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Ep 69- Defying Gravity in Business with Sassie Duggleby

Ep 69- Defying Gravity in Business with Sassie Duggleby

Defying Gravity in Business with Sassie Duggleby

In today’s episode of Building Texas Business, I chat with Sassie Duggleby, founder of Venus Aerospace, about her groundbreaking work developing hypersonic flight technology.

Her vision is to connect the world through travel that spans continents in just one hour. She shares her motivation, sparked by living abroad and a desire to unite people across borders.

We discuss Sassie’s journey building Venus Aerospace from the ground up. She offers insights into raising capital, growing from a small team to over 70 employees, and prioritizing work-life balance for families. Sassie also talks about navigating challenges in aerospace, an evolving field with careful regulation.

Our discussion delves deeper as Sassie reflects on balancing entrepreneurship and motherhood. She also addresses tackling biases facing women in STEM fields. With her tenacity, Sassie is clearing paths for others.


Transcripts are generated by machine learning, so typos may be present.

BTB (00:00):

Welcome to the Building Texas Business Podcast. Interviews with thought leaders and organizational visionaries from across industry. Join us as we talk about the latest trends, challenges, and growth opportunities to take your business to the next level. The Building Texas Business Podcast is brought to you by BoyarMiller, providing counsel beyond expectations. Find out how we can make a meaningful difference to your business at and by your podcast team where having your own podcast is as easy as being a guest on ours. Discover more at Now. Here’s your host, Chris Hanslik.

Chris (00:42):

In this episode, you will meet Sassie Duggleby  Co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace. Venus Aerospace is a startup company focused on engineering the future of hypersonic flight by making one hour global transport possible to connect the world and make it safer. Sassie talks about the importance of cultivating a strong company culture, where at Venus they are focused on making it home for dinner. She also shares how she balances being the CEO of a startup while also being the mother of two.

Chris (01:23):

Sassie. I wanna welcome you on to building Texas business. Thank you for taking the time to be with us today.

Sassie (01:28):

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Chris (01:29):

So very intriguing stories. I was reading your bio and I, I just want give you a chance to introduce yourself to the audience and the listeners. Tell us, you know, kind of who you are and what you do. I know your company is Venus Aerospace, which sounds really cool. So let’s tell us about who you are and then what Venus Aerospace is.

Sassie (01:49):

Yeah, so I’m the co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace. And at Venus we are using a next generation rocket engine to enable super high speed vehicles. So what does that mean? High speed vehicles as in planes, drones. And we’ve got an engine that allows you to take off and get up to speeds around Mach four. So four times the speed of sound and super efficiently cruise across the globe. You could push all the way up to Mach nine if you really wanted to, and then come back down and land and it would let you go, you know, say San Francisco to Tokyo in under two hours.

Chris (02:24):


Sassie (02:26):

Yeah. A little crazy, huh?

Chris (02:27):

<laugh>. Yeah. So does that mean you’re a true rocket scientist?

Sassie (02:32):

I’m actually married to Rocket SA rocket scientist and I manage a ton of rocket scientists, but I would not claim that title for myself.

Chris (02:39):

Okay. Alright. So, but so you’re the one of the few that would say, well, it’s not rocket science, but it kind of is. It is

Sassie (02:45):

In this case for sure. Yeah, I love

Chris (02:46):

It. Okay, so that Venus Aerospace, so high speed travel for what? For eventually for a, a normal consumer?

Sassie (02:57):

Yeah, so the ultimate goal is commercial travel. We have near term opportunities doing hypersonic flight testing for the Department of Defense, and then hypersonic drones kind of for national security and defense pur purposes both for, you know, NATO and the US Department of Defense. But that ultimate goal is, you know, kind of how does the world change. If you could get anywhere, you know, in two hours, you know, whether it’s business travel or it’s, you know, delivering parts or it’s, you know, global organ transplant, there’s a bunch of opportunities that, you know, what’s your time worth? And if we could give you back time by helping you get across the globe faster, um, that’s our ultimate vision.

Chris (03:34):

Wow. I mean that’s, I mean, it is visionary. So what inspired you to get into this business? Yeah,

Sassie (03:43):

So prior to starting Venus, Andrew and I, so we co-founded the company together. Andrew’s my husband, and we were both working for Virgin Orbit, so we were launching rockets off the wings of 7 47. And while we were working for Virgin Orbit, um, we actually deployed to Japan. So Andrews in the Navy Reserves and in the Navy he does ship repair. So I always joke why a PhD rocket scientist is doing ship repair. That’s a whole different question. But 2018 was a really bad year for the Navy and there were a bunch of collisions out at sea and they couldn’t get the Navy ships all the way back to the United States. They could only get them to Japan. And so he got a call in in like February, 2018 and said, Hey, we need you any chance you could come to Japan. And I looked at him and said, can we go?

