Neil Patel

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Gabe Dominocielo, the co-founder of Umbra, has charted an impressive course from his humble beginnings to spearheading a groundbreaking aerospace and defense technology venture which now has the largest constellation on American radar imaging satellites, including the highest resolution commercial satellites in history, raised over $100 million and built a company valued at nearly a billion dollars.

Umbra has attracted funding from top-tier investors like DARPA, Nimble Partners, Star Castle Ventures, and 7BC Venture Capital.

In this episode, you will learn:

  • Dominocielo’s journey from a suburban upbringing in Santa Barbara, California to the world of entrepreneurship
  • His initial legal venture, RepresentYou, and the lessons learned from it
  • The inception of Umbra and its revolutionary high-resolution satellite technology
  • His unique approach to business, team building, and fundraising
  • The future of Umbra and its potential impact on global understanding and safety


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For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash. 

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    Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).

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    About Gabe Dominocielo:

    Gabe Dominocielo is the co-founder, President, and Chief Strategy Officer of Umbra Lab, Inc. (“Umbra”). Umbra is a technology company that builds next-generation space and earth-based sensors to deliver raw intelligence – via an integrated web platform or application programming interface (API) — as a service to commercial and government customers.

    Dominocielo is responsible for the company’s growth and corporate strategy on transactions valued at greater than $1 billion. He serves on various private boards and the USGIF’s NRO and NGA working groups.

    Dominocielo is an outspoken contrarian on the existing satellite industry business models and a critic of data partners selling competitive in-house analytics. He is an advocate of strong partnerships with GEOINT firms that are free of channel conflicts.

    At Umbra, he has implemented transparent, self-service scheduling and tasking; permissive licensing (creative commons); and clear universal pricing.

    Prior to Umbra, Dominocielo co-founded a legal services company in 2007 that is still regarded as one of the top legal services of its type in the United States.

    Dominocielo specializes in customer acquisition and has extensive experience bringing new products to market. He was credited with “money balling” the selection and marketing of class action lawsuits.

    This method is now pro-forma in the legal industry. The firm’s attorneys generated over $1 billion in verdicts and settlements, and was certified by the State Bar.

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    Connect with Gabe Dominocielo:

    Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, alright hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a really exciting founder. You know a founder that has done it a few times we’re going to be talking you know about building scaling financing all the good stuff that we like to hear and I think that you’re all going to find his journey quite inspiring. So. Without farther. Do let’s welcome our guests today gap domino cello welcome to the show.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, hello Thank you for having me I’m very excited to be here.

    Alejandro Cremades: So born and raised in Santa Barbara gabe give us a little of a walk through memory lane. How was life growing on.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Ah, life was normal I had and a totally normal suburban. Ah upbringing. You know I had 2 parents at worked. My dad was a science teacher. My mom um helped work with the disabled 2 special olympics. Ah.

    Alejandro Cremades: But.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, know, growing up riding bikes throwing dirt clods in the ever in the creek is great, Very very truly American very americana.

    Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case you know it sounds like you were a troublemaker in school and always you You knew you knew that you needed to do something for yourself. So so what do you mean that trouble maker I mean what kind of kid were you.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, ah for sure.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Oh I mean I’m a troublemaker now I’m probably way better behaved now than I was before um I don’t know I always got in trouble they they used to joke so me and my ah my best friend we get. We’re still best friends today. Ah.

