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Kelly Bullis: Run your business like SpaceX

By Kelly J. Bullis

Come on Kelly! I don’t make rockets. What are you saying?

Simple. Let me tell you a story of two rocket makers. One is a well-established, highly experienced, proven organization that likes to carefully build on its prior knowledge and expertise. Let’s call them the “old guy.”

The other, 10 years ago, didn’t even exist as a company. For simplicity, we’ll call this company the “new guy.” The “old guy” was tasked with building a new rocket to lift a heavy load into space. They’ve been working on it for over 11 years. They’ve spent $9.7 billion to date and have never launched a vehicle yet.



The “new guy” has spent less than $1 billion and is poised to launch, for the fourth time, their latest prototype. The payload for the “old guy” rocket will be around 100 metric tons. The payload for the “new guy” rocket will be around 156 metric tons.

Here’s the real important difference. The “old guy” rocket will cost $20,000 per ton to launch a payload. The “new guy” rocket will cost about $2,000 per ton to launch a payload. Why so much less? The “new guy” has taken a different approach. They are starting from scratch with the goal of making reusable rockets just like we currently have reusable airplanes. (How much would it cost to fly if we threw away a 747 after every first flight?) The “old guy” just throws almost everything away with every launch. The “new guy” plans on throwing NOTHING away. That is HUGE!



It’s time to look behind the curtain. The “old guy” is NASA. The “new guy” is SpaceX. One is a government organization with an almost unending budget, the other is a for-profit private company that doesn’t have an unending budget. If they don’t make a profit, they cease to exist.

So how does SpaceX do it? They create by managed failure. They make a prototype, expect it to be imperfect. Fly it, learn from its failures, quickly make a new prototype that fixes the failure problems and fly that one. As they go, they are rapidly building a humongous database of how to make a rocket fly and how not to. Already today, they have the most advanced rockets flying. They beat Boeing to building a human-rated spacecraft. And their current plans are to make that current success obsolete within four years. Their current new spacecraft, called “Starship” will actually be able to land on the moon (or Mars) in the near future.

SpaceX has a motto. “Failure is an option here. If you are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” In the NASA culture, “Failure is not an option.” (Remember Apollo 13?) Sounds catchy. Sounds all-American. But if you try to run your business with that attitude, you will probably fail. The right way to run a business is like SpaceX. Expect failure. Plan for failure. Learn from failure, and do better every time, every day.

So how do you run your business like SpaceX? Look at everything you do. Learn from your mistakes and do it better than before. Accept that you aren’t perfect. Keep on the trajectory of constantly improving everything and eventually, faster than you think, you will be soaring into the sky… like SpaceX.

Have you heard? Psalms 119:71 says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes.”

Kelly Bullis is a Certified Public Accountant in Carson City. Contact him at 882-4459. On the web at BullisAndCo.com Also on