space, literally. So for folks that are new to you, Tyler, do you want to give a quick intro a bit of a bio? We’ll talk about Kubos. We’ll talk about what you’re doing, what the team’s doing?

This is it. And I feel like you have, like, acoustic guitar playing, Major Tom, as we’re going through it. People will get why, what that reference is about in a few minutes.

Yes, there’s a lot to cover there. Let’s start with Kubos. Kubos is a software company, right. We live in a hardware world, though. Space is dominated by hardware, right? People did not get in this space to put little bits and bites in the space. They got in to build a physical thing and launch it and communicate with it. But we decided to come at a different angle. And so we built a product called Major Tom, which is a mission control software for spacecraft. So it lives on the ground.

It’s a cloud application that we use to track our satellites to understand the data coming down from the satellites and then tell the satellites what to do. Right.

So it’s the primary tool once the satellites in orbit that people use to communicate and understand their satellite. Right. So it’s a pretty critical, not to beat on this mission critical piece of software that, it’s a window that customers use to understand their spacecraft. So it’s a lot of fun. We don’t actually send anything to space because we’re on the crowd side. Right. We’re listening back from it. But we’re pretty close. My background, though you asked about is, I got quite a non traditional background into aerospace.

So most aerospace professionals getting in to the business because they dream to be an astronaut or something along those lines. And it was a passion from early on. No one stumbled into aerospace by accident. Except for me. So my background is primarily in just entrepreneurship, business development. I grew up in an entrepreneur family and so I’ve done healthcare. I’ve done music industry. I’ve done property rental companies, and I got an opportunity. I became friends with a guy who was a software engineer who had worked in space, and he was looking to start a new company, and he needed someone to handle the business aspects of the new venture.

And he would handle the technology. And, yeah, and I said, yes, I didn’t know what a satellite was. I was never like a big space kid growing up, I didn’t dream of being an astronaut, I dream of being a rock star. So, yeah, I was fortunate enough to stumble into the industry.

One would say that these days they’re one and the same. You see, the way they do the walkouts. It’s not like on WWE. You just expect someone to be walking with a flag and people cheering. And it’s amazing to think of just the amount that’s going on with both commercial and public sector stuff that’s happening in space. And then the private sector, there’s an untold number of things that are going on in this area of development that are almost, they used to be more hidden. But now let’s just say it right.

Elon Musk made it kind of cool to really sort of push the envelope and make it more of a spectacle to observe and enjoy that we are doing some incredible development in the world of space. And then we start to see what people are doing with the CubeSat side of the world and all these small commercial stuff and almost hidden behind that, too, is. That’s amazing. But what we’re doing with the technology that we’re putting there is even more amazing. Right. So this is why Mission Control, mission critical is big, because it’s not just about getting it up there.

It’s about, we’re building systems on this technology that require us to now treat it like, this is big. This is really amazing.

Yeah. There’s a lot of different ways you could go with that. From the industry standpoint. Historically, space has been a government playground, right. Like only governments have the resources and the appetite to go after it. And that’s all obviously changed. Right. And that’s good. But that’s created quite this, like change in cultures in the industry because government-run programs were very secretive. It was all about national security. And so there was this culture of not talking publicly about what we’re doing, except for a very select few propaganda type things or big name things.

Elon has definitely done more than his share to move the industry into the public light. And so we’re seeing this really interesting, when you get down into it and talk with people, there’s still this culture of keeping things quiet, not talking about what we’re doing. And there’s other people who are trying to fall in line with what Elon did, talk about their projects and be very vocal. And so we’ve seen that from a lot of different, really interesting angles. But on the technology side, when it was a government program, everything was really special. Right.

Everything was custom built to achieve one objective and up and down the stack. Everything from the spacecraft all the way down to delivery of the data, including Mission Control. It was a custom program that was designed just for the operation of that particular spacecraft. It could not be transferred. What Q-Set has done is give us some standardization and allowed us to build more in bulk. Right.

And build more spacecraft than we ever thought. Instead of really big closed crafts, we got lots of little ones. And so the way we really like to position our product is that we’re an infrastructure play. Every piece of machinery in space has the same core components. They all need power, battery, solar panels. They all need a computer of some sort of to control, and they all need a radio. They need to be able to communicate back to Earth and then they need some way to do whatever it is they’re wanting to do. Right.

And that’s where all the custom stuff comes out, there’s the camera, the pictures or if it’s some sort of censored measuring, some sort of data in the atmosphere or whatever. And so what we focus on is the generic part. So the radio, the computer, the battery power, what they call the telemetry of the spacecraft bus, as opposed to the actual payload. Our platform does not support payload data image processing. We don’t do that. That’s what our customers want to do is they’re secret sauce. That’s why they built the spacecraft to begin with.

But we handle the satellite operation itself to help assess where it is, where it’s going, communicating to the payload to take a picture over Cairo next Tuesday, whatever the command is. And so we facilitate that whole communication chain to the spacecraft.

And you’re doing it. And speaking of public in the open. The fact that you’ve actually open sourced a lot of the work. There’s a lot of interesting things. I’d love to get your take on what stuff is very sort of community, world driven, and how much is interior special sauce, even in what Major Tom and such is delivering?