    Gabe Dominocielo: We were sent to the headmaster’s office so many times they called it Gabe and mats run so like in the headmasters zone like ah, there’s like a sitting area and we were sent there so many times we we just like we made it our home. It was great. Yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: That’s Incredible. So then so then in your case um you went to college and when you graduated it sounds like you know you you knew that you would not fit very well on on Corporate. So why? So How did you came to the conclusion that. You had to start something or your own you got you? you had to do a business.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, why I never thought that anyone would hire me like I mean I didn’t go to. Okay I went to chiko state which is a amazing university it is is great people. They’re great professors. Great education but well known for being a huge party school. So at that time. Everything seemed to be so attached to like what university you went to and all that and I knew that I kind of had to do it on my own and um, now looking back I I definitely know that like what school you went to and. If you have an Mba or whatever is in no way correlated to your financial success I think that most of the like really high net worth individuals are very successful people. Um very few of them went to college. Like if you think of you have a clear line where everyone is told to follow this line. You know, go go to school get a debt you know, get good grades go to and Mba school like then go I don’t know be a banker. Or Vc or something like anyone who breaks that tends to have outsized either success negatively or um or wind up like getting into trouble like going to jail so I didn’t want to go to jail or get into trouble. So I decided that I would just I don’t know.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Eat glass and go into the abyss that is entrepreneurship.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, I know the feeling now in your case you know like you started a company represent you So how did you land into the idea of represent you and and how were the early days like.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um e.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, representing you as like such a great company. It’s like oh god I wish I could like restart it now like I love that company I love that business model. Um, so one of my friends his dad was a like a very well-known lawyer. He still is a very very well lawyer. It’s incredible. Ah, and in many ways. Huge mentor to me. Ah and he had this idea where you would essentially in California so I don’t know how long you want to go into it. But in California you’re allowed to. Share fees of lawyers if you get the right license. So the idea was to get this license advertise on behalf of lawyers for like a large litigation like class action type litigation and then send the case to the lawyer and then receive a fee. Um, this is a great business did for 8 years like I learned so much about myself about business about people. Um, yeah so I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, I mean 8 years is a lot eight years is a lot for being at once at the same company. So I guess what do you think I mean I mean eventually eventually you know like.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, yeah, been a 1 for 8 years too and it’s taken way more out of me.

    Alejandro Cremades: You decided to to to branch off you know after 8 years and then you got into angel investing. So what was what what? what caught you into intuangial investing.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Are.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um I didn’t know I mean I’m not a very good investor I wouldn’t say that I am I Even today like I I don’t invest it is. It is not my job I’m a much much better entrepreneur than I am an investor. Um. Um, angel investing for like a really long time but like it I wouldn’t say my out my outcomes like barely beat the S and B so at least so far. But and I don’t Well I don’t like it what I like is the people.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so what do you get from it.

    Gabe Dominocielo: So It’s all got like an diligence or anything. It’s like it’s all gut like I I will make investments in people I know and love um also kind of like if you are a known person like for whatever founding a cool space company If you. You kind of can’t have friends that are starting something and not support them a little bit. Um, it’s maybe it and if you believe in them then and you should.

    Alejandro Cremades: So obviously at 1 point you know when you were angelly investing and and enjoying you know that other side of the table you receive a phone call from a friend that changed the course of everything. So what was what was that phone call about.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Wow. Well it’ so I’m italian if you couldn’t tell by my last name so on my wedding day. Ah, he was in my budding we’re friends friends for a long time I’ve known him since before high school I also was from Santa Barbara David Langan um

    Gabe Dominocielo: My wedding. He’s like I got an idea for a satellite they can see through clouds. That’s like all right? Ah and you know if you ask an italian something on its wedding day. He’s got to like pay attention to you and can’t say no so I i. Quized him a little not actually really understanding anything but the questions I asked were very good. It was like what how much does your satellite cost. It’s like couple million bucks like single Digit million okay well um what is Nasa satellite cost. He’s like well it’s not really the same thing. Ah Nasa has a satellite. It’s called nicesar it does Lband I want to do x ba boom I was like what can like what’s it cost. He’s like well it was supposed to cost $1000000000 but they overran their budget. It’s one point Eight billion and you’re single digital millions are like okay but what can that satellite do like what can it see and he’s like well it’s a different band but like what can it see is like a gigantic cargo container would be a single pixel and I’m like. Like what? What do you mean? It’s like it’s like 4 to seven meters like it’s like well what’s a meter. It’s like it’s think of it like a yard I was like okay well what can your satellite see is like you know we probably could go down to like a soda can.

    Gabe Dominocielo: And after that one we probably could go down to like a wrist watch as a single pixel and I was like so that’s like significantly better for much less money like we should start a company. He always says that he told me that he wants to or whatever who knows um and.

