Monday, October 22, 2012

An interview with Liftport Group's Michael Laine.

When I first saw the Liftport Kickstarter project I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  After I read more about the project I realized it was the same folks I had read about a few years earlier in Popular Mechanics.  With Kickstarter being such a unique opportunity to talk to such interesting folks directly I decided to request an interview with Michael Laine while the project was underway.  As the campaign came to a close after surpassing their goal by over $100,000 I was surprised to receive a response to my interview request.

It turned out Michael had read my request several weeks earlier but had been so swamped by the project that he wasn’t able to get to me until afterwards when things had “settled” slightly.  I was soon to discover that Michael’s idea of “settled” is an insanely busy time for normal folks.  

After a few email exchanges Michael decided we should have a phone interview as it was the only way to ensure I’d receive a timely response.  It was determined that recording the phone conversation was beyond my current capabilities so we just used Skype and recorded it from there.   

The first thing everyone notices when talking to Michael is just how dynamic and animated he is. Every conversation I’ve ever had with him seems to be done in high gear and he while doing a hundred things at once.  His energy and enthusiasm is contagious and soon becomes obvious why he has done as well as he has not just with the Kickstarter but in his career in general.  After having a side discussion about Skype and Google+ hangouts we moved onto the interview itself.  

I am pleased to be interviewing Michael Laine of the Liftport group.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started building a ribbon to space.

Well my background is not all that super interesting.  I’m not an engineer, even though most people think I am,  my background actually goes from high school to US Marine Corps, to finance and investing to finally real estate and dot coms.  At about thirty-three I was effectively retired, so since I was always interested in “space stuff” I decided to look around and see what kind project I could get into.  Then, quite by accident, I ended up consulting on a project for NASA during their Institute for Advanced Concepts for the crazy crazy elevator to space.  

When I first heard about it I was reluctant to even go near it because I thought it was really insane.  Over time though the more I learned the more committed I became, and now I’m kind of a true believer.  

When you were first told about the elevator did you imagine a solid beam or construct going up into space?  Did you even have any thought about just a ribbon?  

When I first heard of it I thought it was science fiction and literally tried to blow off the PHC that tried to recruit me.  (Laughs)  Actually I had read the science fiction versions from Arthur C. Clark and a couple of others.  While I am a science fiction nerd that reads that stuff all the time and I really like it,  I had always just assumed this was one of those ideas that was really implausible.  Really unlikely.  

Dr. Brad Edwards, my former business partner, he was of the opinion that it was doable and I was really skeptical.   We met and had a very very long lunch and dinner and over those couple of hours he explained how the space elevator could be done.  I remained skeptical for about three months after that and did my own due diligence researching the concept but the more I learned the more committed to the idea that it was in fact doable.  

The science fiction elevators at this point had an asteroid attached to the Earth by some mega cable that was maybe 30 feet across made of some diamondoid substance.  That is still very much in the realm of science fiction and frankly it should stay there.  We really don’t want to go out and capture an asteroid and “hope” we park it in the correct orbit.  That is a recipe to “end civilization as we know it.”  Yeah, I’m not a big fan of that science fiction version.  

Edwards had a whole bunch of really important breakthroughs about design and construction and chief among those was the ribbon.  He came up with a very thin ribbon that was paper-thin and about three feet wide.  The Liftport design has modified that somewhat, it is still paper-thin but it’s about fifteen feet wide.  The design was vastly different from the science fiction version.

So how did you go from being a “money guy” basically, to a consultant, to starting your own company setting out to build this ribbon to space?  You became the front man how did that happen?

Between the Fall of 2001 and the Spring of 2003 Edwards was under contract with NASA and I was working with him on that.  We knew the money was running out.  We had a $500,000 research grant, which sounds like a lot to your average guy who’s looking at his paycheck; but on a project this large $500,000 is actually a pretty small research contract.  So we knew the money was running out in the spring and we had been petitioning to NASA to continue our work.