Yeah. So it’s a great question. I think, actually, to answer that question, I have to back up a little bit. When we started Kubos, we actually started with a different focus. We were focused on flight software, basically creating the operating system of the actual spacecraft. And that product was called KubOS, and it is open source. And it was very much modeled after the Android operating system. And so we would have a Linux kernel. We have middleware that we built and a bunch of APIs so that customers could build their own custom applications on the spacecraft to do whatever they’re trying to do.

It was hardware-agnostic. We could really shift around, went to bus providers or satellite manufacturers and got them to distribute it. And we built that all on the open. We had an open source community. The code was all open source, and we did that for a couple of reasons. One, we believe in that that was kind of the ethos of where my partner, who was a software engineer, came from. I came from Mozilla and Red Hat and big open source commercial companies. And so that was part of who he was as a person.

But also, the truth is from an export control standpoint by making it open source, we got around a lot of the export requirements of the software, and we could distribute it without having to verify who was using it or having to keep tight controls around that. And as a small company, that was a really heavy burden to do the export control. And so open sourcing gave us a weight around that. Major Tom, we shifted to that last year heavily, and Major Tom is actually not open source.

It is just a web application that we control the source code. And there was a couple of different reasons for that and why we’ve done all that and we could get into that if you like, but just for clarification, Major Tom actually is not open source, and our previous product KubOS, it still exists. It’s still there being used by people today.

Yeah. And that’s what I wanted to show. That interesting split of the line. I do a ton of work in the open source communities and a lot of different ones. And I’m a huge proponent for open source and open communities. But I also recognize the challenge in running a business and also commercializing on open source. There’s a lot of real challenge around. You have to at some point add opinion into software. You have to have an opinionated approach. And it’s really hard to do in a purely 100% open community.

And there’s a lot of great proponents for, well, they call it cost commercial open source. And then Open Core is another one. It’s hilarious because you’ve got these little, like, Occupy Open Source, Occupy Open Core. There really are, like, hardened, really strong minded leaders in these specific types of communities. And they’re also arguing over who’s more open, who’s more DevOps-y, like, there are all of these things. And in the end, while that’s going on, we’re trying to run a business to employ people to get commercially viable software out there that can then power other companies and deliver this.

This is why inside Major Tom, there’s probably open tools amongst it, but nothing wrong with in my mind, the front end needs to be purely opinionated, pragmatically built and delivering to solve specific problems.

Yeah. I completely agree with you. Sure. Inside of Major Tom, we do have open source elements. I’ll be honest. I don’t know exactly all of those. I won’t name them but we do use them. Right. And I think most companies, software companies use open source at some level. Right.

Everybody thought they didn’t until there was heartbeat. That was like, one of the most hilarious things were like that’ll teach you open source people to use open source stuff. And it’s like heartbeat. And then all of a sudden, 12 hours later, Cisco, Microsoft, VMware, every major company was like, you need to patch your stuff. And they’re like, why I thought we were using commercial software. We’re like, well, guess what it’s built on open source software.

Yeah. Right. Exactly. The problem with, I completely agree with you. We still have to make viable businesses and employees that generate revenues so that we can hire people and have economy and all these things. Right.

But the problem we had with open source in our industry is we were selling support contracts. So that was our main business model, is you would use our software, we would sell you support. And that works really great for Red Hat. But that really is a challenge for us. So we were going after companies that were building large constellations. So they wanted to launch a lot of satellites, hundreds of satellites. And then we’re going to use our software on all their spacecraft. Awesome. Let’s do that.

So for the first satellite, they happily paid us for support and we support them through it. We built some, reported to their hardware if we need to, we do some services in there to generate revenue and we were successful. We launched some satellites on it, and then they would be ready for their next 2nd, 3rd, 4th spacecraft, and they’re going to try to increase the speed, the scale of it and bulk up a little bit. And we had taught them everything they need to know about the software, and they really didn’t fall on to purchase sub-port for anything because they didn’t change anything.

They weren’t intending to change anything or anything significant. And if you imagine once the spacecraft is in orbit, you have some limited options about what you can do to change that. If you have a bug that is in your spacecraft software, how do you fix it? You do a software update. Now it’s more common. When we started, assume that you were able to do a software update, but it’s very risky, right? If you do have to do a whole new update to the kernel or to the OS, that’s a lot of risk if you make a mistake, that’s it, the things done.

There is no hold down the reset button.

It’s gone. And so it is not something that companies traditionally have been wanting to do unless under the most dire situations. Right now, we’ve gotten better as an industry, we’ve gotten better at testing and our procedures and our backups on the system so that there is a failure, we could do it. But especially at the time when we started, that just wasn’t the norm. Very few companies have been building and architecting their system with the intent of updating the OS. So there’s some limitations, right? There were some risk involved, big consequences.

And so anyway, it was a very hard model to get in, and then they sell cycles. It was other than we’ve given in the business side. But anyway, there’s a lot going on here. But anyway, open source is still part of us. There’s still that flight software called KubOS. Still up on GitHub, and I think the next launch is on is next month. I mean, it’s still being used by people, even though we’re not actively developing on it. I think the next launch that someone’s using it is next month, I think.