    Gabe Dominocielo: And then we can’t Weve started a company together. It was just such a cool idea. But I mean yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: So what was that it sounds like when he was pitching you and and when he was sharing this idea with you, you, you kind of like got hooked. But 1 thing is to think the idea is it’s a really interesting idea and the other one is to know that you want to dedicate your life to it. So. Ah, what point did you see it with clarity that it was the right next step for you.

    Gabe Dominocielo: It was an excel sheet. So I think my biggest aha moments in my life have come to me looking at Excel sheet and and I’m not an engineer. So I think that that probably happens with engineers all the time. Um, it probably happens with people in finance. But so. The biggest one to me was I created a unit economics calculator. So what this calculator does is it ascertains like so I essentially put everybody with a radar satellite. Um, and.

    Gabe Dominocielo: We know like what these satellites cost like other people’s satellites. It’s like that there’s known part. It’s like we know so we know like the general cost to get to space and the unit cost. Um, but what’s really important is to performance. So it’s you don’t sell satellite pictures. You sell satellite pictures over high demand areas when people want them. So essentially what you need to do we needed to do was design a satellite that could take ah an abundance of pictures. So an abundance of supply in a constrained environment which gave us. Ah, which has given us an ability to push price elasticity. So when I saw that we could take like not like a hundred but like many many hundreds of images per day over high demand areas I was like we’re set like our closest competitor. Um, which is like a gigantic Aerospace conglomerate. Um I couldn’t come close I was like so we’re gonna make like so I I kind of fell in love with the possibility of making a lot of them like those unit economics making a lot of money.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, and did you also look at the market size and the compounding annual growth rate and stuff like that or.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, no, ah, no because the we knew the biggest market ah was not known publicly. So the government um is very careful about releasing information. About these types of systems but that but we thought but we thought about it way. Bigger. So at the time the best image you could get was a meter from tersar x which is Airbus’s satellite and so like the utility.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, Wow show.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Also Airbus is price list. Oh god I’m going to get an email from those guys I like Airbus they’re they’re just fine. But anyway their satellites are very expensive. Their data subsequently is extremely expensive. So like if you look at their price list I’m not saying they charge this but on their price list. One meter image can be as much as $7500 for what we charge now for a product that is 100 % better so fifty centimeters which is considerably more difficult to collect. We charge seven hundred and fifty dollars so for a hundred percent better product. We charge. One tenth as much um but at fifty centimeters the things that you can understand and detect is like orders of magnitude higher than at one meter so we knew that the market kind of didn’t matter and of course our satellites can go down to fifteen centimeters so Fifteen centimeters it’s like drone imagery so we didn’t look at the market as it was today. We looked at the market as how we believe it would grow and drones at the times this is like 2017 17 if you remember the venture environment. It was like drone drones drones drones. Um, we were like drones are supposed to place a $100000000000 in human labor and at that time like uber and Facebook and all these things were becoming.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, no yeah.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Really cemented as as like big winners and those companies are spending billions of dollars on mapping billions and none of that was factored into the actual sale like the market size of satellite data. So we looked at we looked at a lot of things but we had to have imagination for. Not what the market was then but what it would be today which is what we do now like our next system is like extremely good and the market for it is 0 I remember talking to a Vc. Ah you was he was like.

