Episode 42 - Entrepreneur Experience: Tom Cooke, Founder of Spacely


Entrepreneur Experience: Tom Cooke, Founder of Spacely

This episode goes beyond the terrestrial into the final frontier as we sit down with Tom Cooke, founder of Spacely, the open-talent marketplace for the future of space work. From career Air Force to space engineering to entrepreneurship, Tom shares his journey of building a retail kickboxing gym with his wife and then building a platform to advance the future of space work for all heavenly dreamers. Tom’s passion is connecting people with opportunities, and he’s showing the aerospace industry how it’s done. Listen now!

Today we go where few men and women have gone before, and talk about the future of gig economy work… in space! We are joined by Tom Cooke, founder of Spacely, the open-talent marketplace platform designed for anyone who wants to leverage their talents for the future of space. Tom started as career military flying planes in the Air Force, and then transitioning to space engineering. He then watched the entrepreneurial journey play out real time as he helped his wife build her kickboxing studio in Denver and caught the bug himself a few short years later. Now his vision is to connect people with opportunities and help anyone who loves space use their talents to advance humanity’s race to the heavens.

Tom talks about how he came up with Spacely and gives us some tips about how to find a cool idea if you want to become an entrepreneur. (Hint: Do what you know!) He also debunks some myths about the gig economy, what objections he hears from companies about working with contractors versus full-timers, and how he answers those objections to everyone’s benefit. Tom also shares his views on the theory that entrepreneurship requires everything you have to give and then some, and he gives us all hope that having a life while being an entrepreneur is not only possible, but it’s how things are supposed to be.

We then dive into a question that Tom has found himself asking a ton lately: do platforms need people or do people need platforms? And how do you strike the balance between people and platforms that accomplishes everyone’s goals and raises everyone’s boats? Tom talks about how the pace of technological change is the motivator for historically staid economies to continue to promote new ways of accomplishing the work we all want to get done.

He loves space (and wants to go there someday!), but Tom is anything but spacey. He’s funny, insightful, and has a ton of ideas that will have your head in the clouds.

Check out Tom’s recommended resources:
“The Ivy Podcast”
Jon Younger’s articles on “freelancers” for Forbes

Get involved with Tom and start your own space race at Spacely.work.

Be sure to like, share, and subscribe to Precursa: The Startup Journey on your favorite podcasting platform and tune in for the next episode!

Email us with any questions or comments (startup@precursa.com). Check out our website (https://www.precursa.com) for more information on getting your startup rolling.

Straight to you from Denver, Colorado, this is Precursa: The Startup Journey. We share the ins and outs of building a tech startup from inception, to launch, to revenue and beyond. If you’ve ever wondered what building a startup from scratch really looks like, you’re in the right place. With full transparency and honesty, we reveal it all about Precursa on our ride from idea to exit: the wins, the lessons learned, and the unexpected twists and turns.

Hey everybody. And welcome back. This is Precursa the startup journey. And today we are continuing our entrepreneur experience segment with one of my favorite people. So today I’m joined by Mr. Tom cook, who was former military. He retired from the air force after about 24 years of service and decided that being an entre sounded like a great idea. And so he’s here today to share with us his experience and share with us Spacely, which is a gig work platform that he is bringing to the military and specifically space. So without further ado, please welcome Mr. Tom.

Thank you, Cynthia. Great to be here.

You’re welcome. It’s great to have you. I’m so excited for this conversation. So why don’t you just start by telling the audience a little bit about yourself and how you became an entrepreneur?

All right. Well, as, uh, as you mentioned, you know, I spent 24 years in the air force. Um, so, you know, coming outta high school as a, you know, 17 year old kid, right into the military, right. And did not expect to stay in that long, but just kept having great opportunities. Went to the air force academy, flew, uh, jets then stopped flying and went into space systems, uh, started flying spacecraft, uh, for the air force and, uh, just had a, a blast doing all that stuff. And when I was wrapped up and, uh, done with the career, uh, was kinda looking at what the next steps were. And a lot of folks like us, you know, we, we have our clearance, we have our experience and, you know, you go into consulting or you go write it back into the aerospace industry. And, and for me, that was just not exactly what I wanted to do when I met my wife in, in LA, uh, her family, uh, we’re all entrepreneurs.

Uh, her father was a music writer and a comedy writer for shows in LA and Nashville. Her mom was a real estate agent. And, uh, it was very different from our family’s background, which we were kind of more of the, the blue collar lunchbox crew, right. We always had, uh, a nine to five. We always had a, a boss and we always had a schedule. And it was fascinating to me, uh, when I met her and her family, I was like, how do you, how, what do you mean? You don’t have to ask anyone for permission to, you know, visit us.

So, so that was, that was just, uh, the whole family was structured that way. And it was my first kind of insight into, you know, people that were working on their own terms and for themselves in the best way that met what their needs were. And so that was, you know, as we came back here to Denver, Denver from LA, my wife wanted to all a, a kickboxing studio. So she’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, you know, from her family. And so we, we did that together. Uh, it took about six months to get that all squared away here in Denver Stanley marketplace. And it’s been, uh, successful in spite of a pandemic. And, um,


And as we kind of get that opening going and, and getting that it up on its, uh, legs, I said, you know, that this, this is something I really enjoy. I enjoy creating something from nothing. Um, that space we, uh, started with at Stanley marketplace was a conference room before we turned it into a kickboxing studio and, and seeing, you know, trying to have a vision transforming that vision into reality, execut on that and getting to a point where, you know, we were open and, and accepting customers. It was an exciting journey. And so I was ready to do more. And, uh, and so, as I was thinking about my consulting, uh, opportunities, I looked at it and said, you know, I think there’s, you know, if I just hired five people or 10 people or a hundred people, uh, that’s not quite the same.

