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I can imagine the rockets going up and I am excited.

Something wonderful happens when founders ask who cares about an idea and how they make the conditions for it to endure. This is how startups make amazing things with very little. They can’t operate without this strong foundation. They know who our customer is. They know why those customers care. They have a strong idea about how to make a business model that will make this stand.

My son and I listened to Elon Musk’s announcement on how SpaceX intends to make humans an interplanetary species by colonising Mars with a million people. We imagined the rockets going up in just a few years. We imagined what it would be like to live on Mars and look back at the pale blue dot. Why did this feel so immediate? What was happening differently to a NASA mission now an entrepreneur was tackling the problems of space.

The idea of going to Mars isn’t new. There are many plans to take us there, not least from NASA itself. These missions are generally justified on a scientific basis and are impossibly expensive. It makes it a tough sell. And when we get there… what then? If there was a lean canvas for a NASA mission it would look something like this.

This is a super simplistic canvas I know but it is good enough to illustrate this perspective. This is epic, humanity enhancing stuff that literally blows my mind. They have the technical capability as an organisation and have already undertaken millions of the knowledge steps that will be needed to get humans to Mars. They have a direct channel to government who can fund them to win the race to Mars.

The weakness is that the value proposition is not immediately obvious to most people that live on planet earth and the business model is unclear. The conservative view would be that it is a $50 billion bet that we hope yields a benefit back to the government customer… but is probably too big a bet.

Here is the game-changing slide from Musk’s talk.

He has started with a sustainable model that would make the venture sustainable.  As a canvas (also very simplistic) it would look something like this.

Building the model in this way creates the conditions that makes it sustainable and repeatable. If it is sustainable and repeatable, it is easier to take the risk supporting it. Musk started with $200K per passenger. As a number equivalent to the average mortgage, there are suddenly millions of humans who can become customers. So we look up and pay attention. We imagine the rockets going up. We actually start thinking about whether to go.

We have started talking about it. Here begins a strategy that worked so well with cars and solar power at Tesla. He is starting a movement that will gather other supporters and, eventually, customers.

He has also set a #MASSIVE problem to solve. Now that you mention it Elon,  it does seem like a big risk that we make ourselves extinct on this single planet of ours. Having a million people on another planet sounds pretty sensible.

There’s a big problem to solve that I understand as a potential customer and partner. I can understand how it might work commercially.

This is very different to how government research projects are justified and funded.

I wonder what would happen if we changed this?


  • Discovering and sharing a sustainable business model helps deep science get done.
  • There is no reason why a big idea, can’t be communicated so that anyone can understand it and get excited. This also helps get it done.
  • Announcing stuff early to the world can start a movement… that helps get it done.

Can you imagine the rockets going up?


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