Mina Mitry has become a great example of what it means to think big and follow through on it. His space startup has already raised tens of millions of dollars on its mission to build essential infrastructure in space. His venture, Kepler Communications, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like IA Ventures, Tribe Capital, Sand Hill Angels, and Costanoa Ventures.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Converting investors from a no to a yes
- How the space industry has changed
- The number one skill you need as an entrepreneur
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About Mina Mitry:
Mina Mitry is Co-Founder and CEO of Kepler Communications, a company seeking to lay the foundation for the “Internet outside Earth”.Kepler is presently building its business by offering data connectivity to machines on Earth, using satellites it manufactures and operates in-house. In the future, Kepler will begin to relay traffic for customers in space, connecting satellites to each other or to the ground in real time.
Under Mina’s leadership, Kepler was named one of the most innovative space companies in the world by Fast Company in 2018. Prior to Kepler, Mina commercialized his research work on numerical methods and machine learning at a major aircraft engine manufacturer. See How I Can Help You With Your Fundraising Efforts
Mina holds a Master of Applied Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Toronto.
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Connect with Mina Mitry:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Already hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. We’re gonna be talking a lot about space and about building scaling financing and everything in between so without farther ado let’s welcome our guest today. Mina Mitry: mitri welcome to the show.
Mina Mitry: Thanks for having me on the show I’m excited to chat about everything space and space business.
Alejandro Cremades: So give us a little of a walk through memory lane because both of your parents you know were from egypt and obviously you know you guys immigrated at when you were 7 but tell us how was life growing up.
Mina Mitry: So in Egypt. It’s a very very different environment. It’s not really one that’s set up for some sort of entrepreneurship. They definitely encourage the range of professional degrees in professional fields. That’s your priority when you grow up. It’s will you be a doctor pharmacist. Or engineer. What’s your professional designation and in search of just a better and more exciting life. My parents were first generation immigrants that came to Canada and wanted us to to see what we’re able to accomplish we immigrated at the age of 7 I learned english on the fly being here in the country. And it’s been a pretty exciting journey from there to where I am today having built a space company I did my undergrad and my master’s at the University Of Toronto worked on a lot of cool stuff during that time but all of it was just. Surrounding myself with the really great people that I get to work with today and that’s what I got to do from the university time.
Alejandro Cremades: And what why do you think your parents chose toronto out of all places.
Mina Mitry: So there was only a few alternatives that all of our family was immigrating out of Egypt. It was whether we were going to go to Australia Europe or Canada and then a few were going into the us. So they’re really just following the the trail of their own family members that were all departing out of Egypt.
Alejandro Cremades: And and in your case and obviously you know it sounds like you were very set very much set on aerospace for some time. So what do you think? triggered your love for space.
Mina Mitry: So unlike most people who might have grown up in a childhood where they were surrounded by you know the space shuttle launch and that era I didn’t actually start with a love for space I started off with an interest in engineering both my parents my mom and my dad were engineers by by training. And so they really encouraged me down that field and it’s through my time at the University Of Toronto where I worked on an offer for profit that I grew a love and a passion for aerospace at large in this. Not-for-profit. We used to design and build rocket drones and satellites for competitions around the world. Ah, we got to do really cool things like mix laughing gas aluminum powder and candle wax to make our own rocket engines from scratch and that was just such a formative experience to learn what was happening in the space sector and really built my love for it.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case Actually even even though you already had encounter the law for aerospace you know and then you know you pursue your masters and all that stuff you still you know took a different route and decided to take a job in in early stage startup. So Why did you take a different path. You know that then you know is a you realize oh my God No you know I got to go back to to to this other thing.
Mina Mitry: Well I think it was all with the same endgame in mind I knew I wanted to build my own business but I was going to learn on the shoulders of giant so people that were already started down that path. So I can inherit whatever they had learned through the process. So I worked for a few early stage ventures. After commercializing my master’s research just so that I can understand what was happening in early stage startup. How do you build a business. What is super important. What are the things you want to avoid and just accelerate what I had to learn to build my own.