I guess it really brings the ultimate question before Major Tom, what did the stack look like? What was the previous solution that needed this to solve a problem?

Yeah. So there was a couple of different flavors of this, but they all were based around being on a server in a closet there locally at your station. And they were all focused on particularly one spacecraft. They were not going to handle 100 spacecraft. They were really good at two, three, four, maybe spacecraft. But if you were going to do more, they were really not going to be built for that. And they were expensive. You had to have the hardware and you had to have at least a skill set to set up the hardware, manage that.

And they were real, particularly focused on again, the single use case as a single spacecraft. And so that’s really where we as the industry started to move from big and expensive to lots of little. Right. The mission control didn’t keep up, right. We couldn’t scale the way that the industry was needing us to scale. We couldn’t be generic, we couldn’t be spun up quickly and we couldn’t be updated very well. If it was in a hardware, if it was in the hardware over there in the corner. No, we want to touch it.

So there was a lack of innovation. Satellites, as you deploy more satellites, you continue to tweak and evolve them. There’s different generations trying to push it. But your mission controls stay flat. So we need a way to update and upgrade the software to keep up with the demands and the needs of the ever changing system. So that’s really where we came in to fix. We built it on the cloud to give it that scale, to build it in a redundant, safe way. We built it within mind of operating lots and lots of spacecraft.

We’ve done further than that. So not only just operating a lot of the same kind of spacecraft, we designed it so you can operate a lot of very different types of mission control systems. And then the other thing we’ve done that we’ve really gone out and integrated third party services that you use on the ground. Best example is talk to satellite. You need a physical ground station somewhere in the Earth that will collect the radio signal and also beam up the radio signal. There’s services you can purchase.

You can basically rent by the minute of these ground stations. And we, it was always on the operator our customers to spend the resources to integrate these systems. And they were done poorly. They were done slowly. They were done costly. And so we integrated these systems out of the box. So there’s just a simple login and then you’re integrated with this. So we’re lowering barriers. We’re going faster. We’re developing new features for our customers for these use cases that we can roll out and not have to do a full new reboot of the entire system and lose valuable time on their spacecraft.

So that’s where we’re coming from.

Well, this really becomes the value of centralizing and giving opinionated outcomes to solving a problem, because you can look at five customers and then find the Venn diagram of crossover and then start to merge the diagram a bit more. You start to see more commonalities, but they individually are building a standalone system for each part of the operation. It’s just such a, there was a point where we all had to do it. There’s always the first time someone built a car. You didn’t start by building a factory.

You started by putting a garage in and then building the bloody car, but eventually goes, hey, the guy down the street is building a car, and I’m supplying parts to him. And it looks like you guys use the same parts. Okay.

One of the things that we bring is the aggregation of all the different data sets. So we’re not looking at actual people’s data per se. What we’re doing is anonymizing it so that we can better understand spacecraft operations. Right. And really where we’re trying to apply this is in the communication optimization. So, example, you have 100 satellites orbiting the Earth. They’re all moving around. Right.

They orbit every 90 minutes. And you have ten ground stations across the globe. Right.

And the connection time between a satellite and a ground station is about ten minutes. Right.

And so you got minimum windows and they’re always moving. These are walking orbits, right. If it flies over New York at 02:00 p.m.. 03:30, it will be 50 miles east of New York. Right. The walking. And so what we are building is the optimization on how to communicate. And so we could tell our constellation. I want a picture of New York tomorrow at 01:00 p.m.. Major Tom will say you need to send it to this ground station to the satellite at this time and get the data back down to optimize the network, to get your data, your command up there to tell the satellite to do get the data down in the appropriate time and really optimizing the network.

So we’re moving away from spacecraft being these pets that we love and are part of our family, to cattle, to herds, to big networks. We’re really more network administrators than we are satellite operators. And that’s the way we’re moving the industry to adopt those practices and apply them to the space environment.

Yeah. I tell you, when you get to the numbers, it’s pretty incredible if you think about what’s up there in the different layers of atmosphere. And I saw something that’s funny to me because I recognized this is such a, like, get off my lawn type of old person yelling at the clouds situation. It was like these photographers who are like, it’s really bothering me trying to get night star photography because there’s all these darn satellites floating around, you know, that the Internet that you’re putting your awful angry tweet on is powered by those very little lights that you’re complaining that are crossing your photograph in a time lapse.

Yeah. That’s a really interesting conversation in the industry that we don’t know what to do with yet. Right.

We’re going to launch more satellites. We have to launch more satellites. We have to launch more infrastructure in space, not just satellites but space stations, and we have to build more habitats and we have to move out there. But there’s also some consequences to that, right? Not only with photography and a nice guy, that’s one. But there’s also the risk of collision, these things hitting each other and causing damage. Right. There’s that risk. There’s risk of, I’m a big fan of, I just went blank the, Apple Moon show from on Apple+.

For all mankind.

For all mankind. Yeah. And the militarization of space, right. This is a thing that is not that far away from us. Right. And then we got to get into governments and we got to get into laws and policies and treaties in space that we’re not well equipped to deal with right now in our current geopolitical environment. And so there’s some fascinating things and some really hard decisions that are going to have to be made in the next ten years to really set up our humanity to expand.

