E63: Naveen Jain, Founder of Moon Express, BlueDot, Intelius, TalentWise and Infospace – Interview

October 6, 2016


Naveen Jain doesn’t mess around. Naveen has an incredible background, founder of BlueDot, Viome, Intelius, Infospace and others. He is also on the board of Singularity University and Xprize foundation. And Naveen is now going to launch a rocket to the moon by the end of 2017.

He is the founder of Moon Express. And their big news is that they recently received permission from the US government to travel beyond Earth’s orbit and land on the moon. It’s the first time a private enterprise has been given approval to land on the moon. Moon Express also has the rights, as per the recently passed law and signed by President Obama, to own any material brought back by the company.

I love how Naveen thinks. He thinks big and brings along with that an incredible amount of positive and thoughtful energy.

This interview will motivate you to move faster, wiser.

Here are some other things we talk about:

-How do you achieve your goals, maintain your vision?
-What’s the toughest part of the mission to the moon?
-How much will it cost? How much did you think it would cost when you started? Naveen’s answers surprised me.
-It’s such a big awesome public goal, landing on the moon, how do you deal with the pressure?
-When will you reach the moon?
-When will you have a manned mission to the moon?
-How will you make money by getting to the moon?


David Kruse: Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of Flyover Labs. Today we have an awesome guest with us, Naveen Jain. Naveen has an incredible background. He is the Founder of InfoSpace, Intelius and others. So and now Naveen has the small goal of reaching the moon and yes, that moon in space and so he is the Founder of Moon Express and their big news recently is that they received permission from the U.S. Government to travel beyond earth’s orbit and land on the moon and it’s the first time a private enterprise has been given approval to do that. So it’s big and I think that’s how Naveen thinks. And so that’s why I brought Naveen on the show because we could spend the entire podcast talking about Naveen’s background, but I really want to focus on what he is doing now and his thought process and his advice for all of us and maybe what we need to do to land on the moon. So Naveen, thanks for coming on the show today.

Naveen Jain: Well, it’s a pleasure and an honor.

David Kruse: Great, great and yeah, could you just give us a brief overview of your background before we start talking about what you are doing now?

Naveen Jain: Yeah, I think you know, instead of me spending time on myself and my background, let me just go ahead and say you know, you know landing on the moon is not about just literally landing on the moon. To me it’s really symbolic of what entrepreneurs are capable of doing. And I think to me what surprises me is that this is something only being done by the three super powers, and when we land on the moon imaging that we become the fourth superpower to do so. And what that really means is that going forward, the next set of superpowers are not going to be the countries like Germany or France or UK, it is going to be the group of entrepreneurs finding amazing problems to solve and going up and doing them themselves. So whether it is someone listening to this and getting inspired to say what is my moon shot? Would I go out and solve, find a cure for cancer, cure for Zika [ph], cure for Alzheimer, whatever that happens to me, we all are now capable of doing so. And the reason it is that, now the exponential technology is making the things cheaper, faster and accessible to everyone. So in fact if you have a Smartphone in your pocket, you have now more processing power than the computer that landed a man on the moon and in fact you have access to more information than President Clinton as a President and that tells you that now, all of us are connected. That means as individuals before only the rich had a way of getting their ideas sent to everyone else and everyone else was simply as consumer of information and I think with by direction of communication, every one of us is now becoming the producer of ideas. So any single one can go out and create a podcast, anyone can go out and now do the things that they wanted to get their ideas across. So a great innovative idea coming from a farmer in a village in India can now be heard across the world by someone in Africa who can implement exactly the same idea. So we all say two minds are better than one. Imagine the seven billion minds connected together trying to solve a problem. Is there any probably that’s large enough that seven billion minds connected together can solve and to me that is really the potential. So let’s use the landing on the moon as symbolic of what we as individuals are going to go out and do next.

David Kruse: See, that’s why I brought you on, you’re quite the inspirational and we all need that, a little dose of that every day.

Naveen Jain: Well, it’s actually you know, it’s not about just being inspired. The difference between an entrepreneur and everyone else is that as humans we are so used to thinking about of the problems and if you are somehow a visionary or an intelligent person, you may even have a solution. But the entrepreneur don’t bother about that, they just go out and do it. To me the execution is the key. So it’s not getting inspired that matters. What matters is you getting your ass off the damn couch, listening to it and going out and saying, I’m going to go out and do it.

