Normally, boats are designed to keep water out. One of the first things I did with my Pangaea co-founders Tim, Pat and Nick was to fill a boat with water. Some would probably argue that’s an unorthodox design choice. But I guess we’re big fans of seeing a problem from multiple angles. So it sort of made sense that four months later, we’d have founded a space business together, and be well on the way to getting funded.

This boat. We filled it with water.

But what has filling a boat with water got to do with pivoting? Or selling out? I promise I’m not going to try and stretch the metaphor too far, but there’s definitely some room to draw this bow.

At the end of April, in 2017, I got together with my fellow boat-fillers to tackle the NASA SpaceApps hackathon. It made sense — we got on well, had a diverse set of skills, and shared a certain giddy enthusiasm for novel challenges. And because of all this, and no small degree of luck, we managed to win the MoonshotX prize (for building a viable business solution), and get a free ticket into MoonshotX’s first incubator program, the aptly named ‘Gemini’. We’re now at the end of Gemini, having run roughshod over big visions, lean canvases, and dozens of customer interviews. The best way I think I can explain this first small part of our journey is to start with our first idea.

Woah! Certificates! (Tim, Nick, Pat and Nina)

Water, water everywhere

The idea which won us the hackathon was pretty simple. You know those warning text messages you get from emergency services? Like this one? What if, in a flood emergency, instead of getting a generalised pre-canned warning message, you instead were sent personalised information to help you make a better decision, instead of wildly panicking? We called this idea ‘SafeLink’ — embedding a link in these text messages to take users to a web app, which combines the latest satellite live flood tracking information with historical flood data to provide simple and up to date information on the best path to safety. You can watch our 30 second pitch for SafeLink below. We’re still pretty proud of it.

Floods make for an interesting problem. They feel like a very real problem, one which evoked some strong nostalgia of being inside a boat and feeling the water lapping up against our shins. But the main thing we liked about this idea was that it was both simple, and helped people. Outside of all this, in our day jobs, we all work in quite complex roles. And one of our shared frustrations is the barriers that complexity puts up when you’re trying to help people.

We shelved SafeLink as we went into the first few weeks of the Gemini program, as we looked to fill our stable of ideas and flesh out a grand vision. These weeks were spent exploring similar ideas — ideas which were simple, but had the power to help people. And we went through many; infrastructure planning for slums, emergency warning systems, land title management for farmers in poor areas. And something was becoming obvious to us — the common denominator in all of these was using geospatial data to solve problems. Something we’ve actually got a lot of experience with.





relating to or denoting data that is associated with a particular location.

Want to hear some user stories? Go to Africa

At about this point, I went and travelled to Africa and Nepal for 5 weeks, not knowing whether I’d have internet access to keep in touch with the rest of the team. But I knew what I could do was go out and talk to people, and do some discovery out in the real world. This is probably the most important thing you’ll do when starting a business, and has been a key part of the development of all the Gemini teams so far. The way I’ve come to see it is this: (thanks to Flavia Tata Nardini from Fleet Space for articulating this to us) any idea you’ve ever had, in the shower, in the car on the way to work, or sitting up in bed late at night wide awake, someone else has already had. The difference between you and them is all in how well you can fit that idea to a real problem, and make it workable for real people. The only way you can do that is get out there and talk to people.

Lean Canvas for a Paragliding Instructor in Kenya

While abroad, I talked with many people; and the team back in Melbourne talked with many more. We spoke with farmers, architects, urban planners, tour guides and slum dwellers. Everyone who had a stake in how the world is laid out spatially, we talked to. Along the way I even taught a Kenyan guide about the lean business model canvas to help him start his own paragliding company. By the end of it, we felt like our boat of knowledge had started to fill up just a bit. We were starting to see similar threads across different industries, in how spatial information is worked with and talked about.

When I got back to Australia, the team were busy at work with our cadre of Gemini mentors, and we had switched focus. We weren’t looking at one particular problem anymore, but instead at a broader platform. And we were now focusing customer interviews towards getting at exactly what that platform should look like. The ‘platform play’ is a typical one in the tech industry, with the potential to make bucket loads of money. So I had to ask myself — had we sold out? What real problem were we solving for people?

Pangaea: What problem are we solving?

Working at a mathematics company, Nick Pat and Tim often have to draw on vast amounts of geospatial data, do stuff with it, and present the results to clients. The problem is, those clients often don’t have the tools to use that data in the right way. This is bad, because as we found with SafeLink, this data is incredibly powerful, and readily available. There’s so much more people could be doing with it. Right now, you can get an satellite image data set describing the entire surface of the earth, updated every single day. But when we tell people this, it’s usually the first they’ve heard of it. Why is this? It’s the same problem we’ve encountered in our jobs — this data is locked off from non-specialist users, who don’t have the technical skills or expensive professional software to use it properly.

A great example is this: an engineer has just finished preparing a detailed spatial plan for the installation of a new thing. It’s a big thing, and quite complex. Think a gas pipeline, or dam, power line, or new building site. Now the engineer wants to share that plan, a necessary part of her job. But the software she’s using, only a few people in her organisation use, and her clients definitely don’t. So she converts her plan to PDF. Or even, as we’ve seen many times, takes a screenshot of the view she has in her software and then she emails it out. Instantly, the data loses it’s richness. It loses it’s where-ness. No longer can people zoom in and query details and measurements, or zoom out and look at the broader context, the surrounding information, and the high level patterns. They’re stuck with a static view of an object, and are left to ask questions in an extended email chain, which can stretch on for hours.

The problem is that the project is spatial, but the shared tools aren’t.

This is where Pangaea was born — a spatial workspace for ordinary users. The first step to using geospatial data to solve problems and help people is to get it out into the hands of as many potential innovators as possible. We want to democratise geospatial information.

On selling out, the truth is, by making our initial product idea business more scalable and more applicable to real customers, we stand a better chance at reaching our North Star. By making a platform, we’re giving ourselves the potential to reach many more people than we would otherwise. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how powerful and positively impactful that can be.

The eagle has landed

We’re now at the end of the Gemini program. Over the past twelve weeks, at times we’ve felt like were exactly on the right path and we were doing everything we needed to. Then, every time this happened (often after talking to a mentor) we realised we were doing completely the wrong thing, splashing around inside a boat full of water not realising we were surrounded by dry land. Those have been the most useful moments.

As part of the first Gemini cohort, we like to feel like we were part of a laboratory experiment. The end result of that experimentation got to a really interesting space — a space which both on and offline served as lightning rod for exciting conversations and ideas. Our mentors included people from SpaceX, DeltaV Space Hub, and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. We’ve built valuable relationships with all of them, and with our fellow alumni. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have been a part of it.

Nina and Tim speaking at a MoonshotX event

We’re still learning, and we’re still focused on a viable startup with a view to achieving our vision. We’re very serious about Pangaea, and we’re prototyping a tool to spatially manage the workload associated with big, complex, high-value projects.

By early 2018, we hope to have a sales-ready MVP up and running.

If you want to find out more, head to, hit us up on Facebook or LinkedIn, or send us an email at

Author: Nina De La Cruz, Co-founder of Pangaea