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“Fast forward to 2020. TeamIndus and Axiom Research will still exist. We will be either a very successful space company or, if we manage our lunar landing on the first attempt, we will be [a] super successful space company. That’s the only difference.”

Heady words there. Spoken in December 2016 when TeamIndus was announcing its launch agreement with Antrix Corporation as a finalist under the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP). When Sridhar Ramasubban said this, as the head of business development and a member of the leadership team, his confidence must have been at an all-time high. A launch contract with Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and a few business deals under his belt, he was ready to “re-engineer” every element of space business.

“We don’t want to be a one-shot [moonshot] company,” he had said. Eight months later, TeamIndus is behind him. Ramasubban is onto a new, unnamed space startup. But isn’t space a long lead time business? A little over 30 months at India’s most talked-about space startup wouldn’t qualify that.

“There have been some delays, issues, but I am an angel investor too. I invest in small companies, take CXO-level positions, stay on for a year and then I move on. I know this [TeamIndus] was a bigger cause…But some of us are starting on our own [in this space itself],” Ramasubban said over the phone in mid-July, before hanging up.

TeamIndus considered itself having an edge in software. It had contributed in its clinching the $1-million milestone prize under GLXP, and the company was counting on that strength to garner initial business. It was buying software globally and building on that in a way that “people have not done before”. For instance, it bought missions operations software from the University of Colorado, improvised on it and became its reseller for the Asian market. With a business plan to be an orbital transportation company, it was looking at the GLXP mission to the moon as a stepping stone with many follow-on missions to the moon, asteroids and “somewhere else”.

In a conversation with The Ken in November, Ramasubban had said the company would gross some revenue even before they’d land on the moon. “We don’t do a single project if we can’t commercialise within 24 months. That’s my mandate,” he said. (The FY16 filings with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs do show Rs 7,68,427 as trade receivables for six months against Rs 9.27 crore in losses and Rs 14.4 lakh in revenue.) When asked how did the company do in FY17, Rahul Narayan, co-founder and Fleet-Commander of TeamIndus, said, “We see ourselves as a product company, therefore, core revenues are expected post beta-product-launch, coming up early next year.”

It’s not immediately known what some of the initial products are but what is apparent is that in becoming a space tech company as well as a commercial glam enterprise, a few things fell between the stools.

AUTHOR

Seema Singh

Seema has over two decades of experience in journalism. Before starting The Ken, Seema wrote “Myth Breaker: Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw and the Story of Indian Biotech”, published by HarperCollins in May 2016. Prior to that, she was a senior editor and bureau chief for Bangalore with Forbes India, and before that she wrote for Mint. Seema has written for numerous international publications like IEEE-Spectrum, New Scientist, Cell and Newsweek. Seema is a Knight Science Journalism Fellow from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MacArthur Foundation Research Grantee.

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