Editor's note: On June 10, Google announced it will acquire Skybox for $500 million.
Skybox Imaging co-founder and director of marketing and customer relations Ching-Yu Hu has a bold goal for her company: "To index the earth the way Google indexes the Internet." Doing so requires rocket power. Skybox has that covered: The company launched its first minibar-sized satellite, SkySat-1, into orbit last November aboard a Russian Dnepr rocket. By the end of 2015, the company plans to launch eight more. To keep that pace, Skybox has even bought its own rocket.
Hu and three friends started Skybox while grad students at Stanford in 2009. The company has raised more than $91 million in funding and now has 120 employees. Her team is building a platform that can process, store, and deliver massive amounts of high-resolution images. Ultimately, clients will be able to see updated images of any spot on earth five to seven times per day. The company envisions big public companies as its primary market. Agriculture companies, for example, could use the images to monitor their fields to help determine when to change irrigation practices. Skybox's satellites are also being put to humanitarian use. Recently, they helped out in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
For Hu, the satellites are the least sexy part about Skybox. "In our mind, we really see ourselves as an information company," she says. "In the future, our customers won't know or care about the satellites. They'll just care about the images that make huge decisions."