Sassie (04:26):

And so we pulled the kids from school, moved to yo coastal Japan, and it was actually living in Japan that we realized, you know, how big the world really is. So, you know, I had, we had traveled internationally, but we’d never actually lived overseas. And so it was literally a Sunday afternoon. We were sitting out on our balcony overlooking Tokyo Bay. You could see the whole, you know, American shipyard there. And we were talking about my grandmother’s birthday was coming up and how do we get home? Do I take the kids jet lag socks? Like we were just having a normal Sunday conversation. And Andrew looks at me and he says, well, you know, there’s a new rocket engine coming on the pipeline that’s been theorized for about 30 years. They’ve been working on it at academia, at the universities. And he said, I think if this engine’s ever proven, I think we could put it on a plane and we could be home in an hour.

Sassie (05:13):

And I literally laughed at him in that moment, but then he started explaining the physics to me and how the engine works and how it’s way more efficient if you don’t have to, if it’s more efficient, you don’t have to have as much fuel. And just was getting into it. And we started kind of dreaming like, well, what if this engine ever really comes along? And it’s proven. And so, you know, fast forward we get back to Southern California and we’re back working at Virgin Orbit after the deployment. And he comes home from work one day and he said, Hey, Purdue University, their research, one of the research labs proved this engine and it’s called a rotating detonation rocket engine, which I know is a mouthful

Chris (05:49):

Rotating detonation rocket

Sassie (05:51):

Engine. And so this engine in, in an AB test, so take the rocket engines that, that like we use today, are only about 2% more efficient than the rocket engines that we sent, you know, astronauts to the moon with 50 years ago on, on the Apollo emissions. So in 50 years we’ve gained about a 2% increase in efficiency, which is not much. Well this engine on the other hand, um, gains about 15% efficiency. And so it’s just a total game changer. It’s almost the equivalent of going from like propellers to jets, like how much that impacted, um, airplanes. It’s the same thing. So going from a, it’s called a defecation engine, like a campfire burn in a chamber, which is what we, we’ve been using forever. So subsonic combustion to detonation, which is supersonic combustion. And if you can detonate a propellant, you extract more energy, it’s just more efficient. And so we literally stand up that rotating detonation wave. So it rotates around and around in an annulus, if you go to our website, you can see videos of it. And with that detonation it’s just more efficient. And so if you don’t have to carry as much fuel, you can put wings and landing gear and all the things that actually would finally make kind of a rocket plane actually work.

Chris (07:00):

Wow. Yeah. And, and I guess going that fast, I mean, all I know is what I see like on tv, in the movies, it going mock speeds is challenging, I guess for pilots now ’cause it’s only people in, you know, in jets that do it. But for passengers, I guess the, the cabin can be pressurized or contained where it’s safe for the, or maybe that’s where you’re getting to. I don’t know. Yeah,

Sassie (07:23):

Well, so humans are really good at constant velocity. So once you get up to speed and you’re going the same speed, I mean, you know, an airplane, you don’t feel like you’re traveling, what, 800 miles per hour across the globe or whatever the speed is. You know, it that it’s acceleration. Like when you have Gs that that’s what we’re not as good as handling. Gotcha. So our vehicle, our plane experience, you would take off and it would be about kind of a 10 minutes of that takeoff experience where you’re in the back of your seat, but then what you’ll hit constant acceleration just like an airplane. So it’s no different. I mean, think about astronauts in space or traveling what mach 24, Mach 25 in orbit constantly. And you know that it’s just the acceleration. That’s the hard thing. So, okay.

Chris (08:03):

We’ve sense,

Sassie (08:04):

We’ve actually, one, one of the joys of being here in Houston is, you know, we’ve got Johnson Space Center down the road from us and you know, we’ve had their human factors team look at, you know, our kind of trajectory. And they’ve said, oh, you’re totally fine. You’ve got no problems at all.

Chris (08:17):

Uh, that’s nothing. Right. Yeah. Cakewalk.

Sassie (08:20):


Chris (08:21):

Well, okay, so you have an idea and, and I lo I love the story of on a balcony, you know, in Japan and, and just, it, it’s interesting to me ’cause so many entrepreneurs, they may not be in the, in that same setting, but it is this conversation about an issue or a problem and how to solve it. And they have the idea, right? Yep. And it boiled down to its basics no different than what you and your husband we’re talking about. So how did you take that concept and the idea that, okay, Purdue proved it and turn that in to Venus Aerospace?

