An interview with Raúl Torres, Co-Founder and CEO of PLD Space
PLD Space is a European New Space rocket company developing a family of reusable microlaunchers to provide suborbital and orbital launch services to small satellites and payloads.
We went to talk with Raúl Torres to understand what it takes to make a successful startup in Europe.
Astropreneurs: Raúl can you please tell us a bit the story of PLD Space and what can we expect to see from the company in the future?
Raúl Torres: Back in 2009, one day at the library, I met Raúl Verdú (co-founder) just by chance. We rapidly became friends as we had a lot of interest in tinkering and we shared a strong passion about space and rockets. We started to build small rockets as a hobby, and one day, after some successful flights, we decided we could start a business building rockets! It was never done before in Spain, and it seemed very appealing for us. So we started the challenge in 2011, when PLD Space was founded.
As you can image, the first years were hard, trying to convince institutions and people to invest in our project. But finally, and after several iterations of our business plan, at the end of 2014, we got €1m thanks to the Spanish Government and some private investors.
This €1m made it possible to develop the first privately managed test facilities in Spain, and the private development and successful test of the first KeroLOX engine in Europe.
Let’s say that after this milestone, the company started growing really fast. We got €6m and the support of GMV as shareholder and technical partner. We got an ESA contract to demonstrate recovery strategies for small launchers in Europe, and we got a contract to test DLR rocket engines in our test facilities. We grew from five employees in the beginning of 2016 to almost 35 today.
I would say that what people can expect from us in the future is a rocket company that will compete hand-in-hand with the rest of the world to develop reliable, affordable, and flexible small launchers, leading the New Space revolution in the launch sector in Europe, and becoming a reference to the rest of the world.
Astropreneurs: Smaller launchers will undoubtedly have an impact in Earth orbit access. Do you also envision small to medium launchers to play a role in the future of exploration and a cislunar economy?
Raúl Torres: Glad to hear that small launchers will undoubtedly have an important impact! Of course, we believe that having small launchers will not be the only solution to provide flight opportunities to small payloads. As now you can travel with a bus, a taxi, or using Bla Bla Car, small payloads will have different vehicle providers. Small launchers are just vehicles dedicated to these payloads, and hence better adapted to their needs (orbit destination, dates flexibility, responsiveness, etc.).
Astropreneurs: What do you feel are the main challenges and advantages of building an European startup in the space sector (vs building one in the US, for example).
Raúl Torres: The most important one is the lack of funding. In the US there is a strong culture of investing in high risk enterprises, and you see how much money VC and business angels have invested in space. In Europe, people have aversion to risk. Europeans are more conservative and hence struggle much more to get funding. Also, in the US, NASA has taken a serious role of enabling space companies since SpaceX started, and it is also a good way to be supported by such important experts.
However, this fact also means that there are more competitors in the US, and less in Europe, which is an advantage at the moment for us in Europe. Another advantage is the rich space supply chain in Europe, from whom you can almost obtain everything you need.
Astropreneurs: What is unique on PLDs company culture that supports its success? And how do you help a new employee understand this culture?
Raúl Torres: If there is something that summarizes PLD’s culture is the passion. People have left everything to come to PLD Space and try something that has never been done before. This is the passion that pushes the company beyond any limit or circumstance. I would say that luckily, new employees come already with this mentality.
Astropreneurs: What where so far, the best and worst moments while leading PLD space?
Raúl Torres: The worst moment was mid-2016, when we almost disappeared. We saw how the money in the bank account was dwindling and nobody seemed to bet on us. But suddenly, GMV appeared, and with them, a group of investors that decided to put more than €6m into the company. I would say that in some months we lived the best and worst moments of PLD Space.
Astropreneurs: Can you provide personal advice for the most important things a New Space entrepreneur should focus when starting its company?
Raúl Torres: Try to not do the things the same way traditional space industry has done. And also, find an example of a New Space company to follow. As many others, we have followed SpaceX steps carefully 😊
Posted by Pedro Coelho