We were really surprising people with the results of our effort and we had gone out to NASA three or four times to keep up the funding.  We were working through the cogs of the machine and working through the process and then the Columbia crashes.  When the shuttle fell out of the sky NASA ended up making the right choice for NASA but it harmed us.  They cut hundreds of programs that day, that afternoon, they were like “we have to rebuild budget” so that A: they could find out what went wrong, and B get their birds flying again. That was a very appropriate response, but right afterwards we got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of  emails from people who thought there had to be a better way and what was this crazy space elevator I keep hearing about? 

Did they really use the word crazy?

Yeah, back in 2003 the skeptics were a lot louder then the folks that were supporting us.  That was probably appropriate given what we were trying to do at the time.  So at that point we had to start making some tough decisions as no one had refilled the checkbook since the contract wasn’t renewed.  Edwards had just gotten married shortly before this so he, rightly, went on to do other stuff to pay the bills.  On the other hand I was in a different position financially, as I said I was almost retired at thirty-three I had a fairly healthy asset base.  I had been converted so I thought what we had been doing was very important and I had the financial wherewithal to put my money where my mouth was.  So in the spring of 2003 I created Liftport group.  

We thought things were really good at first., we built some carbon nanotubes and thought we were in business but in all candor we were really, really terrible at that. Carbon nanotubes was a technology that was just not ready. Since the carbon nanotubes were the super material we needed to make the elevator we would of course be making lots of it so we figured we’d sell it to others to pay for everything else.  That ended up being a total fiasco and a miserable failure.  We built some relationships with M.I.T. and the National Renewable Energy Lab we had tried to marry two different technologies and frankly it didn’t work.  We were able to make thimbles full of nanotubes but we needed boxcars full!

We rebooted and decided to focus on our concurrent line of research which was robotics and high altitude balloons.  So we dumped the carbon nanotube research and left it to those who could specialize in that area.  After the refocusing we found out we were very good with tethered structures and robots which came to be our claim to fame.  Things were really moving along but in 2007 the economy started to collapse, and while it really picked up steam in 2008 my asset base came from real estate.  

Uh oh...

Yeah you can kinda see where that went.  I had literally risked my properties on this project.  At the time I had a 51% loan to value ratio so I had a $1.3 million loan on a $3 million property.  That seemed very rational and normal at the time. That was a very safe bet to be in, but then the market started collapsing, real estate lending started collapsing, and I got crushed.  I got crushed overnight and it was really really bad.  So I lost my properties and Liftport crashed that afternoon!  That was it, my building went to the courthouse steps for auction and the bank got it for half price.  My team evaporated that afternoon I couldn’t pay paychecks anymore.  

So Liftport collapsed, it was pretty unpleasant.  So fast-forward five years and I want to get back into it.  

That brought you here to Kickstarter?

Exactly! We’re trying to restart the machine, that’s the hope at least.

So you went from working on a project where a $500,000 research budget was too small, to Kickstarter where you ask for only $8,000?  

(Laughs) Exactly.  

While you did make several thousands of a percent over your goal with over $110,000 pledged and 3500 backers what possessed you to think that $8,000 was a good way to get started back up again?

I honestly did not have any guess that we’d hit $110,000.  I swear to God I didn’t have any idea.  I was pretty confident we could hit $8,000, and I was reasonably sure we could hit $20,000.  Beyond that?  No. No.  It was pretty ridiculous as we hit those numbers we literally rebuilt our budgets in the car as we went to the International Space Elevator Conference.  We did a $20,000 budget in the morning and on the way home we were like, “Well we passed that number lets make a $30,000 budget. Okay we passed that number lets do a $40,000 budget.”  It was just ridiculous!

I didn’t expect any of that!