Alejandro Cremades: So then so then in this case at what point do you realize hey I think it’s a time you know for me to build my own. Okay.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, so I worked with some a really great pair of cofounders in the pretty early stages ran the our engineering team helped them build and launch the first product and then went through the process of raising first capital with them after they’d been a part of Ycombinator and it was at that time that I felt like I had the toolset enough to go out and start my own early venture and realize I wanted nothing more than to go back to my passion of working in the aerospace actor.
Alejandro Cremades: So then what happened next and.
Mina Mitry: What happened next was a little bit crazy. We were sort of debating what would be next in my life. My career what I wanted to do I had an offer on a table for another early. Well not really early stage but relatively well-funded company out in San Francisco and I was speaking with the people that I thought would be my cofounders to help me build Kepler and at the time I told them like hey I’m at a decision point either I need you all to leave your ph ds leave your full-time jobs and join me on this crazy adventure or I’m going to go take this job out in San Francisco and then my cofounder the next week called me up and said hey I left my ph d my other cofounder called me up the next week and said I’ve quit my full-time job. Let’s go dive into this full-time and see what we can do to make Kepler successful and that was like the triggering moment where we you know decided to ultimately go out and build our own business.
Alejandro Cremades: And what were the initial steps here because I mean obviously building a company like this I mean it’s is not an easy. It’s not an easy thing. You know it’s not like just doing another Sas you know type of company. So what? what were the next steps here.
Mina Mitry: I don’t think there’s a clear or straight line logic path that you can generically apply to any company. But for us we knew that this was a visionary business. You know for for building something in space. It’s not the the same kind of business that you have your known. Ah, set of metrics. You’ve got a me to reach your respective funding milestones for Kepler. It is a is a very very visionary business. It’s the idea of bringing internet access that we so enjoy here on earth but outside of this world where no internet access exists and it’s aligning the right set of people. To that vision and then charting a path towards its accomplishment. So you know we ask ourselves every day. What are we going to do today that helps us put us forward on the path towards internet and space and you you run through a chain of logic tests and if it doesn’t work then you’re on the scratch pad and redoing the the effort to figure out how to you get yourself there. Um. Don’t think there was as clearly a defined set of next steps beyond the fact that hey we were gonna go out and build this business What’s the first thing we need to do. We need to prove. We can get data back down to earth from space. So we built the technology built and launched our first satellites just to prove. We could do it.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in terms of the business model for the people that are listening what ended up being the business model of Kepler. How do you guys make money.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, so the business model of Kepler is very simple. It’s pretty similar to your verizons at and t’s any cellular network provider. We are the communications provider for space. So when you but want to put something into orbit to use it. You need 3 things you need to build the thing that’s going to go into space. You need access to a rocket to get you up there and you need communications to whatever it is that you built we are that communications provider. So our business model is a pay per use rate plan for every time that you’re. Object in space communicates with our network.
Alejandro Cremades: And also in terms of fundraising Mina Mitry: How much capital have you guys raised today.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, so to date we’ve raised just over 80,000,000 us into the business and that’s just.
Alejandro Cremades: 80000000 us and and that has been throughout different rounds now I know that in 2018 when you guys were doing the series a it was pretty nerve raking why why was a nerve raking what happened.
Mina Mitry: Well in 2018 that was probably the lowest point of the financial markets as we looked back and saw like stock price performance of publicly traded equities through the year of 2018 and through 2017 and 2019 we saw that when we were raising capital was just. Absolutely the worst time and I remember this so distinctly so investors were turning down meetings. We were having a lot of difficulty getting that early traction and and in fact, our leading investor for our series. A initially turned us down. They took a look at the business model took a look at the market conditions and we’re pretty concerned that. Um, it. It would just be a tough slog because it’s a bad time in the market and I remember going back and really thinking of like what are the reasons why this investor said no and why do we really want them and we built out over the course of the next month like ah a dedicated tiger team within the company that helped us go out and address every one of the concerns that they raised and then I decided to reach back out like hey I think we’ve solved for every problem that you thought you had with this business. Do you want to talk again and the investor came back to us and said let’s let’s hear it out. We sat down went through it. And they converted their no to a yes which I think is the first time that they’ve done that in the fund. So we’re we’re pretty excited about that experience, but it was crazy nerve racking at the time.
Alejandro Cremades: And what do you think clicked? What do you think was that concern that was in between you and the money.
