Daniel Metzler - Co-Founder & CEO, Isar Aerospace
Isar Aerospace was founded in 2018 by Daniel Metzler, Josef Fleischmann and Markus Brandl. The company offers flexible, sustainable and cost-efficient access to space for satellite constellations through its self-developed launch vehicle. The Munich-based startup is supported by Bulent Altan, former VP at SpaceX, and has raised more than $182 million in venture capital.
On market segmentation:
Development times are extremely long in the space industry--easily 4 or 5 years. And you have to decide on a particular system in advance, because the development work is not easily transferable between different systems. This means that we had to bet on a market segment at a very early point in time. In retrospect, it looks like we knew what was coming--but in the end, it was an educated guess from looking at the trends for satellite systems, analyzing what our competitors were working on, and asking our customers what they were planning.
The space industry is a relatively small niche. Visit all the conferences for two years and you basically know everybody. Even better, you get a salesperson on board who already brings their network with them and increases your credibility, too.
On the one hand, our market segmentation is defined by technical criteria, such as the payload of our launch system. But actually, the space industry is a very political business--after all, it’s a core technology that can’t just be sold across borders. That’s why geography plays a role for us, too.
On credibility as a startup in the “whale” business:
Even though we were basically just a student team at the time, we already had an excellent technical track record. At the time, we had already developed Europe’s most powerful cryogenic hybrid propulsion system. Because of this, customers took us seriously--and in fact, their demand was what prompted the founding of Isar Aerospace in the first place.
It was a big credibility booster for us that we had won Bulent Altan, former Vice President of SpaceX, as an investor. That’s a name everyone in the industry knows and trusts.
Just by announcing our MOU with Airbus, within two weeks, we had 15 satellite companies calling us about our satellite launches. Their reasoning was: if Airbus had done its due diligence and trusts these guys, we can trust them for sure.
On large-ticket sales processes:
With ticket sizes of more than €10 million, the due diligence is pretty extensive. The customers check everything on the technical side. They talk to everyone in the team, they ask about essential system components. But they are also very interested in the organizational side: who are our investors? Who’s in the management team? It’s a very long and intense process.
Our field is extremely technical--so technical that in fact, we don’t just send our customers nice brochures or presentations. Instead, they get our actual Payload User Manual. It’s a document with a couple dozen pages that describes everything about our launchers, the interfaces, the payload, the facilities and so on. No regular person will understand any of this, but it’s the first thing our customers ask for.
In 2021, I was still the only one doing commercial sales at Isar Aerospace which is somewhat strange, because I never saw myself in that role before. But I was assisted by our Board members. And I was often accompanied by our technical team, simply because technology plays such an essential role for our customers.
With long lead times like in our industry, it’s essential to exchange updates with your customers regularly. Schedule Zoom calls and ask how things are going. Use those calls to get deeper insights into the market, too: how is the global pandemic impacting your customers? Can you help them by making some adaptations? Or will your customer eventually not be your customer at all because they’ll be broke by the time your launch system is ready? They won’t approach you with issues on their own, so actively stay in touch. I have customers who I have a weekly call with, just to keep them updated.