What I wanted to do with this Kickstarter more than anything was to reconnect with the community that I knew was still there.  It was never about the money, in fact it was a gamble just to see if we could just build one more robot.  Do we have enough fans out there that think what we’re doing is interesting and bet on this one tiny little robot?  I wasn't sure if we still had fans or not.  We had done some very good work but we had also let a lot of people down.  A lot of people were hopeful and counting on us to succeed but when we crashed it crashed in a hurry and a lot of people were just disappointed.  

Kickstarer was a gamble.  

One that worked though.  Your original project was to build a robot to go 2 kilometers up for $8,000 but with the listed $100,000 stretch goal it is to become a “series of experiments.”  So now that you’ve settled down a little bit, you’ve got the $110,000 you’re well beyond your original goal what is the actual plan going forward?

Okay we’re still trying to determine that.  There are three paths right now that we’re tackling.  One is we are now a business, three weeks ago we were a hobby.  We’ve gone through the steps to re-incorporate so that’s happened.  We don’t have the money yet (This interview was done on 9-21-2012.  14 days after the campaign closed they actually had $99,838.) as you know there’s a 14 day delay with Kickstarter from the end of the campaign until you’re paid. We’re using this time as planning which is really great as I finally got to catch up on some of my sleep.  It was a rough couple of weeks!

So like I was saying we have three paths we’re working on.  We’ve relaunched the company with a focus on building a space elevator on the moon that’s like Task A.  We also have to get our organization back in place so we can move forward toward the moon.  

Task 2: Fulfill the Kickstarter swag.  I have to admit I’m pretty unprepared for handling this! For an $8,000 campaign it was going to be easy.  I wasn’t expecting a lot of swag I figured I could manage it in a weekend or a month. Now?  That’s 600 T-shirts to deal with!  (Laughs) That’s not what I expected to deal with.  It’s a great problem to have but it’s taking a lot of cycles just to organize that.  

Almost 3000 card carrying supporter cards to put out!

Yeah exactly!  Those cards are awesome.  I am so excited about the cards we actually have an example, but I’ll get back to that.

First rebuild the company and aim for the moon.  Second get the Kickstarter swag out which is a logistic nightmare.  

So were you not as prepared as you should have been?

No no forget should have been I couldn’t have guessed I would have needed to be this prepared.  

Final thing is, oh yeah we have to build a robot.  That’s the fun part and the whole point right?  (Laughs)  So we’ve met with a whole bunch of our team both old and new and started developing the requirements documents for the robot.  What should the robot actually do?  What are the experiment requirements?  We’ve nailed down some of those aspects already.

Thanks to the amount of backing we received we’ve had to revise what the robot was going to originally have.  We’re likely going to have four or five camera feeds, two from the robot and two from the top of the balloon.  One of those will be a pan/zoom/tilt and the other will be a wide angle continuous film.  Those are decided and good.   

We’ve got an engineer formerly from the Air Force, then Lockheed, and then Northrop Grumman whose thing was ground to air communications specialist.  He’s putting together what I hope will be a high definition camera system that should be able to transmit that distance.  We also hope to be able to broadcast that to the internet.  Then you realize this camera rig is just one subtask of all the other subtasks for the robot and you quickly discover how big a project just this robot is going to be.  For instance we also have a 3D graphics design engineer who’s working on an interface for us so that’s pretty exciting.  We’ve also sourced some motors but we’re still trying to identify all the requirements we’ll have.  

It looks like this is going to be a two part system.  The robot we need for the actual experiment is going to be relatively small but then we’ve got these seven crazy people who want to jump off of our platform. (More about crazy people jumping off really high things later)  So that ends up being two separate systems.   The robot won’t be able carry say, me.  I’m 6’4” and over 200 some odd pounds, the robot just isn’t big enough to carry a former jarhead up the string, the robot just isn’t designed for it.  So we’re making two separate systems one for the experiment and one designed for people.  

