Dylan Taylor: Building the Berkshire Hathaway of Space - Ep. 5

I sit down with Dylan Taylor, CEO of Voyager Space Holdings and one of Pitchbook's Top 10 Investors in Space Technology, to discuss the past, present, and future of outer space.
Last updated
November 2, 2020
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“I’m in the camp that is super passionate about space as a tool for transformation. So what energizes me is getting humans into space.” — Dylan Taylor

In this episode of Outliers, I sit down with Dylan Taylor (@SpaceAdvisor), CEO of Voyager Space Holdings and one of Pitchbook's Top 10 Investors in Space Technology, to discuss:

  • How to invest in space — and actually see a return.
  • How advancements in space, particularly the advent of reusable launch systems, have recaptured humanity’s imagination.
  • The future of space tourism and space manufacturing.
  • How anyone can get involved in space — even if they didn’t study science.

Whether or not you’re interested in space, this conversation about the future of space technology will blow your mind.

At one point or another, you probably went through a “space phase” as a kid. You studied the planets, begged your parents to send you to Space Camp and walked around in your bouncy “moon shoes” pretending to exist in zero gravity.

Many of us let those dreams go when we started thinking about our careers, including Dylan. In his late 30s, Dylan had some success in the business world, but after reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, he began reflecting on one of his earliest passions: space.

Fast-forward to a decade later, and Dylan is now one of the top 10 investors in space technology. He currently serves as the Chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, a global space holding firm that acquires and operates companies in the realm of space exploration.

On this episode of Outliers, I speak with Dylan about all things space technology. He explains how space has the capability to change humanity and how he chooses which space companies to invest in. He also discusses the future of space manufacturing and space tourism.

(Spoiler: Space tourism is taking off, and you’ll probably know someone who’s been to space within the next few years.)

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Connect with Dylan

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Links from the Episode

Favorite quotes

“Space is definitively the most fundamental tool for transformation that humans are aware of. And what do I mean by that? What I mean by that is there are very few paradigms where you can get out of a fishbowl, and reflect on the fact that you’re a fish in the water.”

“I think fundamentally the world, as we move into space and as we venture into the stars, I think we have the ability to reimagine what it means to be human, and my hope is that it’s not just a copy paste of what we have. It’s a reimagining of what we could be.”

“I’m in the camp that is super passionate about space as a tool for transformation. So what energizes me is getting humans into space.”

“We’re going to launch more satellites in 2020 than the history of our civilization prior to 2020 — and that’s in the middle of a global pandemic. In 2021, we’ll set another record. We’ll put tens of thousands of pieces of hardware in orbit over the next 24 months. … It’s enabled business plans that were only conceptual in nature, prior to this launch revolution, and really captured the imagination.”

Big Ideas

Space gives humans a new perspective

“Space really fundamentally is the way humans — humanity — can deal with some of these problems, which we think are intractable or insolvable, and I think it’s fundamentally because we lack perspective.”

Investing in space in the early days…

“What I was trying to do in the early days was shepherd along some of these individuals who just honestly needed a ‘yes.’ Lo and behold, what ended up happening, you had these entrepreneurs who had been stuck in a rut for a long time or were on the verge of maybe throwing in the towel and all of a sudden they had a swagger to them — they had a near-term purpose on how to deploy that capital, what that next milestone would be. … Really I was just trying to provide some kindling for the industry and just get the industry off the ground.”

Angel investors: Plan to make 10+ investments to see a return

“I talk to folks sometimes within the ecosystem saying, ‘Well, you know, I’m interested in angel investing, and I’m thinking about making a couple of angel investments.’ And I tell them, I say, ‘Look, if your strategy is to make a couple of angel investments, I highly, highly, highly recommend against that because unless you can make eight or nine or 10 — probably 10 minimum — no one on planet Earth I’ve met is smart enough to pick a single angel investment and be right with any level of certainty. The best teams fail, the worst teams succeed, and everything in between. So unless you take a portfolio approach, and unless you’re smart about the way you structure your early-stage deals … I think angel investing for most people is really foolhardy unless you take that approach.”

