#17 Raúl Torres

Co-Founder and CEO of PLD Space, Spanish space tech with €32M+ funding providing launch solutions for commercial orbital and suborbital services targeting small payloads and satellites

We are Pol Fañanás and Gerard Garcíatwo friends passionate and curious about tech, startups and VC sharing high-value views from people creating the future. Thanks for reading!


Raúl Torres is Co-founder & CEO of PLD Space, leading Spanish space tech providing launch solutions for commercial orbital and suborbital services targeting small payloads and satellites.

He kicked off the project in 2011 at 24 years old, together with his co-founder Raul Verdú, with the main goal of developing reusable, cost-effective space launch vehicles, and eventually the team grew up to 40+ employees and won contracts with the European Space Agency, Airborne Systems North America and RUAG, among other customers.

PLD space raised over €32M from investors such as Aciturri (Aerospace company with +€300M+ annual revenue), Arcano Partners (Spanish asset manager with $3.8B+ AUM), Caixa Capital Risc (Early-stage Spanish corporate VC with €200M+ AUM), GMV (Satellite ground systems provider with €230M+ annual revenue), JME Ventures (Early stage Spanish VC with €100M+ AUM), and Spain and Europe governments.

Raúl is originally from Elche (Valencia, Spain), holds a Bachelor in Biological Sciences from the University of Alicante and has also studies in Aerospace Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Valencia.


Summary


Could you give us a brief intro about you and your origins?

I’m CEO and Co-founder of PLD Space. Originally from Elche, I’m not an entrepreneur that comes from a city with glamour like Madrid or Barcelona. In Elche, we are known for the tourism and the shoe industry, not tech entrepreneurship.

My family is also from Elche and Valencia. I did study biology at University of Alicante and right after graduating, I started studying aeronautical engineering at Polytechnic University of Valencia. Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by space, daydreaming about stuff like becoming an astronaut or travelling to another planet, and curious about the engineering aspects behind it. But also interested in science. My family never knew what to gift me as I was always between Meccano and a microscopy.

I couldn’t finish aeronautical engineering as I already founded PLD Space with Raúl Verdú, the Bologna Plan forbade me to study and work simultaneously and my decision was to work and bring this project forward.

I don’t remember some specific detail about when I first started with PLD Space, but I remember wanting to launch a rocket into space. There was no other goal than just sending a rocket, that was it. We developed the idea and eventually found that it is about more, about the value proposition that goes inside.

What would you say has been the biggest win in your life?

Personally, being as capable as my colleagues when talking about the know-how required to do our job, even though I did not finish aeronautical engineering. They are very well educated, a really great team and I am happy to feel competent around them. I learned by doing, on my own. I like the way of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk or Steve jobs who did not had the best education completed, perfectly specific to what the endeavours they were pursuing, but they made up for that learning autonomously by doing and ending up able to work together with great people who are experts in their field.

Professionally, the biggest win has been to involve so many people in a childhood dream. From a kid dreaming about going to space to a project that can empower my country, Spain, to have relevant space ambitions. The founders, the employees, the investors, the stakeholders … all united for a crazy idea, that is a big win.

Related to the above, and your biggest failure?

Hard question.

Biggest personal failure maybe was studying engineering as a second degree, I would probably have studied that before biology as my mind would have been structured in a different way. It is not a failure per se as I had personal restrictions but if I had 18 again, I’d choose differently.

Professionally, I would have liked to have had a senior person by my side during the early days as I think it helps you take important decisions and can guide you through the journey. I could have used it to get risk of tasks that are not really focused on the business itself, thus increasing the value provided to the project. Nowadays, we have that role filled with Ezequiel Sánchez as executive chairman.

What is your ideal founder profile?

I think it should be a person that constantly pushes the project forward. Someone that is part of the team, that can support different areas and becomes a tool at the service of the company. Manpower of the team.

If talking about how I try to do it myself, I’d say that I don’t like being too far from my team nor too far from the work because, at the end of the day, the best way to be the best founder is leading by example, going to the mud and owning it, while also being open to delegate if it is the best option for the company.

What is your ideal investor profile?

Who invests money in a company aware of all the risks and once inside, ask questions and really cares about the project.

If the investor puts the money and disappears, it is not optimal. The investor has to have trust in the project, feel like part of the team and be interested - not telling the company what to do but showing that she likes it, having an opinion, tracking the market, keeping an eye on competitors, looking to understand how it works … middle ground in between interfering too much and not doing nothing.

What present and future markets are you most interested in?

The markets I like the most and where I devote more attention are space, robotics, AI and genetics.

  • Space. My main obvious focus. I am deeply interested in space research, the possibility of exploring other planets, finding new substances and testing new products in orbit. I’d love to have a PLD rocket launched to Jupiter’s or Saturn’s moon and have to chance to significantly improve Spain’s exploration capabilities. I imagine it’d feel like Colón discovering America!