This was all a little unexpected because I wasn’t sure people were really going to take that pledge level.  I thought it was good media bait as it would catch attention and start up conversations, I honestly wasn’t prepared for how popular that was.  Every single time we’ve done one of these experiments we’ve gotten emails from folks who’ve wanted to jump from our platforms.  I figured, “well if they really want to do it here’s their chance!”  

You’re building a bigger B.A.S.E. for them to jump off of.  Then again is a 2 km jump even considered BASE jumping anymore?

Apparently there’s some debate over that!  I didn’t plan on creating a controversy but there are folks talking about it.  Since BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span, and Earth there are people asking if it’s really an antenna.  My claim is yes, it’s called tethered towers for a reason.  We are designing these things for communication and observation systems at altitude.  I think it’s an antenna but apparently my opinion has no weight in this community.  (Laughs) They’ll sort it out themselves.  

I think the six guys who jump off of it get to call it whatever they want.

I think so!  (Laughs) I think they’ve earned the right.  Two guys are coming in from Europe.  One guy doesn’t even have certification yet!  He asked, “Can I do this?”

I answered, “Well you’re not going until you have certs.  There’s no way I’m letting you jump off this thing without some sort of verification you know what you’re doing.”  

His response was, “Well I’m going to go get my certs can I pledge?”

I was like, “You can pledge all day long, but you’re not flying until you’re safe.”

So we’ve been very clear about all that.  NBC even interviewed me about the jumpers.  They asked, “What’s it take to do this.”

“Well phone numbers to your next of kin, wills, health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and even a living will and probably a waiver of liability that’s about a foot thick”

So yeah, we’re going to have to build two systems.  The experimental system and the jump system, which may not have been my best plan.  I’ve learned a lot on this Kickstarter campaign though.  

I think every Kickstarter campaign ends up finding out some pledge levels they thought were going to be popular aren’t, and others end up being way more popular than they could have hoped for.  Would you agree with that?

Absolutely!  You know it’s funny the two levels I really wanted folks to pledge at turned out to be the most popular.  The $100 get involved level and the $8 card carrying supporter level were by far and away the most popular.  

That was by design right?

Yes by design.  Well that was what I really hoped would happen.  I had done a lot of homework on Kickstarter.  Months in advance I started collecting numbers because I’m a numbers nerd, a spreadsheet nerd if you will.  So I spent a lot of time doing homework on successful Kickstarters campaigns and one are I was totally right about was that over 60% of all Kickstarter contributions are $51 or less.  I made sure we had a whole bunch of rewards at that point or lower to get the majority of the contributors.  

The other interesting bit of data I collected was that 1% of the contributors put in buckets of money to campaigns.  There were times when that 1% money wise, would equal that 60% in total cash.  I was actually counting on those 1% showing up for the campaign and I thought I had some really really interesting higher level rewards.  

Turns out I didn’t.

Nobody wanted to buy the higher level rewards and I was a little surprised by that.  

Wanted to and could are two different things.

Well okay fine right, but still I was a little surprised by that.  For example I had the “Three Wishes” one or the “Lets Make a Deal” reward tiers which were specifically designed for angel investors or venture capitalists who wanted to get in on the ground floor.  Turns out we’ve actually spoken to two different angel investors, and I know of two others that are already backers at lower levels. There are also a couple of multi-millionaires including a “name brand” millionaire, whose name I won’t name, that are interested in the project.  

I wanted to know why those guys didn’t contribute at those higher levels?  They certainly had the funds as pocket change.  I’m very puzzled by that, but it might be they just want a T-shirt.  So I can’t make any presumptions that they are, in fact, interested in our long term plans.  I do have plans to chat with them and actually see what their plans and interest levels are.

I would be interested to hear their opinions on how well Kickstarter in general attracts “whales” as it were.  

