Back in Q1 of 2016, in my quest to find and fund companies that were providing new ways for individuals and entities to access the Internet, I had heard about a startup in the YC W16 batch called Astranis. I stalked Astranis online, emailed them cold, and after a few attempts, got to meet John, the CEO. In the initial meeting, John seemed eager that I would invest, but truth be told, I grew more confused in the meeting. John was busy getting ready for Demo Day, but I asked him to meet me again despite the demands on his time. Lucky for me, he agreed, and in that second meeting, John stepped back and taught me about the history of the telecommunications satellite industry — and that’s when I was blown away.
John went deep into the satellite industry. I had no idea before that meeting just how huge yet old the current practices were. I remember one point of our chat, John leaped up to the board to draw what the old satellites looked like (to scale) and their costs, and how much telecom companies, for instance, paid the big aerospace and defense companies for them. Once the market size and current market dynamics clicked in my head, I focused on John’s mastery of the subject — by looking at his background, you can see the great depth of his knowledge and experience working with satellites as an engineer, but John was able to teach me in a way that clearly demonstrated his industrial expertise. I truly believe some of the best investment decisions I’ve made happen when founders teach me about their industry.
I called John a day later or so and asked to invest in the round. He was surprised, if I recall. So, I unleashed a flurry of my founders on him to take my money and also helped him a bit as he closed the round. He eventually became oversubscribed and asked me to stop releasing the hounds on him. In a competitive situation or one where I feel to show more to the founder, I will hammer them (in a friendly way!) with notes from my founders and I am grateful they advocated for me.
Fast-forward to today, and Astranis announced a Series A investment led by Andreessen Horowitz, with GP Martin Casado joining the board. (As a small aside, I do not know Martin, but through the grapevine, he is winning some of the most competitive deals in enterprise technology right now, so I hope I get to meet him.) You can read some of the press today on Astranis at TechCrunch, Forbes, Geekwire, and read Martin’s own note about taking the leap into space. I know from investing in a number of other “frontier” companies in my Fund III that garnering larger sums of VC capital is very hard, so I credit both Astranis for thinking big, getting this far and making a strong case — and a16z for making the bet on John, Ryan, and the team, their first investment in space.