blake scholl of boom supersonic

Blake Scholl: How Boom Supersonic Took Flight | Starting Greatness With Mike Maples, Jr

Check out the Episode Page & Show Notes 

Key Takeaways

  • Boom Supersonic is the first entrepreneurial commercial airliner startup in a century 
  • The airliner industry has been taken over by financial types starting in the 1970s, which is one of the reasons why innovation has stalled 
  • Don’t dismiss the thing that you actually want to create for the thing you think you’re good at because what you are good at can change with the right motivation and effort 
  • “We’re just taking a 787, making it long and skinny, changing the wing shape, and putting in more engines.” – Blake Scholl 
  • Very special companies, typically founder-led, are the only companies willing to cannibalize their current business to build for the future  
  • A technically-credible founder, effective storytelling, meaningful partnerships, and top-tier talent are required for a company to succeed 
  • Half of Boom Supersonic’s seed money came from investors that Blake knew from his previous company, and the other half came from investors that were passionate about aviation but thought he was crazy for trying to do this
  • When in fundraising mode, accomplish milestones that are actually progress, but also ones that look like progress 
  • Tangible, visible, relatable progress is essential for being able to fundraise  
  • Avoid the Bystander Effect, which describes how the more people that are watching a problem, the less likely it is that any one of those people will do something about it 
  • Falling victim to the Bystander Effect prevents society’s most important and obvious problems from being solved

Intro

  • Blake Scholl (@bscholl) is the founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic, a startup building the world’s fastest airliner 
  • In this conversation, Blake Scholl and Mike Maples, Jr discuss why and how Blake started Boom Supersonic, the state of the commercial air travel industry, why Boeing hasn’t built a supersonic aircraft yet, Concorde, how to hire and recruit excellent talent, favorite interview questions, how to achieve product-market fit, what it was like pitching early investors on supersonic space travel, near-death experiences, and advice for entrepreneurs building in the hard tech industry 
  • Check out these Podcast Notes from the Hermeus team on Startups & National Security 
  • Hosts: Mike Maples, Jr (@m2jr

Starting Boom Supersonic

  • Boom Supersonic is building supersonic passenger airplanes
    • Tokyo to Seattle in 4.5 hours
    • New York to London in 3.5 hours
  • Tickets would be priced around the price of business class today 
  • Blake Scholl left his career in tech to start Boom Supersonic because he wanted to work on what was the most interesting problem to him 
  • He ranked all of his startup ideas on how happy he’d be if they worked

Startups 

  • Prior to starting Boom, he started companies based on his skill set instead of what he actually wanted to create in the world
  • Don’t dismiss the thing that you actually want to create for the thing you think you’re good at because what you are good at can change with the right motivation and effort 
  • Identify what you want to exist in the world and create it
  • If you want something to exist, or think something is interesting, most likely others will to

The State Of Commercial Air Travel

  • Commercial air travel has regressed slightly over the last few decades
  • Blake believes that commercial air travel peaked in 1969 when Concorde flew for the first time and the Moon landing occurred 
  • Douglas Aircraft Company was the last commercial airliner startup and it was founded 100 years ago in 1921  
  • Boom Supersonic is the first entrepreneurial commercial airliner startup in a century 
  • The industry stopped innovating on airline capabilities in the 1960s-1970s, which was when the founders of Douglas Aircraft Company retired 
  • The airliner industry has been taken over by financial types starting in the 1970s, which is one of the reasons why innovation has stalled 
  • The financial types have optimized all parts of the aircraft except for the time it takes to get from Point A to Point B

Why Hasn’t Boeing Done This Already?

  • Boeing has the capabilities to achieve what Boom Supersonic has set out to achieve
  • The Boeing 787 contained all the necessary technologies to achieve supersonic flight and it existed ten years ago 
  • “We’re just taking a 787, making it long and skinny, changing the wing shape, and putting in more engines.”Blake Scholl
    • He caveats that it is obviously more complicated than this, but this is basically true
  • Boeing is not dumb, but they’re a victim of the innovator’s dilemma situation 
  • Boeing would obsolete all the current planes it has in production if it moved forward with building a supersonic line of aircraft 
  • Very special companies, typically founder-led, are the only companies willing to cannibalize their current business to build for the future   
  • Boeing won’t jump into supersonics until it is a replacement-style product instead of a cannibalizing-style product 

Why Not Gulfstream?