I can tell you we got a crazy amount of press and because of that an incredibly high number of our backers are first-time backers.  I don’t know how many of them will stay in the Kickstarter ecosystem, but I can say at least 20-25% of all of our backers picked us to be their first Kickstarter contribution.  On the other hand the really wealthy guy I mentioned before has backed 16 other projects so we’re not his first, but some of the other wealthy guys were are their first.  I too am curious to see what happens and what information we can gleam from that.

In the end I really did try to make sure plenty of people would have that silly card in their wallets so they could take it out and say, “See this makes me more of a geek than you.”  You know how we are as geeks always trying to prove we’re geekier than the others and nothing says “geek” more than saying you helped fund a space elevator! I’m just looking forward to hearing how folks will use their cards.

Well I hope you’re happy to know at least one NASA employee will have one.

(Laughs)  Good.  I am really curious to see how folks will use these cards.  In fact lets talk about these cards for a second.

I originally planned that these cards were going to be pretty cheesy.  They were priced pretty low for a reason and they were going to be pretty low quality as well.  We were going to try to make them as cool as we could but in the end they were just going to be paper laminated and sent out.  Lets face it the profit margins on the T-shirts was pretty much non-existent, it was the cards and the get involved levels which were going to be the biggest profit levels for this project.  That was again, done by design.  We have tangible and intangible products with the tangible products making a very small amount of money on.  The intangible ones give us a much better profit margin which is what allows us to do this experiment.  

So while I was perfectly willing to be happy with the cheap cards I had envisioned it turns out one of our fans had other plans. He contacted us and said, “Well you know I’ve got this cool machine that can make credit card quality cards why not use it?”  He could change the colors, put magnetic strips, bar codes, or QR codes on them.  What’s really cool is he can put an individual avatar on the cards so you could have your picture of your daughter on your card if you like.
So there’s a lot more customization available from your avatar, name, or “callsign” or what have you.  It’s a good card and I’m really impressed by them and they’re way above the original quality we were looking into.  All thanks to a fan stepping up and saying, “what you guys are doing is awesome how can I help?”

We’ve taken some pictures of the prototype but they really don’t do the cards justice.  They hologram doesn’t show up properly and the card just has some temporary art taken from the sight on it so it’s very basic right now.  Still the quality is really impressive and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.  

So what’s the number one thing you’d tell prospective Kickstarter Project creators before starting their projects?

You’ve gotta have a community.  If you don’t have a community then you’re probably wasting your time.  I don’t want to be negative about that, but if you don’t have one or can’t tap into an already established one you won’t get anywhere.  The Apple, Android and Arduino communities already have large communities so those projects always seem to do well.  So you can have an artificial community that’s not yours that’s already established out in the world and just tap into it.  If you don’t have a community you’re probably just going to be very disappointed.  

So what other ways besides Kickstarter itself were you reaching out to the community.  I know you have a website, you have your Google+ account what other ways were you getting the word out? Facebook?  Twitter?

Yeah we have all of those things, but because this project ramped up faster than I was prepared for I didn’t have as much of my stuff established and in place ahead of time.  I have about 1800 or 1900 following on Twiiter so that was pretty good.  Facebook we had about 600 or so but it’s gone up quite a lot in the last couple of weeks.  The Google+ page didn’t have that much of a following but it’s grown very quickly from 12 to 350 in a matter of days.  None of those are really really big numbers by themselves but then you have a team and at least two members of my team have over 5000 friends on their Facebook pages.  

So we were broadcasting to a whole bunch of different social media circles but then we also had a major influx of interest from regular media outlets.  Even without putting out a press release we were asked to do press interviews.  Over 400 versions of the interviews got posted around the world but we actually only gave about 6 or 7 interviews and those interviews were then translated and rebroadcast around the globe.  

Well with headlines like “16 Kickstarter projects that could destroy civilization”  and being number one that’s got to be worth something.

(Laughs) It was, that was pretty good.  I have to admit it was one of my favorites.  Did you notice in that one I think the writer really was concerned!  At first I thought it was a joke but he didn’t link to any of the projects and he got a lot of the details wrong.  Then I started thinking that the author might really think it’s true.

