What’s the moon really made of, anyway?


November 18, 2019

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Happy Monday, folks. Get ready for another fast-moving week of news. Today:

  • Entrepreneurs shoot for the moon in spite of all they don’t know.
  • Tech platforms are hungry for restaurants’ dough.
  • Manufacturers of “dumb” devices choose to go slow.

Make it a great week.

The Hustle Daily Email

The race to mine the moon is taking off — even though no one’s sure if it’s possible

A California-based company called OffWorld, whose ultimate goal is to enable “human expansion beyond our home planet,” is preparing for the initial phase of its extraterrestrial plans: mining the moon with a fleet of autonomous robots. 

The company, which boasts a 26-person team according to Digital Trends, is one of several companies with sky-high ambitions. 

The moon-mining industry has already begun to take off thanks to moonshot investments, but the industry still faces an interesting problem…

No one knows if the moon is even minable

Scientists and entrepreneurs disagree on how prevalent minable resources are, how useful they could be, and how expensive it would be to commercially mine them.

Most plans focus on mining 3 main materials: 

  • Water, which could be converted to rocket fuel 
  • Helium-3, which could power nuclear fusion reactors
  • Rare earth minerals, which could be used in manufacturing

But scientists are skeptical about the feasibility of moon mining

According to NASA, plans for space mining are “still guesswork.” 

“There could be enough helium-3 to power the earth for 10,000 years,” the Washington Post reported. “Or there might not be enough to ever make commercial mining profitable, even if the entire lunar surface were being mined.”

A planetary geologist also points out that “most of the Moon’s… valuable metals are… essentially impossible to access,” and no one has yet developed a cost-effective way to transport any of those resources back to earth.

Entrepreneurs, though, are still bullish on moon mining

“The Moon is Earth’s 8th continent,” writes moon-mining startup Moon Express. “Like the Earth, the Moon has been enriched with vast resources. Unlike the Earth, these resources are largely on or near the lunar surface, relatively accessible.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the companies that have raised big bucks in the race:

  • Moon Express, which has raised $65.5m from investors like Peter Thiel, plans to commercialize moon missions, democratize lunar research, and enable further space transportation and exploration. 
  • ispace, a Japanese company, has raised $94.2m to “expand commercial space activities centered around lunar resources.”
  • Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s space exploration company, has raised $13m to build lunar landers that could one day mine moon water (among other things).
  • Two startups called Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries raised $50.3 and $3.5m for space mining before they were acquired by large companies (although they were focused more on asteroid mining than moon mining).

You know what they say: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you can always go back and raise another round of VC funding.

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Tablets are the latest type of tech to play dumb

Imagine what would happen if your Moleskine-carrying hipster friend and iPad-idolizing nerd friend ran at each other really fast and became one person. 

That person would probably be really into so-called paper tablets, which let users sketch and take notes without the constant bombardment of email and app notifications.

No more notification ping-a-ling

The Norwegian hardware startup reMarkable just scored $15m from Spark Capital in a Series A funding round. After 3 years and 100k tablets sold, it’s ready to take a deeper dive into product development.

The $500 tablet has a Linux-based operating system, and its big sell is its handwriting conversion feature, which somehow reads your chicken scratch and transforms it into typed text accessible via a companion app.

ReMarkable’s CEO says the gadget isn’t meant to compete with the iPad and other “do-it-all notification machines.” The point, he says, is to let people focus. 

Go dumb or go home

ReMarkable isn’t the only tablet maker playing dumb. Sony’s Digital Paper series mimics the basic mechanics of reading and writing on paper with the added bonuses of being able to share, search, and encrypt documents. Amazon’s Kindle is also trying to compete in this category.

And for a pocket-sized dose of dumb, there are a number of stripped-down phones on the market. There’s the Palm — no, not the one you had in the early aughts — and the Light Phone 2.

Is a revolution nigh? Probably not. But do these devices offer nice break from an always connected culture? Absolutely.

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Tech platforms remind restaurants there’s no free lunch

Back in the day, restaurants had fairly predictable costs — rent, labor, pizza dough.

But, as Axios reports, a growing number of platforms are now taking big bites out of restaurant owners’ small pies of profit.

It’s always been hard to turn restaurants into big businesses…

But it’s gotten much harder now that restaurant owners also have to pay a number of services just to stay competitive.

Take food delivery. Platforms such as Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash have made it easier than ever for small restaurants to deliver food from their kitchens to their customers.

But while these delivery services let restaurants access new customers, they also charge 25% of each order (or more). 

Since well-funded services like Uber Eats aggressively recruit so many local restaurants to their platforms, restaurants often have no choice but to pay to play — or risk falling behind their competitors.

And it’s not just delivery, either…

Platforms now levy a tech tax across nearly every facet of the restaurant business, which leaves restaurants with less money in their cash registers.

Beyond delivery, here are some other services that have been disrupted by hungry platforms:

  • Reservations: OpenTable and Resy charge restaurants for reservations.
  • Filling tables: Seated charges restaurants for getting diners in the doors at off-peak times using discounts.
  • Advertising: Yelp and Foursquare charge restaurants for listings that will help eaters discover them online.
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Small business of the week: Couple brings vegetarian protein alternative to market

Husband and wife Tarush and Jasleen Agarwal have been vegetarians for decades, but they always struggled to find protein options that tasted good and were not tofu. They grew up with paneer, a cheese high in fat and protein originally cultivated in India. In America, they found commercial paneer offerings to be too processed and rubbery. 

So the Agarwals launched SĀCH Foods. It’s the only organic, flavored paneer company in the US. Sāch means “honest” in Hindi, and they’ve modeled their brand around transparency and simplicity: Each product contains 5 or fewer ingredients.

The company’s multiple flavors include the original, Mint Chutney, Turmeric Twist, and Spicy Habanero. All of them are high protein and low carb (keto, anyone?). Despite being cheese, the product doesn’t easily melt. Customers use paneer for snacks, salads, and sandwiches.

After starting with appearances at popups and food trucks, SĀCH Foods has since expanded to partner with 25 neighborhood retailers, such as The Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley, Calif. Their next plan is to master digital and direct-to-consumer sales and to start a subscription product.

  • Founders: Jasleen and Tarush Agarwal
  • Employees: 2
  • Years in business: 1
  • Cost to launch: $25k
  • Funding methods: Personal savings
  • 1st-year revenue: $35k
  • Current annual revenue: $300k

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What Else…

🚮 Recycling is hard… but robots are here to help. A Denver-based company called AMP Robotics just raised $16m to expand its program that uses smart robots to crawl through dumps and sort out recyclables.

🚭 Even billionaires (sometimes) get busted. Cirque du Soleil’s founder was detained for growing marijuana on his private island in French Polynesia. Rich people problems, amirite?

👶 Move over, Zuckerberg… Mom-book is growing. A social networking startup called Peanut that started out as a matchmaking service to help new moms find new mom friends recently expanded to allow soon-to-be moms onto its platform — and raised $5m.

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