Sassie (08:52):

Yeah. You know, so as soon as you know, Andrew came home and said, Hey, they’ve proved it, I kind of looked at him, I said, do you have this, you know, because he intimately know he was a former professor at Texas a and m. So like we intimately knew how far academia could kind of push a technology. And we said, all right, we’ve gotta go grab that technology and kind of pull it up and actually bring it to the world. So we, you know, I incorporated the company and then I actually went and took a class on how do you raise venture capital? You know, while I have an engineer undergrad and an MBAI had not ever, you know, raised VC money before. And so it was actually a group of women that I found they were teaching a course on how to, one of the goals was to get more venture capital into the hands of female founders.

Sassie (09:31):

So statistically about 2% of venture funding goes to females. And so they were trying to help with that. So I took a class and learned how do you raise v VC money and how, you know, build a pitch deck and all the things. And then as soon as we got Virgin Orbit to its first launch, we actually quit our jobs and went full time on Venus. And we spent about, it took us about six months and I think 200 conversations, 200 pitches until we finally, you know, found that investor that said, yes, I’m in. And we closed a seed round of $3 million in January, 2021. And that was actually the same time we decided to move the company from Southern California to Houston. I’m a seventh generation Texan, so wanted to get back home that, that’s right. And Houston, one of the great things about Houston is it’s got the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Field and it’s the Ellington field.

Sassie (10:18):

It’s the only urban Spaceport in America, which means, you know, we are literally firing rocket engines here at Ellington. You know, our previous experience, you know, Virgin Orbit, our headquarters was Long Beach, but our testing all happened out in Mojave. And so Andrew, when he became head of launch operations, pretty much lived in Mojave. I was a single mom for a couple years and we were like, you know, as a husband, wife founding team, this is not like we have to find a place we can do it all in one location. And Houston, you know, ro rose to the very top. And so we closed our seed round of funding and moved the family to, to Houston. And it’s been, you know, I I really believe the best move for what we could have done, you know, for the company.

Chris (10:57):

That’s great. So let’s talk a little bit about the challenges of raising venture capital money. I mean, you obviously at, at, at 50,000 feet, you said 200 conversations before you got one bite, but you know, I have to believe, I know we have clients that go through this or come to us, uh, you know, in a similar stage trying to capitalize on an idea of raising money around it so they get a company off the ground. And I have to believe other listeners out there are, are curious as well. What are some of the, the lessons learned that you feel like you could pass on to someone, uh, that might either one, help them understand what they’re about to get into, or, or, or maybe it’s, you know, I learned this and and, and avoid doing this. It might make it your process easier. Sure.

Sassie (11:39):

You know, so one of my, one of the things that coach taught me in learning is it only takes one. Yes. Right? And so you just need one person to believe in you. So kind of having that grit and just saying no, like Andrew and I knew we had a good idea, we knew we had something, one of the challenges was finding the right fit, you know, so venture capitalists often have a thesis in terms of what they wanna invest in. So if you’re an enterprise SaaS software investor, you’re probably not gonna invest in a rocket company. And so it took a while for me to find, for us to find kind of those that those folks with the correct thesis and they get introductions to them. The other thing is we needed patient capital. So we’re also not on this like super short journey.

Sassie (12:21):

We’re not gonna throw a bunch of programmers in the room and, you know, spit out a program a, a unicorn. You know, we need time, we need time to build, we need hardware, we’re capital intensive. And so finding those people that understood those longer timelines and were okay with that. So that’s one. The other thing I would say is we started off building our own pitch deck and thought surely the design doesn’t matter. And fortunately we had a pretty early believer that said, Hey, I’m interested, I wanna help you guys, but you need a better pitch deck. And so it kind of like crushed my soul to go pay a designer to build our pitch deck. But the minute we went from the one we designed ourselves to like a professionally designed one, our traction went way up. And so it, and I looked back and the pitch deck we had was horrible. And the pitch deck the designer built was beautiful. And so I’m, you know, I’m actually glad, I’m very glad we spent the money.

Chris (13:10):

I think there, you know, there’s a lesson there for sure, in the way way I’ve seen it play out in, in a number of different scenarios with kind of startups is you need to figure out what’s truly an expense versus an investment in the future of your business, right? And what you just described in, in hiring that professional, again, you’re trying to say, I can do this myself, I’m gonna save a little money. But the investment you made, even though it seemed like an expense you probably were questioning whether you could afford, is actually a smart investment that the return on that was crazy. And, you know, I can analogize that sometimes the startup legal stuff we tell clients or potential clients, look, you’re investing dollars even though it seems like an expense on legal, but you’re investing dollars in making sure your company’s set up right. That will help you going forward.

Sassie (13:59):

Absolutely. I completely agree.

Chris (14:01):

So you got the pitch deck going and, and then I guess you continued on the road to pitch the idea to people. Yep. Yeah. I love what I also love kind of what you said about the honesty and being direct about what your business was and what this investment would look like and what it wasn’t. Right. You weren’t gonna be returning a profit or a return on the investment anytime soon. So you that, I think you said someone pay capital or patient capital

Sassie (14:25):

Patient patient capital. Yeah.