Mina Mitry: Oh I think it was clarity above all else. So what I what I found oftentimes is there’s you know, misstated assumptions that people make in communication because they’re already dealing with like a hundred different alternative. Ah, companies that they can fund so it’s really hard for you to clearly communicate what the business need is how you’ve addressed all the concerns and how you’re going to make this into a wild success and doing so in such a way that people are able to understand it because the first reaction when you tell somebody you’re going to build a business in space. Kind of look at you a little funny think are you are you are you crazy is this surreal thing. Can you actually build a business up in space. It’s not common knowledge but you know having the right clarity to talk about why? That’s not really a risk why it’s like funding any other business was probably the pivotal point between us and the money. And for the cost of building a software business. We built a space company.
Alejandro Cremades: And in that in that in that case, you know here for you guys I mean what were the expectations that you encounter from going. Let’s say from like a C to a series a from a series a to like a series B How did the a capital racing efforts shifted from one cycle to the next.
Mina Mitry: Yeah I think it’s important to set in context for our business which I would broadly categorize as infrastructure and this type of an infrastructure business lags the traditional saas funding cycles and expectations. So an infrastructure business at the series a looks like a seed company an infrastructure business at the series b looks like a series a company and so um I think it’s level setting those expectations with investors looking at peer comps and that’s what allows you to sort of be successful through it. And what we learn through the cycle and the measures of success are dramatically different. So for us, it’s hey can you Deris the technology is that the first step then the next measure is success. Can you build a product then then that’s the next step and then the step thereafter is can you prove that that product has you know good unit economics. It’s not. Very different from your traditional venture capital business but it definitely takes a little It’s a step behind compared to the development cycles of your traditional saas business.
Alejandro Cremades: And also this segment is not like a segment that that has been like around for a long time with a ton of players that have a ton of operational Expertise. You know that you can tap into as Investors. So. What was that the prospecting you know process too for you guys I mean what were what were your expectations on the investors that you wanted to aboard.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, so I think that’s depending on the point in time that you’re describing here. So the investor community has actually grown a lot more educated and astute to what’s happening in this market if you talk about it in 2015 and 2016 time period I think definitely that held true. Ah, the investors you were targeting were ones that were like investing in robotics and physical hardware but haven’t necessarily done space before but if you take a look at the market now. There’s dedicated space venture capital funds that exist and the community at large has already seen some success. With a few exits that have happened in 2020 and several exits that have happened in 2021. It’s created a lot more education so it’s becoming more mainstream there. There’s a lot more access to investors but initially was targeting. You know, deep tech and robotics investors. And nowadays you’ll find quite a few dedicated space venture capitalists.
Alejandro Cremades: And as we’re talking about people here I mean now you guys have about 100 people involved with the business. How did you go to about building the team I mean what would you say were the most critical hires at the beginning and then what was that process of. You know, continuing the journey of of adding more folks to to to the business.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, in the early days of the business I think the most critical hires are general purpose smart people because the problem is you? You don’t really know exactly what you’re going to build. You don’t need that specialized expertise you don’t have sort of people that are. Just domain experts because you don’t really know what you need to do and a lot of what has to happen is figuring out. What’s the next step what is the right thing to do. It is a good a good use of time or not so this concept of general purpose smart people is finding people that are generally intelligent probably from your own networks that you’ve worked with in the past that you’ve. Seen through university and that you’ve admired and you think of how they can apply themselves into the business and how they can adapt to whatever is needed and as we continue to grow we we sort of at the the 30 to 50 person Mark started to realize. That obviously need quite a bit more specialization. You need people that are field experts that are really great in the thing that you need to build that need to do it very effectively and then thereafter it’s like do we have the right executive team have we brought that on board are they capable of operating a business at our scale and I think. 1 of the biggest things I’ve learned through this process is not taking for granted what it takes to build an executive team because an executive team isn’t formed overnight or hired overnight an executive team is built through going through some really tremendously difficult problems.
Mina Mitry: And being able to resolve them and coming out on the other side ahead of it.
