Over fifty years ago, the space race dominated headlines as the U.S. government urgently innovated to land the first people on the moon. But this historic moment signified more than just a feat in the advancement of science and space exploration — it reassured the U.S.’ position as a global superpower. Since then, U.S. capabilities and advancements in spacecraft have long dominated the space sector, propelling the country’s global leadership in exploration, science, and engineering. And now, continued prosperity on Earth depends on the peaceful utilization of space. Geopolitical adversaries are building and demonstrating capabilities designed to erode the advantage the space domain has provided the U.S. and its allies and partners around the world. The U.S. government and its industrial base are at an inflection point: it’s critical to engineer the space hardware and corresponding software necessary to overcome this ongoing and growing threat at scale and at speed.
Even Rogers, Thomas Nichols, Daniel Brunski, and Kyle Zakrzewski — a team of U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force veterans, industry leaders, and technology experts who helped develop the U.S. Department of Defense’s approach to modern space security operations — founded a company to address the space-based threats and technology gaps they had witnessed in uniform head on. At True Anomaly, the team’s unmatched experience and expertise drive the creation of groundbreaking technology at the intersection of spacecraft, software, and AI that will define the next generation of space security and empower the U.S. military as it adapts to the evolving space economy and strategy. Not only does True Anomaly have the opportunity to impact the Space Force — an arm of the military with a budget of $26B alone — but the team has its sights set on impacting the broader defense base across government and commercial end markets.
We recently sat down with Rogers, CEO and Co-Founder of True Anomaly, to learn more about how he and his co-founders transitioned from military officers to entrepreneurs, the challenges currently facing the space industry, and more.
Eclipse: What problem is True Anomaly trying to solve?
Even: Space is the vulnerable backbone of the global rules-based order. It is the environment where humans gather information and communicate, and it is a symbol of national power. It is the domain through which countries project power via military, diplomatic, informational, and economic mechanisms. Without the space domain, the world looks very different: less stable and less prosperous.
Over the past few decades, adversaries have built an arsenal of capabilities designed to erode the advantage the space domain has provided the U.S., as well as its allies and partners. There’s an urgency to address these potential vulnerabilities. However, the Space Force has never fought in a major conflict. There are decades — and in some cases centuries — of experience that form the basis of a military force’s effectiveness. These ideas are captured in what’s called “doctrine,” which is a structured body of knowledge that guides battlefield action, shapes technology development, and forms the basis of the “military mind” in practice.
The Space Force is experiencing unique, possibly historically specific challenges. First, there is pressure to demonstrate value to joint operations to ensure the service can continue to grow its budget to support its criticality and scope. The Space Force was born in a political shadow, and it must step out of that shadow, establish credibility, and come into its own. Second, the Space Force is less likely to experience a protracted, high-intensity conflict to help shape its doctrine because a conflict that extends into space implies a conflict with a sophisticated adversary like China. A conflict with China is likely to be fast, multi-domain, and totalizing, and thus would stress the Space Force’s ability to learn and apply lessons within that conflict. The Space Force must capitalize on peacetime competition and proxy conflict, as well as training and exercises to build confidence, learn the right lessons, and evolve its systems. In short, the Space Force is under pressure to learn fast and iterate its tactics and technology faster than other services. To achieve this, the Space Force must have the right equipment. They need information about adversary tactics and systems, so they know what and who to train against. They need controlled environments to test capabilities, train operators, identify weaknesses, and practice responding to complex situations.
True Anomaly is focused on becoming the leading industry partner for these challenges.
Eclipse: Tell us more about yourself.
Even: I come from a middle-class family and moved around quite a bit growing up. I wasn’t the best student — I barely passed high school. If it wasn’t for the goodwill of a teacher who happened to be a veteran officer, I wouldn’t have made it to the Virginia Military Institute. In undergrad, I turned things around academically and went on to the University of Chicago to earn a master’s degree in the Social Sciences with the intent to pursue a Ph.D. afterward.
Like many children at that time, I wanted to be an astronaut. But that spark never left me, even in adulthood I had an acute awareness of developments in space sciences and was passively searching for a way to become professionally involved in space. Watching SpaceX’s work on Falcon 1 and, eventually Falcon 9, reignited that fire. At that time, I was beginning what I thought would be a long academic career and had learned to interrogate the world in a different way. I looked at the broad enthusiasm for SpaceX and started asking myself questions about the seemingly essential impulse in humans to explore. I wanted to understand what of that drive was historically specific and what was deeply rooted in what it means to be human. I pivoted to combine this love for space and fascination with human behavior to focus on a subset of anthropology called Science Technology Studies. However, by exploring these ideas purely through the social sciences, I knew I would be relegated to being a perpetual observer. So, I added another major and enrolled in the Geophysics program and began exploring careers in planetary science.