Advancements in space tech are recapturing human imagination

“I’ve got to give Elon and his team — Gwynne, in particular, the president of SpaceX — credit. They’ve really redefined and reimagined space and made it super exciting with the reusability. … Seeing boosters re-land on the pad has captivated everyone’s imagination. Sending a Tesla Roadster on a Mars orbit has captured everyone’s imagination. Sending humans — actual astronauts not on a Russian rocket, which we’ve been flying on for the last 12 years or longer, but a U.S.-made commercial space vehicle — to the International Space Station and returning them home safely. … That’s remarkable.”

The advent of the elevator vs. the advent of reusable launch systems

“If you were to look at a picture of Manhattan in 1910, what you would see is a fairly dense island with the tallest building being about seven or eight stories. Fast-forward to 1920, what would you see? You would see a lot of mid-rise or early forms of the skyscraper. And why is that? Did we not know how to build tall buildings in 1910? Well, no, we did, actually. We knew how to build tall buildings in 1910. But what really changed was the advent of the elevator. That’s what changed. People didn’t want to walk 20 stories up to their penthouse apartment. So the space is very similar. We’ve built the elevator. We can now get mass to orbit in quantity. We’re going to launch more satellites in 2020 than the history of our civilization prior to 2020.”

Three things Dylan screens for when choosing companies to invest in

“Leveraging the best of the entrepreneurial spirit — heavy innovation — while scaling all the things back office and front office that scale was size and screening it for three things: What is a financial screen? So we’re only buying companies that are post-revenue, post EBITDA and postoperative cash flow. A lot of people would say, ‘Well, that’s zero companies.’ The answer is there are thousands, thousands of companies within the space ecosystem that qualify. … Second screen is what capability are we adding to our ecosystem? So if it’s a better way to rivet aircraft, I could care less about that. … It doesn’t further our capability, which is ultimately to build a company capable of delivering any mission humans can conceive. So what’s the capability we’re adding? And then the third, which is the most important … is the team. Is it a team that’s looking to cash out or is it a team saying, ‘You know what? We have taken this company as far as we can take it. We want to get to the next level, and we want to be part of something bigger and more ambitious.’”

The importance of building an ambitious team

“You don’t want any folks on your team who aren’t willing to collaborate or aren’t motivated by that level of synergy, but then I think it’s also the way you incent people. Again, this goes back to why we would insist our teams have heavy equity in their businesses, so they benefit from that. It’s something that’s very challenging. … I was talking to a close friend and he said, ‘Dylan, what you’re proposing is very, very difficult to achieve.’ And I said, ‘I’m counting on that. I hope it’s difficult because that means when we do it, we’re going to be that much further ahead of everybody else.”

What if manufacturing moves to space?

“Imagine all heavy industry is not on earth. Imagine all heavy industries are in space — it’s in free space — and the Earth is like a national park, if you will. It’s an oasis. That’s a pretty cool vision, whether that’s practical or not anytime soon, but space manufacturing captures the imagination.”

Space is a uniter, not a divider

“I’m more from the camp that says space is a uniter, not a divider. Space allows humans to be aware of the fact that we have 99.9999999% in common, and we tussle over the minor differences.”

Everyone is in the space industry

“No matter what your skill set is or what your fundamental ambition is for a vocation, gone are the days, in my view, where you have to be a 6’2” white male, fighter pilot to go to space. That’s totally changed. … Space is going to need artists, space is going to need every background you can think of. … You don’t have to study a technical subject, if that’s not something you’re super interested in. You can be passionate about space and study art. … Space will not be a domain that’s separate and distinct from society. It will be society. I tell people everyone’s in the space industry, they just don’t know it yet. So if you’re passionate about it, get really good at whatever your skill set is or whatever you have ambition for, and then figure out a way to plug that in to what’s happening in space.”

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

About Outliers

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge — in business, investing, science, and so much more. In each episode, he decodes what they've mastered and what they've learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. Listen to past episodes for free, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe to Outliers on your favorite podcast platform.

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