Don’t blink, or you will miss the next big thing from Planet Labs, and just as the past ten years have been exciting for the company, I believe the next ten years have the potential to be even more disruptive
As Planet becomes a publicly-traded company in the coming weeks, I want to talk about what’s next for Planet. It is no secret that the past and the present predict the future, and I want to look at what Planet has done in the past and what it’s doing currently to get an idea of how going public will accelerate Planet’s existing leadership. I want to start with the market competition.
While having a monopoly on markets is frowned upon when larger companies have them, it is always interesting how companies come to have a monopoly on a market. Planet got a massive head start and never took its foot off the accelerator.
Planet Labs routinely images 300 million square kilometers of Earth’s landmass every 24 hours. It has the largest fleet of satellites with 200 satellites in orbit, eclipsing its closest competitors by the size of about ten to twenty times.
Based on our analysis, Planet could be five to seven years ahead of any competition and is currently the only company to offer such a robust big data and analytics service. My company Moor Insights and Strategy, recently wrote a research paper which you can read here. I also had the chance to sit down with the CEO of Planet, Will Marshall, and the CEO of dMY Technology Group inc. Niccolo de Masi, which you can read about hereand watch here.
I would like to highlight some key acquisitions that Planet has made over the past couple of years for a few reasons. One reason is that it shows the growing success of Planet and its ability to fill in technologies that complement its service, almost like a bingo card that always aims vertically. Some companies have the muscle for M&A and some don’t. The other reason is to show that when Planet goes public, it will be able to make these acquisitions on a grander stage.
Going public will give Planet the funds it needs to make strategic growth plays, including acquisitions of smaller software and electronic companies to increase its sales force and potentially double its software engineering headcount.
In 2017, Planet Labs acquired Terra Bella from Google, which added high-resolution data to its products. This deal to acquire Terra Bella opened Planet up to access new customers and emerging markets. The new satellites were complementary to Planets already existing satellites under its agile aerospace model. What is unique about this acquisition is that it accelerated Planet’s growth into other verticals while keeping Planet disciplined in its vision. SkySat, Terra Bella’s high-resolution fleet of seven satellites, enabled Planet to exceed its revenue goals in 2016.
Similarly, Planet acquired Boundless in 2018, a geospatial software solutions company, to expand its commercial business with the U.S. government and commercial agriculture clients. The acquisition expanded Planet’s already existing business with the U.S. Government. Planet’s growth was not in a new or future market, rather expanded Planet’s already existing offerings.
Planet’s most recent acquisition of VanderSat follows its growth in providing Earth data and analytics. VanderSat provides Earth data and analytics through satellite data provided by NASA, ESA, and JAXA, reporting on key insights to the Earth’s surface. VanderSat’s value is at the upper end of the stack for Planet’s vertical markets. It falls in line with Planet’s one-for-many value proposition. The acquisition of VanderSat comes with the mindset that it will expand Planet’s position in the agriculture vertical while also maturing other smaller verticals. Like the bingo analogy before, VanderSat is at the upper end of the bingo card.
These three acquisitions are not the only business plays that Planet has made over the past ten years, but it does highlight the strategic expansion of Planet to put it in the monopoly position it is in today. The net-net is that Planet knows how to acquire and integrate and will have the funds to make even larger and even more acquisition in the future. With Planet holding a monopoly on satellite imagery, there is plenty of room to grow for this 800lb gorilla.
While company acquisitions played a significant role in Planet’s growth, its first mover advantage, agile aerospace strategy, its one-to-many value proposition, and its business model of scalable Earth data and analytics brings it to where it is today and where it will be tomorrow.
If you haven’t already, I recommend going back and reading Moor Insights & Strategy and Strategy’s research paper linked above and my interview with Planet and dMY to understand Planet’s agile aerospace development process, one-to-many value proposition, and its business model of scalable Earth data and analytics. Planet’s agile aerospace is what allowed Planet to design and build a fleet of satellites ten times larger than any competitor. Its one-to-many value proposition allows Planet to provide a subscription service to a diverse and growing customer base because of Planet’s understanding that Earth data and analytics are valuable to more vertical markets than one. Planet also understands that it is a data company first and an aerospace company second, allowing it to be unmatched in both the data space and aerospace space. In our age where every business is going through a digital transformation, Planet’s subscription service runs alongside these transforming and scalable businesses.
One customer testimony to the invaluable Earth data Planet provides is in the vertical and digitally transforming vertical agriculture market. Planet’s partner Granular, an agricultural technologies company that provides data insights to farmers leverages Planet’s high-frequency PlanetScope imagery in its Granular Insights solution. Granular says it uses PlanetScope to analyze the health of crops during the growing season, notifying farmers of in-field change to better direct farmers when there are deviations from expected crop growth. One fascinating aspect of this Earth data and analytics utilization is that farmers never asked for this technology. The data and analytics are invaluable to the farmers and increase their crop yields by a significant amount.
Another market that can utilize Planet’s Earth data and analytics is the financial and insurance market. In 2017, Planet was able to show a birds-eye view of the impact of Hurricane Harvey floods on the Motiva Refinery in Texas that was stalling gas production. This information allowed hedge funds, asset managers and private equity firms to anticipate the market and make better investment decisions based on the impact of the hurricane on gas production. Planet’s involvement in the Insurance and financial market shows how Earth data and analytics is valuable to more vertical markets than we might think. It is similar to when 3G Network came to the table, and many wondered what would come of all this data, then visionaries made something of it. Similarly, there is an abundant amount of Earth data to be utilized, and Planet is continuing to learn of the different markets to jump into.
To put into perspective the potential of Planet’s Earth data, in the past half-decade, Planet’s Earth data has contributed to over 1,500 academic publications. Dr. Joseph Mascaro, Director of Science Programs at Planet, said, “These users—many of them undergraduate and graduate students—are helping to realize our founding intent to use space to help life on Earth.” What is not included in Planet’s blog is the various categories of academic research that utilize Planet data. Although it would be telling of the breadth of educational impact Planet’s data has, even more so I believe it would give us an idea of the number of markets Planet could potentially impact in the coming years.
As Planet goes public, it will be exciting to see the accelerated growth of its already disruptive presence. It has made many strategic acquisitions in the past, and it has many innovative testimonies to show.
I believe it has the most potential of any company to be the next Big Tech, not only because of its financial potential but also for its scalable influence in various vertical markets. Planet looks to be poised to be the long-term beneficiary of winner takes most, if not winner takes all in the Earth data and analytics space.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy co-op Jacob Freyman contributed to this article.