David Kruse: Okay, that brings me to my next question is, what made you want to think about landing on the moon and then actually go out and do it, and what were your kind of initial steps to make that happen?

Naveen Jain: Again. So going back to it, I grew up you know in a very, very poor family in India. I came to the United States with absolutely nothing and to me it is about what’s showing that anyone can go out and dream so big that people think it’s absolutely crazy. But that craziness is what allows you to move the society forward. So I would say there are two things that we could all do where I think our world will be a better place, which is to dream so big that people think you’re crazy and never be afraid to fail. Just remember, as an entrepreneur you never fail, you simply give it. Every idea that does not work only becomes a stepping stone to a bigger success. So never be afraid that your idea may not work, because by the time you try that idea you would come up with 10 different ideas and one of them may just work.

David Kruse: Got you, okay. And so have you been interested in space for a long time?

Naveen Jain: You know again, every single company that I have done has been in a different industry and I always believe that once you become good at or expert in something, you can improve it incrementally. That means, once you say I’m really, really good at it, you can definitely improve it by 10%, 20% but if you want to improve something 10x or 15x, the only way to do that is to really think from a perspective of a non-expert and that means think about the problem from a very different perspective that most people have taken the foundation for granted and once you challenge the foundation, you will find that the things you are doing could be 10x or 15x better.

David Kruse: So what’s an example of that with Moon Express. How are you going to do 10x?

Naveen Jain: Yeah, so for example in the past there were only these people thought of going to moon was really building a massive rocket and these rockers were 40 stories tall, like Saturn and our whole thought was coming from a software side was, can we build modules and each module does a job and now the most innovative thing that we have done is our rocket that we are using is under $5 million. It only goes to lower orbit and then we built our own Lander, that costs substantially under $5 million to go from lower earth orbit all the way to the moon and land on the moon. That would have never been possible before. So I think just a approach of saying hey, you really don’t need to build a massive rocket that’s going to cost you hundreds of millions of dollars. You can start to use the low cost part, low cost cancers and off the shelf things and put them together in a way that has never been done before and what makes it amazing is it makes it a great business site. So if I could rephrase JF Kennedy, it will be we chose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, because it’s a great business and great business is what makes an entrepreneur really happy.

David Kruse: Got you. And what’s the business part of it? I know you talked about mining and minerals, but yes.

Naveen Jain: Well obviously there are many, many products, but think of it as going to the moon really is the first stepping stone for humanity becoming a multi planetary society. So whether we chose to live on the moon or we chose to live on the Mars, the problem we have right now is we are on this spaceship called early and its flying around this space with a single point of failure. So imagine if an asteroid were to hit our spaceship, the whole humanity will get wiped out and if you don’t believe me, ask the dinosaur. I’m sure they are rolling in their graves and thinking why they didn’t have an entrepreneur dinosaur who could have taken them off the planet and they would still be around, right. But that to me really is that how do we go out and take care of the single point of failure and this even if you decide that Mars is a better place to colonize, what is best is to learn to live off this planet and that means in a same set of problems high radiation, wide temperature differences and does not have the existing infrastructure of ecosystem. So I would rather be a lunatic at being three days away, than be a Martian getting stuck for six months. So it’s better for us to really learn to live on the moon and then see how do we apply to that to the Mars. So I think in the long term the right business is to be able to use the resources on the moon and figure out how do we, how will we be able to live off the resources that are already there rather than having to take all the things from planet earth. And one of the beauty of the moon is that, it has full of water and the water really is oil the space economy. Because water means hydrogen and oxygen, that means rocker fuel and a fuel for humans and that’s what makes it amazing. And of course there are a whole bunch of things you could do. You could bring back the platinum grade material, rare earth elements of Helium 3 and as you know the Helium 3 is the best clean energy source and it can power our plant for generations to come. We can even bring back moon rocks back and I really believe that moon rocks could be, could replace diamonds, because at the end of the day diamonds are neither rare on earth or nor they ever use to be as a symbol of love until 1950’s when De Beers basically launched these marketing campaigns and essentially made that a symbol of love. Guess what, the moon has been a symbol of love for centuries. We all know how many songs and poetries have been written about the moon and the love for the moon. So what if we brought the moon rocks back and simply changed the market and said you know look, everyone gives somebody a diamond. If you love her enough, you give her the moon. Don’t promise her the moon, give her the moon and the girl simply gets up and says hey, I’m not going to marry you for diamonds. I thought you loved me, because if you loved me you would have given me the moon.