Yeah. The policy side of it is wild. And you think of because today we think of geography. We’re so just bound in geography, even just the fact that as a North American, the raw arrogance that everything that most companies do is in English only. And we base it on Eastern time zone. It is just crazy that that’s like the standard of belief as we head into just internationally on the Earth, we’ve got a broad set of audiences that are so underrepresented and under acknowledged. And then we can’t even argue over the height over a skyscraper that is considered owned real estate by that developer.

What happens when you go a lot higher? Does it belong to the country because it’s over North America? Does it belong to the country because it’s over El Salvador? That’s my satellite right now.

Right. It’s really hard that things can be solved. And then you go to the moon or Mars. And how do we break that up? Should we break it up? Should we not break it up, right? Asteroids are the same way in different countries, making different laws and not doing it as a planet as an entire group of people instead of just individually as our own countries. I think it’s really interesting. I really do. And how do we solve these problems and who’s going to take leadership in these problems?

They’re going to stick their neck out and want to talk about space policy, because right now, it’s not on the mainstream, right? It’s not being talked about at a high level with people who could do anything about it. It’s just professor somewhere arguing about it. And so we need to bring that out. We need to talk about that. Anyway.

Most people’s exposure to this is just they’re like, does Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck available and can Aerosmith do the soundtrack? That’s our understanding of space for the most part.

That’s right. That’s right. Well, in America, saving the day. Right. And that’s not how this is going to work. There are more countries over the last five years gotten into space, being coming space faring countries than there were ever seen. Everybody come play. The countries that had never had a space program now can have a space program. And it’s not just for the United States. It’s not just for America. It’s all global. Space belongs to all. It’s really interesting, but there needs to be some structure there needs to be.

If somebody’s doing something with their satellite, how are you going to know what they’re doing, right? Or should, you know, right? Do you even have a right to know? But that’s a different thing. And that’s really fascinating to me. We can track where satellites are, but we can’t always tell what they’re doing and sometimes by the behavior of the satellite, what it’s doing. I remember when I first got into the industry, there was a story about geo. So this is where the big communication satellites live, and they’re locked to the spin of the Earth.

So they always are focused on a particular spot over the Earth. Right.

So they’re locked in geostationary orbit. And these are very coveted spots. These are very big spacecraft. This is big spy stuff, encryption, military, but also other types of communications. And I remember there’s a story about this Russian satellite just walking around out there, getting in between the communication channel and you can see it. You do it as a Russian satellite. You know what they said publicly. We were the same way when we said publicly, we’re not really saying what our satellite was doing. And it was really interesting.

I think it’s going to become more and more happening whether or not we hear about it or not. But it’s going to happen. It’s going to continue to happen.

Especially just like, it’s hard to imagine that if we go back to the days of before this decade is about. We commit to getting somebody on the moon. And you’re like, that’s crazy talk now you’re like no one would even question. They’re like, why aren’t we already there? Why are we going back? Why did we stop going?

I think the tough part we also see with the sort of publicity of space touristy-ing and stuff that’s going on. On the back side is an incredible amount of research, like the work that you’re doing. This enables incredible amount of real secondary effect stuff that’s going on. And going on the moon wasn’t about planting the flag, it was about learning about science beyond our Earth that’s enabled an incredible amount of things that is just we forgot. We forgot that’s what we did as a result of it, even the sort of the rich man space race that we’ve got going on right now.

The result of those advances will mean that as a government organization, especially at least in the United States, they’ll save billions of dollars because of the work that’s going on in commercial and private sector work. And we all personally will feel that benefit because it means that things will come that are advanced as a result of this work.

Yeah. So we do that in a slightly different way. But it’s the same idea. Right. We borrow a lot of technologies, best practices, not from the space world, but from the software world, from the general, from what Google and Facebook have developed as standard practices for how to develop large data sets and manage those data sets. So we’re applying those just like that Google had to develop in order to build theirs we get to use in a space. It’s all how this works, right. The space race is happening with Elon and Branson and the other guy, Bezos is ultimately going to be, at least to the industry, at least from the economics, it’s going to be beneficial. Right.

They’re creating technologies and they’re training people, right. Giving them new ideas. There’s this whole, like, flood of SpaceX employees, not flood. Floods not the right word. But there’s a group of SpaceX employees who are spinning out new companies now, right. This is the benefit of what he’s really built. Is he built a big company to do something really amazing and trained and taught these engineers how to build really amazing things. Engineers are going to go build amazing things for themselves, and they’re going to create new companies.

Well, every major company has done this. And now we’re going to see in the space there just hasn’t been anybody, like, break through that, right? We’ve all been government contractors working in classified missions and couldn’t talk about these days. But now that’s over, right now, that’s ending. And you’re going to see a lot of that’s where the real next push is going to come from. Right.

SpaceX has done amazing, great things. It’s very impressive and pushed the ball forward. But now you’re going to see a different ball being kind of moved away. So they really focus on solving launch and then getting people into space in large bulk groups of people, mass movement of people, the people coming out of SpaceX employees who are spinning up their own companies. We’re not even sure what they’re going to do yet. And it’s going to be really fascinating what they do, right? They already did this. We’ll think what else they can accomplish, right? When they want to.