And people have kind of done that. And, um, and, and, and it’s great that, you know, folks have done it, but I said, I I’d like to try to build something. Right. Um, other than just not just a company, right. There’s, there’s great parts of building a company and, and building a team and, and, uh, and having the team work on something together. But I was fascinated by, uh, tech. We integrated technology into my wife’s, uh, kickboxing studio with sensors, uh, wrapping the heavy bags and brought a technology element. And obviously I was a, you know, I was a, a big tech geek in the air force, uh, because we were always working on new technologies and launching those into space. And so, you know, looking into what I wanted to do and build, you know, uh, going forward just said, Hey, I think there’s a, a platform play here for what I wanna do in the aerospace industry and connecting people with opportunities, uh, like I was seeing. And, um, and, and, and then started kind of figuring out how I would go about that journey. So that was really kind of the going into the military kind of blue collar background working, you know, shift work, and according to other people’s schedule, um, seeing my wife and her family, and then kind of joining her in that entrepreneurial journey. Um, it’s kind of a as a family thing. Now,

I love that. And tell us a little bit about Spacely like, what inspired you to, to want to bring sort of this gig work platform concept to an industry that historically just doesn’t work that way. Right. I mean, tell us a little bit about sort of the evolution of Spacely and how you came up with that.

Yeah. So, as I was, um, researching, you know, what I wanted to be in my next form of life,

I, um, I came across a book, uh, just kinda randomly, it was called reimagining work written by Rob Beaterman, uh, Princeton and Harvard business school grad. And, um, in, in the story just struck me in the book, which there was a couple elements. One was he, uh, his idea for creating a, a gig platform for management consultants coming out of, you know, McKinsey and bane and BCG, uh, was kind of along the same lines as, uh, that story, as I was seeing at SpaceX, right, there was a lot of exciting, rewarding, um, very well compensated work being done. Uh, but people were really, really working hard 80 to a hundred hour work weeks. You part of that. And, you know, during life for everyone, you know, priorities shift, it could be because of family, kids, um, other opportunities you may wanna move. And, you know, this is back in 2017.

Uh, so remote work was kind of in full swing, but when I started reading, you know, other pieces of this and it, it was beyond just, you know, getting away from, you know, the, the, of a, of a really challenging job and taking a break, a breather, right. And then coming and jumping back in, he, he took it a step further and was talking about restructuring work altogether. And it was the first time I really thought about, well, that would, that’s fascinating of how you would structure work differently than nine to five and 40 hour work weeks with one employer. And, and so I really dove in, into that research, uh, about what other platforms were out there, uh, who was making money on these platforms, how were they structuring work? And it was really that start in my journey to see that, um, folks were really interested in optional and flexible work arrangements. And of course that ended up being accelerated more so by the pandemic, uh, as we’re seeing now. But, um, that was really what got us started in, in that idea of, you know, being able to bring these opportunities and people together and make them match in new ways, uh, that were best suited in an open, you know, free marketplace, uh, where people could make the decisions were best for, you know, each side of the, of the interaction.

I love that. I think that’s awesome. Tell us, what do you think is the most important lesson that you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

Oh, you know, um, and I’ve always used, you know, these things and maybe it’s just, cuz I’ve been in the military and in the military, we always talk, we talked about embrace the suck. Right.

So, so, you know, I think it was en ingrained in me in my military career that, you know, it’s not always going to be an easy road and uh, and you can, you can either complain about it or you can embrace it. And, uh, and, and part of the enjoyable part of, you know, building something new is, you know, taking on that challenge, you know, head first. And, um, and, and for some of us like me, I like to just Ram my head through the wall and, and break glass and other people go by it methodically, you know? And

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But, uh, but, um, it, it, it really is, you know, I always talked about, you know, one things I’ve, I’ve, I’ve, I’ve lived by and I try to teach ’em our kids, you know, as per perseverance prevails when LS fails, you know, and at certain point, you know, you are gonna realize whether or the, the concepts going to work out and if you need to pivot totally, or just say, Hey, I gave it my best shot. Um, and, and really, you know, that was kind of my approach in the military. We always knew that, you know, we ultimately signed the dotted line that we are willing to, you know, give our life in, in, uh, in, in cause of this nation, this great co this great country. And, and so, you know, to me, it, it, it wasn’t necessarily life and death. I mean, it is serious, you know, work, uh, for folks that are trying to make, um, ends meet. They’re trying to maybe do a side job. They’re trying to stay engaged, uh, uh, in their own way when they may have other, um, competing requirements or, you know, some things that are challenging, uh, in traditional employment, you know, uh, that doesn’t allow ’em to, to be traditionally employed. But, um, at the end of the day, I, I guess because of my military service, I, you know, I, I knew in all likelihood, I, I wasn’t signing my, my life away in that same way.


So I, I just embrace the suck and say, Hey, you know, I’m learning in this whole thing. And, and if I can just like in the military, we like, if we could have one, um, positive, you know, we wanna build on each one of the other’s positives. Like if we had a positive impact on one person, great, that’s, you have to start there and then have a positive impact on the next person and the next, you know, challenge. And so that’s kind of the approach we’ve taken.