Chris (14:26):

I love that. So you got that going, it was January, I guess 2021 you said. And, and so take us now, how many employees have you grown to? Yeah,

Sassie (14:36):

So we are, you know, that was January 21, 21 or what in March 24. So it’s been three years. We’ve scaled about 70 full-time employees and we scaled really quickly. You know, we did a $3 million seed. And what was fascinating, the minute our, one of our main investors, they’re called Prime Movers Lab for our seed round, put out a why we invested in Venus Aerospace, we got an incredible amount of what we would’ve invested, we would’ve invested. So we ended up capturing another 10 million in safes. So simple agreements for future equity, you know, built for a year. And then they, prime Movers Lab actually did a preemptive A, they were like, you guys are crushing it. Here’s 20 million more. Keep going. And so yeah, so we scaled pretty quick up to, you know, 50 ish. Um, and that was an incredible challenge, like going from three where it’s three people in a PowerPoint presentation to, you know, 50 to 70 people.

Sassie (15:24):

Like, you know, just, you know, you go, you’ve gotta learn how to communicate better. It’s no longer, you know, sitting around a kitchen table. You know, we literally started the company at, at our house, right? And so everybody knew what was going on. Everybody was connected. I think once we hit 15 employees, we were like, we have to find a location. ’cause we, we had two new people coming and we did not have a single spot in our house to put them. Like we were about to start using our kids’ bedrooms. And so that was the trigger that was like, all right, we, you know, we ended up finding the hangar at Ellington. But yeah, scale scaling is a fascinating, you know, and ev every stage, you know, it just gets a little bit different and the minute you think you have it figured out, you grow again. And so we’ve sat about 70 now for the last year, which I think has actually been really healthy for us. ’cause it’s allowed us to build kind of better systems and processes into the organization for decision making and for budgeting and all the things that I think will help us as we, you know, go to raise our next round of capital and, you know, wanna really accelerate and start building, you know, mock five drones. We’ve got all the pieces in place to help us, help us with that.

Chris (16:27):

So that, you know, you described I think any fast moving business, the challenges that, that scalability and managing it, right? Keeping your arms around it so it doesn’t get outta control, I guess that’s very hyper growth that you went through. So what were some of the things that you had to do through the hiring process to make sure you were making smart decisions on these hires while you were still trying to build processes and systems in place to kind of manage it once they were all there?

Sassie (16:58):

Yeah, you know, one of the things we early on put, we call it the Venus values into, into place kind of our culture and who we are and how we operate is just as important to us as the technology that we’re building. And so we call it the Venus Flight Plan. And so every kind, and it’s all related to, you know, flight. But sure, we do a lot of, we did a lot of culture like, yes, we wanna make sure you can fit technically and can you do the skills, but then are you gonna be a cultural fit? And so, you know, even from an interview perspective, we’d have people doing technical interviews and understanding their technical skills, but then a cultural fit, are they really gonna fit in culturally? And I actually think that is key. And then I do tons, like, I’m constantly, I feel like I’m a broken record, but talking about our values and who we are and how we’re gonna treat people, you know, I think the aerospace industry as a whole is often very broken. It was born out of war and it’s, you know, I found myself at 38 as the oldest female engineer at Virgin Orbit. Wow. And I don’t know, I don’t think 30 eight’s that old <laugh>, so

Chris (17:55):

I don’t think so either. It seems so young right now. Yeah.

Sassie (17:58):

So you look around the room and there’d be a ton of, you know, 25-year-old female engineers, a few 30, and by the time they’re 40, they’re all gone. And so, you know, we, it was like, what’s wrong with the industry that, you know, there’s no 40 year in 40-year-old engineers, um, that they all flee. And so we were very intentional. I mean, we actually named the company Venus because she’s the only female planet. All the other planets, Mars, Roman, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, mercury, they’re all Roman gods. Whereas Venus is a Roman goddess. Yeah. Um, and then she’s also the goddess of love. And so we have a premise of like, what would it actually look like if we love our employees? Well, and so, you know, that’s, I think that’s been one of the key tenets of like, kind of who we are as a company. You know, we wanna build that family friendly, female friendly aerospace company and that, you know, that those shouldn’t be in dissonance with one another, but they often are.