    Gabe Dominocielo: You’re like yeah like we plan to do so in like 2017. It’s like we plan to do quarter meter like and it’s like the market for that is zero and I said I know it does not exist but like the market for teleporting is 0 but once it exists I’m going to use it and um, they wound up investing in another company that was doing lower resolution which is very stupid.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, so so I guess for for the people that are listening to really get it. What ended up being the business model of umbra How how are you guys making money.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, so the way we make money is very simple. We I joke that I am a underpaid wedding photographer. We it is point and shoot you can go on our on moored platform. You can go we but work with a bunch of resellers Skyfi is one the verbal. No.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, you can just go on you say out this picture at this day at this time if our satellites can do it. We take a picture and we send it to you that’s it. We don’t analyze the picture. You know we don’t do any Ai ml blah blah blah because.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Ah moment you start analyzing stuff you one create channel conflicts with your customers total nightmare 2 you immediately double your overhead and start competing with oracle Google um, like. All like like Microsoft all these gigantic andglomits all have Ai ml for satellite data. So it’s like there’s 2 rules in this industry in space industry basically like rule number one don’t compete with the elon musk. Rule number 2 don’t compete with the largest conglomerates in the entire world. So we we decided to just do our 1 thing. Do it really really well and um make as much money as possible through volume.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um I like it now you were talking about the vc that ended up being investing you know for something like this you know it sounds like not cheap mean what you guys are doing so how much capital have you guys raised to date and then also what has been the experience of going from 1 financing to the next.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, ah god I would not wish starting a synthetic apertture radar company on my worst enemy it is very difficult. Um, we have raised considerably less money than anyone else. So in the space industry. So I’m going to give you a number. It’s it’s going to sound high. But we’ve raised like over $100000000 but in the space industry could like a box is $100000000 is actually quite well. Um for the industry but we raised it is very difficult for us to raise money like um. We just we it was people didn’t understand it I go out and I show them like math equations or explain the unit economics and it was the same stuff as like oh there’s these other companies they’re going to kill you or that’s Matt it’s like this is like a. Gigantic unlimited market with unlimited demand. Um, and we have like a better product for less money and we knew that raising was difficult so we treated every single financing like it was our last the last one we would ever have. Um, and so we’re able to just build and and build really really rationally like the way we spend money even today is super rational like our headcount is directly tied to revenue. Um.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Growth advertising everything is all directly tied to how much money to make it’s like you want a new car make more money like you want you want to make your life better just make more money like it is that simple because it’s like I know I’m the dumbest person in the company but sometimes being dumb. Winds up being really smart, especially when interest rates are 7 %

    Alejandro Cremades: Well hey I teamed out the way that you guys are building the company now you know it it puts you at um at a really nice advantage because you know back in then when you guys got started if you were a good company. You needed to raise and get into the growth mode and now those companies that were good.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Are yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: And they went into the growth mode now. They’re not so good because now you know people are really appreciating ah folks that have been able to to build an operation that is capital efficient. So I think that that’s going to serve you guys. Well for sure I guess when it came to two vcs you know when. When you were talking about this. You know the saying goes when people get it. You know, maybe it means that you are too late. So I guess say the fact that people were not getting it I think it was definitely a positive but how were you able to perhaps you know convince, you know those people that came in and invested over one hundred million bucks I mean what were some of those things that. You learned around the fundraising process.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, they took time So The the biggest thing that we got was like all the grade a firms so like okay I’m here before I get too Excited. So a lot of um, vcs. Tend to Pattern match right? This is like well known that like there is a certain pattern that founders have that is Successful. So if you have bazillions of dollars and you need to deploy it. You cannot really diligent something as complex as what you do. Um, because we have like all of the experts in the industry worked at the company. It was really hard. Um, and so what? what they did and what I observed was you would have.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Ah, we just we just didn’t fit that mold So There is a mold where it’s like you come from you went to this University you came from this area you had this relevant experience. We didn’t have any of that I was like kid who went to a party school like entrepreneur like legal stuff like why. Like why? What are you doinger the satellite company. Um, and we didn’t fit any of the mold but the vcs who are willing to take the time to actually understand the technology were believers like we had somebody do a $100000 seed Check Um, and then in our last turn our final round like probably the last time like raise money from vcs did something like on the order of like $15000000 It’s just believers and they’re able to explain to their lps like why we’re different how we’re different and it just you.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, and.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Really boils down to the unit economics when our satellite flies over a hy demand area. We make 10 to 15 times more money than anyone else you either believe it or you don’t most people didn’t believe us. But those who did believe us I mean like our our paper turned like our markup. The I r is like incredible like I’ve never seen it ever that I like including big. Well-known company.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um, So then so then in this case, you know like for the for the people that are listening to um, you know you see there was a big vision. You know here that that you shared you know with investors you know, always see you know the same vision that you’re sharing with employees to you know and to get them Into. Um. Excited about the compelling future that you’re living into I guess right now you guys have about a hundred plus employees is that right? Yeah, So so imagine so imagine you know you were to go to sleep when I gave in.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, yeah, 125 but I don’t know it’s less than 150