That’s it. And it’s like the accessibility of this stuff now is huge. Right. And I always enjoy everything we have now has, like the sort of ice cream flavors of, like, one scoop, two scoop, three scoop pricing structure. Can you imagine, say, ten years ago that you’d be able to say, I’m going to create a mission control software that I can offer on the cloud in a distributed format, API accessible. And I’m going to be able to offer it at, like, pricing to you. It couldn’t have been imagined that this was possible. And yet here you are.

Yeah. Well, ten years ago, who knows what I was doing ten years ago. So that’s even crazier, right? I don’t even know what I was doing ten years ago, but, yeah, there’s just pull and push in the industry, right. We’re pushing the industry towards cloud adoption, to using, borrowing from the software industry into space to move the industry forward, move innovation forward. There’s still resistance to that, right? The truth of the matter is we’ve talked a lot about commercial entities and commercial business models in space. Really taking off the largest payer of space services and applications is the US government, right.

That’s the largest payer. And so it’s still driven by requirements in that very waterfall manner. And so that’s what we’re trying to do. Educate and move the industry in a different direction so that we can continue to innovate faster and not be put in these boxes that were built for 1960 technology and practices. Now we can move it forward. But, yeah, there’s this really interesting pool. The commercial companies want to go talk to a commercial company about using Major Tom. They get it. They understand what we’re doing, and we’re moving forward them when I go talk to the Air Force about it. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.

So there’s an education that’s happening still in the industry about what not just what we’re doing, but what is the bigger picture. Microsoft and Amazon have over the last couple of years really put their money where their mouth is and got in this space and are building a space building services in space, educating the space industry. So it’s coming. The cloud is coming to the space market, which we’re part of the leaders of that movement.

Now, when it comes to that sort of ideal customer, this is a really interesting one because you have a very unique customer set. What does the profile of somebody that you, now your average person goes and fills out a form for a free ebook, and then you ran off with an SDR, right?

Yeah. Well, we’re not doing TikTok ads. Not yet, anyways.

So our customers are, there are different ways to top up or categorize our customers. Our customers are very educated people who are very passionate, motivated, and technical, which means they’re not really interested in fluff, in marketing design. And they really want to know what’s underneath in the details and the architecture of our system. We have to provide that we have to be technically proficient in our software to explain it to our customers. And so that is something that is not unique to our industry, but it’s part of what our industry is, right? Made of technical engineers who are running, who have a lot of say in what technologies get implemented on their missions.

Pass that, most of our people are not software engineers, too. Most of our customers are electrical or mechanical engineers or system engineers. They’re not software engineers. We have to make sure we’re designing Major Tom in a way that is accessible to non software engineers. Right.

So we have APIs. We have some customizations you can do with our system. We have to make sure that we’re building that so that it’s accessible by someone who doesn’t know how to code, which is great, which is just acknowledgement of who our customers are, right. It’s not unusual to go to a space company and they not have a software engineer on staff. That’s changing, it’s becoming more prevalent in the industry that we have software engineers on staff, but it’s not a guarantee. And so we have to build Major Tom in that way.

From a different angle, our customers really, what we’re doing right now from a mission perspective, is we’re really going after two buckets. The first one is new companies who are wanting to launch lots of satellites to do some sort of business application. Right. Or even if it’s not, even if it’s a government program, just wants to build lots of satellites, wants to go quickly, wants to scale, wants to be able to update and manipulate and configure and integrate it into their system. Right.

So they don’t have an architecture for their ground segment to really establish it. So that’s where we really fit in really well and start building out the architecture around Major Tom’s APIs. The other segment is actually the exact opposite. It’s those who are running long term missions in space who are wanting to lower their costs. Right.

It’s gotten too expensive to have this server farm or whatever over here. It’s got too expensive to maintain this 2015 year old software application that nobody else works anymore. And so there’s a whole lot of risk that it goes down or there’s some sort of issue. And then obviously, COVID is changing the mindset of where we need to do work. A lot of these older programs, you had to be in that office only. And then now, that is changing. And so Major Tom really can insert itself in there.

So we are lowering the cost by moving it to a cloud architecture, pay as you go type thing. They don’t have to deal with the infrastructure from a hardware standard. We host it all. And then it gives you that flexibility of remote access to your spacecraft. And so that’s another where we’re going and using the flexibility how we design the back end, we can really insert ourselves into preexisting infrastructure, as opposed to building a new one around us. We can be flexible enough to integrate. Those are the two big Buckets new ventures and those who are actually the exact opposite.

Older ventures who are trying to be more economically driven, right. Or reducing the risk because they have a single point of failure.

Yes. In the world of tech, I often, we use the phrase legacy, and I always joke, you call it legacy, I call it production. Like, this is stuff that can’t go away. But like you said, wrapped around a traditional architecture littered with single points of failure. And they’ve basically built it so it can be asynchronous, we’ve got opportunities. And then you build the right abstraction in front of it. And this is what’s neat. Now, when we talk about abstractions and cloud as an architecture, it’s fantastic. Because now we can basically trust that you are going to do more than just fire all your services in the US-East-1 on AWS.

