Satellite imagery company Planet Labs is going public, backed by Google, BlackRock and Marc Benioff
07 Jul 2021
A set of SkySat satellites before a launch.
Satellite imagery and data specialist Planet Labs is preparing to go public, announcing on Wednesday that it will merge with a SPAC to list on the New York Stock Exchange.
Planet Labs is combining with special purpose acquisition company dMY Technology Group IV, which trades on the NYSE under ticker DMYQ. The deal gives the space company a $2.8 billion equity valuation and is expected to close in the fourth quarter, resulting in Planet listing on the NYSE under ticker PL.
“Planet is a data company … we’re a mature business and have a massive new and unique data set of our 190 satellites, the largest Earth imaging fleet ever, and more than 10 times anyone else,” Planet co-founder and CEO Will Marshall told CNBC.
Cofounder and CEO Will Marshall
The deal is expected to raise $434 million in total for Planet, including a $200 million PIPE round – or private investment in public equity – led by BlackRock and joined by Google, Koch, and Marc Benioff’s TIME Ventures. Previously, Planet raised more than $380 million in capital from investors including Google, DFJ, Lux Capital, DCVC, Founders Fund, Space Capital, and more.
“I’m really excited by having such quality partners as we go into this important milestone for planet,” Marshall said. “We’re doing this for the long haul.”
Planet joins a trend of space companies going public through SPAC deals, with Virgin Galactic the first of the recent generation in 2019. Rocket builder Astra and satellite broadband focused AST & Science have each begun trading, with companies Rocket Lab, Spire Global, BlackSky, Redwire, Satellogic, and Momentus expected to follow in the coming months.
A data subscription business
Planet has launched 462 satellites to date, and its current orbital fleet features 21 satellites that can capture imagery at a 50 centimeter resolution and about 120 that can capture imagery at a near three meter resolution. Resolution is a way to measure the detail that a satellite can image, so a smaller resolution means a higher quality look at what is on the ground.
Marshall noted that its higher quality resolution satellites create a “scan of the whole landmass of the Earth once per day.”
The company’s imagery then feeds into a data index that Planet says makes the Earth “searchable” for its more than 600 customers. Planet’s customer contracts are set up as subscriptions, with 90% of those recurring annual contracts. Its existing revenue is largely split between four sectors: Civil at 24%, agriculture at 23%, defense and intelligence at 22%, and mapping at 17%.
“Analytics are foundational to the biggest trillion dollar trends happening in the global economy with digital transformation of various industries,” Marshall said. “‘You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
He analogized Planet as a data business, rather than a satellite company, in the same way as Google is a search engine and advertising business, rather than server company.
“They have servers in the backend, yes … Planet has satellites in the back end and we’re really good at them,” Marshall said . “But we’re a data business – we sell data to our clients; that’s the value that they get”
Over $100 million last year
Planet generated $113 million in revenue last year – as the company’s fiscal year 2021 ended on Jan. 31. While Marshall says that Planet “don’t need” as much of the cash as its raising through this SPAC, the company will use it to grow its sales, marketing, and software lines.
The company aims to be profitable on an adjusted EBITDA basis by early 2025, and grow its revenue to nearly $700 million by early 2026.
“We’re now ready to go out into the world, and the world really needs us,” Marshall said. “When we look around in the world, pretty much every company in every industry needs to measure ESG [environmental, social and governance] targets, every government in every country needs to measure their emissions, and so on. “
“We’ve got to be a global business, and we’re getting there,” Marshall added.