The new space race: A breeding ground for great innovation?

The new space race: A breeding ground for great innovation?
Scott is the VP & GM for Cloud Data Teams at Sisense. He brings over 25 years of experience in software development and product management at leading technology companies including Adobe, Electric Cloud, and FileNet. Scott is a prolific writer and speaker on all things data, appearing at events like the Gartner Enterprise Data Conference, Data Champions, and Strata Data NYC.

The new space race is grabbing headlines and driving public interest in the potential of ‘extraterrestrial’ exploration. For tech innovators, it opens the doors to a world of exciting new possibilities. It has brought in a fast-moving, ‘Silicon Valley’ type innovative paradigm to a sector that was previously the government’s domain. 

Closer to home, the UK is about to get back into the space arena with UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announcing in May this year that rockets will be able to launch from the UK in 2022, with spaceports planned in Cornwall, Scotland and Wales.

There are some big takeaways for product innovators and business leaders in this – pardon the pun – space. 

Investments galore!

The advent of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have generated a highly entrepreneurial, private sector-led new space technology ecosystem, with startups offering services and applications that are highly innovative and customer-focused. Morgan Stanley, which predicts the global space industry will generate revenue upwards of £730B in 2040, identifies this as a big investment opportunity for venture capital and private equity.

In Q2 of 2021, new space exploration received an infusion of £3.3B, setting it on track to beat 2020’s total investment of £6.6B, reports Space Capital, a venture capital firm focused on the sector. The report estimates a total of £145B of equity investment across 1,533 companies in the new space ecosystem over the last decade. 

By factoring in the product innovations downstream that impact our daily life on Earth thanks to technology transfer, there is good reason for this optimism.

Meanwhile, UK tech innovation continues to grow. In the Future UK Tech Built tech nation report 2021, UK tech VC investment is third in the world, hitting a record high of £10B in 2020 in the face of challenging conditions. UK deep tech investment also rose by 17% in 2020, the highest rate of growth globally.

In the UK, the space industry is on an upward trajectory. Research findings from the latest ‘Size and Health of the UK Space Industry’ report, commissioned by the UK Space Agency shows the sector supports a highly skilled and productive workforce that’s growing across the country.

The report shows in 2018/2019 income has risen from £14.8 billion to £16.4 billion, representing a growth of 5.7% (or 2.8% per annum) in real terms and employment is up by 3,200 from 41,900 to 45,100. 

In many ways, the new space ecosystem and its constellation of space tech startups and unicorns, ready to boldly go where no one has gone before, follow three of the ‘golden rules of product innovation’ in order to strive toward.

Rule 1: Shoot for the moon and aim for radical changes

SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic have ushered in radical and disruptive innovation into the aerospace and space technology sector. SpaceX was listed as the top disrupter on the CNBC Disruptor 50 List in 2018, upending both aerospace leader Boeing and the rocket industry with its reusable rockets, becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world.  

Product leaders might typically be inclined to go for incremental innovation because it appears sustainable. However, your product could miss the mark, lose product/market fit, and eventually, customers if you don’t innovate quickly. During a crisis recovery period, this is of critical importance, reports McKinsey. 

Their recent survey of more than 200 executives revealed that over 85% think that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on customer needs over the next five years, but only 21% report they have the commitment and resources to face the challenge.

By following agile, data-informed methods, product leaders can test and iterate while keeping management informed with a high-level road map. By moving fast, with analytics at speed and reduced time to insights, product leaders can innovate to stay ahead of the competition.

Rule 2: Remove hurdles to allow space travel

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have said they want to lower barriers to mass adoption of space travel. Space X has stated its single vision of reducing the cost to launch. While these sound like lofty aims, they follow the right questions and have an impact on technological progress on the ground. Cost of launch is the crucial barrier to product innovation in space technology, and reusable rockets pave the way for new space pioneers to experiment, test, iterate, and launch products and technology more frequently.

Product leaders are equally focused on mass adoption of their products. A key “reduction of cost to launch” on that path is with the use of white-labelled embedded analytics. Think about how you can make it easier for your customers to interact with their data on your app. What if they could simply ask a question using plain language and have your app present analysed insights in a user-friendly format? That is now an attainable differentiator and value proposition for customers to keep returning to your product.

Rule 3: Take advantage of data to make informed decisions 

Virgin Galactic leader Richard Branson and Blue Origin chief Jeff Bezos are bringing their famous customer and data obsession to a sector that traditionally focused on technology first, and the user experience next, with little incentive for change. New space startups and their backers, however, expect profitability from innovation, and have a laser-sharp focus on customer-centric innovation. 

For example, Virgin Galactic’s stated customer goal for its fully crewed test flight on July 11 was to assess everything from the seat comfort to the weightlessness experience, aiming to ensure the customer experience of the complete wonder and awe of space travel.

Product leaders are customer-obsessed but often rely on instinct rather than quantifiable data to drive their innovation decisions, missing opportunities to win customers. Bring that back into your court by using data derived from continuous testing so you can arrive at a solution that meets customer needs and ensures product stickiness.

For example, offering traditional reporting tools to your customers with static visualisations and dashboards simply dumps metrics onto your customers rather than providing actionable insights, leading to dissatisfaction and poor engagement. 

Instead serve contextual insights to your customers in a revolutionary way, by embedding them into your products to achieve a seamless and intuitive user experience. At Sisense, it is called infused analytics, and it empowers your customers with actionable insights where they spend the most time, in their communication apps or CRMs.

You can further enhance user experience with native app visual interfaces that help customers take action on their insights without jumping to and from workflows. By going beyond data delivery to make analytics an intuitive and integral part of decision making, product leaders can innovate to make a difference.

The sky is no longer the limit

Product innovation is arguably rocket science. Just as they did with the new space race, scientists must think big, ask the right questions, and constantly test. And product leaders must aim beyond the stars to create visionary products with long-lasting and universal impact.

With the UK preparing to relaunch itself into the stratosphere, the availability of reliable quantifiable data and the increase in investments – anything is possible. 

Editor’s note: This article is in association with Sisense

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