On this week’s episode of the Pathfinder podcast, Ryan sits down with Kevin Weil, president of product and business at Planet ($PL), a ~$1.3B Earth-imaging company based in San Francisco.
Kevin joined Planet last April to accelerate software and data product development (or help the company move “up the stack”). Before he worked in commercial space, Kevin held leadership roles at Silicon Valley mainstays that have become household names, like Twitter and Instagram. He managed products with hundreds of millions of daily active users.
Pathfinder is brought to you by SpiderOak Mission Systems — www.spideroak-ms.com — an industry leader in space cybersecurity.
- Kevin’s journey from studying particle physics to Silicon Valley startups and quickly shipping code
- Twitter’s leadership taking a chance on Kevin and how he grew with the company from 2009 to 2016
- Working at an autonomous Instagram and eventually cofounding Meta’s cryptocurrency project
- What convinced Kevin to jump ship to the new space industry?
- How much of Kevin’s experience was transferable from the consumer social world to product at Planet?
- Selling to governments vs. commercial users
- The “one-to-many” model and what Planet does differently than competitors
- Going public via SPAC and the pressures of being publicly traded
- “Our growth is accelerating” and “we have a proven business model”
- Acquiring VanderSat and launching Planetary Variables
- Planet imagery shaping the general public’s understanding of the Ukraine war
- “Bringing transparency is a massive positive, even if sometimes that means you capture some of the bad things that happen in the world.”
- How does Planet prevent abuse or misuse of its data and imagery?
- What does Kevin wish he could change overnight in the EO industry?
0:00 – Intro
2:00 – Rundown of Kevin’s résumé, from studying particle physics to quickly shipping code at startups and eventually running product at consumer apps that became household names
4:19 – Joining Twitter in ‘09…and growing with the company until he departed in ‘16
5:07 – Running product at Instagram, while the Facebook division was still relatively autonomous
7:07 – What convinced Kevin to jump ship to the new space industry?
9:11 – Launching what into space?! Unpacking the tech tailwinds powering the cubesat and smallsat revolutions
11:51 – A simple walkthrough of what Planet’s constellation does daily
13:30 – the Silicon Valley-style startup product management playbook…What cringe “best practices,” if any, did Kevin take from consumer social to Planet?
15:07 – Where is the EO (Earth observation) industry at today, in terms of maturity and adoption?
18:01 – On selling to both governments and commercial users…and when the “flippening,” as Ryan calls it, may happen
21:26 – Expanding on Planet’s “one-to-many” model
24:20 – The trials and tribulations of being a publicly traded company
27:50 – Will SPAC turbulence have a lasting impact on future funding?
30:00 – How Planet processes their data
33:00 – Case study: VanderSat acquisition and Planetary Variables
35:23 – Switching gears to Ukraine, and Planet imagery’s role in shaping the world’s understanding of what’s happening on the ground
36:40 – The value of the daily Earth-imaging scans, as it relates to Ukraine and Russian aggression
37:55 – The geopolitical value of unclassified commercial satellite imagery for governments, who can point to the data and say: “This happened. You don’t have to take our word for it.”
41:55 – Buzzfeed researchers noticing pixelated map tiles on Baidu, digging in to Planet data, and making an ugly discovery
43:45 – Mental health and content moderation
46:15 – What safeguards Planet puts in place to prevent abuse or misuse of its data
48:30 – Genie in a bottle question…What’s one thing that Kevin wishes could change overnight in the EO industry?
52:30 – Will more engineers follow in Kevin’s footsteps, and move from Big Tech companies to commercial space?
1:00:06– Worlds colliding question…Will Elon end up owning Twitter?