Welcome to the 890 newly Not Boring people who have joined us since last Monday! Join 110,611 smart, curious folks by subscribing here:
Hi friends 👋,
If you haven’t read a Not Boring piece in a little while, read this one.
Hadrian is different than the companies we normally talk about in Not Boring. While it relies heavily on software, its main focus is in the world of atoms. It uses big machines to make precision parts for rockets and satellites. It blends automation and high-skilled labor.
It’s an incredible example of something we’re going to see a lot more of in the coming years (partially because Hadrian exists): startups tackling very hard, government-level problems in the physical world (and space). I’m very eager to see what happens as the worlds of bits and atoms continue to interact and co-evolve.
If Hadrian succeeds in its boldest missions, Americans will build hard things with speed once again, we’ll grow a new skilled labor force by making manufacturing cool, and freedom will reign among the stars. High stakes.
Note that this is a Sponsored Deep Dive (read about my selection process and conflicts here) and Not Boring Capital is a small investor in Hadrian, but neither of those facts impacted the way I’m writing this. I’ve been this excited about Hadrian since my first call with Chris after Moshe at Shrug introduced us in February (thanks Moshe!), and if anything, I’ve held back my enthusiasm.
Let’s get to it.
Hadrian: Ex Machina Ad Lunam
Every startup has a lofty mission. Hadrian is the first I’ve encountered whose mission includes reversing American decline and ensuring the solar system remains free.
Hadrian Factory #1 in Hawthorne, California
Chris Power, Hadrian’s founder and CEO, is clear about the stakes: if the US loses military and space superiority this decade, totalitarian actors won’t just take control of the reserve currency and power on the home planet, they’ll settle the solar system.
We’re in a second Space Race, one with astronomical stakes, and we’re at risk of losing because we can’t build like we used to. That’s what Hadrian wants to fix. Chris calls it the “anti-decline company.” He wants to remind people that we can still build hard things in the real world fast, like we did in the 1960s.
Part of the reason Americans can’t build like we could in the ‘60s is that we’re still relying on the same advanced manufacturing supply chain we were back then, two generations (and a lot of excitement and optimism) removed.
So to reverse decline, Hadrian plans to transform the legacy supply chain that powers space and defense manufacturing today into one that is faster, cheaper, more reliable, and more transparent.
To do it, Chris has assembled the Avengers – world-class software engineers, machinists, CAM programmers, operations leaders, and data scientists – to transform the faltering legacy space and defense industrial base in the United States into a hyper efficient techno-industrial base. He warned them that it was going to be hard and painful, and they all signed up.
The team is building precision machine factories that automate the repetitive and mindless things that can be automated and create high paying, meaningful work around the things that humans do best. At the meta level, it’s building a machine that turns tribal knowledge into software, processes, and jobs.
Importantly, unlike self-driving trucks, which will automate tons of people out of jobs, machine shops literally cannot hire enough people to scale. To meet demand, there is no alternative but to simultaneously automate and train a new generation of skilled workers.
If Hadrian is successful, any company that relies on precision parts – starting with space and moving into defense, medical devices, semiconductors, and energy – will be able to build 10x faster and for half the cost that they’re able to today. That means faster iteration and cheaper costs for advanced rockets, satellites, jets, and hypersonics.
If that happens, US Defense will gain the manufacturing overmatch they need to maintain peace through strength on earth and in space. The US will win Space Race II. The solar system will be free. It’s a big vision.
But first things first, Hadrian needs to ship its tightly-focused set of first parts – high-margin, high-precision aluminum components for space companies – on-time and on-budget. It needs to continue to hire world-class talent from the worlds of bits and atoms and get them to work together to turn tribal manufacturing knowledge into scalable software and processes. IT NEEDS TO BUILD.
To help fulfill its mission, last week, Hadrian announced that it raised $90 million in two rounds: a Series A led by Brandon Reeves at Lux Capital and a Series A-Prime led by Katherine Boyle at a16z. Founders Fund and Lux led the Seed in March 2021.
Delian Asparouhov (FF), Brandon Reeves (Lux), Katherine Boyle (a16z)
Hadrian is Boyle’s first investment out of the firm’s new American Dynamism practice, and it’s an appropriate first investment. It is building critical infrastructure on top of which ambitious American hard tech companies will be able to innovate with atoms the way that software companies are able to innovate with bits. Hadrian will serve as the foundation of American Dynamism.
Hadrian is not the first company to try to build automated factories – in fact, it’s not the first company that Founders Fund and Lux have backed to go after the opportunity. The first one failed. Hadrian could fail too; what it’s trying to do is very hard. But the fact that both firms are back at the table with Hadrian is a testament to the size and importance of the opportunity, the timing, and to the approach that Chris and the Hadrian team are taking to tackle it.
Because for everything we’ll discuss about the strategic importance of settling space and enabling military superiority, make no mistake: Hadrian has the potential to build a massive business. It’s building a Keith Rabois-style “fat startup” in a fast-growing $30 billion industry with a highly-fragmented and outdated supplier base, pursuing software-like margins, and digging moats that will make it incredibly difficult to unseat. Hadrian has the potential to be a $10 billion+ business, and one that endures for decades.
It’s a prime example of a trend towards atoms-based businesses with enormous missions in categories like climate, healthcare, space, and defense – businesses that can do well by doing good, to quote the Protestants. A host of factors are intersecting at just the right time to make previously-impossible models possible and profitable, many of which we’ll discuss here and some of which we’ll save for a future piece.
But while the mission and the opportunity grab headlines, Hadrian’s real magic is in the details:
- How do you automate the 80% of things that should be automated while creating great American manufacturing jobs to do the 20% that only humans can do?
- How do you recruit the exact right people – often from cushy jobs at SpaceX or Stripe or Target or even out of post-Oculus retirement – to solve really hard problems?
- How do you take the tribal knowledge in experts’ brains and turn it into processes and software that even a brand new hire can use to get really good, really fast?
- How do you finance a capital intensive business in such a way that it scales like a capital-light one?
Rallying people around a huge, inspiring vision and focusing on the exact right details today to get there in time is a near-impossible balancing act. Luckily for Hadrian, there are very few people in the world as good at playing on different levels at the same time as Chris is.
The best leaders can take the “30,000 foot view” and zoom into the one-inch details. Both metaphorically and literally, Chris is able to take the 1,193,280,000 foot view1 and zoom into the micron-level details2.
Today, we’ll cover many of them. I’ve not been this giddy researching a company in a long time, and I’ve done my best to translate what I’ve learned, how Hadrian can win, and why I think it’s important:
- We Choose to Go to the Moon
- Powering Through the Idea Maze
- How Precision Machining Works Today
- A Plethora of Lessons
- What Hadrian Does Differently
- How Hadrian Works
- 7 Powers
- Ex Machina Ad Lunam
Everyone I spoke to on the Hadrian team acknowledged that there’s a ton of execution risk in front of them. It’s never been done before. But that’s why they’re there. They choose to work at Hadrian not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
We Choose to Go to the Moon
On September 12, 1962, one year and two months before his death, President John F. Kennedy gave one of my favorite Presidential speeches in US History.
Data from Get Me Flying Cars
Selection of Private Space Companies
Brian (RIP) and Dom Do Rocket Engines
Not to any kind of scale purely illustrative
Ronnie Coleman in Generation Iron
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”
Make sure to wish Chris Happy Birthday on Twitter!
Hawthorne Factory Before and After and Torrance Factory Before
Times per Step at an Average Machine Shop, Before Accounting for Delays