Yeah. I love that. And what do you think is the most important, like quality or personality trait or characteristic that somebody has to have to be successful as an entrepreneur? Yeah,

That’s a, that’s a tough one, cuz I think there’s so many different elements right now. And you know, as you are, look as you, as an entrepreneur, you’re looking around at other folks and you, you have that, that envy sometimes, and you don’t recognize what it took to get to that successful spot. Right. Um, the overnight success, uh, was, uh, rewarded by the 10 yard years of hard work that you didn’t see before.

So, you know, I really think that, you know, I, I try to have, um, humility and being humble and knowing that I’m not the smartest person, I try to bring, uh, other, uh, people and energy, uh, to the problems, uh, and, and really, um, be transparent and collaborative in how we approach, you know, the, the challenges or the opportunities that are in front of us. And, and, and know there’s probably not one best answer, but you’re making the best decision with the information you have at that time. Um, so I don’t ever like to second guess. Um, and I guess that that’s, again, from our time in the military, we would do a lot of planning. You know, we would plan our, our, our flight operations before we’d fly the next day, we’d have debriefs after the fact, um, after we, we got back down on the ground and, um, and, and so you would have learning, but you wouldn’t have regret, right.

Uh, unless there, yeah. So there was something about that that I think is also really important in this journey, which is, you know, you have the highs and the lows and, um, and all of that is you’re, you’re trying to do your strategic planning you’re road mapping, and then as you’re executing, you know, giving yourself an opportunity to debrief and, and learn from it along the way, and be humble enough to, to know you don’t have all the answers and, uh, and have a team that can help you and, and bring that energy and that, that positive, um, you know, enthusiasm that’s required to take on a, a challenge like, like this type of journey.

Yeah. I love that answer. And it’s funny cuz you talk about the, the overnight success and putting that in quotes. Right? Uh, on one, one of the, uh, guests that I had recently was talking about how he heard Amazon described as the overnight success at one point. And he was like, does no one remember the early nineties when this dude had like this crazy idea about selling books online. Right. Not overnight night, like not overnight. Oh man. That’s funny. So I want, I wanna give you a statistic and then I want you to tell me sort of what you think about that, you know, in light of your own journey and what you’ve seen. Okay. All right. 42% of startups ultimately fail because no one wants what they’re building.

Yeah. It’s um, it, it’s a hard fact. Right. And it is born out by reality and you know, this is, you know, everyone has an idea, right. And, um, and everyone and we should, we should all have ideas. And I, you know, we’ve caught it in, in, uh, in our support to a NASA contract. We talk about, you know, being globally competitive and we talk about entrepreneurial warfare. Right. And, um, and what that means to us is, you know, letting the free market speak. And we think that that’s better, uh, approach than, uh, being told what to think. Right. You know, we’re, we’re trying to teach each other how to think, how to solve complex problems and challenges. And, and this is really one of the challenges I see in, in our industry is we have a lot of smart people, uh, with a brilliant, amazing ideas, um, and brilliant technologies, right. That can be truly formative, but they don’t necessarily, um, close on the, their business case because maybe it’s a little too nascent or it’s not the right time. And we’ve seen that all along in, in the journey in aerospace where some things, you know, we come back to ’em 20 years later because we’re like, all right, now we’ve got what we can do. Right. So, you know, unfortunately timing to me is some element of that as well, which is maybe your idea, uh, doesn’t suck.


Maybe it’s just a matter of, are you able to get all those things to line up? Um, and, and maybe it’s not the right time, uh, in, in the trajectory. Right. And, and that’s hard. And, but I guess, you know, in today’s terminology, that’s why people talk about pivots, right? And you talk about MVP and learning for the, you know, lowest cost possible before, you know, going on the next thing. And you hear serial entrepreneurs, you know, different terminology that kind of defines some of this stuff. And you don’t really hear, uh, you know, serial failure, people, you know, people that are failing, you know, Multiple businesses. That’s not, that’s not on their LinkedIn profile.

Uh, but I, I think that’s sort of like what serial entrepreneur means usually

Is it,

Well, when we joke about that too, when you see like X, Google and X, apple, and X Facebook, when people like them profile, does that mean that they were really good or they just keep getting fired, you know, by these really good company?

Oh my gosh. So yeah,

I think it’s, um, you know, I, I just, the data is important. It does bear out, um, historically, but that doesn’t mean you don’t give your level best. Right. I mean, if, you know, if, you know, if you want to go out there and give it a shot, what we said, you know, for our family and for our business, um, which are two separate things and entities, obviously, you know, we looked at it and said, what are we willing to lose? Right. Um, if we’re willing to be on ourselves, uh, this is a great time and a, and a transition period for us to do it. Right. Which was me leaving the military. I think people are seeing that now in the pandemic, Hey, this is a great time for me to try something. Right. Yep. And, and I think that’s great. I think it is.

I think, um, I was, I was given some great advice, um, by a mentor saying, Hey, in this transition period, give yourself the gift of time. Right. To kind of think through this. And don’t jump in head first, uh, whether that’s employment, traditional employment or, or entrepreneurship. Um, and, and so I love that advice of giving yourself the gift of time, kind of think through, uh, where you wanna go and then really lay down, what are you willing to lose? Right. You know, we, we put our own money in this company. Um, but we didn’t put everything. And, and I think that’s kind of the, uh, you know, a myth that’s gotta be out there. That was both in Hollywood when I was in LA and in the business, like, you’ve gotta, you know, be willing to give up everything and, and live in your garage or give up, you know, give, you know, whatever dirty job you gotta do to show that you’re willing to give up everything for the dream. Um, that’s just not realistic, especially for entrepreneurs like us that are, you know, like me and, you know, in middle age that has a family and a home and other things that we’re also trying to protect middle



Know, that old song. Yeah.