My uncle and mentor stepped in around this time to offer some advice and pointed out that I’d be in my mid-thirties before I could actually start “doing” what I wanted to do. He recommended I look for opportunities in the military, given my undergraduate alma mater. I enrolled in Officer Training School for the Air Force and applied to the space operations field. My time at the Air Force was life-altering; I was fortunate to witness foundational transformations in the way the U.S. and its allies were dealing with threats posed to space-based infrastructure. But, the pace of advancement was sometimes frustrating, which is a huge reason my co-founders and I decided to start a company: to design and engineer advanced spacecraft at speed and at scale to solve national security space challenges.
Eclipse: Are there similarities between military and startup leadership?
Even: My time in military service was deeply formative to how I lead at True Anomaly and how I think about high-performance teams. From an outsider’s perspective the military is a monoculture that suppresses individual action and creativity. But, it was in the military that I came to appreciate people over process. I saw what happens when small teams of talented individuals are empowered and resourced to solve “wicked hard problems.” This emphasizes the importance of purpose and mission. People rarely give their best for a casual purpose. The best companies put the vision at the forefront and demand that their leaders communicate and embody that vision in meaningful ways. I was fortunate to attend the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, where I developed an intuitive sense for identifying gaps in a plan and organizing a team’s problem-solving process to address them. Finally, the most important thing the military instilled in me was the importance of mentorship and leadership. I credit my success to the impact of a small number of individuals who spent time and energy on me. I tried to pass that ethos along as an officer and it’s an important emphasis for True Anomaly leadership. We believe in strong leaders at all levels and recognize that individual performance is affected by environment and culture. If success or failure are the result of a discrete number of individual decisions, it is in our best interest as a company to ensure individuals and teams are performing at their peak. This also influences how we think about recruiting — as the company grows, we will invest in education to maximize opportunities to cultivate talent regardless of background.
Eclipse: Can you tell me a little bit more about your founding team?
Even: True Anomaly was founded by Thomas Nichols, Daniel Brunski, Kyle Zakrzewski, and myself. We were all in the same unit together, the 4th Space Operations Squadron. We are a very complementary team — Dan is a brilliant tactician, a gifted scientist, and possesses a refreshingly dark sense of humor; Kyle is an extraordinary first-principles engineer and he’s incredibly self-aware; Tom is a natural leader, a wit, and deeply moral human.
In 2018, Dan and I were working on a critical national security space effort alongside a group of brilliant tacticians and engineers. During that project we formed the thesis for True Anomaly, though we didn’t know it at the time. All co-founders made similar observations about the defense industrial base and the inherent challenges of operating inside a large bureaucracy like the Department of Defense that could prevent a stable, sustainable, and secure space environment.
Eclipse: Historically, the Pentagon was considered slow and risk-averse, favoring established defense contractors. How do you enter and compete in this type of market?
In recent years, the Pentagon has made sustained progress toward prioritizing the more timely acquisition of meaningful capabilities from nontraditional contractors and defense technology startups — from establishing organizations like the Defense Innovation Unit or AFWERX to leveraging more flexible contracting processes like Commercial Solutions Openings — resulting in Other Transaction Authorities (OTA). This progress can be traced in the noteworthy success of other VC-backed defense contractors winning large programs of record in competition with well-established traditional contractors. Where our value is clear, and where the Pentagon is really starting to show an understanding of leveraging nontraditional contractors, is in challenging the status quo in cost, in time to deliver capability, and in empowering the warfighter. We believe there are structural inefficiencies in terms of incentive alignment and our goal is to provide a differentiated product at a significant cost advantage. It's on us to prove our capabilities through our own execution, but we are confident we can deliver a product that the Pentagon wants and needs. Once we deliver, the status quo will change.
Eclipse: What has been the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur that either no one told you about, warned you about, or you just weren't expecting? And what has been the most fulfilling part of being an entrepreneur?
Even: The immensity of the things you don't know—that's been the hardest. When those things come to light, you must change yourself, change your company, and shape the team around you. So, the biggest challenge has been dealing with those changes in a productive way that doesn't arrest our momentum.
What’s most fulfilling is simply the joy of bringing ideas into existence. That has been made most meaningful by the opportunity to create alongside people I respect, trust, and care about for a mission I’ve devoted a substantial amount of my life to.
Eclipse: What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give aspiring entrepreneurs in terms of fundraising?
Even: Take your time. Find the right partner. Have a plan for not only how you're going to use the capital, but also how you are going to interview capital allocators. Make sure they have basic human attributes that aren’t always apparent in business, like trustworthiness, credibility, and experience — all things Eclipse has in spades. I think you must be able to trust your investors. You're not going to have enough time to trust them immediately, so you must be confident you can develop that sense of trust over time.
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