We talked to Roope Takala of Aurora Propulsion Technologies about how they are dedicated to create scalable solutions and services for small spacecraft movement and lifecycle control.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Roope Takala: Covid-19 times have treated my family kindly. Everyone has been well, and even the normal flu cases that usually come with the autumn season have stayed away. That being said, I do have a hunch that the teenagers would have liked to have a dad at the office more, to allow for more quality alone time with their I-phones.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Aurora Propulsion Technologies.
Roope Takala: I founded the company after twenty-two years in a big corporation. Having worked on almost any conceivable job and some inconceivable ones, too, I thought it was time to follow childhood dreams and build some rocket engines. Experience in leading a corporate space program naturally gave some good background, as did the contact networks built over the decades in corporate management.
How does Aurora Propulsion Technologies innovate?
Roope Takala: Our company innovates on a dual strategy, utilizing technical capability and an analysis of future market need as starting points. Understanding where customer needs will be in three to five years is important to correctly position our product propositions. In our Deep-(space)-Tech field, this is necessary as the product development times are quite long. Actual ideation work is done in hackathon-type sprints, hands-on, and all night so that ideas get a form for follow on studies. Naturally, after initial products are out, customer feedback is collected and taken to heed carefully as that helps streamline customer needs. We also modularize the key varying features in products to enable mass customization to specific customer needs.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Roope Takala: The Covid-19 pandemics effect has been rather limited to product development. However, the effect on sales processes has been rather drastic. Video conferences and virtual events have replaced all trade shows and face to face meetings. This has had a few positive effects. Firstly, It has been possible to create global sales reach with only a few salespersons as they can interact with customers globally all in a single day. Secondly, the availability of senior staff and decision-makers of customers for business meetings has been much better than before, evidently travel times were available for calls. Thirdly travel budgets have been significantly reduced, creating some budgetary buffer for possibly delayed deals. All this being said, we have seen a few unexpected delays in deals being closed, many due to customers’ own funding decisions being delayed.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Roope Takala: In the early days of the pandemic, we did have to make difficult choices. These were related to cost-cutting measures and the creation of back-up supply chains in the face of the closure of some key partner operations. However, many of the decisions were in the pipeline anyway. So the pandemics’ early panic stages only accelerated them. The lesson learned is that even though some measures were probably a bit overemphasized, being prudent paid off, and we have had no cases of illness or significant delays in our projects. It also is a positive sign when tight moves can be softened over better visibility with time.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Roope Takala: I usually get distracted from my stress by children, and naturally, the tough spots at work are smoothened by great colleagues. A team of people whom I fully trust and who help carry each other over the hard spots makes even the toughest spot worth its’ while.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Roope Takala: In this New Space propulsion industry, the market is growing faster than supply, so it’s hardly fair to talk about competition; it’s more like co-petition. The companies have largely complementary products, and deals are often done with consortia’s of companies. In this environment, head on competition is rare, as even if in a single deal we compete in the next one, we may well be co-bidding. The secret sauce to staying in the game is to work with the industry partners to build compelling offers together.
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