Alejandro Cremades: And and in that sense you know for for you guys too. I mean when when when really launching stuff into space I mean that’s not ah, that’s not an easy thing I know that you know back in 2021 you know when you guys were launching a bunch of satellites. You know there was all types of stuff that. Kept popping in you know in terms of perhaps obstacles or challenges you know which is just part of this journey. So what happened you know when you guys were trying to launch you know 8 satellites all at once.
Mina Mitry: Yeah that’s a really great question. We had a tremendously difficult time because we were going from you know launching 1 to 2 satellites to building a factory that can produce up to 10 satellites a month building a team and building the product. So obviously things go wrong in that process. And I remember this really vividly. We had a launch coming up in early January and nearing the end of December we were coming into the final assembly step of these satellites and this is just like bolting on different pieces together. One of the things we had to put on was the solar panels. There would generate power for the satellites. And in that process one of the technicians came to us and said hey the solar panels can’t be mounted on the satellites. They’re incorrectly assembled. You physically couldn’t put them on. It must have taken us three weeks running 24 hours without exaggeration sleeping at the office to try and remedy the issue. We had almost everybody in the company brain coming in to help support the development. The update the ah build of new solar panels the modifications that had to happen just so that we can make that launch and I think we cut it down to the very last day that we could. Possibly ship those satellites to the launch site had them go on had them go up into orbit and all of them are working in orbit today. But what it took to get them into operation when there are so many things happening in parallel you’re building the company building the manufacturing facility building the product. It really took.
Mina Mitry: An incredibly motivated team to get us there.
Alejandro Cremades: And and I don’t think people you know, broadly realize the amount of things that can go wrong when you’re trying to launch something to space correct.
Mina Mitry: But I’d also say a lot of people don’t realize how much of that risk has already been managed. You know launches are up to 96 to 97% success rate you verarily hear of failed launches in the sector. Um.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow.
Mina Mitry: The hardware reliability and improvement has leveraged the years of experience and learnings we’ve had so um I think you know beforehand in 2012, you might say it was incredibly difficult to build a launch and put a satellite into orbit that would work. But now we’ve had this industry mature so much so over the past you know, 8 to 10 years that um, you know we can reasonably expect. We’ll put something into orbit and it’s going to work.
Alejandro Cremades: And does it take a long time to plan putting something into orbit.
Mina Mitry: No, that’s the crazy part. A lot of people believe that it you know have have grown up in the time period where ah to put something into space. It was a national country priority. It would take 3 to 5 years in design and it was intended to operate for 15 years What’s changed so much. So now. Is that access to information access to goods has become increasingly commoditized so you can buy parts off of the equivalent of Amazon but for satellite parts you can assemble your kit satellite. You can catch a rideshare. So. All in all, it can take you as little as twelve months to go from an idea to putting some putting something into orbit.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now in your case I mean you’ve been involved with aerospace since 2007 when you were studying in Toronto. How do you think that perhaps you know as human beings you know our relationship or perhaps things have changed you know towards space.
Mina Mitry: Yeah I think we always get the question of what’s the benefit of exploration. What is the benefit of building stuff for space and something we have to keep in mind is all the developments that have happened. In space that have directly served a benefit for us here on earth whether it’s the the buildout of Gps which we use every single day or the availability and access to weather information to images of the Ukraine. All that is enabled by developments that are happening in space. So. You know I think it’s it’s the broad market perception of how does building something in space help us here on earth and that’s what’s really changed over the last um ten to 12 years.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, and and in in your guys’ case how many how many satellites Do you guys have out there in orbit.
Mina Mitry: So today Kepler has 19 satellites on orbit we are the largest operator of spacecraft in Canada.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now imagine that you go to sleep tonight I mean and you wake up in a world where the vision you know of Kepler is fully realized what does that world look like okay.
Mina Mitry: That world looks like having internet in space the same way we get to enjoy it here on Earth that will make any data so generated in space. Ubiquitous available useful for here for us here on Earth. And expand the reach of humanity to become a space faring civilization because if you think of what’s required for us to you know Habitat multiple planets or to extend the reach Beyond Earth You need transportation. You need communications. Obviously you also need habitats and. And food and Shelter. So Communications is such an essential piece to that that future vision of the world and that’s what I hope we realize in building kepler.
