I am BOLD because…
I tend to not let current thinking box in my thinking. If I hear anybody say something definitive, my gut reaction is to question it and ask: Why?
Please provide a brief overview of your professional background and share a couple of significant milestones or projects you've been involved in?
I’m best known for, and proudest of, the Space Angels Network that I started in 2006. It connects individual investors with space startups. They played a significant role in helping the space ecosystem become what it is today.
I am a serial entrepreneur. For the last 25 years, I’ve started about ten profit and four non-profit organizations. I was trained as a lawyer and served in the military before I started down that path.
What has been one of the most valuable lessons life has taught you thus far?
It is important to believe in yourself. But, also, I’ve learned what is so precious to me: to help others without regard of what’s in it for me. The key to that is empathy. You have to not only put yourself in the other person’s shoes but also see the world through their eyes and their brain, not through yours.
How does being a part of the BOLD community influence you and your work?
There are three different ways in which communities like BOLD are valuable. One: to generate ideas. Two: It’s a peer-network, like a support group for thinking outside the box. And three: collaborations.
What strategies do you implement to cultivate a culture of innovation within your organization?
It starts with the people you bring in. They have to share a similar mindset of innovation and creativity and they have to be comfortable in that environment. Something I learned from the marine corps is that you can only give two parameters: the ultimate vision that everyone is driving for and any limitations. Other than that, get out of their way. Let them be as creative as possible; it allows innovation without derailing the organization. It also means that there are certain people that are not a good fit for that, who need micromanagement and a lot of structure. As the leader, you have to temper your ego. Sometimes the best idea might come from somebody else.
Is there a particular belief or philosophy that guides your approach to life and work?
Since I was a kid, I’ve always thought that human life is too short for everything there is to experience. I’ve tried not to waste time. There are too many people to meet, too many ideas to talk through, too many pursuits, too many places to see. So: No time for negativity and sitting still.
Doesn’t that get stressful?
Yes. Sometimes I meet people that are at the other end of this spectrum and I don’t understand how they can live their lives like that. But on the flipside, I envy them. They can be happy.
Do you use your empathy to try to understand that way of living?
What do you think people should learn from each other to foster innovation and collaboration?
That’s a trick question. Because IN ORDER to foster innovation, first they should learn from each other.
What qualities do you believe will be crucial for success in the future of work?
The ability to embrace change and be happy with it.
Can you share an instance where a failure or setback led to a positive outcome or growth?
When I was a kid, since the age of 11, I wanted to be an astronaut. I had my path all mapped out, and my life was going exactly according to plan. But when I was 19, my eyesight went bad. It went from perfect to slightly imperfect and that disqualified me from becoming a military jet pilot. At that time, that was the only way to get into NASA and be a commander, do all these things I wanted to do. That was a huge setback. It sent me reeling for many years. But now looking back, if my eyesight had not gone bad and I would have become an astronaut, my life would be completely different now. I never would have become an entrepreneur. I know that now, but as a 19-year-old I was not as adept at adapting as I am today.
What is a BOLD decision you made in your career and why?
When I was 22, I was seven weeks away from graduating — from finishing Berkeley – and I dropped out of school. I ended up coming back a few months later and finishing my degree, but I had dropped out. I realized, the only reason I was there was because of societal pressure, not because I wanted to. Because my parents, teachers, and friends expected me to be there. Nobody ever asked me. I didn’t feel in control of my own life. So, when I came back a few months later, it was my decision. That was a scary decision to make.
Some people say it was a blessing that I did this so young because after that, every big decision in my life and career seems bold or scary to others. But I am used to it. Like leaving the US to come to Barcelona, shifting careers. After years of studying law, instead of starting at a law firm, I decided to get into the marine corps. And the reason why I was comfortable doing that, was because I had done this other thing back at 22. Just because everyone is doing something in a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to do so as well.
How do you not doubt making these decisions?
Every time you make a big decision — and I don’t care who you are, you could be the CEO of a company or the president of a country — you always have those doubts. It’s completely normal, no matter how cocky or confident a person is on the outside. All big decisions you have to doubt; otherwise, maybe it wasn’t such a big decision after all. Check your ego. If a lot of people tell you something is a bad idea, look at what they are saying: Do they have a point? Is there something you are missing? Once you have looked at it open-mindedly and say, “No, I have considered everything, I still want to do this,” have confidence in your decision.
Can you explain your innovation and why it matters?
What’s driven me my entire life is to make humanity a multiplanet species. “Humans2Venus” is an endeavor with two sister organizations: A non-profit called “Humans2Venus Foundation,” which is focused on promoting Venus science and education programs.
And then there is a for-profit company, which is a space venture studio. Our model is to create two to five new business ventures in/related to the space industry per year.
We have a long-term vision that we set up for the company, which is to have 1,000 people living and working in the Venusian atmosphere by the year 2050. That guides everything we do.
In the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter if we actually achieve that. What matters is that in the pursuit of that long-term vision, we’re going to come up with creative solutions for a lot of different problems that we are experiencing here on Earth. So, we’ll be helping to improve life here on our planet — I am talking about clean energy, clean water, clean air, sustainable food supplies.
How did you get involved in this?
About three years ago, I was coming up on 20 years working in the space industry and they went by so quickly. I wanted to put some thought into how I was going to spend the next 20 years. I wanted to find a focus that was a worthwhile endeavor and leveraged my previous 20 years. I wanted to laser-focus on building a platform for offroad communities. Venus and Earth are relatively the same size and mass, so they have about the same gravity. The problem with Venus is that the surface is completely inhospitable. It’s too hot and the pressure is too great.
But about five years ago, I was reading a study about some of the old Soviet missions to Venus and it turns out, about 50km off the surface of Venus, the pressure is the same as at our sea level and the temperature is 30-50 degrees Celsius. Venus’ atmosphere provides sufficient protection from solar radiation even though it is closer to the sun. Humans could actually survive there. The idea is to have floating structures: floating research stations and cities. Of course, all of that is theoretical right now. There are some dangers: The Venusian atmosphere is all carbon dioxide, we cannot breathe there, it is thick with CO2. Also, there are clouds of sulfuric acid; this is toxic for humans. We already have technology that is resistant to sulfuric acid — we could build structures that are resistant to the clouds, like Teflon, and use these clouds to extract and generate water.
How can others contribute to this effort?
We are looking for entrepreneurial CEOs who are searching for their next venture and early investors with an interest in space. Eventually we’re going to have a portfolio of a hundred companies and they will all need to hire people. So, we are going to need finance people, marketers, sales people, technologists, scientists… everything, all sorts of people.