Chris (18:50):

Yeah. That’s brilliant. You know what, what you kinda started with and, and totally agree culture’s keen and I think it’s important, you know, that you emphasize that and the way you did, and I hope our listeners took note, we believe here, same thing when we hire, yes, you have to have the technical skills and that that’s kind of a given. And, and you can interview for that and, and test for it, you know, while someone’s here through your training programs and whatnot. But culture, it doesn’t matter how good you are technically, if you’re not a cultural fit, you will never work if the company is really committed to a culture, right. Whether it’s inclusive and loving the employees and, and wanting that environment where people want to be. Actually, and I think Jack Welch said it, if you have a real high performer that’s not a cultural fit, he calls that cancer. Right? And, and that can, we all know what cancer can do to, to things. So you can’t allow that into your organization. But I think it’s great with your focus on that. What, so what are some of the things that you do to make sure the culture is one defined but two cultivated and nurtured?

Sassie (19:54):

Yeah, so we do, you know, values shout outs. I mean, everybody has the Venus Flight plan. Like I literally have it here on a mouse pad. You know, it’s like, this is who we are, it’s on our website, it’s on our screensavers, it’s kind of plastered around. And then we do a lot of Venus value shoutouts. So we have like kind of managers and we expect, like we want shout outs on certain place places. You know, we do awards. Anytime I send a communications email out to the company, I always like put some reminder about a Venus value. So I’ve just, I I just constantly say that, say it over and over, like, this is who we are, this is how we operate. I feel like sometimes I’m a broken record, but you know, they say you have to say something seven times before someone really hears it. And that’s been a huge lesson for me. Like things that I feel like, oh, it’s obvious this is what we’re going to go do as a company. This is our strategic goal. Well, I’m talking about it all the time to investors, but I realize sometimes, you know, our team might not be hearing it. And so that’s been probably one of the, the biggest learnings is just how often you just have to say the same things over and over again.

Chris (20:52):

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think it’s, it’s that repetition and, and certainly top down it has to be at the top to become, uh, infiltrate the entire organization. And I believe what I’ve experienced here is when you start tying your values and that the behavior that you say defines your culture, two behaviors that others in the organization are doing. So your shout outs as an example, right? When you say, you know, Jane did such a great job on this task and it, it demonstrated this value, right? People start personalizing going, okay, I see what that value means in action. That’s, I think that’s great. And, and you, you said something there at the end I think is so true because your job is, is so external. Sometimes you’ve, and and I I can relate to this, you sometimes forget how important it is to make sure all those great things you say externally to keep the company going, that you’re saying ’em internally to remind everyone how great the organization is and you know, how important it’s to keep this thing going.

Sassie (21:48):

Oh, for sure, for sure.

Chris (21:49):

What, let’s talk a little bit just about any challenges you faced getting this company up and going and kind of what the lessons learned. Have you know you from that and how it’s kind of made you or the company stronger? ’cause you went through, you know, a rough patch or two?

Sassie (22:04):

You know, um, I say one of our biggest challenges we’ve been hitting is regulatory. So we’re trying to fly a supersonic, well, we actually flew a supersonic capable drone a couple weeks ago, but we had to throttle it down to below Mach one because we didn’t have the regulatory clearance to fly supersonic. It’s illegal to fly supersonic over land without authority. <laugh>. Yeah. I mean the, the sonic boom does, it’s legit, it does make a noise. And so, you know, they outlawed that back, I think the fifties or sixties. And so there are places, there are ranges in the United States that you can fly those speeds, but you have to get government approval and it’s, you know, it’s been, yes, you can go fly here, but it’ll be three years. Well, we’re a startup in three years. Like we’re outta cash or we’re, you know, or we’re growing super fast.

Sassie (22:48):

And so that’s, regulatory hurdles have probably been one of our biggest challenges that I kind of un didn’t expect. And then, you know, we’re building technology that right now is one of the top priorities for the Department of Defense. And so in my mind, you would think that DOD would be just throwing cash at us. But it’s been very small. You know, we’ve got a little bit of DARPA money and a little bit of NASA money and a little bit of AppWorks Air Force money, you know, but not to the extent of what, you know, based on the priorities of what you would think it is. And so I’ve had to learn like, how do you play the DOD kind of Congress lobbying game? And I call it a game ’cause I feel like it is a game. And so I don’t

Chris (23:24):

Envy you it, I don’t envy you at all. But I, yeah, game I think is a right way to say it, sadly.

Sassie (23:29):

Yeah. So, you know, kind of learning that it’s not necessarily a meritocracy, it’s not the best technology wins, but it’s, you know, do you have the right relationships and were you in Capitol Hill at this time and have, you’ve been talking to this person? And the minute you build that relationship, then that person leaves that group and then you gotta start over again. And so I joke, I’ve learned, I’ve had to learn how a venture capital world works, and then the minute I figure that out, it’s like now I’ve had to go figure out, you know, how congressional budgets and DOD and how all that works and fig, you know, so it’s been, I’ve learned more in the last three years than I’ve learned I think in my previous 40, just because it’s fascinating, but it’s been a lot harder. I, like, in my mind I thought the DOD like, if you build great tech, they will come. And that’s not necessarily the case. And so we’ve had to start really building the right relationships and brought in a team that knows how to do government relations. And so it’s been a big learning curve.

