A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Rei Goffer, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Tomorrow.io, former Project Manager at the Israeli Air Force
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Israel, and started with a pretty standard, albeit elaborated service-oriented route. After high school, I did a gap year as a boarding school ‘parent’, a transformative experience being in charge of a group of 20 kids from tough backgrounds (when you are still a bit of a kid yourself). Then, like most Israelis my age, I joined the IDF, somehow got accepted to the flight academy, and more surprisingly did not get kicked out and graduated as an F-16 navigator. As part of flight school, I did my BA in Economics. I served in the Air Force for a total of 10 years, flying and also working, as a team lead and division head in the R&D department. That’s where I was first exposed to some incredible aerospace programs. After leaving the IDF, I moved to the US and started the joint MBA/MPA program at MIT Sloan and Harvard Kennedy School. We started Tomorrow.io during school, and I’ve been busy with the company ever since.
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
By far, my biggest accomplishment is the team we have built at Tomorrow.io. It’s not just the caliber of folks, but also the culture we’ve built. I really enjoy interacting with incredibly smart motivated people and sometimes have to pinch myself to believe that this is real. All of these incredible people left their NASA and Silicon Valley jobs to join us!
What were the critical steps/choices that helped you get ahead?
The most critical choice, which we made multiple times throughout our journey, is not to fall in love with any specific solution or a specific technology, but rather to fall in love with a problem. Then, constantly iterate on the solution (or solutions) that will get us there. When we started the company (which was originally called “ClimaCell”), we thought we could built a solution without any hardware and just use software-based approaches for sensing (“Weather of Things”). Over time, we realized that this was not the case; there’s huge value to be created if we build our own satellites and close observation gaps that nobody thought could be solved.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
It’s hard to point at just one specific part, but definitely at the top is my time in the IDF as a military aviator. You’re trusted with huge responsibility at a very young age and constantly challenged to perform better. You learn how to handle constant and very direct feedback about your performance, and always focus on mistakes and what can be done better. Also, when I started my MBA I felt almost illiterate, it was a huge “drop” into reality after 10 years in the military and being very specialized. Always remember to remain humble about new domains and challenges.
What about your career have you enjoyed the most and least?
The part I like the most is to ‘solve puzzles’ - understanding what problems exist for our customers, and working backwards to find the right solutions. Sometimes it is a small feature in UX, and sometimes it’s building a constellation of satellites. Seeing those solutions implemented and helping customers is extremely satisfying.
The most difficult and least enjoyable part by far is when we had to take hard decisions about our team size when Covid-19 first hit. We were heavily focused on aviation and outdoors, two industries that took a huge hit in the early days of the pandemic, and seeing the other side of this crisis for us meant that we had to scale back to save resources, and separate from many people who did an excellent job but their domains were no longer relevant for us as a company. This was a day I will never forget. We stayed in touch with each and every one of the employees we let go, and helped all of them who wanted to find new jobs. Gladly, everyone settled in new jobs shortly after that, and as a company we were able to pass that very difficult test.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
I think we’re only scratching the surface in the space industry. It’s still small and quite hard to penetrate, and frankly the use-cases are far from being fully figured out. I think there will be a few more cycles of hype and disillusionment before things really take off, but when looking at the realm of possibilities it’s very clear that new space is going to change everything about our lives on Earth. Getting into this early in the career is definitely an unbelievable opportunity.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation?
Dream big, but be real with yourself about how hard you’re willing to work, and what prices you’re willing to pay to accomplish those dreams. Starting a company or pursuing a career in an extremely competitive and challenging domain such as space is not for everyone, but those who are willing to embrace the tough moments are in for quite an amazing ride. I guess it’s a bit of a cliche at this point, but the book ‘Liftoff” by Eric Berger that tells the story of the early days at SpaceX is a great resource and at least for me helped put a lot of the challenges we’re facing in the right perspective.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Come join us! We have dozens of open positions for space folks who’re looking for a big challenge with an opportunity to impact every person on the planet! www.tomorrow.io/careers