Yeah. I’m feeling it. Maybe that’s the entrepreneur, uh, track. It makes you feel older.

That’s right. You age like 15 years for every regular humans one year, it’s like being a, it’s like the reverse of dog ears. Yeah. So Spacely is in an interesting space right now where you are in the gig economy, you are in the open talent marketplace space, and you mentioned the pandemic and how that’s sort of like this really great opportunity for people to sort of like recalibrate or figure out what they wanna do next. And we’re seeing this like mass Exodus from traditional work and, and specifically from like large companies and one of the, uh, guests that I had on my show a couple weeks ago, shared with us that back in the eighties, eight out of 10 employees were employed by the large, you know, the big, the, the Inc 100, I think it was. And now only to two out of 10 are actually employed by a large company. And everybody else is employed either by a small business or they’re an entrepreneur themselves or a startup. And so I just wonder, like what, what do you think about that? And is that how, you know, did you see this trend kind of starting, and, and is that how you kind of came up with this idea? You know, we, a large part of our audience that maybe they have had an idea, or they would love to be an entrepreneur, but they’re like, how do you, how does inspiration strike? You know,

Well, I think it’s, I think it’s personal, right. I think it’s, um, you know, I was told, uh, by my grandfather who worked for, at and T for over 30 years, right. Through the seventies and eighties. So one of the da early data points you were talking about, and he always told me, buy stocks and stuff that you buy. Right. And, and I felt like that equates to business as well, which is, you know, um, follow there is something about following your, your energy and your, your passion enthusiasm for something and, and bearing that out, you know, for this inspiration, it struck, it was personal when I retired, I, you know, as I mentioned, we’ve, we’ve got, uh, you know, two school aged daughters and, you know, I, I didn’t wanna, my only criteria when I got out was I didn’t wanna have to ask someone else for permission to go do, uh, the activities that they had, like at school and sports and arts and, you know, dances and stuff.

And that was one of my biggest frustrations as they were younger, was missing those things and, and sacrificing. And I get that, there’s something about, um, the American culture and saying, Hey, that’s part of it. You know, we’re gonna, you know, we’re gonna sacrifice certain things to, you know, make it a, um, a better life for the next generation. But I feel like the balance was tipping too far, um, in corporate America. And there was not that recognition that folks were fractional in a lot of different ways as a, as a spouse or as a, you know, sibling or, you know, parent. And, um, and I think there’s that recognition that, Hey, there’s new, there’s new technologies, new tools to the point I was making early that maybe everybody always wanted to do this, but there wasn’t as many routes and pathways for them to, uh, go about it.

And they were willing to give up, or they had to give up more in that, um, in that transaction, because there just weren’t as many, uh, uh, you know, tools available to them to create some of the, you know, optionality and flexibility we’re seeing these days. And, um, so, but that was, that was really where this inspiration struck for me was, Hey, I gotta figure out how I stay engaged in stuff that I’m really enthusiastic and passionate about, but in a more balanced, uh, approach and manner where, you know, I, I can also have say of, you know, whether or not I, you know, I do stuff with my family and, and it’s, it’s, it’s still tough, right. I mean, as an entrepreneur, um, I saw this with my wife’s business as she started. And, you know, I kind of laughed at her UN unfortunately at the beginning. And I was like, why are you thinking about this at eight or nine o’clock at night? Let’s, you know, sit down and watch Netflix or, you know, whatever.

And, and then I get into this and I’m like, gosh, you know, two and morning you’re, you’re popped up with an idea. And you’re like, all right. Yeah. So it does sometimes, you know, you, if you don’t watch it, it can, you know, become all encompassing just like your, your traditional job for somebody else was right. But I think where a lot of this stuff is going, and we’ve talked about this with the NASA team, is this tension between platforms and people do platforms need people, or do people need platforms? And that’s brands, that’s companies, uh, that’s technology. And, and you see a constant tension of, you know, who’s extracting value from who, and who’s gaining value from who, and there’s gonna be, uh, through a free market, uh, this constant push to see, um, you know, where that balance once fall is in favor, and it’s always gonna be working towards equilibrium.

Um, but, uh, you know, I do see this kind of sense in, you know, um, who needs, who more and, uh, in creating the opportunities and what we’re seeing with, um, some of the workforce is they’re saying, I don’t need you in this way. Right. If you can, can find me where, and meet me where I’m at and find me in this way more than happy to work with you. And that’s what some of the gay companies talk about. They say, and I, and I like how they say it is, you know, you don’t wanna work for the company. You wanna work with the company. And, uh, and that’s a major shift, you know, and there’s the, the second one we talk about that we’ve, uh, written about as well is there’s a difference in our, uh, terminology between talent acquisition and talent access. And I think we’re moving further away from talent acquisition, because that means that you’re, you’re required by the entity, the corporation. And I think people recognize, um, that there’s, uh, maybe more to, uh, to life than being acquired by a company, but access, uh, talent by that company, to us as a, as a completely different model.