Chris (24:19):

Yeah. You hate to hear that bureaucracy can get in the way of something so innovative and, and potentially transformative, but at the same time, I don’t know anyone’s gonna be shocked by that either. Right. It’s kind of a sad statement.

Sassie (24:33):

Right. And, and there are lots, I I, I’ve gotta give the DOD credit, there’s lots of groups really pushing on innovation and recognizing that, hey, we need to change. And you know, one of the things that makes America great is our innovative ecosystem and how we can, you know, the startup world and the venture capital and you know, what happens in Silicon Valley and other places. And so there are definitely folks within the Department of Defense that recognize that’s kind of the, that’s what the US is superpower is and how do we leverage it. But it’s just a really slow flywheel. Yeah. And we’ll get there. I know, because I know what we are building is so important that, you know, we’ll be able to knock down the right barriers, but it’s just been hard. It’s been harder than I think I expected it was gonna be.

Chris (25:12):

Yeah. Seems that way. So as you were talking about that it, I’m curious, are there competitors to Venus out there, like others that either have a similar or, or they’ve gotten, uh, permission to use the same technology and, and not just necessarily in the US and other countries? Is this kind of like a, you know, back going back to the fifties and sixties when it was a race, you know, us and Russia where racing to the moon.

Sassie (25:35):

So in terms in within the United States, you know, so Venus, our, our whole premise is that if you wanna go really fast with a plane instead of being a fast jet, you should be a slow rocket. You know? So our last rocket went M 10, like when we were at Virgin Orbit, it would go mock 10, split in half and then go on to Mach 25. Um, and so, you know, when we’re seeing Mach four or even Mach nine, that’s slow compared to what our last last vehicle did. And so there’s nobody else that’s using the engine technology that we are to build fast, fast or slow rockets, slow

Chris (26:10):


Sassie (26:10):

And so we’re kind of the only one in that realm. Like there are some other companies trying to build really fast jets, but we always say Top Gun Maverick was the perfect marketing story for us because I assuming you saw it, what happens in the very opening scenes of Top Gun Maverick.

Chris (26:25):

Yeah, he’s, he goes faster than what they, they told him he could or what, right. He, he pushed, yeah,

Sassie (26:29):

He pushes, he tries to push his plane to mock 10 and he literally melts his vehicle because if you fly fast through the soup of the atmosphere, you know, it creates an incredible amount of friction and it creates an incredible amount of heat. And so it’s really hard. And so because you’re a jet, the difference in a jet and a rocket is a jet has to bring, you know, go to campfire 1 0 1, what do you need for a fire? You need fuel, oxygen and a spark. So a jet gets its oxygen from the air, which means it has to fly low enough in the atmosphere that can, it can feed its jets, which means it’s gotta fly through the soup, right? We’re a rocket, we’re carrying our own oxygen with us in a tank. And so we can go up higher in the atmosphere where it’s not as soupy and thus fly where it’s way cooler so our vehicle won’t melt. It’s actually a much easier problem. So nobody that we know of in the world is looking, using the engine that we’re using for in the ways that we’re using it. Now there are other people using this rocket engine possibly for, you know, orbital launches or you know, we’re working with NASA ’cause they’re really interested in as a moon land. But you know, we think we’re the only ones Now that’s not to say that some of our competitor, you know, near peer co competitors are all, are not also looking at the same technology.

Chris (27:40):

Gotcha. Let’s go back, ’cause you said something that I found interesting, you know, to get your take on it. And that was around females in this industry and how you looked around at 38 and you were the oldest and that there aren’t any in there once you get to the mid to late thirties into the forties. What is it, do you think that was or still is maybe, uh, driving women out of the aerospace industry, uh, after, you know, they’re in it for early, in an early stage of life?

Sassie (28:14):

You know, I’ve done a, spent a lot of time reflecting on this and I wish I knew the exact answer. I think, I think it’s multiple. I think one of ’em, when you don’t have mentors, when you don’t have someone older than you to mentor you and show you how it’s done, you know, you decide like, hey, maybe it’s not worth it. I think some of it is, I mean, it wasn’t unusual to have a 8:00 PM meeting on a Thursday night when I was at Virgin Orbit sometimes. And so, you know, if you’re a mother and have young kids at home, like that’s really hard. So just our hours and expectations of hours, I can, you know, I think, you know, I, as much as I would love to say it starts at a young age, you know, I, you know, there’s no messaging sent to young kids to young girls versus young boys of like, you know, Hey, you should be playing with these types of toys and boys can play with rockets.