Like most people do, whenever people say to me like, yeah, we’re using the cloud for resiliency as to how many regions are using. Sorry, what? Oh, no. When Route 53 goes away, the whole kit goes down. We see these weird little things like, I don’t understand what just happened. All of my caching just went away. All these sites went down around the world. Like, what happened? Somebody is just like they typed in a bad command on some software update. So you’ve got the ability that you can architect for scale resiliency versus the traditional architecture people that they should be focusing on their outcomes, their business, what they want to do with their hardware.

But now they can say, hey, Tyler has a lot of customers that care about this. So if Tyler gets it wrong, a lot of people get angry versus if I get it wrong, I’m just the only one that’s at fault.

Yeah. So from our world, we have to take it one step further, considering those. So we still are governed under export control. So we live in an evolving policies place like everything else. We’re governed under the Commerce Department on export control, which is what it is. We’re also under certain situations covered under the State Department, under the ITAR regulations about arms traffic. And that’s a whole different level of scrutiny and consequences. To be frank with you, and so we do run an ITAR secure clouds, which does, we use Microsoft right now that we’ve built on top of the Azure government cloud.

We also live in the public cloud. We also can and have done air gap. Now that is a little bit. And the reason is because I described this push and pull in the industry, and I have to live in this industry. And so while I’m pushing the industry forward with cloud adoption and using best practices and moving this way, there are still missions that deem Major Tom from just a pure feature standpoint, but need and have to have it in a military encrypted. Sorry, air gap environment.

And so we do deploy in those environments. It’s not something we particularly like doing. And you are losing some of the benefits of what we built, but our feature set for the satellite operators in particular, for the actual day to day operations, not just the architecture, but the actual features are valuable enough on their own, and they’re willing to use it without the cloud infrastructure. So we run in lots of environments for better or for worse. We do have non US customers who prefer to have their stuff, not in the US.

They don’t want the data in the US. So we have to do EU deployments that works better for us because the data is not actually coming in and then back out of the United States export control. Where things live and what environments and deployments, it’s a constant challenge that we have with trying to make sure that we’re on the same deployments, that we’re all being upgraded the same time, that we’re all maintaining it. And yeah, that’s one of the challenges that we face kind of on a regular basis.

I’ll say it’s the economies of scale or one thing, and also the economy of innovation at scale. Right.

So like every organization that would come to you, they would have to do this from ground up.

That’s right.

You have a vested interest in becoming particularly good at doing stuff at scale versus they’re just trying to solve a specific problem and then having to build architecturally around the infrastructure to support that problem. You are truly this sort of the cloud computing of mission control, because you can say, you don’t need to care about where it is. Obviously, we do. And you have to be transparent about that. But they don’t have to run it. They don’t have to have this network operations center with 25 TVs and people up 24/7 watching screens and listening to bleeps and boops and wondering what’s going wrong.

Yeah, that’s right. Some of our customers still choose to have those 25 TVs and everything going on. They like it, but they also want the benefit of what we’re bringing. So, yeah, we’ve talked about the kind of architecture into the actual application itself. We rely heavily on automating a lot of these process so that we don’t have to have person sitting in a monitor 24/7 because satellites don’t sleep, they don’t take holidays. They’re always constantly collecting and transmitting data down to Earth, and there has to be a system in place to collect that, right?

So Major Tom can fly. It can be your autopilot, right. For these satellites where you used to have to have teams 24/7 operations, we can now reduce that human intervention at cost from both from the employees and from the individual. Nobody wants to be up at 02:00 a.m. flying a satellite. Right.

That’s not a sustainable model. So that’s really where we’re moving into the application side, giving these tools and automation, both from internally in Major Tom, but also giving you the APIs to automate your own workflows for operations. And so that’s I think that’s really another angle that we’re coming at this problem at.

It’s funny that because you’ve been very focused on this is where you run. This is where you operate. There’s no Edge in any of the nomenclature around what you’re doing, because you are truly sort of the cloud, like Mission Control is the cloud for the Edge payloads, the actual workloads that are physically swimming around in orbit. But it’s funny that everybody is kind of like, I call it the edification. Like, it’s really just everything and anything new. And like, these glasses, they’re Edge glasses.

Now everybody is just, like, latching onto it. First of all, thank you for not just jamming Edge all over your website to try and be exciting to the Edge world, not to detract from them. All of my amazing friends who are into the Edge.

Of course.

Where do you see that sort of next layer of compute coming? And is it something that you’re interested in as a company?

Yeah. So we have thoughts around this and trying to understand what our role is in this wave that’s happening. Right. I think one way that we’re looking at it is as we continue to develop Major Tom and we continue to build out new capabilities, being able to optimize this network, right. For communication that we’ve talked about. At a higher level, I think one thing we’re trying to do, which I don’t know if this completely answers your question, but fine, is erase the differences between space and ground. Right.

It’s all just one network. It doesn’t matter if you’re satellite or if you have a server down here or you have an IoT node in the Sahara. It’s all just a network in erasing that there has to be some sort of division from a network perspective. And so we’re trying to move the reliability and the communication of space to where we have on the ground so that we can run Edge processes anywhere, whether it’s on the Earth or on the ground, be able to shift these things around, manage this from this perspective.

There’s also a lot of push right now for satellites to become smarter that they’re not just simple machines, effectively. Right.

