12th June, 2019
The story of Israeli spacecraft Beresheet’s attempt to land on the moon teaches valuable lessons to all the would-be startup founders out there setting out on their journeys to change the world as we know it, writes Benjamin Kluwgant.
Over the last century, sending a rocket to land (safely) on the moon has been the aspiration of many countries around the world.
To date, the former Soviet Union, the USA and China are the only ones to have achieved this colossal feat successfully.
Earlier this year, in an attempt to join the ranks of this select group of countries, Israel sent its privately funded spacecraft ‘Beresheet’ to attempt a soft landing on the moon’s surface.
Unfortunately, the $100 million project didn’t reach the desired outcome due to a failed engine, which sent the spacecraft crashing onto the moon’s surface.
While this outcome was obviously disappointing, there are several valuable lessons that Beresheet’s ill-fated mission can teach to aspiring founders and entrepreneurs alike.
But before outlining what those lessons are, we first need to understand how this astonishing adventure panned out.
Beresheet’s journey began in 2011 when Israeli non-for-profit private organisation SpaceIL in a joint venture with Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) set out to build a robotic spacecraft that would land softly on the moon’s surface.
While all other moon-bound projects around the world have been run by the public sector, this joint venture was set to be the first ever privately funded mission to the moon. This being the case, the entire mission was forced to be run on an extremely tight budget ($100 million).
Between conducting R&D, raising funds, attempting to win awards in various competitions and so on, the eight-year expedition was a roller-coaster of excitement, leading up to the big launch in February 2019.
About five weeks after its exciting launch into the earth’s orbit, the 1.5-metre spacecraft was lured into the moon’s gravity pull and was on track to make its historical and safe landing onto the moon’s vast grey surface.
A week later, as the spacecraft reached within 150 meters of the moon’s surface, complications began to arise as mission control temporarily lost contact with the unmanned robot.
As panic filled the control centre, connection was re-established, showing that Beresheet experienced an engine failure, which then led to further last-minute complications.
Ultimately these complications caused the 585-kilogram spacecraft to crash onto the moon’s surface.
The first takeaway from this thrilling (albeit heartbreaking) story is about finding the courage to play in the big leagues.
It would have been an extremely daunting task for Israel to take on the likes of China, the US and former Soviet Union. Those countries have a history of being world super powers with enormous global influence.
Israel, on the other hand, is a state that was established some 71 years ago, with a brief track record and merely a blip on the radar of other countries around the world.
But right before it’s crashed landing, Beresheet managed to take an epic selfie with the moon as the backdrop, captioned ‘Small country, big dreams’.
When you think about it, today’s startup founders are required to go down a very similar pathway in order to succeed.
It is extremely rare to come up with an idea that hasn’t been thought of before, and even if you do, competitors with deeper pockets and access to greater resources can threaten to end your journey before it even starts.
Don’t let this stop you in your tracks.
It’s an underdog’s world. If you set up strong foundations, align your values and keep your eye on the prize, your aspirations can take you to the moon – literally.
The biggest challenge that SpaceIL and IAI experienced was working with a humble budget. Being a non-for-profit venture, they relied solely on donations and contributions that needed to be altruistic rather than financially beneficial.
While $100 million may seem like a lot of money, space travel is extremely expensive and this budget (which included the rocket launch as well) was considered as a shoe-string budget.
It was this tight budget which led to their inability to afford a higher quality engine and ultimately led to the mission’s unfortunate ending.
Most of the time, bootstrapping isn’t a choice for startup founders – it’s the only way to make it all happen.
Part of setting up a successful startup is managing to release an all-star product while working with a bootstrapped budget.
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression, so if you’re a founder on the bootstrapped journey, try not to let your modest budget impact the quality of your product release strategy.
The final lesson that can be learnt from Israel’s venture into outer-space is that failure is not a means to an end.
After the Israeli spacecraft crashed into the grey dirt of the moon’s surface, the project’s leaders humbly acknowledged that they had failed, but vowed to continue their efforts until they achieve their desired outcome.
If you’re taking the leap of faith into the world of startups, you need to remember that failure is part of the package. It makes you wiser, stronger and healthier.
Every success story is riddled with failures and mistakes. If you embrace those mistakes and look at them as opportunities, you’re on the way to creating a robust and airtight product that can be a real contender in global markets.