Alejandro Cremades: And as you guys were building all these infrastructure in orbit I mean what kind of advancements you know, do you think we’re going to be able to see and and what kind of impact you know what’s going to be that before and after kind of thing.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, so there’s there’s 2 ways to kind of look at this There’s the set of things that become possible that we don’t know of today and then there’s the set of things that become possible that we do know of today. So um, let me talk about the set of things that become possible that are really well known. These will be. You know imagery from conflict-ridden regions like the Ukraine would travel and be available in real-time today. That’s not the case if you take a picture in space. It might take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days before you’re able to receive it because there is no internet access outside of this world. So it’s kind of like the equivalent of having dial up in in an internet age. It’s just not a way for you to get data back to earth so those are the problems we’re solving today. How do we get data from space to earth in real time where today can be hours if not days delayed and really affecting. Ah, you know everything from decision making for conflict-ridden regions all the way to access to weather information for climate monitoring and for forecasting the set of things that we don’t know about are what really excite me because I think we couldn’t have called. You know at the time internet was being built that you and I would be using the internet to have a podcast today but that’s just what happened as a result of building this this infrastructure and on on this fundamental premise of we want to connect everything in the world. So that’s what really excites me? What are the things that become possible.
Mina Mitry: That we couldn’t have dreamed of because we now have internet access outside of this world.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that and now for the for for imagine imagine if I put you here into um time machine and let’s say I I’m able to bring you back in time perhaps to that moment where you were thinking about launching something of your own. Maybe maybe to that time that. You You had your stint you know working with other early stage companies and now you know it was your time your time to go at it and you had the opportunity of having a chat with that younger umna and you were able to give that younger Mina Mitry: one piece of Advice. Before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Mina Mitry: Probably the the one of the biggest things is don’t assume you’re constrained by anything So One of the challenges that you know you’ll you’ll hear or see in some of the startup ecosystems is here’s what a. Ah seed financing will look like this is what you can get and you have to plan your business around that rather I would you know remove the thought of any of those constraints go back in time and say hey if you had sort of unlimited resources. What what is it that you do. What’s the right step for the business and start to Work. Oh.
Alejandro Cremades: And let’s let’s let’s mean I’m able to um to hear the do so let’s just say and we’ll we’ll edit this piece out I Just want to make sure that that we’re able to edit it out completely. But but yeah, so what? what? Why didn’t you why’t you start? you know on that on that part again. Now that I can’t hear anything now. Okay.
Mina Mitry: Perfect. Yeah so I think the one biggest piece of advice I Give to my former self is don’t assume there’s anything constraining you by way of Capital resources I would really really focus on like the problem you’re after the solution space that you’re. Working towards and what’s the right thing to do for the business and stress test that as much as possible as many people because you’ll hear conventional wisdom on what a seed round financing could be or what a series a round financing could be but these are just sort of artificial Constructs. We’ve created for ourselves. And rather if you think about what is the right thing to build the business. The money will follow. That’s probably the biggest single thing I’d leave with my former self.
Alejandro Cremades: And is there like ah like a process you know to really land or to arrive to that right thing that you’re pointing to.
Mina Mitry: Yes, go out and ask and solicit for as much peer reviewed feedback as you can get. That’s that’s the 1 thing and go out and reiterate on whatever it is that you’re working towards.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it. And and and during that that process I mean is there like a specific people that you think it might make sense would it be founders investors potential customers or who do you think could be could give the best insight.
Mina Mitry: Yeah, this is a really challenging one and a skill that I think people actually have to develop which is figuring out who to listen to for what advice so in that early stage. There’s no generality to say like yeah, go talk to early stage founders or Investors. Those are the right general people. I’d say in the early stage you need to know who it is and what they’re good at and whether you can listen to their advice and that’s a skill you got to develop and that’s probably the the single most important thing to to spend your time on.
Alejandro Cremades: Got it. So so whether or not they have authority in that domain in which they’re looking to advise you on correct amazing. So Mina Mitry: for the people that are listening. What is the best way for them to reach out and say hi.
Mina Mitry: Exactly.
Mina Mitry: They can reach out to us in any 1 of our social media channels kepler comms for Twitter or info at keplerdot space those are all great ways for them to reach out and say hi.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Mina Mitry: thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show. It has been an honor to have you with us today.
Mina Mitry: Thanks for having me.
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