Really complicated, simple machines. Right. We want it to be intelligent. We want them to make decisions on their own and not be dictated from the ground. Right.

That’s a movement that’s happening. So getting the compute power on the spacecraft to allow it to do the computation, apply the AI or machine learning in real time at the data source, and then be able to make decisions and execute from that without ground interference. So there’s really two trains of thoughts on that, we’ve looked at because of our experience in flight software. We know how to go play in the satellite world, right. We know how to go put stuff on orbit. And there’s an element of that long term that has potential there.

If you control the satellite software and the ground software, it’s a really powerful ecosystem that we’re building. So using containers, we can really push the security profile, the new application on the spacecraft, and allow Major Tom to manage that system. So we’re looking at where we fit into this whole thing. It’s still new. We have different restraints with compute power on orbit with just actual energy. Right.

And so these are constant fighting, and then the heat that they create and getting distance. There are a lot more complications. So it’s not as fast evolving as it is on Earth, but it is there. You’re definitely going to see space companies with Edge computing all over their websites. We’re not one of them. But there are those companies. And so we’re working with our customers to understand their needs, what they’re doing so that we can be a part of their ecosystem moving forward.

Well, the irony is that you effectively, you’re like Edge hipsters. You were there before it was cool, like Kubos, in effect, is the Edge OS, right? Like you could almost say, you’re tagging to be, we’ve been to the edge and back, right. It’s like because you realize the problem that you could have the most impact in solving was that mission control. Right. But you’ve understood the other side. You understood the payload, you understood the Edge requirement, and that allows you to be so focused and very pragmatic and fanatical on solving this problem with Major Tom.

So at down the road when someone says, hey, we want to take this a little bit further and we want to move it to another location. You do air gap, you do all these things. You’ve had to think that stuff out and execute on it. It’s pretty amazing that the company could go in interesting places, for sure.

Yeah. We have the technology and the experience to go a lot of different ways right now. In the short term, we’re all steam ahead on Major Tom. Right.

Building this product to really manage the ground infrastructure for your spacecraft operations. This is where we are, where we go in the future. We have a lot of different visions that we want to see come to reality. And it’s pretty exciting that what we can do. Software is really going to give new life to these missions to this hardware. Once you launch the hardware, that’s what it is. With software, we can constantly when we build that infrastructure and do it in a safe way. We can give new life and new missions to old hardware.

And I think that’s going to change things. There’s a case we made that they’re just new server farms in space. Right.

Amazon is just going to move all there. And you don’t care if it’s on Earth or it’s in space as long as we can increase that communication to make the latency go away. But anyway, there’s complicated problems, big problems at stall here, and where Major Tom fits in the future. We’re focused on communication, communication bandwidth optimization. That’s always going to be a huge problem with FCC frequency allocations moving forward. People experimenting with laser communications. This satellite-to-satellite communications is now a thing that’s happening. And so I personally believe that the communication bottleneck that’s going to be happening here, that we’re already filling the squeeze up is a major place that we want to plant our flag, that we’re part of this solution.

We’re part of the optimizing and really the communication channels of this network.

Most people would just even think about that, and they would get out of their business. You’ve chosen some hard problems to solve. And I want to say hard or difficult or challenging, but like, making it commercially viable, this is a pretty incredible thing that you and the team have taken on. What made you think this is a problem I need to solve. And I think we can do it.

Yeah. So KuBOS is how we got in the industry. My partner really had the idea for the flight software because he built satellites, and he was trying to integrate these different subsystems that were built by different manufacturers to talk to each other, and they weren’t standardized across any sort of platform. He had to build it all from scratch. Right.

There’s a better way we could build a better system that already is integrated with the system or make it easier to integrate these systems. So KuBOS came from when we spent time in the industry understanding the customers and our partners in this industry realized there was a huge need for how they were doing operations. There was a need for the scalability for new practices, new architectures, new development speeds that we weren’t seeing. And so we saw an opportunity to build Major Tom.

We had the networks. We had the relationships to present this product quickly to people. And so we did. And we’ve had success doing that so far. I didn’t come from the space industry, and so I had to really dive in and learn it, kind of from an outsider’s perspective and operations. You have three major phases of a spacecraft life. Right. You have the development phase where you’re building it, design and building the spacecraft, testing the spacecraft. And you have launch. That’s a big moment of itself. And then you have operations.

Out of the three, the longest time period is operations. Right.

But which one is more costly? What’s the most expensive bucket? And so it used to be development and launch as the most expensive bucket. So the industry created CubeSats, they created, also, Moore’s Law created cheaper components and faster components. So we lower the cost of development significantly. Obviously, SpaceX has come in and focused on launch problem. Lower that. But other companies like Rocket Lab have come in and done this to lower the cost of launch and the reliability and the speed of launch cadences. But no ones touched operations, operations of this long term expensive bucket.

And now is disproportionately more time and money than the other two buckets. So that’s really what we’re trying to solve. We do have tools for development and testing. But we’re really looking at lowering that so that if we lower all the cost of the entire life cycle of the spacecraft, then we will make space more accessible. And while that’s kind of a token thing right now that people want to democratize space, it’s kind of almost becoming cliche. Say, the truth is, if we can get the price down, right, this is going to increase development if we use skill sets that already exist in the world.

