Planet CEO Will Marshall And dMY Technology CEO Niccolo de Masi Discuss Planet’s Investor And Customer Value Proposition

By Patrick Moorhead - December 16, 2021
Planet satellite photo of Dukono, Indonesia. PLANET

As we make our way into the Thanksgiving holiday for those in the States, I had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Planet, Will Marshall, and the CEO of dMY Technology Group inc. (DMYQ) Niccolo de Masi, for an episode of the Moor Insights & Strategy Insider Podcast.

Planet is one of the most disruptive companies I have researched recently and one that I believe could bring a tremendous amount of value to not just one industry but to every industry.

dMY Technology is a special acquisitions company (SPAC), and Planet will become a publicly traded company through the merger of dMY. My company Moor Insights & Strategy authored a research paper highlighting Planet’s differentiated space play. I wanted to dive deeper into Planet, asking questions on how Planet is different, its business model of big data, and other questions on Planet’s growth and future roadmap.

What is Planet

Net-net Planet is a data company. Its business model involves obtaining data from its satellites and selling it to just about anyone who could benefit from satellite imagery of the Earth. Marshall described Planet like a “Bloomberg Terminal but for Earth data” where subscribers will come in, set up their areas of interest and analytics of interest that goes directly into their workflows. I think that’s a fair comparison, and one thing I appreciate is the company’s one-to-many value proposition. 

Planet has 200 satellites in orbit that scan the entire Earth landmass once per day. To put this accomplishment into perspective, Marshal points out that it is the largest Earth-imaging satellite constellation ever by a margin of about ten to twenty times larger than its closest competitors. In an age where data is a valuable commodity and brought many of the top companies like Google to where they are now, I think Planet is in an industry class of its own. It is even fair to say that Planet holds a monopoly on data analytics for Earth imagery because it is so many years ahead of the competition.

Planet has two fleets of orbital satellites, the Dove fleet and the SkySat fleet. PLANET

Although the business model of Planet, to launch a fleet of satellites into orbit and provide Earth data to subscribers, is simple, it has multiple compounding “moats.” I love moats. Marshall described the difficulty from a hardware standpoint. Planet has to design all the different components of the satellites, including its own radio design, camera design, power system, and more. The satellites must have ground stations around the world and mission control systems. Not to mention there must be a ridiculous amount of hoops to jump through when it comes to governments and their regulations. Another moat is its proprietary software stack. Planet has built its technology stack on top of its hardware, allowing its software platforms and AI systems to scale vertically with each market that could potentially use the data. 

These hardware and software “moats” compound to be what Planet calls “agile aerospace.” Marshall says that Planet has been putting new satellites into space every three months, and every time it iterates the capability and performs upgrades. Over the past year, it saw a five-fold improvement in data per day per satellite and Marshall understandably describes Planet as being on Moore’s law of constant improvements. I see Planet excelling on two fronts, the first front being as an aerospace company and the second as a data company. I believe what it has been able to achieve and improve within getting satellites into space has never been seen or done before. De Masi even pointed out that this type of technology and analytical data was reserved for governments and three-letter agencies ten years ago. 

Planet has made this unique type of data available and valuable to multiple markets and has done so, I believe, could be five to ten years ahead of the competition. 

One-to-many value proposition

This agile aerospace strategy is what allows Planet to have a one-to-many value proposition. Data analytics plays a significant role in how businesses can operate. It is fascinating that countless businesses would find value in Earth data, and it would be even more difficult to think of a company that would not find value in daily Earth data. While Planet can do the hard work of getting satellites into orbit with proprietary software, the data it acquires becomes valuable to the many. From an investment point of view, de Masi says that the more software and AI Planet builds on top of the already-valuable raw data, the more use cases Planet can serve. One subscription service of Earth data is for the many markets that would find it valuable, and the more AI and data analytics Planet can do on its end, the more markets can find the data valuable. 

There are countless use cases and even types of data that subscribers could get from satellite imagery of Earth. Some of these large verticals include agriculture, defense and intelligence, civil, mapping and internet, forestry, energy, finance, and insurance. 

