SpaceVR CTO Blaze Sanders on Communicating the Value of the Product Differently to Investors and Customers

SpaceVR CTO Blaze Sanders on Communicating the Value of the Product Differently to Investors and Customers

Leadership Monthly: Tell us about your story and why you were drawn to SpaceVR

Blaze Sanders: It was pretty easy. It was either Tesla or SpaceVR, and Ryan Holmes, our CEO, had come up to my ex-employer in a spacesuit, right before his Kickstarter, with two really cool guys, and prompted it. I knew that I wanted to get back into space and not into electric cars, even though I love them, so it was a pretty easy choice, and the ability to live back up in San Francisco was a no-brainer.

Leadership Monthly: So, Ryan's a cool guy?

Blaze Sanders: Yes, just slightly crazy and knew exactly what he wanted. He was a kind of guy that just wanted stuff done. He’s less theoretical, a type of engineer that just wants to build it and use as little R&D as possible, to make the product real as soon as possible. So that’s the vibe you get when you meet him, and Isaac DeSouza, the previous CTO, was also like that. And they really knew how to market. Ryan really does a good job of marketing. For example, he walked around San Francisco, and all of the Valley, in a spacesuit before our Kickstarter, and we've gone on to use that spacesuit so many more times for marketing. For example, we used to ride on an electric skateboard through SF and get free coffee by walking up to Peet's while wearing it. It really draws in a crowd, so they gave us free coffee! So just that kind of mind-set, being really laid-back chill but driven in what they wanted to do was cool.

Leadership Monthly: How do you take that successful marketing in SF to a national and international level?

Blaze Sanders: There’s a book called The Overview Effect, which you’ve probably seen, and that's always been why we started the company, to let people experience what it's like seeing their home town for the first time, and appreciate how beautiful it is, so it's pretty easy pitch. Everyone wants to be an astronaut when they're five, but some people just give that up, and Ryan's been able to push that forward. So, yes, Ryan's able to tell people and explain to them why they should experience space now.

Nationally, Ryan's just really relaxed in interviews, almost to the point that where you think he's not going to say the next word so he leaves people almost on cliff-hangers with every sentence. So, when he was doing interviews with CNN and other people, during our Kickstarter, I think he broke it down in a way people understand. He's a college dropout so he has to break it down for himself, and people around him, and it's been really helpful to push both engineering and just all of the space stuff through him.

Internationally, our advisor Joanna Wei, led the creation of a MakerSpace in Beijing, and so she was brought on as an advisor, and she was key to us getting into China and getting the Investment from the Shanda Group. She's also really cool, really hardworking and focused on product, so that's what makes us different, we've developed a beautiful product that people can understand and is technically superior, we believe, to a lot of the other CubeSat out there, just from a tech specs side as well.

Leadership Monthly: Communication is key. To what extent is it necessary to communicate the value of the product differently to investors and customers?

Blaze Sanders: So, on the investor side, we built hardware early on. The prototype was eight GoPros, and we captured the SpaceX launch and that's what we used to raise money in China and around the world it was a pretty simple setup and then the second prototype was a real metallic CubeSat form factor with fake solar panels on it but it really showed investors the exact size and weight and had two 4K sensors on it and it took pictures. Both of these prototypes were fully functional took photos of the Golden Gate Bridge so it's pretty easy for them to understand this is a camera for space.

And then on the user side, we could easily distribute those videos on YouTube and on our website so getting those first wow factors from people were easy because we could just bring a Samsung Gear VR to the park here in SF and we would hand it to people while walking around in a spacesuit and then we have a bunch of really cool reaction shots we told a woman one time that she was at 40,000 feet on a balloon and she immediately said wow and ripped off the headset, and added, don't tell me how high I am! So, it's pretty easy to get viral videos if people react so strongly, and draw people in: view the video

Leadership Monthly: Tell us about the personal journey you've taken getting involved in a startup.

Blaze Sanders: So, I started in NASA and felt as if I was never going to launch anything so I might as well fail and launch something on my own. So, that's why I started the first company Sol-X, and in order to have enough money for an office, I ended up sleeping in a storage unit for three weeks in Baltimore, Maryland because I preferred to have an office space than a place to live. So, I did that for as I said three weeks, then I came out to META in San Francisco where we were basically living and working in a 50 million-dollar mansion. Now that doesn't sound too hard, but when you have eight roommates all living on top of each other it's not the most fun thing, at least all the time. You party hard but you also have to work super hard because you basically can't go anywhere else: it was a mansion in the middle of nowhere so we were stuck, stuck there. At SpaceVR we do the same thing. We live and work in our office space, and we've been moving from office to office just making sure we continue to grow the team ... so, no fancy office, no fancy food, just barely enough to eat sometimes some weeks, but good to go.

Leadership Monthly: Tell us a little more about the hard times and how you conquer them.

Blaze Sanders: Depression is a major thing, and the feeling of imposter syndrome so I've gone through that twice pretty strongly. I was offered jobs at, I guess you could say high-end consulting agencies here in SF, and I guess I'd rather not say their names, but that made me feel like what is SpaceVR going to do, should I take this 110K job per year instead of this 48K job per year, why am I staying here, but eventually, I just knew that I wanted to launch something into space, and I want to be the person that helps make those decisions. I'd rather not be a grunt, so even though it's really hard, and around Thanksgiving I was super depressed, I just knew I had to continue and stay here and make sure it happened. Because if Ryan and I don't do it then I'm not sure who else will. There's a bunch of cool people, for example, Planet Labs doing mapping, but no one's trying to give people the space experience.

Leadership Monthly: So, you're emotionally invested in the product?

Blaze Sanders: Well, we call the satellite our baby. It’s what we love. At NASA I was working in robotics for the moon, and that's where SpaceVR is going with humanoid robotics in space. So, when I say I just want to send something into space, literally, that is my life dream, to send something into space that will never come back because it's either going to burn up in the atmosphere or die on the moon. I want to go to space myself but robotics is it good way for other people, and the rest of humanity, to go. So, I just really want to send a robot in space, and if I do nothing else in my entire life, that would make me happy.