    Alejandro Cremades: You wake up in a world where the vision of umbra is fully realized what does that world look like.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Everyone would have flying cars. Um, it would be really good I mean look I can be hyper rational, but the the mission of Ambra is global omnisent. We’re going to live in a better and safer world if we understand things. Like if we understood and had our satellites. We probably could have prevented wars I mean just today or like whatever this week our data like we sell it so we risk we have a lot of restrictions on ourselves. re fairly unrestricted by the united states government they trust us they like us. They know us right? So like we don’t sell data to china and russia we make a point to do that. We don’t we essentially don’t sell it data any communist. Um, only really close allies. Um, so. The people we’re working with are trusted for our worldview and so we can have somebody task the satellites and take a picture of today’s armistice day for the k korean war um, where we were taking parades and pictures of the parades and of korea. And it was literally showing the people holding pompoms. Um and making you know shapes in the in the crowd like imagine having this level of insight during the iraq war like you.

    Gabe Dominocielo: We could have probably really avoided a lot of very terrible things. Um, so I think what I want is a better and safer world. But I think the best way to do that is through great union economics like there was a company. Was saying that their their goal was to count every tree on earth and like do a satellite to do that and frankly, there’s not a ton of money in doing that. But because umbra makes a lot of money we’re able to create a large open data archive like. We’re announcing today. So ah, we put $1000000 in free data in our in our open data. It is if you look at that at other people’s prices. It’s 10 times that amount we’re doubling the size of the open data and I expect to. At least at the other people’s prices like have a $100000000 for free data. This is something that no one else can do one because we have best unit economics but 2 because we have this abundance of supply. We can then put data onto the internet. Let some college student who went to Chico State and put down his beer. Look at our data and say the car is in the parking lot like I wonder if earnings are going to go up or down and that data is free and create a common they can use it. They can make money on it. They don’t have to give us a penny. Um, if I can go and create 10 more millionaires or one hundred like thousands of millionaires

    Gabe Dominocielo: And our data then we’ve really actually accomplished what our goal is.

    Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing. So we’re talking about the future here but I want to talk about the past and you were talking about. You know, being there at University and putting the the beer down. So let’s say you know I give you the opportunity of getting into a time machine and you’re able to go back in time you know, maybe back to the.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Are usually.

    Alejandro Cremades: Seen university when you were doing the kickstances and you know beer pong and enjoying you know those parties there imagine you know you have the opportunity of whispering to yourself. You know, let’s say that that younger gabe you know would listen because our younger selves. Typically they don’t listen that that often but let’s say you know you were to listen. And you were able to give that younger gabe 1 piece of advice before launching a business knowing what you know now what would that be and why.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, well the immediate thing that comes to me is um, short mortgage-backed securities but I digress. Um, the I think that what I would say and you know I’ve said this before is make mistakes but make them short.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Like it’s very very good to make mistakes I make mistakes all the time like constantly cons that like I always yelled at by because of a tweet I put out today and I was like now I’m back. Ah and it’s it’s okay because you learn you know it’s.

    Alejandro Cremades: Are.

    Gabe Dominocielo: It’s okay to Learn. It’s okay to make mistakes. Um, but yeah and you know this from like relationships and people and all the all these things If you you can learn the lesson fairly quickly and trying to fix something or someone is ah. If It is Impossible. You should probably just move on so make mistakes. Yeah yeah.

    Alejandro Cremades: Um I love that I love that. So so for the people that are listening Gabe that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, ah so you can get me on Twitter it’s at Domino Cello My last name it is really just memes on unit economics and ah mapping. Ah you all feel free. You can like. My email and phone number both on the internet if you can go and find it then I’ll probably respond to your email.

    Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well hey, Gabe thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.

    Gabe Dominocielo: Um, it’s a great pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

    *****

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