Sassie (28:59):

And I don’t know that, I don’t think society intentionally means to do that, but I think those messages still happen. I mean, I can tell you this happened recently. I was, we were given a tour here at Vina and it was with a group of very respected angels that went to a very respected university. I’m not gonna see what it is. And this gentleman came up to me and I introduced myself. We hadn’t started to tour anything. And you know, I said, Hey, I’m the CEO of Venus Aerospace, and he turns to me and he says, you don’t look like a very typical aerospace ee that’s, this is, you know, what, 2024 like, and I, I was so shocked by it. I didn’t say anything. And I wish now I’d said, well, you know, what makes me look different than like, what does an aerospace CEO look like?

Sassie (29:37):

You know, but that is still that, you know, I’m typically the only woman in the room when I’m, you know, they’re presenting for Venus as a founder of an aerospace company. It’s just, I wish I had better answers. You know, I’ve even, I’ve spent some time talking with some people that do kind of education on, you know, STEM education and some of it, they even say like, you know, a lot of the engineering education is built based on how men learn. Like men and women actually learn differently. And so based on how they teach, because it’s been, you know, taught since, you know, for thousands, hundreds, and hundreds of years, right? Engineering is often taught with more how the male mindset works. And so it just tends women to be like, eh, we’re not gonna go that route. Interesting. So I think it could need some changes in the academic system, but I mean, having come from a world where my husband was a professor, like there is no incentives for a professor to change how he teaches or she how she teaches. Sure. They’re, they’re there actually to, especially at a tier one research in institution, they’re there to, you know, do research and teaching just happens to be this little side gig.

Chris (30:37):

Right. It’s something they have to do. Right.

Sassie (30:40):

It’s something they have to do. Not exactly.

Chris (30:43):

Yeah. That I’m still a little shocked by the comment you got a couple weeks ago, but, so let’s talk, you know, maybe digging a little bit on your own personal journey, you, ’cause you’re, I think you said a mama two. Correct. So, you know, how have you managed that and navigated through, you know, still being a mom to those two while you, I guess one, when you worked at Virgin, it couldn’t have been easy, but even more challenge embarking on a startup and you know, the growth that you told us about from zero or three to 50 so quickly and that, how have you tried to balance and manage your time? Because I know there’s clients in our firm, uh, of our firm and listeners of this podcast that are in the, in in that same position.

Sassie (31:25):

Yeah. You know, I, I wish I could say what’s easy, um, but it takes a lot of intentionality. So our company vision is home for dinner. We wanna fly you across the globe and have you home for dinner. If you work for us, we want you home for dinner. And that’s because we have, you know, as a husband, wife team, we have, you know, the two daughters that it’s like, we’ve got to be home for dinner with them because, you know, one of ’em is in high school and she’s gonna be out hopeful, hopefully God willing out of the house in a couple years. And so we just put that in as a value fair from the very beginning. And so we are home, we eat dinner around the kitchen table with them almost every night. I can’t s you know, I can’t say every night, but most of the time, listen,

Chris (32:03):

No one would believe you if you said that. Yeah. But

Sassie (32:05):

No, we don’t. I mean, and you know, I just came back from two weeks of almost straight traveling and I did, I rolled, I was heading to another event and I came out with my suitcase in the morning and my daughter literally looked at me and said, mom, you’re leaving again. And so there are times it’s hard. I can’t say, I can’t say if I got it, figure it out. But it’s being that being super intentional. And then when I do have time with them, you know, you know, just making sure I make the most of it. It’s like, you know, we do not at dinner ever have our phones out. We don’t talk about Venus at all. ’cause it’s the last thing they wanna hear about, you know? And then I do try, we have tried to kind of sometimes bring what we’re working on into their world. So I got to fly my younger daughter out to one of my events and she got to see me on stage and see what that world looks like. And so, you know, getting them to understand like what we’re doing, you know, we’re trying, I’ve been trying to be more inclusive of that for them.

Chris (32:54):

I think that’s great. I mean, to your point there, everything’s a balance, right? But I think that balance of not talking about business and with them around them all the time is smart. But introducing and incorporating a little bit about what mom and dad do isn’t a bad thing. So it gives ’em some context about, because all they know is you leave the house and you’re gone. Right. And then you come back and Yeah. What if you can introduce some context to that.

Sassie (33:19):

Well, one of my favorite stories we did actually, we were trying to hire somebody, you know, like maybe six months a year ago. And so I, we brought, we, we were told the girls at dinner where it’s like, Hey, we’re trying to hire this person, you know, what do you think we could do to incentivize them to come? And my younger daughter was like, well what if you give them cookies, <laugh>? I was like, you know, that’s like, everybody likes cookies. That’s true. So

Chris (33:40):

Like, that would get me

Sassie (33:41):

<laugh>. Exactly.

