Scaling Business Operations For Relativity Space

“Hello Medium”

My name is Alex Kwan and up until most recently (October 2020), for 4+ years I headed up Finance and Business Operations at Relativity, a space launch company that is developing the world’s first 3D printed rocket. In a past life before rockets, I had a 6+ year career in investment advisory and private equity investing.

Version 1 of our Stargate Metal 3D Printer, Source: Author

Yet, I’m not here to write about the vision of Relativity, nor about rockets nor 3D printing. Don’t get me wrong, Relativity is a vastly promising company — well on its way to becoming a real game changer. The team just raised $500M to print rockets on mars for Pete’s sake! But, there are literally a hundred engineers at Relativity that would be far better than me at explaining the complexities of our tech stack.

Rather, I want to write a series of posts to discuss something remarkably less sexy than space: the strategic considerations, both complex and mundane of building the business operations of a hyper-growth startup. For clarification, I’m defining business operations as most corporate functions outside of engineering, product and sales.

During my time at Relativity, we grew from a team of four in an uninsulated Inglewood warehouse to well over 250 employees spread across a host of production, test and launch sites throughout the United States. Very soon, we’ll be launching a 3D printed orbital rocket to space.

In support of the company’s mission and revolutionary product, the way we scaled our business operations has played a large part in our budding success. And while every company faces different challenges, I think business operations should be a core competency for any startup looking to grow.

Why write about business operations?

In comparison to cutting edge products or novel ways of making money, business operations at times get overlooked. Yet every successful company I’ve heard of has needed to figure out how to scale its operations to support its product. In fact, most truly superior companies have truly superior operations — think McDonalds, Apple, and Amgen. Business Operation becomes your moat. It’s how you build culture, drive efficiencies and increase margins. Product and operations are inextricably intertwined.

By all measures, I’m far from an expert in building companies — a sample size of one is just a data point. But having just left Relativity where I was the first non-engineering hire, I want to take a moment to reflect on some of my mistakes and learnings over the past four and a half years. There are many. I figure I’d write them down as a reference for myself, as I start my own company.

At least that way I can compare and contrast my decisions over time. This ultimately could just be a cathartic exercise, but who knows? Maybe this could be a helpful perspective to you as you scale your operations and prompt an interesting discussion.

How will this be structured?

This recall exercise will be a series of weekly posts that goes quickly into business operations topics and what to consider at different stages. I’ll balance my internal perspective with what it’s like looking from the outside in as an investor. I will try to post a new article every week on the topics in the list below.

And while I will be generally evaluating different business systems, frameworks and practices we used at Relativity, my intention is not for this to be a “how to” guide, or a deep dive on Relativity. After all, I am under a confidentiality agreement, so my reflections will be abstract. :)

The topics I’ll be covering over the coming months are listed below, and if there’s anything you think I should cover, let me know. If I’ve had exposure to it and feel like I can contribute, then I’d be happy to share my experience on it.

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