It was a rough day. Yesterday, we (me, mom and 2 of his natural kids – Rachel and Tim) all got up a little early, fought Seattle traffic and got to the hospital around 10am. They whisked my step-dad, John, into surgical prep. I peeked in after he’d gotten dressed in the obligatory hospital pajamas. He was calm. My mom was crying, just a little. Several hours and some gallows humor later, his leg was in the incinerator. Hopefully this means he is cancer-free. He was conscious, albeit drugged, and hungry. We left about 7pm.
I forgot to mention this in Sunday’s update. I’ll post a comprehensive update regarding the Robot, Ribbon, balloons and the overall experiment plan late this week, too. It’s exciting.
In keeping with yesterday’s update, I’ve realized that even though I’ve been posting to a lot of different sources and tools, many (most?) of you were not aware of the day to day activity and progress. So I’ve decided to compile a summary of the past several months. There’s a lot more details I’ve left out from each of these paragraphs. If you want those details let me know and I’ll expand on a topic. The data dump will be chronological.
Once the campaign ended, I needed support. Michelle had been a terrific volunteer for several months prior to the KS effort, and she was on-hand and invaluable while the campaign was running. Naturally she was my first choice to hire once the dust settled and the work of building the “biggest thing, ever” commenced.
Got the Money
The campaign began on August 23 and run until September 13th. Due to KS and Amazon policies, we didn’t actually get the money until the 29th of September. (Which, by the way, practically guaranteed that every single one of our rewards were going to be late immediately – even if everything else went as clockwork – we didn’t really begin spending the money until October. In the United States, you really can’t launch a major initiative in the Fall, everyone you need to chat with is on vacation or has plans with their family. Consider that a lesson learned.)
Building a Team
We had – literally – hundreds of requests from our community to help and volunteer. And we tried valiantly to accommodate this. But the simple truth is that volunteers take a lot of time to get up to speed. Even though we held endless skype conference calls at 6am and 6pm every single day for more than a month, we still couldn’t operate efficiently. In the end, this had to change. For the dozens and dozens of folks that participated – I’ve still got your contact info and we will fold you into the team as best we can. I’ve decided that we need a full-time person who will become our “Volunteer Coordinator”. We had this person on staff during the LiftPort 1.0 days, but we don’t have that person (yet) on the 2.0 team. Simply put, we tried to do too much, in too little time – and with no specific leadership on my part. I tried rebuilding LiftPort 1.0 instead of recognizing that LiftPort 2.0 is a different beast! I’m very appreciative of those folks that stepped up. And I promise – we’ll put you to work!
Road Trip – Olympia, Portland, Monterey, San Francisco, Mountain View
I love road trips. This trip was intended to rebuild some relationships from several years ago, and to forge new ones. I was very happy with the results.
Open Science Summit
The concept of “open software” is not new to me. My team used one of the first Linux kernels during my internet company days in the late 90’s. Since then, the open movement has grown and is now a global force to reckon with. Science journals and major research programs are becoming more and more open all the time. Emotionally, I embrace that idea. However, I have some legitimate concerns. So I journeyed to the Open Science Summit to hear what they had to say. Specifically, I went to ask a question: “what – if anything – should be open on the Lunar Space Elevator Infrastructure?” While I’ve not developed a conclusive answer, their insights and opinions inform my choices as President of LiftPort Group. I think this is important. They told me of some important nuances in the open concept. Specifically, I am looking at licensing categories similar to they do with Creative Commons – so that some patents will be free to use, while others will generate revenues for the overall project. Given the challenge that the Lunar Elevator will cost $800M and the investors will want a return on investment, and that this ROI is usually supported by developing Intellectual Property; this is a significant conundrum that must be resolved. Silicon Valley’s version of venture capital looks for a 10x return on investment within 3-5 years… which means that our LSEI cannot be financed through this mechanism. (I’ve known this for years.) However, LiftPort will develop technologies in the near-term that are substantially valuable. This IP can be packaged and traded to the VCs for the capital needed for construction. So, where does IP and Open philosophies collide and coincide?
Naval Research Lab
This was one of the most important relationships from the LiftPort 1.0 days. We will use our high altitude balloon system (normally used for robots climbing back and forth) as a weather sensor. While it’s been several months and we’re still working out the details, I believe that this will be LiftPort’s first paying research client. It is very likely that their scientists will accompany us on one or two of our KS experimental runs. Confirming this relationship – and earning a consistent paycheck for my team – is essential to the ongoing development of the Space Elevator. For the project to evolve beyond the KS experiment that we promised, we must find a revenue source large enough to support our team. There is a lot more to this update. Ask for details.
VC + Angels
We spent two days with a potential Angel Investor. Even though it’s been months, I’m still not quite sure where we stand with this. I think I know where it’s leading, but am unsure. It is still a work in progress and it would be inappropriate to divulge details until this is resolved. Also, we met with a very interested (and interesting) Venture Capital group. Again, I can’t share details, but you might be able to infer a little if you read between the lines of my foursquare posts. Hint - Look for the Yoda statute.
We met a kindred spirit in these people – they want to use DIY hacker spaces to make ‘space’ more accessible to everyone. At their inaugural event, there were several KS space projects as well as other makerspaces present. SPACEgambit has a grants program that we are really interested in, and while we didn’t submit an application during the first round, I’m certain that we will submit one during the next opening. If you are involved in a local maker space, please check these folks out. They are doing good things.
This is one of the grandfathers of the maker space community. In some very real ways, they are part of the vanguard of community-led DIYers that are making a difference in the world. LiftPort help a small Meet-n-Greet with local fans and backers. It was fun. We provided beer and I gave a brief online presentation. Later, we hung out on the couch and I answered questions. It was fun.
Vienna Pioneers Festival
This was – by far – the biggest speaking event of my career. More than 2500 people in the audience, and 4000+ attending. And… this event was held in the Imperial Palace of Hoffburg. It was amazing. However, the important part was not the location, nor the size of the audience. The important elements were the people that I met and the relationships built. I met a lot of terrific people. Again, because there are not signed contracts with people (yet) I don’t think it’s fair to name names. But I’m super excited about some of the people we are going to put on our Board of Advisors. These three people have demonstrated talent, proven expertise, and are genuinely good/nice people. I’m really looking forward to working with them. While none are ‘famous’ beyond certain circles, they are going to make a significant contribution to the project. (We won’t ‘formally’ sing people to the BofA until later this year. Up until now, I’ve been in ‘identification and collection’ mode. We’ll start acting on this soon.)
Another relationship that I built – but we are not prepared to act upon yet – is with the Viennese government. Let’s be perfectly clear; they are not at all interested in any form of the Space Elevator. They think it’s ‘science fiction’. However, they were specifically interested in the developmental technologies that combine into the Space Elevator: robotics, materials, energy, computing and many of the precursor technologies. They have programs where a project can receive 70% funding for directed research. And then, once a program transitions from the laboratory to the commercial markets there are funds available (about 500,000 – 2M Euros) to help that switch. While we can’t tackle this right now, it’s good to know that that option is available. I can envision a future where we raise the funds in the United States (we understand risk capital pretty well) and spend a portion of those funds in Austria.
Take care, mjl