We don’t typically think of the military or think of NASA, or, you know, some of these larger government agencies as open to something as, uh, I’m gonna say new fangled and modern, right. I mean, I mean, you think, you think about government, you think about it’s very stayed and it’s very like, kind of stuck in the Meyer. So is there opportunity there? I mean, obviously you’re building a company around that very hypothesis, but how, what does it take to shift the mindset of a 200 year old entity, like a government or, or, you know, even a 50 or 60 year old entity like NASA, I guess it’s actually more than that, but

Yeah, no, it’s a, it’s a great question. And I think that we’re, you know, a lot of folks talk about, you know, either disrupt or be disrupted and we’ve seen it, you know, in, in software eating the world. And I think the government is recognizing now, and, you know, it really starts shifting in the late nineties and early two thousands that they just weren’t keeping pace with the commercial sector. Now they were doing some incredible things, you know, with technology. There’s no question about it, right. They advanced so much stuff to get us, even to the point where we had the internet and it was the government that provided that in the first place. And, and so there’s amazing, uh, you know, scientific knowledge, technological knowledge, uh, really smart, globally elite, um, smarts, right. In some of these organizations. Uh, but they have a challenge with, um, you know, with the ability to move, uh, at the pace now of technology logical change, and you see it in regulation, you see it in adoption.

Uh, you see it in the recognition that, Hey, why don’t we have some of these capabilities that are available commercially. Um, and, and there’s, again, that natural tension of, well, what should we be doing as a government? And what should we be relying on the commercial sector to provide? Um, NASA was such a refreshing client to work with, um, after working in the air force and, and what is now the space force, uh, element of the air force. Um, for my entire career, we, we had really, really smart people working on really hard problems. And, and when we start working with NASA, it was the same way. It was that same recognition. You have a lot of really smart people working on really hard problems, but NASA was interesting. They said, you know, we, we don’t have a monopoly in all the smart people and all the hard problems and all the solutions to those.

And we need to figure out how we can take our brand. Right. Um, and we always talk about the NASA brand. You go, you know, walk around a shopping mall or a park. There’s always someone wearing a NASA shirt or, or hat or something, and they didn’t work for NASA, but boy, the, the brand affinity is there, right? Yeah. Yeah. So NASA wanted to tap into that and say, Hey, we’ve got a lot of citizen scientists, we’ve got a lot of people that are energetic and enthusiastic about our brand. How do we tap into that? And, and they started doing, you know, crowd building and crowdsourcing and challenges, uh, to bring in citizen scientists and the public’s, uh, you know, uh, solutions into some of NASA’s challenges. And they extended that now into what they call micro purchasing and microtask, which is why we got involved was because, you know, now we’re talking about, okay, you know, we don’t have a company yet, or, um, you know, a concrete business case, but in order to build it, we’re gonna need access to some of this, you know, uh, human capital.

And I need like the, the expertise of planetary scientists that are sitting around here, and it’s hard to find them. So if you can aggregate all those folks, you know, in a community where it makes it easier for us to find them when need it, then we can, we can have a speed dial, uh, to get to those folks. So, you know, I think the, uh, the government is definitely, uh, challenging to, to work with and, and being somebody came from that government, uh, organization understands the complexities of contracting with them and the federal acquisition regulations, which is a whole set of different rules of acquiring services and goods.

Is that Latin for red tape?

Exactly. Yes. Yeah. But, you know, there’s some things they have to do, right. I mean, they’re getting funded by the S so they can’t just be going out and spending Mon you know, money just, uh, you know, on anything. Right. And they have to have some accountability back to the authorization appropriation of those, those dollars. But on a flip side of that, you know, if you’re not trying to maximize your return on investment of those dollars, you’re also harming the taxpayer money that’s coming in as well. So you, you’ve gotta really look at, you know, balancing, uh, those efforts and saying, can we do things better where we can continue to improve that return on investment that we’re entrusted, uh, you know, with the taxpayer money, uh, and, and in balance with, I can’t go out and spend, you know, the $50,000 famous, you know, gold hammer, right. So, you know, but, um, and so working in that, in that area where they’re trying to balance all those competing requirements is tough, but we also, to us that are no different than any other corporation where they require talent, they require skills, they require energy and enthusiasm towards their mission. And, and they’re doing the same thing and recruit, trying to recruit people to work with them and for them as any other company.

I love that. And so let’s talk a little bit about the objections that a company or an entity might have, like, oh, that gig economy thing I don’t, I’m gonna, I’m gonna use the word own my resources or whatever. Like, what are the big sort of blocks to a company really diving in? And how, how do you kind of address those? Or how do you answer those?

Yeah, it’s, um, I think most of it comes down to, you know, NDAs and OCIs right. Competitiveness, especially in the aerospace industry where it’s hypercompetitive. And, um, and I think they look at it and say, well, you know, I don’t want them working with, uh, with my competitor. Right. I want them locked in. And as soon as they lock them, we say they start losing, um, the talent right away. And, and what we’ve said is we kind of went them, look at the problem, um, completely differently, which is, if you look at the data average adults in a job, four years, millennial, 18 months in gen Zs, even quicker. And it’s not because, you know, they suck at holding jobs. Like the older generations were saying initially, right when we started,

It was because they, they grow up with different expectations of what they’re going to do. And, and they don’t have, you know, I always say, I think one major change that created some of this mobility was when we went away from pensions, you know, corporate provided pensions to, to rolling over 401ks that created incentive a different incentive structure. Right. My grandfather, as I mentioned, worked for, at T for 30 years, he didn’t always love it, but he also knew at the end of it, you know, if he could, you know, suck it up, right. Embrace the suck. Right.

He be rewarded.

