From idea to market: the questions behind a successful satellite based application

We are under the impression that we are currently living in one of the fastest paced eras in human history. In this race for speed, start-ups are upending old business models right and left and a company can release a new product every few weeks. Technology transfer and know-how flow quicker around the globe whilst companies are being set up and dismantled faster than ever. And behind all of this, we are told, lies an invisible driver: technology-based information.

However, this is not really the case.

If we were to measure societal change in relation to technological innovation, we would need to look at how technology has actually changed our behaviour and the way we do things. Very few of today’s technological leaps are actually altering or significantly changing our behaviour. What technology is doing however is providing us with better, more efficient tools to do… exactly what we were doing before. This also applies to the satellite-based services sector. Scientists and public authorities have been gathering data about our surrounding environments for 100 years or more. What we are introducing now is a better and faster way of doing it.

Having recently joined this community of downstream space applications market, I’ve had the opportunity to attend several events and conferences addressing satellite driven innovation. And while some of the technicalities of the field escape me, there is one common denominator linking the various companies providing these services and that is that very few actually know who their customers are going to be.

There is a simple truth in commerce: if you can’t sell it, you can’t succeed. And there is another self-standing rule to a free market system – you’re always competing with someone else. Whilst many venture capitals funds may choose to look into the technical nitty-gritty details before deciding to invest in a business, I look at whether the product is set in accordance with the needs of the customers whose budgets the company wants to claim.

Yet, despite the obvious benefits of using satellite data, in contrast with more time-consuming and at times more expensive data collection methods, satellite based applications are still at an R&D stage.

There are two critical questions that any businesses, no matter the industry, should ask themselves before approaching a new market: who are my customers and who am I competing against?

The answer you provide to these questions can define not only whether your business will succeed or fail, but also whether you’ll obtain the venture capital you need. At the Green Angel Syndicate, the only UK network of small investors specialised in green economy, we thus focus not on the technology behind the service, but on market needs and trends. How does the market you want to target look like? Who are your customers and what influences them?

When a client, whether public or private, procures a service it does not ask about the technology used or the types of data behind the product. For the end customer, it makes no difference where the data is coming from. What somebody cares about however, is how the service responds to his or her current needs or how it can help them improve their services. Therefore, the decision to spend their budgets on a new service will not be driven by how great or innovative the technology is, but rather by what it can do for them.

Now, how is your product going to help a prospective customer achieve their vision? How can it help them achieve their goals?

In my experience, an incorrectly positioned product is the most frequent reason behind a company’s failure. Your vision needs to be a shared with your customers. This means listening to markets’ and clients’ need to produce viable products and break a vicious R&D cycle.