Chris (33:42):

<laugh>, yeah. The innocence of that is, I mean, that’s magical. So, you know, yeah. Busy schedule, you balance this. How would you describe kind of your leadership style?

Sassie (33:52):

Oh, that’s a really interesting question. I, I try to lead how I would wanna be led with, you know, super high integrity, positivity. You know, I actually, we, one of the analogies we use a lot is giving away our Legos. So I’ve really had to learn, I mean, we started the company and I was doing everything, well, not the technical stuff, but, you know, I was setting up accounting, I was doing payroll, I was doing hr, I was doing all the fundraising. And so as the company grows, like I will never have more responsibility. Today is the most responsibility I will ever have because hopefully we’ll continue to hand away Legos. And so trying to really encourage people to share their Legos, like the, the story we use all the time is if we wanna build the largest Lego Tower possible, the best way to do it is for everybody to contribute and build. And so in that case, I have to share my Legos.

Chris (34:41):

Um, ah, okay. I I love analogies. That’s a good one for building a business. And you’re right, I think it’s hard, it starts with trust, right? That you have to be able to get to a level of trust to, to give Allego away to someone, to, to take over hr, to take over accounting. And,

Sassie (34:58):

Um, yeah. And my goal is to hire everybody smarter than I am, and that’s more of an expert in their area than I am. Because if that’s the case, and Venus will be so much better. And so, you know, I, I ultimately want the very best in whatever role it is and let them have it, because they’re gonna be so much better equipped to do that role than, you know, than I ever was.

Chris (35:17):

It’s a great goal. Well, the, the story’s fascinating, Sassie. I, I mean it’s, i I can’t wait to continue to watch, uh, where y’all take this and what do you, I mean, unique and special opportunity, right? To just, I’m, I mean, change, you’re, you’re literally gonna change an industry.

Sassie (35:33):

You know, I, I always say it’s the adventure of a lifetime. You know, an Andrew and I were two engineers with an idea, and it really shows the power of the American dream, you know, that there are investors out there. I mean, you know, we’re not billionaires, you know, and so that there are investors out there that understand like what a world changing technology can do and that are willing to back entrepreneurs and then continue to support us and help that, help us grow. To me, it’s what makes America by far the greatest country in the world, is this type of ecosystem that happens. So it’s truly, you know, just such an adventure.

Chris (36:06):

Yeah. Alright, well let’s have a little fun before we wrap up. So what was your first job you were growing up?

Sassie (36:12):

I was a lifeguard.

Chris (36:14):

Okay. And do you ever have to save any lives? I

Sassie (36:17):

Had one time a little boy that just had walked too far out and was up under underwater. I wasn’t even on duty. And I happened to be walking by and his mom was screaming and I just jumped in the water and grabbed him. Okay. So thankfully that was the extent of my life saving.

Chris (36:32):

Very good. So this is gonna be a interesting question. Seventh generation Texan, you told me. Yeah. So do you prefer Tex-Mex or barbecue?

Sassie (36:41):

Ooh, Tex-Mex.

Chris (36:42):

All right. <laugh>. I think that’s spoken like a seventh generation Texan. Uh, I,

Sassie (36:46):

I like barbecue, but yeah, I, deep down, anytime when we didn’t live in t and like we lived in, we’ve lived in California, Virginia all over the first meal that when I would come back and like, stay at my parents’ house was always like greasy Tex-Mex.

Chris (37:00):

I, I can identify with that. Look, the, the, the question’s not meant to be easy. It’s a tough one. I mean, most people struggle as I do because I like ’em both, but you’re right, I that may be the best barometers. What’s the first meal after you’ve been away? Yep.

Sassie (37:13):


Chris (37:13):

Uh, so all right, so I, I, you, given what you’re doing and, and, and the pace at which you’re growing this company, this may be hard for you to envision, but if you could take a 30 day sabbatical, where would you go and what would you do?

Sassie (37:26):

Ooh, I am an outdoor person, so I would go somewhere in the middle of no weather. I, I, I don’t know if it would be up into the mountains or on a foreign, I’d probably wanna hop between like an island and like surf and snorkel and scuba and play in the water and fish and then be up in the mountains and hiking or skiing. Anything that gets me away from technology and um, out into nature would be my, what I’d wanna do.

Chris (37:50):

Okay. That’s good. That’s good. Well, Sassie, thank you for taking the time. You know, a as I mentioned, you know, we’re in a really, you know, this is March of 2024. This is International Women’s Month. I can’t think of a better guest to have on the podcast than you out there, you know, showing women by example, how you can be a successful entrepreneur. So thank you.

Sassie (38:11):

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Chris (38:15):

And there we have it. Another great episode. Don’t forget to check out the show notes at and you can find out more about all the ways our firm can help you at That’s it for this episode. Have a great week and we’ll talk to you next time.

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