  • Gulfstream doesn’t build supersonics because it doesn’t have product market fit 
  • The goals of Concorde were to fly fast, don’t crash, and do it before the Russians
  • Concorde did not have any significant commercial motivation behind it, so it’s not surprising that it failed commercially 
  • Approximately 80% of business jet miles are flown over land 
  • The speed restriction regulation hindered the total addressable market for Gulfstream and others 

Hiring Excellent Talent

  • A technically-credible founder, effective storytelling, meaningful partnerships, and top-tier talent are required for a company to succeed 
  • Ask yourself what a founder would look, sound, and behave like that achieves what it is you want to achieve, and then become that person 
  • After having the idea for Boom, Blake didn’t hire anyone; he spent a year studying aerospace and took remedial calculus and physics courses through Khan Academy videos
  • Blake flew himself in a single-engine airplane to meet his prospective fire hire, an aerospace engineer at SpaceX
  • Ask every potential hire, “If you could wave a magic wand and get anybody on the planet to come work with you on this, who would it be?”
    • The six degrees of separation are real, and this strategy will quickly get you in touch with great candidates

Favorite Interview Questions 

  • Ask the person to teach you something; you can assess how well they know the subject if they’re able to teach it well 
  • Asking this question ensures that you’re not only hiring technically capable people but also good communicators
  • A failure of teaching doesn’t necessarily mean a failure of knowledge, but it does mean a failure of deep knowledge and deep understanding 

Elementary Physics 

  • Basically, all the important things about airplanes can be understood at a high school physics level 
  • Specialists that are 20 years down a Ph.D. path often lose track of the basic truths
  • Blake’s more generalist perspective helps keep Boom Supersonic focused on the basic truths 

Product Market Fit 

  • The question that led to Boom getting to product market fit: “How much better do we need to be than Concorde on fuel economy to come close to our tickets costing around the business class?”
    • The answer is about 30% better, and you can arrive at this answer without knowing anything about aeronautical engineering 
  • The data to answer this question is on Wikipedia, and it can be recorded in a three-line spreadsheet 
  • The original idea was to create an all-business-class plane 
  • Product market fit for Boom Supersonic is a three-legged stool:
    • Engineering
    • The market questions have to be right (flight duration, passenger count, etc.)
    • Passenger experience
  • The three legs are trade-offs with one another, and it is a challenge to keep the stool in balance
  • The company has built mockups of the cabin to test and iterate on the passenger experience 

The Minimum Viable Product For A Supersonic Jet 

  • The minimum viable product for something that is this long cycle requires 3D chess thinking 
  • What would the competitive response be from Boeing if Boom announces the release of a 75-passenger supersonic plane?
  • A minimum viable product for something with a long production cycle must be defensible 
  • First-mover advantage is real, but oftentimes first to product market fit matters more 

Pitching Early Investors 

  • Boom Supersonic’s seed round was around $770K
  • Blake hired the first ten or so employees on his savings 
  • Half of the seed money came from investors that Blake knew from his previous company, and the other half came from investors that were passionate about aviation but thought he was crazy for trying to do this 
  • When in fundraising mode, accomplish milestones that are actually progress, but also ones that look like progress  
  • Tangible, visible, relatable progress is essential for being able to fundraise
  • The pitch to Paul Graham, who invested in Boom’s seed round: Hey, if this works we’ll be a lot more efficient than Boeing, and they’re worth $100B. This could be worth at least $200 billion. A 1% chance of success makes you worth $2B today, and we’re selling stock at a $20 million valuation today. 
  • Raise money, accomplish milestones that are tangible progress, and de-risk the business 
  • Blake works to show investors that all the necessary technology and components of the supply chain already exist 

Near (Business) Death Experiences

  • An angel investor thought he could run the business better than Blake and made an offer to buy him out 
  • Blake prioritized his own happiness and turned the deal down because he knew that making commercial supersonic air travel a reality would bring him the most happiness 

Entrepreneurs Building In The Hard Tech Industry 

  • Venture-backed entrepreneurs are having success in industries that were once considered impossible to succeed in, such as Palmer Luckey in defense tech, Varda Space Industries in the space economy, and Elon Musk with Tesla and SpaceX 
  • Today, there are dozens of airplane startups
  • “It becomes much easier for founders and investors to imagine success if there’s already been a success in the category.” – Blake Scholl 
  • For example, SpaceX succeeded and now there are a million rocket startups that would have never been founded had SpaceX not succeeded
  • Avoid the Bystander Effect, which describes how the more people that are watching a problem, the less likely it is that any one of those people will do something with it 
  • People often assume that someone else is already working to solve an obvious problem or that the problem is impossible to solve
    • The result of this is that many of the most important and obvious problems never get solved
  • Boom is a great example of entrepreneurs falling victim to the Bystander Effect; they assumed that someone else was working on it, so they didn’t start it 
Starting Greatness with Mike Maples : , , ,
Notes By Stan Rizzo

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