In the end though it was really funny since here we are sitting around my underground lair and I’ve got my big white cat ready to go.  My shark tank is prepped with laser beam sharks for whomever gave away my secret plans.  

(Laughs) Well a lot of things went right with your project, what do you think went wrong with your Kickstarter project? You’re biggest mistake.

I was ridiculously unprepared!

No hesitation on that answer, I was just unprepared.  

I was unprepared at every level.  Did you know you can pre-write some of your updates?  You don’t have to be in the middle of the crossfire when you write your updates.  I could have simplified my life if I had written two thirds or three fourths of the updates before the campaign had even started and then added a paragraph or two to make it current and relevant.  

I could have fixed my shipping.  Oh my God the shipping is a disaster!  I’m going to vastly over pay on my shipping because I didn’t have a policy in place for it.  

We launched on Monday, then on Wednesday the Kickstarter launched, and then on Friday we did the International Space Elevator Conference.  Clearly that worked we have $110,000 but there was a lot of things we could have done to make that work better and smoother.  The website is incomplete, and in many cases inaccurate.  The FAQ shouldn’t have been written in advance, especially since I kind of knew what kind of questions I’d be asked.  Once you’re in the middle of the campaign there’s no time to write a FAQ! All of that stuff should have been done way in advance. 

So do your preparation and homework before you even get going.

Yeah I spent months doing my homework and trying to figure out how the ecosystem worked.  It wasn’t until I was in the heat of battle that I realized that I had missed some really important stuff.  If I had spent less time in planning and more time in execution that would have been a lot smarter.  The planning was important, or I probably wouldn’t have launched the Kickstarter in the first place, but I probably should have changed the ratio a lot.

I understand Kickstarter isn’t providing all the information you’d like.  What kind of tools would you want Kickstarter itself to provide to give you all the information you need?

Well obviously I think Kickstarter is awesome so I don’t want to start this off with a negative.  That said there’s quite a few things they could do. Here they are they’ve funded somewhere north of 30,000 projects with somewhere north of 2-2.5 million people, at some point along the way Kickstarter Co. needs to change their plans a little bit and update their tools a little bit.  For at the end of the day the project creators are their clients and they don’t make it very easy on the creators.  

The process of creating a project is pretty straightforward, I’ll give them that.  We set-up the project pretty easily, and got turned down twice.  I had to adjust the campaign a few times to meet their quality control process which is very good and no one seems to talk about it.  They had legitimate questions that we did not have answered in our campaign.  It tightened our campaign up by going through that step so all in all a really good thing.  

So if we as creators are Kickstarter’s clients, then you as backers are our clients and that’s where Kickstarter kind of drops the ball.  They don’t have good tools for us to manage you. So project owners can’t manage backers requests very easily.  I cannot tell you how many special orders I had, people wanted necklaces and T-shirts, they wanted Art and Cards, they wanted Blah and Blah.  The system is not designed for backers to select multiple levels!

I understand that Kickstarter only lets you send out ONE survey and pretty much every Kickstarter creator I’ve ever heard of has said, “WHY?”

I actually understand it now because I asked some questions.  That survey is a nightmare! You only get to send one, I’ve been wrestling with it all week long, I literally gave up on that task on Wednesday because it was so ridiculous.  

In order to do this you, our clients, have a lot of options from T-shirt sizes, to image choices, to what kinds of images, so that alone gives me a whole bunch of options.  Then you have to put it all on ONE survey to cover all the options of every backer level.  The $100 survey has so many options it’s like a mile long and I have over 800 people at that level!  It’s ridiculous and completely unmanageable.  The client won’t want to do the survey and I sure as heck don’t want to process it.  

