Friday, March 11, 2011

How are you going to fund your GLXP entry: NASCAR Rocketry

This post originally appeared in our official GLXP blog. The reason that we call it 'NASCAR rocketry' is because of the fact that there will be what we affectionately call 'tank tattoos' on the fuel tanks of our test rockets, landers, and rovers.

Shouting over a 100 dB engine

Paying for the GLXP shot is a tough. The budget ranges that we have seen for the GLXP so far have been between $10 million on the very low side to over $100 million on the high side. Our own is in the $50 million range. How do you come up with that amount though? We talked in general about that already in our second blog post and then touched on the contracts that we are getting paid to build rockets for the Nanosat Launcher Challenge. This post is going to touch on the sponsorship aspect of how we are going to pay for our GLXP entry.

We have gotten a lot of questions about our sponsorships since they are so large in value and a few more than what the average team has been able to come up with. We thought we'd share some bits that would help those seeking to participate in challenges in the future as well as highlight just how serious we are about this endeavor.

It is not really about needs. It is about fit.

A common mistake is for individuals and teams to seek out sponsors that would get their team what they need or want. The teams are really focused on the bits that get them to the moon. This is understandable, but it is a mistake. The reason that they have this view is because they see sponsorships as gifts to the teams to and not what they really are. Sponsorships are NOT gifts: they are business transactions.

When approaching a sponsor, a team needs to keep in mind that they are going in to get something, but they have to ALSO be going in to give something. Sometimes that something is advertising space on their rover or lander or on the rocket they are riding. That's a nontrivial item for exchange. However, it needs to be worth it for the company being approached. By being Team Phoenicia's sponsor, we always ask ourselves, will this company benefit? Will promoting the company be enough for them?

For some companies, they derive more than enough benefit from just getting their name out there or being seen in a positive light by the demographic that is paying attention to the GLXP. However, for several others, it is not. Not even close. For those, the teams need to present something more, a deeper vision, more payoff than merely advertising. Why would a major launch provider want to sponsor a team? What would they get out of it? It's a nontrivial cost to and for them, so....

That when the team has to step up with their own give back. The team has to have that one thing that the sponsor really wants or could use or could leverage for their own advantage. If a team doesn't have that, they are not going to land that sponsor.

The team's needs and the team's offerings need to fit the sponsor that they are approaching.

If at first you don't succeed

One of the most humbling aspects of the GLXP has not been the challenges on the technical side of getting our lander/rover combo to the lunar surface. It has been getting the project funded. From the outset we knew we needed sponsors. Therefore, we went out to get them. It was most definitely humbling.

The next thing we have to advise the teams is that getting sponsorship even when everything goes right takes a lot of work. We spend a couple hundred man-hours to get a single sponsor. This starts with reaching out to see with whom to speak. Then once a person has been contacted, if there is any interest at all. Then it follows through with presentation that has been tailored to that sponsor's needs and whatnot. Then there are multiple rounds of presentations to get all the players on board. Your greatest friend in the company is the marketing department. Your greatest enemy is the dark side: the accountants. The deciding factor is executive management. Get them on board, and least don't annoy the accountants, and a team will likely get a sponsor.

A word of caution though. Team Phoenicia has been quite fortunate with its sponsorships. The fact remains that for every single sponsor on our website - and more than a few that have not yet made it there because the final agreements have not yet been set in stone - we have briefed about twenty (20 others. Yes, we have about a five percent success rate. And that, our dear readers, is a very high success rate. We have learned a lot from each and every failure.

However, 20:1 ratio means a lot of pounding the pavement. That's a lot of work that would-be selenites really need to do to get what they want. If every presentation for a potential sponsor took two weeks of full time effort, the ten announced sponsors required four hundred man-weeks of effort to land. We also have another four that we are in the stages of finalizing. As an aside, we'd love to say more about them, but we are not done and it requires discretion. Soon, we hope, quite soon.

As you might expect, the total man weeks to get the sponsors we have and are finalizing with is several years work for one person. It really, truly means getting out there and pounding the pavement.

If you first you don't succeed, try, try try, try, try, try, try, try, and try again. You need to be stubborn enough to teach stones and make donkeys cry, but you also have to be bright enough that you learn from your failures. But especially learn from your fails.

In the end...

Team Phoenicia believes that we will cover potentially up to 70% of our GLXP bid with sponsorships. We know it is doable. Already based on the sponsorships we are public about, we have over $5 million worth. We have a lot more than that we are hoping to close with and make public over the next few months. We hoped to share a bit of our experience in order to help others. Oh, we want to beat your pants off and take first place and a couple of the ancillary prizes: we're also not showing all our tricks up our sleeves. However, it's a lot more exciting when there is a real race with real contenders rather than just one team. If we can facilitate that, we will. And, hopefully are. If others can benefit from our experiences with NASCAR rocketry, all the better.

After all, this race isn't just a race. It's a method of building our permanent presence on our Moon and that means pushing others up, not down.

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