David Kruse: Well, that’s awesome, that’s great. Yeah, you sold me.

Naveen Jain: And also same thing by the way, when you start to take people to the moon, then you say look, honey moon is about talking you honey to the moon, not honey Hawaii. You can do honey Hawaii anytime, but you want honeymoon you have to take her to the moon.

David Kruse: Oh! Man, that’s good, I like it. Yeah, okay so I think – you think a little differently than most entrepreneurs in a good way I mean and so can you take us through…

Naveen Jain: In fact there is one more thing, I was – let me just give one more thought on the business that I think you will really enjoy.

David Kruse: Yeah.

Naveen Jain: You and I can think of hundred different applications that you could do while we are on the moon and many of them can be whether it is you know – whether it a lunar rock replacing diamonds or it could be the foot prints of the people on the moon, or could it be that could we take the peoples ashes to the moon. But the fact remains when iPhones first came out nine years ago, Steve Jobs – if Steve Jobs were to go and ask everyone hey, what kind of applications would you like on the phone? I seriously doubt anyone would have said hey, I would love to throw the birds at the pigs. But that’s exactly what they did playing Angry Birds for years and years. What is that Pokémon go off the moon? You and I would not know until someone shows it is possible to land on the moon, it is possible to communicate from the moon and it’s possible to make it accessible and affordable to go the moon. What is the Pokémon go off the moon? We will – some creative entrepreneurs figured that out and the best part is since we own the underlying infrastructure we will be part of the value shifter.

David Kruse: Yeah, you are essentially creating the moon platform, which is yeah, after that sky is the limit as far as what could happen. Interesting, okay.

Naveen Jain: Well, no, no, no you are wrong, you’re wrong. The sky is not the limit, because the sky is nothing but a segment of your imagination. How can the sky be the limit when we are going to the moon young man?

David Kruse: That’s true all right. That was not a good example for this. Good point. All right, so like I was going to say, you think differently than a lot of entrepreneurs I know, well most all and so I love to hear your thought process. Like how did you come up with a idea of going to moon and what are your steps to actually like kind of look into it and figure out hey, we could actually do this for maybe $10 million, to build a rocket and land there? And then how did you get the team? I mean I am just curious how you put the pieces together, because you said execution is key, but…

Naveen Jain: Sure. So I think it really is people want to be associated with great dreams. People want to be associated with great inspirational things. People want to do things that actually impact society in a positive way. So if you are able to show people that all these things are possible to do, then they will come together to make your dreams come true or make their dreams come true. So I think finding a team is simply about being a good leader and allowing them to be at their best and showing them what is possible. Sometimes when started we had no idea what would happen in the future, because there were many reasons we couldn’t stopped from starting a company. First reason would have been hey, they are never going to get a permission for leaving the earth’s orbit and it’s never been done, there is no department to do that. How are we going to every get that, right or even if we got the permission and landed there, how the hell would we know that we can bring back something we get to own, because the law is not there. Guess what, here we are six years later. President Obama signed the law last year saying that anything we bring back we will get to own and here we are having a permission to go land on any terrestrial body. So the point is there are many reasons to say no to something, only one reason to say yes, which is because you believe that you will cross that bridge when you get there. When we started we thought the cost of the mission maybe $100 million, because there were no other small rockets. But we also knew being on the board of Singularity University that how exponential technologies are making the sensors and 3D Printing is making the manufacturing so much cheaper. So we knew by the time we were ready to go, there will be plenty of technologies that will reduce that cost. For example, even the same systems that are being used in the autonomous car like LIDAR, which is exactly the same systems we are using on our lunar Lander and the cost of that used to be $1.5 million and now its $1,500. So it is even coming down. The same thing that’s making our iPhone cheaper faster and thinner is exactly the same sensors that we are using on our Lander. The same 3D Printing that’s making all the things possible is making the rocker cost within those $5 million. And imaging as we start to the build the reusable rockets the marginal cost will be simply the cost of the fuel and that’s it. And that means the cost of these rockets will come down substantially, that means the cost of access to space will come down significantly and by developing the expertise which is the last Mars solution of landing on the moon and being able to build the applications on top of that certainly will become very valuable, just like once the internet infrastructure was build people were able to build the Facebook and Google on top of that.

