SkyFi lets you order up fresh satellite imagery in real time with a click
Commercial Earth-observation companies collect an unprecedented volume of images and data every single day, but purchasing even a single satellite image can be cumbersome and time-intensive. SkyFi, a two-year-old startup, is looking to change that with an app and API that makes ordering a satellite image as easy as a click of a few buttons on a smartphone or computer.
SkyFi doesn’t build or operate satellites; instead, it partners with over a dozen companies to deliver various kinds of satellite images — including optical, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and hyperspectral — directly to the customer via a web and mobile app. A SkyFi user can task a satellite to capture a specific image or choose from a library of previously captured images. Some of SkyFi’s partners include public companies like Satellogic, as well as newer startups like Umbra and Pixxel.
The startup is taking a very 21st-century approach to the Earth observation industry. SkyFi co-founders Bill Perkins and Luke Fischer emphasize that their company is focused on user experience and creating a seamless purchasing process for the consumer, contrasted sharply with what Fischer called “business models based on the ’80s and ’90s.”
“We’re very customer-focused,” Bill Perkins said on the TerraWatch Space podcast. “The industry is science-focused and product-focused.”
SkyFi’s mission has resonated with investors. The company closed a $7 million seed round led by Balerion Space Ventures, with contributions from existing investors J2 Ventures and Uber alumna’s VC firm Moving Capital. Bill Perkins also participated. SkyFi has now raised over $17 million to date.
The startup is targeting three types of customers: individual consumers; large enterprise customers, from verticals spanning agriculture, mining, finance, insurance and more; and U.S. government and defense customers. SkyFi’s solution is appealing even these latter customers, who may have plenty of experience working with satellite companies already and could afford the high costs in the traditional marketplace.
“Even though we have companies that are multibillion dollar corporations using our platform that could afford to have a multimillion dollar contract year with [any] public satellite company, they’re being more cost conscious and that’s where this offering of SkyFi comes in,” Fischer said.
Perkins and Fischer experienced firsthand the pain points of the traditional satellite imagery marketplace. For Perkins, the process of trying to buy satellite images for his hedge fund was frustrating enough that he decided to try to solve the problem himself.
He decided to team up with Fischer, an Army aviation officer whose work experience includes stints at Uber Elevate, Joby Aviation and Shield Capital. The two incorporated SkyFi in December 2021 and officially launched the first product offering this past January. As of today, the company has over 20,000 accounts from 185 countries registered on the platform.
One of their bets is that the overly bureaucratic, time-intensive sales process has actually constrained demand for satellite images. By making purchasing easier — and providing transparent pricing — SkyFi anticipates whole new customer bases and use cases opening up.
“There is no and will never be a ‘contact sales’ button on SkyFi,” Fischer said. “Because it just was ruining the industry.”
Looking ahead, the Austin, Texas–based startup is planning on integrating insight and analytics capabilities into the SkyFi app. This feature will be especially useful for customers interested in hyperspectral or SAR images. The company also plans to do more feature updates as it integrates more providers — from satellites, to stratospheric balloons, to drones — to the platform.
“I think of SkyFi as the Netflix of the geospatial world, where I think of Umbra, Satellogic and Maxar as the movie studios of the world,” Fischer said. “I just want them to produce great content and put it on the platform.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.