Right. Yeah. And, and there’s pros and cons to that, you know, that structure, but what I tell, you know, lock and Boeing and Ray, when I talk to them is, you know, if you look at that data with them, of ability of the people, you have to account for those folks leaving for some reason, at some point, right. And it could be 18 months to four years, and you’re investing in those people in some way, building their skills, building experience, building the knowledge, compensating them, investing in them. And right now you’re letting them walk out the door because you’re maintaining a binary decision, whether they’re employee or not. And so we’ve seen this already, which is, Hey, someone left, you know, BAE, and they’ve gone to another company and BAE still wants to have access to them. Right. Because BAE didn’t get a backfill. Right.

Right. Um, and so why would you let that investment walk out the door? Why not figure out how to, uh, manage the friction, uh, that exists and, and not maintain a binary decision of, you know, that you’re an employer not, and maintain access to that investment. Um, as, as people continue to, you know, stack and build their credentials and their portfolio. And, and if you look at it too, the other industries are, are ahead of us in aerospace, for sure where, you know, they’re working simultaneously for multiple companies that could be seen as competitors and, and they’re figuring it out. And they’re also working crossing industries. And in aerospace to us, we think you’re, we’re losing out on some of that. Um, structured serendipity is, is our board advisor, Diane Fink housing calls it, which is finding some of those solutions that reside outside the industry, bring being able to have a pathway to bring those people and solutions in and vice versa. We have a lot of great ideas and aerospace as well that can support these other industries. So we’re just, you know, for us, it’s about opening up new pathways, uh, for that, for those, um, interactions, uh, to occur.

Okay. I love that. I love that. So have you been to space?

No. No, I, um, well this is a podcast, so I can’t show you my rocket that, uh, the team got me, but, uh, I, I did say if I don’t make it, you know, uh, before I, I, I, uh, I, I pass on to the, the next life. There’s a SpaceX at one point, it talked about, you could be cremated and be put into this, you know, canister, and then as they, as they launch a rocket, they’ll tell you or family when to look up in the, in the, you know, sky and it’ll look like a shooting star with the canister flying across. So I thought, well, that’s,

Oh, that’s cool. Yeah.

That’s I thought if, uh, if I don’t get up there before then, um, you know, maybe that’ll happen. The exciting thing for me, and this is one of the reasons we started Spacely because we did see, you know, such growing, uh, private investment going into the space economy, we of the future of work, um, trends with optionality flexibility. And we want it to be at the intersection of that. What’s really kind of exciting to me personally, is I’m getting now personally closer to people that are going to space, right. My network that I’ve always had are now getting opportunities, right. I always thought, and I’m seeing this too. I’ve got friends that are, you know, uh, existing, you know, politicians or running for office. Uh, and we always kind of figured that would happen with some of the folks that went to the air force academy and made academy in west point.

But what’s exciting now is the folks that, you know, we are flying with, you know, starting out in glider at the air force academy. And the folks that really dreamt about going to space are we’re starting to see more of those opportunities. I, Andre Douglas, uh, was at John’s Hopkins. He and I were talking about entrepreneurship together before he got selected in the latest astronaut class. Uh, another academy person was just, um, uh, named one of the lead, um, for the new Polaris Dawn programs with Jared Isman, uh, to do three, uh, start, uh, SpaceX launches, uh, culminating in the human launch with, uh, Starship. Um, and so boy, how exciting is that for me and my personal network that that’s getting that close now, it’s, that’s what we were real excited about when we were starting this journey. Anyway,

Is that something you would love to do? Like the opportunity?

My, my, I think my kids are okay with it and, but my wife is really, uh, hesitant some days, some days she sounds like, it sounds like it’s probably okay for me to, in a space, but, uh, yeah, no, I think I, you know, one thing that I would just, that I’ve heard from all the astronauts, um, that I’ve talked to and, and that I’ve read, uh, you know, from as well, which is a, you know, that overview effect, you know, seeing our pale blue dot, you know, the earth hanging the balance of the galaxy. Right. I think that would be super cool thing to see, you know, I think about Felix Baumgartner, uh, with red bull, when he, you know, uh, did the highest, uh, you know, balloon jump, um, space perspective is a high altitude balloon company that wants to provide, uh, passengers, you know, that overview effect as well. Um, I think in our lifetime, I hope in our lifetime, I certainly start to see the increasing numbers, uh, of folks that are gonna have an opportunity to get that. And, and I do think that that would be super cool to kind of see earth from that perspective.

Wow. Yeah. It, I have that recurring dream where I’m like up in space and then I realize I’m like floating away and not attached to anything. And I’m like, huh, I wonder how long my oxygen’s gonna last, just like this big black void. Right. But

The, yeah, I just think so many people, even, you know, in the, in previous years, people thought, well, I’ve gotta be an engineer astronaut, to take part in this, even though they had the same dreams as you. And I did know, looking at the stars differently, having dreams about it, you know, and, and thinking about it. And, and it takes someone like a visionary, like Elon Musk to come out and say, well, why are we, why are we dreaming about it and talk about entrepreneurship, right. And how hard a journey it’s been for him, you know, that didn’t start off easily easy. I mean, he had to Sue the air force to work with them. I mean, how many times people through a client so you can work with, right.

That’s not a strategy we recommend usually. Yeah.

Is that, is that a, the startup therapy couch?

No, That’s hilarious.