David Kruse: Interesting, got you. And so what’s your timeline to…

Naveen Jain: So we are going to be launching next year and Q4 of next year is our current plan to essentially land on the moon.

David Kruse: Well, what’s the year to land on the moon?

Naveen Jain: Yes, Q4 of next year.

David Kruse: Wow! All right, so not that far away. That is amazing, that is amazing and interesting. So how big is your team?

Naveen Jain: So our team currently is 35 people and its going to be going up to 50 people by the end of year. But really again, this is – the beauty of the thing is you don’t need millions of people to be mobilized to do so, because you know a lot of the things are now off the shelf and a lot of the technology is well understood. It sure is rocket science, but it’s a well understood rocket science.

David Kruse: Interesting. And so as part of the execution, how do you – I can imagine there is just many things that could go wrong. How do you think through and plan through all the different scenarios.

Naveen Jain: Well, first of all you can never plan for every scenario. It is about finding the most brilliant people an allowing them to be on their own and I think most leaders and most managers where they go wrong is, they believe oh! I can only take the horse to the water, but I can’t make it drink. What they don’t realize is they don’t need to do – make anyone do anything. Your job is to make the horse thirsty and once you make the horse thirsty, it will find the water and it will drink. So the point is giving that intellectual curiosity. Allowing them to feel that it is their mission and giving them that thirst for success, the thirst for knowledge is what allows these people to take, go an extra mile to make things happen. Because it’s not your job to take them to the water and make them drink. Your job is to give them the change to make, to be thirsty.

David Kruse: And I’m curious, you know this is a big public goal you stated. And from – I think you know a lot of entrepreneurs get nervous that they are going to fail and it will be kind of humiliating and you put yourself way out there which is very impressive. So how do you, over the years how have you learnt to kind of deal with that pressure and that work or…

Naveen Jain: First of all failure only happens when you give up, everything else is simply adaption. So your ideas may or may not work, but you as a person never failed. Because the day you give up is the only day you say I have failed and if you are confidently adapting, your ideas are constantly changing, but it doesn’t mean you are failing, right. So I think from that perspective is that, I think you should always try and learn and adapt and every company goes through a near death experience and I can tell you that if you go through every sector of company, almost all of them went through a near death experience. Apple was almost a dead company and the company that saved it was Microsoft and Bill Gates, because they didn’t want to be considered a monopoly so they went and gave – they invested $250 million in Apple to save Apple.

David Kruse: That didn’t turn out well.

Naveen Jain: Oracle by the way almost went bankrupt, right. I mean Facebook was really at that – you know in some sense Mark Zuckerberg will tell you, he did not know what to do with Facebook right. Every company that is widely successful has gone through the near death experience and a great entrepreneur, really when you are persistent and comes out of the near death experience is what makes you valuable, what makes the company value, right. So I think the only other way of looking at it is that don’t – you know it’s not about you being optimistic or pessimistic, right. So it’s not about you thinking this glass is half empty or this glass is half full. It is really about thinking do you want to fill the glass and that to me is really the way entrepreneurs should be looking at it. Is that what is that I care for this glass to be not what it is, but what I want it to be. That is don’t worry whether the glass is half empty or half full. Ask yourself, do you want to fill this glass, and if yes, with what; and that’s it.

David Kruse: I like it. And so yeah, to take your kind of advice further, you know before the interview we were just chatting and you mentioned something about making, about circles and making sure that you are not going around in the circles and I’ve never heard that before. Could you share what you told me and I have a few more questions after that?

