Some startups say they have no strategy, they’re all about execution, and they’ll let strategy emerge as they learn and grow. I’m not sure I believe them; I think they have a strategy and either they are afraid somebody will steal it, or they don’t want to go on record in case they have to pivot.
PlanetWatchers has had a strategy from the start: we are dedicated to delivering the Last Mile of Analytics for our customers, and that means we are focusing like a laser (or maybe like a synthetic aperture radar beam) on our target vertical markets and staying close to the end user.
What is the Last Mile of Analytics?
In general, the “Last Mile” is the step right before the end user of your service. In our specific value chain, geospatial analytics for natural resource intensive enterprises, the Last Mile is where data turns into timely actionable intelligence. This is where operational managers on the ground (literally, they are standing on the very earth that gives us natural resources) can make decisions that increase their yield or avoid dangerous or unprofitable situations.
New companies are launching more cube satellites all the time and the amount of imagery available is growing exponentially, but all the providers’ satellites are orbiting the same planet, looking down at the same stuff. Turning the data from satellites into actionable information is where the value lies, and the key to making that information actionable is having a deep understanding of how it will be used on the ground.
There are no monopolies here. Analytics companies buy imagery from multiple imagery providers and imagery providers sell to many analytics companies and even to end users. Satellite companies may be tempted to expand and start to offer their own analytics to end customers, and some have, but how many of them are prepared to chase after operations teams in the field to really understand their pain points or get involved in field validation? I believe that collaboration between imagery providers and analytics companies is still necessary to provide the last mile of analytics to users.
Tracking Changes Over Time
Change detection over time in dynamic natural phenomena is complex. This is why it’s hard to write that algorithm. Change detection matters a lot in natural resource intensive industries. For example,
if a cluster of trees is removed at some point in time, it may cause landslides further down the road.
For PlanetWatchers, sending up our own satellites makes about as much sense as launching a red convertible into space. Our job is to build a monitoring platform to fill the last mile analytics gap and reshape the way enterprises manage their geographically distributed natural resources.
The Implications of Focusing on the Last Mile for an Analytics Startup
The biggest implication of Last-Mile thinking is that you have to be close to the end user and you have to know the local landscape, in our case literally. And for a startup, this means we can’t be all things for all possible customers in all places at once, at least not right away.
Satellite providers can think horizontally, “we’re going to produce the best imagery possible and let the analytics types and customers figure out what it means to them” but we have to think vertically, “what are this industry’s particular use cases for geospatial analytics?”
So we are pursuing the classic “bowling alley” strategy of one vertical at a time. Our first is Precision Forestry. By operating deep in our chosen verticals and focusing on tracking changes over time (as opposed to object detection and classification), we are specializing in specific data sources and solutions with higher barriers to entry.
In my talk at the Data Space Conference this month, I shared the four fundamentals of PlanetWatchers’ monitoring approach:
PlanetWatchers is one of a few funded new companies today that decided to focus on a one vertical in the beginning and expand as part of the company’s strategy. I found it interesting to hear from an investor last week that his fund has met with imagery analytics companies that have decided to verticalize their solution as well. His thoughts were that you must win a specific vertical but some verticals according to his evaluation are not attractive. Our approach is that starting from one vertical, nailing the use cases and making sure we add value to users, will only help the company to grow and expand into more verticals.
The Future for PlanetWatchers
Nobody can say for sure what the right strategy is for a geospatial analytics startup – at least not yet – but we really believe that this is the best time to be in the field, at the confluence of burgeoning investment in space technology, maturity of cloud computing, and growing interest in sustainability. PlanetWatchers strives to create commercial value for natural resource intensive enterprises by creating a new market for multi-source satellite-based monitoring and analytics, while also improving the world. Building the last mile of analytics for our customers is an exciting journey from low earth orbit to the leaves of a tree.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.