But yeah, it takes, it takes the dreamers and, um, and boy space really, there really encourages people to dream, you know? And, and I think the, it, what we wanna show is we may not get there. Right. And, or personally, to space, we may dream about it continually, but wouldn’t it be nice if we can continue to increase opportunities to participate in some meaningful way and feel tangentially connected to it and, and saying, Hey, I’m participating in that. And it’s not just for, you know, a smaller subset of, you know, the population, what we’re also excited about with what we’re doing at space lean.

Yeah. I love that. If you could give other entrepreneurs or other, you know, soon to be, or would like to be entrepreneurs, a piece of advice, what would that be?

Yeah. You’re gonna have highs and lows. There’s no question. We, you know, as you know, we had such excitement as a brand new company forming specifically to respond to the NASA contract opportunity, uh, you know, as a team and, and as our team to get selected, um, you know, just a short, a few short months later, uh, that’s a huge early win for a startup. Right. And, and you’re gonna have wins and then you’re think I’m gonna have the next win right behind that. And it doesn’t come. And, and you think I’m, I’m still gonna to get the next win. It’s gonna be right any time now, it still doesn’t come. And, and, you know, everyone wants to move quick. And, um, and you know, we, we look at it and we say, okay, what is that learning that’s occurring during this time? But, you know, you’re going to get discouraged because you’re gonna say, ah, someone else is doing this and they’re beating me to the punch, or, you know, they’re gonna do it better.

We’re not doing enough. Right. And we need to work harder. Um, all those things creep into your mind along the journey, right. And with those highs and lows, and, and I really think, um, you know, really need to think about your, your mental health, um, you know, how you structure, you know, your, your day and your, your, your work. And, you know, I was in the military. So I’m very, I’m a very structured person, but my structured changes routinely, if that makes sense. Right. Yeah. And, and I don’t know how to best explain that, but sometimes working a certain way as is more beneficial. And I look at how, you know, that that impacts me and my family and what I wanna do and my downtime, um, other times I structure, you know, differently. And, and I think that’s some of the benefit of, of being entrepreneurs. You’re, you’re trying to always give your best and you have to know yourself. Um, and, and know when you need to kind of, um, take a breath when you go fully in and, and, you know, constantly, um, evaluating, you know, kind of that, uh, that pacing, that structure and, uh, and manipulating a way that still allows you to give it your best, you know, through those highs and lows.

Yeah. So it’s possible to be an entrepreneur and have a life.

Yeah. That was, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the myth sometimes like, yeah, you wanna go do this on my own own, and, you know, um, you don’t recognize how hard that is and, and you think, yeah, I did this because I wanna have a life, you know, and I, and I wanna make a living on my own terms. Um, I think that’s why we’re seeing, you know, um, some of this adoption of these open talent marketplaces is because people want to work on their own terms, but they also don’t recognize a, how difficult it is to bring those opportunities forward. Right. Mm. And so if someone else is helping them in the, you know, bring those opportunities forward, they can just focus on the work and still do it on their own way. And that goes back to our, a tension between platforms and people and, you know, what are we doing to help each other?

Um, and, and so it’ll be interesting in the future is people talk about web three and decentralized us organizations. You know, I kind of saw that with arcade city after Lyft, uh, you know, the Uber left, um, Austin, Texas, and now they’re back. And, you know, there’s this, again, that competing tension of, do I need somebody else to help me with the opportunities? Can I go get ’em on my own? Uh, and what’s that all mean, you know, as I’m trying to structure all of these things, and, and again, to us, everything’s frat actional, all of that comes in account with, you know, fractional income streams, fractional work, fractional, play, whatever it is, you know, and, and, and that’s gonna continue to shift and, and be individualized. And, and that’s, I think the, the takeaway here is, is we’re now at a point where we have so many more capabilities to allow people to be highly individualized, you know, for their needs at that moment in time. And again, that can shift. So why not take advantage of that as opposed to applying that same vanilla layer across all of us, you know, and trying to make us all fit in that same mold?

Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. I mean, obviously I’ve been an entrepreneur most, most of my career, and I always, you know, every time I get into, you know, a, a big engagement, I always end up getting some kind of a job offer. And I always try and tell people, I make a horrible employee, like, like the things that are great about me when I, when we work together in a fractional way or, or, uh, you know, in a consultant kind of role, all that stuff sort of like goes away and becomes very different dynamic when, when you’re employed, you know, and everybody thinks I’m always wrong. And a couple times I’ve let some people hire me. And then I’m like 18 months later. I’m like, see, I told you I’m a horrible employee. Yeah.

Yeah. I think I, I think I’m unemployable now as well.

So it’s one of the casualties of, of being an entrepreneur. You go, well, can’t work for anyone else ever again. All right. So in the realm of either entrepreneurship or the, the, some of the platform stuff you talked about, or the open talent marketplace, gig economy, are there any other resources, podcast, books, anything like that, that you would recommend for our audience if they wanna know more?

Yeah. I, I was just, um, recently on another podcast called the Ivy podcast. Um, so it’s Ivy league, uh, kind of, um, base one and they bring on some amazing, uh, discussions. And we had kind of a series of three in a row. Uh, I was the one with, uh, rich Wilson from gig AI and, and younger who writes about, um, open talents and marketplaces and freelancers, uh, for Forbes. And he’s done a huge research project with the university of Toronto. That’s a great resource because John Healy was on before us, and John’s been working with Kelly staffing group, and now he’s working for the center transformation of work. So that podcast has a couple series right. In a row, including one that, um, I’m on that really digs, uh, a lot deeper into, you know, freelance, open talent marketplace and, and the models that are out there.