Naveen Jain: Absolutely. But you know what I was saying was that a lot of people get so busy and they think just because they are busy they are moving forward, they are making progress and sometimes we all, we feel we are running in a small circle, we can see that we are running in a small circle. Sometimes when the circle is slightly bigger, we think we are moving forward without realizing that we are actually in this bigger circle and without actually making the progress. That means we are not moving forward, we are simply going round and round. And I really think it is because we get so caught up in our day-to-day stuff and we forget the bigger picture of what is it that we are really trying to do. That means finding the true purpose, finding that it’s not about each one of us, whatever the daily task is, whether I speak and interview people, whether I do podcasts, that is a means to an end and knowing what that end, what is the purpose that you are going after. And in every single day when you go to bed, you spend five minutes reviewing your day and saying, am I better today than I was yesterday. And the better could be am I better intellectually, am I better emotionally or am I am better spiritually. And if you believe if you are not better, in either of the three dimensions, then you have to pray to the God and say, hey God, give me strength to do twice as much tomorrow than I did today, so at least I am making progress moving forward.

David Kruse: Oh! I like that advice, and have you been doing that for many years?

Naveen Jain: Many, many years. Actually I start my day in the morning with three to four minutes just thinking about what I want to be doing today and every single day before I go to bed. I find the things that I’m thankful for, the gratitude and really reviewing how am I better today than I was yesterday. And I really think it give you a lot of perspective in life, because happiness is choice, happiness is not something that happens to you. It’s a choice you make every single day. If you decide you want to be unhappy, you can find 10 reasons why you should be unhappy and if you want to be happy, you can find 10 reasons why you should be happy. So that’s a choice. No one else can make you happy or unhappy other than yourself.

David Kruse: Interesting and a quick side question that I want to make sure I get in. So how soon would you want to the space or to the moon?

Naveen Jain: Well, I believe that we will be going to the moon as humans in the next 10 to 15 years and I would absolutely love to go the moon and put my foot dent in the moon and I just can’t wait. I can’t wait for the Virgin Galaxy to launch. I can’t wait for Blue Oregon to take me to space. I would love to go and see the plant earth entirely as a globe.

David Kruse: Yeah, me too. That was half the reason I wanted you on this, because yeah I always images of earth and it’s like Oh! It would be amazing to see that in person, it would just be amazing. And that’s what in part inspires you every morning and at night?

Naveen Jain: And it does, it does, but the interesting thing is it’s not about going to space, because we are already in space, it’s just a matter of perspective. If you are living on the moon, the earth will look like space right. So we live on earth and we say moon is space right, it’s all relative.

David Kruse: Got you, okay. So just this mission for next year and for the next 10 years, it will just be essentially robotics right, collecting samples and collecting the – going to the moon.

Naveen Jain: Correct. Yes, yeah.

David Kruse: And do you have any – I mean it sounds like you guys are almost ready to do, but any further tech hurdles. Is there anything that you really need to like hammer down on in order to make this happen or is the technology there?

Naveen Jain: No, I think the technology is all there. Now it’s just simply heads down and making it happen. That means making sure the finances are ready to be able to raise the rest of the money that we need to raise and to be able to go out and just do what we need to do. There is no more technological hurdles here. It’s all at this point heads down businesses.

David Kruse: Got you, okay, interesting. And we are almost at the end of the interview here unfortunately, because I could talk about this stuff all day, and yeah its fun talking to you. So are there any parts of the mission where are the most dangerous or the most susceptible for something that is going wrong. I imagine the whole thing is pretty much susceptible for something to go wrong, but…

Naveen Jain: Not really, the hardest part is really the landing. I mean you know landing on the moon is not very difficult, its landing softly that’s a lot more terrifying. So the point is that always things can go wrong, because when you are completely at that point in the control of the machine, you can’t control the Lander when its going down with the gravity of the moon, that means it has to know where it is, it has to slow down itself, it has to know how far away it is from the surface and land nicely and softy. And that is probably the most difficult part of the whole mission and that’s why even when NASA landed on Mars it was called ‘The Seven Minutes of Terror.’

David Kruse: That’s right, that’s right. All right, that makes sense. Well I think unfortunately that just about does it for us.

Naveen Jain: Well, thanks a lot David. I really appreciate you talking time and lets continue our conversation some other time.

David Kruse: Yeah, that sounds great. I really appreciate it Naveen and your thoughts and experience and your energy and thanks everyone for listening to another episode of Flyover Labs.

Naveen Jain: Look forward to it. Take care. Bye-bye.

David Kruse: Bye.