  • Robotics. I find interesting the work between how machines interact with the environment and with people, both humanoids and vehicles.

  • AI. I believe in the future we could get to develop an artificial brain with real intelligence, from Homo Sapiens to Homo Deus via AI.

  • Genetics. The other side of my brain, the scientific one, makes me curious about this. Not just talking about COVID applications but specifically about two other things - use it as a tool to enhance our environment creating plants that could generate more fruits in places where hunger is a major pain, and to develop techniques that could revive and/or clone animals that do not exist anymore.

Could you share with us 3 startups you like and why?

  • SpaceX is a reference for me, obviously. Like when a kid wants to become a professional soccer player and has Fernando Torres or Raúl González as a referent. From crazy startup to tech monster.

  • Boston Dynamics for what we have mentioned before about robotics.

  • Scaled Composites, it’s the aviation company that built the first private spaceship to bring tourists into space. Sometime later it derived into Virgin Galactic. I like this more than the ones only focused on spatial tourism, as that is a circus.

I also have to say that I do not really like space tourism since I believe it is a bit of a circus and I also am aware of my bias towards some hard industries and not really pure internet plays like fintech. Maybe is a negative fact about myself because I’m missing an important part of the ecosystem.

Could you share with us 3 investors you like and why?

  • Elon Musk, because he is someone that made a lot of money with PayPal and decided to invest 100% of it towards creating new startups, risking it all. There aren’t many examples like him.

  • Jeff Bezos, as a leading entrepreneur and investor in different important topics like the Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, Twitter, Uber, Workday and many others.

  • Burt Rutan, Scaled Composites founder and also Richard Branson, who used its capital to move the project forward. Richard is an interesting profile, European and self-made, good example.

As an extra one, I also like Gines Clemente, founder of Aciturri, a family company founded in 1977 building aerospace structures and engines. He has been and still is a true role model to me.

What are the 3 books you feel everyone should read and why?

  • “El Palestino” by Antonio Salas. A terrific book. He other good ones but this is the best for me. It explains his journey as journalist that converts to Islam and infiltrates a terrorist group, detailing all the insights and drawing a good picture of conflict between Israel and Palestine. Top book.


WILDCARD QUESTION

Why are we hearing more about space tech lately? Could you share with us a comprehensive overview of the industry, what do you think is the next big thing, what could be done better and what are the main challenges?

About the 1st question, we are hearing more about space tech because one of the things that Elon Musk did is to intervene in 2 industries that have a huge impact both institutionally and industrially: space and automobiles.

Initially, when SpaceX was founded in 2000, everyone laughed at Elon saying something like “the internet fool that made some money now is going to build rockets”. Then SpaceX launched, started competing with incumbent firms like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and started winning. Up until that point, nobody knew SpaceX, but when NASA gave new projects to the startup everything started to change. Now the new kid on the block is setting up the sector rhythm, the industry starts to be more interested in this new player and consequently the people does.

If SpaceX never made it from a product and specially from a sales point of view, they would not have been visible enough and they won’t be what they are right now. Eventually they became trendy. Something similar to Tesla, people buy because a Tesla is cool and they have learned to build hype around their product and brand around their hype that is based on hard tech.

This changed everything. Space sector was pretty boring before them. When there was a launch people clapped and then went on to other things. You see launches from a few years ago and they were tedious, now it turned into a show and SpaceX played a key role in bringing so much energy to the game.

Now you see a launch but what you don’t see is that there is really hard work on how to tell the story, a curated script, a bunch of cameras, media people from Hollywood involved and an ecosystem of story tellers leveraging podcasts and youtube. They created a communication dynamic that made space tech hotter.

Tech has changed less that it seems, but the way to sell it has changed more and the audience has grown.

About the 2nd question, the sector is evolving. Now big companies look at smaller ones, who on their end are starting to capture bigger market shares and become the forces driving change.

Is space tech going to grow even more? We will see more service to launch stuff into space, usually satellites. However I do not see so much interesting growth in number of satellites, but in a better use. It is not about more infrastructure but about its optimization. We will see better applications that can leverage space tech hardware to bring better solutions to earth use cases, superior usage of information, more scenarios than just whatsapp and gps, real time top notch connectivity everywhere, smart cities and many more products that will emerge.

In terms of challenges, without any doubt the investment that is devoted to the industry and the institutional support are the main ones. Technology is not the barrier, the stopper is the lack of money and gov help. Many of these projects transcend the exclusive capabilities of a company and need a full ecosystem that can help them thrive. You need a pad to launch, regulation, … We need countries getting involved. But if a country does not care about space tech, space tech will not reach massive success. The vast majority of companies that succeed had this support and regulations have been changed or created to empower high-value innovative projects. There is no limit in tech.


Big thanks Raúl for sharing your views with us !

Big thanks to you, reader, for your time and interest !

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