Um, that that’s a, a great place, uh, to start, um, is that podcast, um, I mentioned John younger with Forbes, uh, John Wrights on both sides of, you know, the platform and the freelance, uh, perspective. And so has got just amazing material, uh, and tons of material. You look up John, John younger, um, and, uh, and Forbes and freelance you’ll, you’ll get into a treasure trove of, uh, Forbes articles. And, uh, and we were, and he was kind enough to write one on us early. And, um, so matter of fact, I was, that was a meeting I was on right before this was, we’re working with the, um, a us financial institution in a study to see what, uh, services and products they could provide to platforms and the freelancers, uh, to help make it easier to be a gig or freelance employee in a professional service environment. Um, so lots of, lots of activity, um, that maybe people aren’t aware of going on, um, building out the infrastructure, building out all the underpinning. And, and because they’re seeing that current I is, is, uh, you know, increasing, uh, rate and, uh, how many people are saying, maybe it’s not full-time, but people are dipping their toes in more and were more people jumping in, you know, the pool. And so a lot more waves in the pool, you know, and

So people are seeing opportunity. And, and they’re also seeing that that’s kind of, um, some shape of the future of work. It may not hold sale, replace traditional employment, but it may, uh, uh, more so compliment it in a lot more ways than what people are thinking about right now.

Yeah, it’s an interesting point, which is that the dynamic, how our, how our, how our government is structured, how our economy structured really has been geared towards the employed model for, you know, two centuries since we’ve been a company or since we’ve been a country. And so it, it’s not just as simple as flipping a switch and okay, now, now we have this, there there’s a lot of infrastructure that sort of makes this more difficult, right? Yeah.

It’s, if you think about it, like at and T and Verizon Ling fiber lines, and then building towers, you know, and then you think about what space is doing right now with, you know, global broadband, that SpaceX is, uh, building in project Kip with Amazon, and one web we’re trying to, to provide an infrastructure for global broadband connectivity. It’s, it’s that same thing. You always need infrastructure. And because you’re looking at new operating models, you need new, uh, infrastructure that allows you to orchestrate different models across that infrastructure. And so, you know, you, you, you have shipping corridors, you have air corridors, you have now space transit, uh, to help, you know, different parts of the economy, cyber, you know, is continually evolving and what the infrastructure is required, um, to operate, you know, commerce through this cyber environment.

That’s awesome. Okay. Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Tom, we have really enjoyed the conversation, your, your knowledge of the platform world, as well as like this gig economy and sort of where this is all going. It’s fascinating. Plus, I just love that you’re a pilot. I mean, I think that’s awesome. So, so if, uh, if people had questions, if they wanted to get in touch with you, what is the best way for them to reach you? Yeah,

Well, it would be great if they come visit us at, um, spacely.work. Uh, we’ve set up a community, uh, there for everyone that’s interested in this, uh, and it could be future of work. It can be space, it can be any of those things. And we have all kinds of features within the platform. So you can chat with me directly there, you know, pull up my profile, just like you would on LinkedIn and chat with me within the platform. And within in those communities, we’ve set up, uh, you know, wherever you’re interested, you know, may lie. And, and that’s what we wanted to do first and foremost was show that we, um, we were a welcoming community, wanted to bring everybody in and show that there was a place for them somewhere, you know, in this, um, in this environment. And so we try to bring all those a aspects and elements of, like you were saying, platform, future of work space all together, where we can have those different conversations, um, in a professional environment. Um, and, and using those, you know, type of socially familiar types of, uh, capabilities, you know, within our platform. So we’d love to see a it’s basically.work and happy to chat with you there.

That’s awesome. And, and just think you could use your skills as a software developer or a a, who knows what in space

That’s right. Every forward,

The space

Movement, everyone has got a spot, you know, look at our little trailer on our, on our landing page. And we that’s been our DNA at the very beginning is trying to show that, you know, there’s gonna be a spot for you. Uh, we’re gonna need everyone. If, if we’re really gonna get a million people to Mars and, you know, go to the moon again and have a space hotel, it’s gonna require a lot the people to be involved. And, you know, we, we want, we wanna encourage that, that, that participation.

All right. Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure to in include a link to spacely.work in the show notes, so that it’s really easy for people to get there. Thank you so much, Tom. We really appreciate you having, uh, spending some time with us today and for sharing your wisdom and knowledge with the audience.

Well, thanks so much for having me. It’s, uh, it’s just such great energy to work with you and talk with you and always appreciate getting to spend some time with you on, uh, on, on this, uh, podcast.

Me too. Thanks so much. All right. Thanks. All right. Y’all thank you for joining us for this episode as always happy entrepreneur, and we will see you all next time.

Thank you for listening to this episode of Precursa: The Startup Journey. If you have an idea for a startup and you want to explore the proven process of turning your idea into a viable business, check us out at precursa.com. Make sure to subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode. Until next time…


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Cynthia Del'Aria

Cynthia Del'Aria is a serial entrepreneur and tech startup ninja, specializing in product-market fit and idea validation and helping new entrepreneurs reserve their time and money for the idea with the best shot at success. With two successful exits before 30, an active high-profit-margin SaaS in the commercial airline space, and two additional startups in the works, she knows what it takes to traverse the entrepreneur journey, the highs, and the challenges of turning a vision into a successful, viable business.

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Copyright © 2021 Precursa  |  All Rights Reserved  |  Site Created by Natalie Jark

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