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Building a Data Company in Space: World of DaaS interview with Planet CEO, Will Marshall

August 11, 2021
Auren Hoffman

New podcast with Will Marshall, CEO of Planet. Our conversation is available everywhere (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, etc.). Please subscribe, follow, and review.

I first met Will when he cold emailed me about The DaaS Bible. He’s a fellow student of data companies, and he has built a really cool company that builds a super valuable dataset of amazing satellite imagery. 

Planet recently announced a SPAC deal and plans to go public later this year. This will make Planet one of the few data companies, like ZoomInfo, to go public with a multi-billion dollar valuation. I was excited to dive into what made Planet successful as a data company.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Will Marshall.

Planet is a data company, not a space company

Planet (formerly called “Planet Labs”) creates data. Their data consists of persistent images of the Earth. They also design, build, and launch satellites. But they are first and foremost a data company. Why? They deliver data to their clients.Their clients don't buy satellites. 

Similar to how SafeGraph provides its clients with just data on physical places, Planet just provides their clients with satellite imagery of Earth. Their clients don't buy satellites.  Satellites are merely a proprietary way of creating their data asset.

Planet operates a fleet of 200 orbiting satellites 

Planet’s fleet collects images from the entire world every day. They launch satellites every 3 months. On average 22 satellites per launch. Their largest launch included 88, setting a world record. They have ground stations all around the world, they created their own technology. 

Planet brought software development practices to space 

Planet pioneered “agile aerospace." They’ve taken the same concepts from agile software that lead to fast development and done the same with aerospace. They are constantly iterating. In each launch, Planet includes and tests the next generation sensor, radio, or hard drive. Every week Planets uploads new software, making the satellites more efficient, both in terms of the operations and processing of the imagery up there. 

Planet captures 25 terabytes imagery daily

Planets’ fleet scans the whole world at 11am local time. This allows all of their images to have consistent shadow angles, which makes machine learning and analytics easier. They also have a sky set system that lets Planet zoom in on a particular location up to 10 times per day, which is useful if you need more rapid revisit. This all adds up over 3 million images a day from their satellites. Today Planet makes this data available to clients, such as geospatial experts, via massive data feeds. 

More and more companies will have the ability to work with Planet’s data 

Planet is investing in analytics to make this data valuable to organizations who cannot handle its firehose of data. We’re also generally seeing data scientists become more and more lethal because they have more and more tools around them. As these tools become more powerful, data scientists who cannot use Planet’s today might be able to in the future.

Planet has some insanely crazy use cases

Local governments use Planet data to enable permit enforcement.

Google automatically triggers Planet satellites with lat-long requests to update their maps to identify new roads or buildings. 

Planet can literally tell crop type and crop yield for every 3x3 meter grid of every farm. Their infrared spectral band picks up chlorophyll, which lets them measure biomass. Over time, they can quickly tell the crop time. Agriculture represents 25% of the landmass of the earth. Planet can fly over all of that every day and enable farmers to do more precision agriculture.

Hope you enjoy this episode of World of DaaS — would really appreciate it if you subscribe and review Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, etc.).

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