We can get there from here.
Brian Chesky’s business is worth $25 billion and sometimes he rents out his couch for $40 a night. He’s the founder of Airbnb. Recently he was at the 2nd annual Airbnb Open, a gathering in Paris of over 5,000 of his Airbnb hosts and 645 employees. At the event he encouraged his hosts to not only share their homes but also their world, he believes the world is a place for where strangers trust strangers. The night of the Airbnb Open was November 13th, 2015 the first night of the terrorist attack on Paris. As Chesky spent the rest of the night checking on everyone he did not think about business. He said he thought about a world where openness and inclusion matter in the face of such a tragedy.
I remember when my sister and her husband started using Airbnb. They were traveling to Silicon Valley to visit a new grandchild who is now five years old. Finding a decent hotel nearby was impossible, so they tried Airbnb and it worked. Chesky and his co-founders live in San Francisco where they founded the company. I travel a lot. Staying with strangers, nah, not for me. I was not the only skeptic. When Chesky approached venture capital firms in the Valley, they all turned him down. The VCs in Silicon Valley invest in the space industry, but they all turned him down. Why not invest in your neighbors? Neighbors it turns out are a good investment.
In 2010 Airbnb was a small start-up with only 160,000 guests. Fast Company magazine reported that in 2015, 40 million guests were part of the Airbnb network, with over 85,000 hosts worldwide. Chesky says the company has always have been first a company that cares about our hosts. How could you be cynical about the world and be a host for Airbnb, he asked? Where do you think the campaign workers in Iowa and New Hampshire are staying?
Our style of democracy is hard. Yet, here we are, investing in the future of our community and country. How can we stay cynical and be involved in the future of our community and country? I understand the cynicism about the lack of activity at the spaceport. Is there a trick to staying on top of a changing world? I doubt it. Staying engaged, informed and productive are ways I cope with uncertainty in the world like the stock market, spaceports, and my industry. Additionally, I look to be a better communicator. The difficulty of explaining the space industry is compounded by the fact that so few people have been to space. Yet, we all benefit because we live in a spacefaring nation.
New Mexico is the home of modern rocketry. We have a legacy, and New Mexicans have vision. We want to be a spacefaring state. We have accomplished that. Next we want to be a state with our own human spaceflight capability. Relax. It is going to happen. Persistence is inoculation against failure. Virgin Galactic could have quit, they haven’t. They have made a commitment to themselves, to us and to their customers. Their employees are here in growing numbers. The employees will tell you, it is a privilege to work on bringing this next step into reality. Access to space has always been a step by step process.
As I struggle with ways to understand how to communicate about the slow progress of our work at the spaceport, I read the book The Wright Brothers by David McCoullough. The Wright Brothers had some things that inoculated them against failure. The brothers had faith in each other’s ability to persist. They listened respectfully to each other, every day. Each time they failed, they stayed together, talked and learned. They never blamed each other. When people lied to them they learned. They never oversold their accomplishments, they were credible and humble. They learned everything they could about flight, they studied birds, they built kites, and they learned about wind and weather.
Wind was essential to the Wrights, they needed about 15 miles per hour to get aloft. In 1900, the United States weather service provided Wilbur enough information on monthly wind velocities to enable a determination that Kitty Hawk in North Carolina might be a place to, as Wilbur describes a place to conduct flying experiments. The brothers lived in Dayton, Ohio. Wilbur was the scout, it took him six days to get to Kitty Hawk, 677 miles. Today it would take about 11 hours by car. Orville stayed behind to pack up their first full-sized glider with an 18 foot wing span, which had to be shortened to 16 feet. Total cost of all the pieces, $15.
As I read the story, I realized those guys had a similar start to their program as I experienced at the spaceport. There was nothing out at the spaceport, just desert. The Wrights had nothing but small hills, flies and sand dunes. The day after he arrived, Wilbur set up a camp about a half mile from the home of the Tate family, who provided early Airbnb style accommodations. After Orville arrived they both lived in a tent, and built their glider in the tent. I did not realize how similar the start of the airline industry was to what we are trying to do.
If the Wrights had not persisted, others would have done it. The time was right. Persistence, hard work, respect for each other and their lessons learned allowed forward momentum. It was not easy, they had no money. No one had ever done what they were doing. They kept moving forward, each step led to the next. Sub-orbital commercial human spaceflight will happen. The investment we have made in New Mexico of $230 million is significant. Did we get ahead of the industry? Yes. Would Virgin Galactic have found another home if we passed? Yes. Human spaceflight is very hard, but we can get there from here.