So I’ve had to go out and contract another company called PopSurvey to manage this process for me.  So I will send out one survey at the $1 level and everyone will answer that one.  After that I’ll switch over to PopSurvey as I literally cannot use the Kickstarters process.  It does not work for me and that’s really frustrating.  We probably missed out on somewhere north of $10,000-15,000 in additional sales because you can’t pick two items.  You only get the one.

While I really really respect Kickstarter and see them as a force for good in the world I don’t like their backend process and tools.  You figure they have processed over what?  $300 Million dollars through Kickstarter someone is going to have to say maybe the system isn’t quite working the way we want it to.  

Do you think they’re a victim of their own success?  

I did some math here, remember I am a numbers nerd.  They make $5,500 off of my campaign, so what does $5,500 buy you?  You have whomever reviewed my campaign three times.  You have all the backend server stuff, which isn’t cheap.  Going back to the surveys, the reason I went with the other company is because I figure I have to send out 10,000-15,000 surveys.  That’s only 10,000-15,000 emails right?  Then you take my campaign, plus all the 30,000 other campaigns that Kickstarter has in their backlog, all of those guys are allowed to do updates and comments when you think about it that way their server requirements are pretty significant.  On top of all that they’re growing so my hunch is that their profit margin is probably a lot lower than people think.

Amazon on the other hand, gets almost as much money as Kickstarter does and provides very very very few services.  Their overhead is almost nonexistent and it’s a very peculiar scenario.   I paid 3.2% to Amazon and of course they’re providing a very critical service, they’re moving money from your checking account to mine and for that I’m pretty happy.  In terms or raw overhead and requires they’re much much much less than Kickstarter.  That and they were systems they already had in place for their primary business.  

Amazon has got to be loving Kickstarter’s success.  Kickstarter is going to have to figure out what to do next.  If they were to just allow backers to buy multiple levels on a project they would increase their revenues instantaneously.  I would increase my revenues which I would really like.  So there are things Kickstarter can do to improve customer service to their clients and then I can provide better customer service to my clients.  

Well this has been a fascinating discussion, thank you very much for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners?

Just one thing, my gratitude.  The most important thing about this project was to get the number of people on board and interested in the project again.  Getting the community involved with the project was the most important aspect.  We’re adding people to our team on a daily basis now we just added three PhDs to the group with some really good credentials.  So right now we only have two full time people in the company the rest is a huge pool of volunteers.

We have transformed this from a hobby to a company in less than a month.  This was a great success and if we keep moving forward we shall build an elevator around the moon with social media and Kickstarter!

Well thanks again for the wonderful interview and we wish you the best of luck!  I look forward to talking to you again after you’ve sent a robot a couple of kilometers up a string.  

You’re quite welcome, it was a pleasure talking with you.

A few weeks after this interview the Red Bull Stratos Team sent Felix Baumgartner up into the skies above New Mexico and let him plummet safely back down to Earth.  With all the wonderful images from 39 kilometers up made me think of Michael and the elevator so I gave him a call.  

So Michael did you watch the Red Bull Stratos jump?  

Oh yeah!  It was great!  I had originally had plans that morning but I ended up blowing them off to watch the jump live.  

(Laughs) My wife I and did the same.  So when I watched him look down from that skateboard sized platform one of the things that went through my mind was, “How would that look with a ribbon going down to Earth?”

Me too!  Honestly I was scared for Felix as I was worried that balloon was going to break.  In fact after he succeeded I started thinking how interesting it would be to keep that balloon and pod up there on a tether for long periods of time.  Use it as a manned science station for the elevator experiments.  
I had a feeling you’d immediately think of ways of using the tech for your project.  

But of course.  It’s good to see advances that we can use to help work our way to an elevator around the moon and eventually here on Earth.  

You’ve recently posted a huge update to the Kickstarter anything you’d like to add?

(Laughs) Yeah I think I said it all in that update it’s pretty big.  Basically just stay tuned as we’re still working hard and solidifying the team.  

Thanks again for your time!

You’re quite welcome.  

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