Like software engineering is a huge skill set that has changed our world completely, and we apply it to space, and we give them more accessibility to these skill sets, see what else we can do. There are more software engineers entering space, more software engineers building software or building software companies in space. So it’s just great. Anyway.

It’s a beautiful empowering loop. Right. And if you don’t mind, we got a few minutes left. I want to touch on TechMill and the ecosystem and your participation because, like you said, you weren’t born in the space race, but you’re in it now as an entrepreneur, what are the ways that you see excitement in that startup community and where we can give back?

Yeah. So TechMill started before Kubos. It was a nonprofit in the town in Texas where I was living. It was a bunch of technology and entrepreneur enthusiasts got together and decided we need to create some sort of organization nonprofit to help other entrepreneurs give at least a community feel to us. So we did events. It was actually the first co-working in our town, started a coffee shop. And we moved to an actual co-working space, and it spun off and done its own thing. That’s actually where I met my partner who started Kubos with.

He was the President of the organization. I was the Treasurer, and we started working. That’s how we met. That’s how we started working together. Kubos was born out of TechMill to some degree. And so it’s a nonprofit that’s still existing. They do like developer evangelist, education community, building a community of people who are interested in tech, who are interested in startups. When Kubos was taking off, when gaining traction, I stepped down from the board of TechMill so I could focus on Kubos and I’m now no longer in Texas.

I’ve actually moved to Portland, Oregon, at this point. So TechMill is doing great. But I don’t have any involvement in it and haven’t in a couple of years.

But it is amazing if you think of communities of purpose and there are so many out there, it is a beautiful thing. Ultimately, you are exactly the success path that any community of purpose should have, is that you shouldn’t be running it for 30 years like a lifelong member. If you can contribute and be a part of it is one thing. But you ultimately create something. You sort of parachute out of it into a new thing and prove that the value was there. And then somebody else says, hey, check it out. Tyler used to be our guy. Now that gives them something to aspire for, right?

Yeah. TechMill was a really interesting point in my life. I was coming out of another company that I just shut down. Wasn’t technology driven. It was a service based company, and I was looking to get into tech. It wasn’t space for today. I was looking to get into tech, and I needed new networks, and I needed new people to meet than what I had been exposed to. And so, TechMill, I went to just a community event being put on about people just wanting to share big ideas, right?

Don’t matter the context. I went there and they talked about creating this conference for technology people, for software engineers. And they were looking for volunteers to help run a conference. And I volunteered. So I think that’s a really great line in my life, is that I’m not afraid to do things I don’t know how to do. I didn’t know how to run a conference, but I jumped in anyway, that led me to start a nonprofit, which I didn’t know how to run. And it led me to meet Marshall to build a space company that I didn’t know anything about space.

It’s just a continuation. But you’re right. So TechMill has thrived and has done a lot of great things and support a lot of different startups. The company Kubos being one of them. So we have a special place in our heart for TechMill, but that is really what it’s supposed to do, incubate a little bit, give you some resources and connections and then kick you out. So that’s what we did. I did it with myself. And so that has worked out so far.

Yeah. And those things right there. And I think for folks that are listening, too. It’s just a reminder that there are great communities of purpose like that, that you can go out and whatever it is, they’re out there. And it’s very helpful, at least just to find people of the birds of a feather sort of opportunity, and it gives you a chance to share your ideas, to let them out with people. And if nothing, you just meet amazing people. Obviously, the in person thing has the lack of in person opportunity has drastically changed how we develop and nurture these communities, because it’s a lot harder.

Like we’re tired of staring at bloody Zoom screens and everything all day long. The last thing you want to do is like, hey, I spent all day on Zoom meetings. I’m going to go to a three hour evening Zoom session with people. I hope that we get to the other side of this all soon, and we can get back to those things. And you’ll see a lot of interesting stuff come out.

Yeah, I agree with you. It’s been a challenge, but yeah.

So I guess for folks that want to find out more and want to get connected to you. Tyler, obviously, we’ll have links to. First of all, there’s so much that’s going on, and I didn’t even talk about the super launch sequence you’ve had. August was a huge month for you. You’ve got customers that are doing incredible stuff. I feel bad that I didn’t open with that because I was excited on your behalf for all of the stuff that you were involved in, and that’s really cool. But for folks that want to get connected, what’s the best way to do that?

Yeah. Our website is www.kubos, K-U-B-O-S, .com. So that’s a great place. We also have a podcast there that you can listen to. We’re interviewing other, our customers or our employees and giving you an insight into kind of pushing the cloud adoption in our industry. Yeah, that’s great. I’m on Twitter if that’s a thing, but I don’t talk a lot, but I’m there. So. Yeah, our website is the best place to get a hold of us.

And students as well. Right. There’s a great opportunity. You’ve got the academic access path. There’s different ways that people can get involved, which is pretty cool. Thank you for doing all that you do.

Yeah. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me. Giving me the opportunity to speak to your audience and share my story and what Kubos is doing. I think we’re really in an interesting place right now.

Onward and upward, it’s going to be. I’m excited to see the future where you got a lot of good stuff in it. Thanks very much, Tyler.

Yeah. Thank you, Eric.