In agriculture, Marshall explained how farmer’s fields represent about 25% of the landmass of the Earth and how Planet is the only company able to provide data analytics for a 20 to 40% improvement in crop yields. Marshall says that Planet helps farmers determine when to add fertilizer, water, and even when to harvest for each three-by-three-meter area. The efficiency that Earth data can bring to agriculture is astronomical.

Planet partner, FarmShots uses agricultural imagery similar this to train their automated problem spot detection system that isolates and analyzes in-field anomalies. PLANET

In defense and intelligence, Marshall talks about how countries can see new and emerging threats that are important for peace and security. I can imagine how satellite imagery of other countries keeps those other countries accountable for their actions, not only from a diplomatic standpoint but also from a sustainability standpoint. For example, how is one country taking care of one resource that affects the welfare of another country? Similarly, Planet is useful for civil governance. Planet is able to detect buildings automatically, helping countries keep track of city planning and permit enforcement. Planet recently helped Germany when there was flooding and California with its wildfires when it came to disaster management. Satellite imagery of the Earth provides more than just geography, and as I have said before, there are countless applications to the data it provides.

Marshall also mentioned how useful the data is to Google. Marshall says that every time something is going out of date with its Maps, Google tasks Planet’s high-resolution satellites to take pictures. Google then automatically extracts out the image and updates the map. I think of use-cases like Google Maps and know that it is just the tip of the iceberg for Google. De Massi described what Planet is doing as making the whole Earth indexed and searchable which I like because it simplifies what the company does. It is even difficult to comprehend how much value is one just one day’s worth of data. It reminds me of when 3G was available to the masses, and many people wondered what would come of all this data. Marshall mentioned that Planet is going to go to market with Google Cloud, enabling industries that are at the cross-section of these capabilities to use Planet’s data.

Another vertical is sustainability. What better way to realize the impact humanity is having on the Planet than to measure it and do data analytics? Marshall mentioned how he had come from a climate conference a few weeks ago and how valuable Earth data analytics is to keeping countries accountable to their sustainability commitments. Planet’s data analytics is a way to track all of humanity’s impact on the environment and a way to keep us accountable for that. 

Roadmap and growth

We also talked about the roadmap of Planet. Planet announced a new fleet of hyperspectral satellites that can see in 400 spectral bands (compared to the human’s ability to see across three). Marshall mentioned that this would allow Planet to detect point source methane and CO2. This sort of data is invaluable to companies like in the oil and gas industry, where they can determine gas leaks as quickly as possible. Not only that, but natural point sources of CO2 and methane are trackable. I imagine these cameras would pick up ocean currents and different types of data that are valuable to ships.

A Planet Satellite monitoring global emissions with Hyperspectral PLANET

Marshall also said Planet announced a new product called Fusion SAR, synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data. It combines two datasets to make a third data combination. It is being added to its product Planet Fusion. 

If it hasn’t been made clear from our research that Planet is lightyears ahead of the competition, understand that it is not slowing down and continuing to grow. Marshall mentioned that the pipeline of Planet has grown by 45% YoY. It has also doubled its sales reps from 21, giving Planet its 100 million in revenue last year to just over 40. Another marker of growth is seeing Planet build more applications and software. Marshall said that software to go up the stack enables those vertical markets that can, in principle, get value from the data. The data needs to refine before it can truly serve in those markets.

Planet is going public with its merger with dMY and recently acquired VanderSat. VanderSat company provides insights to customers by analyzing satellites, with de Massi saying more acquisition announcements are coming. 

Wrapping up

There is so much news coming out of Planet that sometimes it is difficult to keep up. Planet’s business is unique and difficult to replicate, and I believe it very well could become a household name soon. Ironically, Planet is not considered an aerospace company, yet it has the largest fleet of satellites in orbit. 

Planet’s one-to-many value proposition allows it to scale vertically with software specific to each of its eight verticals. I believe it is in a unique position with the hardware to separate it from the competition from an aerospace perspective. From a big data perspective, it has proprietary software I believe that nobody can match. Not only this, but its one-to-many value proposition keeps innovating with each vertical. With Planet’s new fleet of hyperspectral satellites and its new Fusion SAR product, I do not see it slowing down anytime soon. 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.

Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.