A Conversation with Rotabull CEO Evan Wang

Brendan Shannon
Aug 3, 2023
min read

Rotabull CEO Evan Wang sits down to discuss his thoughts and insights on how competition promotes innovation, what airline CEO he could stuff at the net in volleyball, the genesis of Rotabull, and more.

An Interview with Rotabull CEO Evan Wang

Q1: What was the genesis of Rotabull? What was the catalyst that made you and Ben say “We can change this for the better?”

We started off working on Seer Aerospace almost seven years ago. So Seer started as a data company - we were looking to find data and bring insights to people. What we found, though, was that data is harder to actually put to use unless you're kind of a certain size of company. Data is sort of abstract, and then you have to do a lot of work to understand, interpret it, and come up with your own conclusions.

So I think we always had some idea that maybe we can make a bigger impact here by building something that people can actually get their hands on and use and sign up for and you get access to a site. So the starting point was at MRO Americas in 2018. We were there for Seer, but the more people we talked to, the more we heard “Hey, the data thing is interesting, but what I really need is a way to make the sales process easier.” So we just kept having more and more of these conversations. And I think at a certain point, we just said “Let's go ahead and give this thing a try.”

We started off with just automating inventory listings on Rotabull, but pretty quickly we started signing a handful of customers. And so I think it was in early 2019 that we said “You know what, we're all in and we're gonna really try to focus on spinning up Rotabull and seeing how far we can take this idea.”

Q2: The past few years have seen a large spike in the digitalization of the aerospace industry. Prior to this, it was mainly legacy ERP systems that monopolized the industry. What was it like diving into an industry that was very, as some may say, resistant to change?

I think the industry was more ready in 2019 than it was five years earlier. In other industries, acceptance of these technologies was building, and it definitely felt like it was time for aviation. On top of that, in the late 2010s, we were finally hitting the point at which you could create these very specific aviation-related, or just vertical-specific, software tools at a price point that made sense, right? Because in the past, web software was more expensive to create, there were fewer existing things that you could build on top of. It would be more challenging to justify the investment.

But I think we sort of hit an era where both the aviation industry as well as the software industry were ready, and I think that's why we're seeing so many new tools. And I do think part of breaking through was having the pandemic occur when it did and showing that we were going to stick around and be a presence despite it. I think that helped build up a lot of trust.

Q3: Speaking of spikes, as a volleyball alumnus of MIT, which airline CEO do you think you would stuff at the net and why?

That's a good question. You know, that's something I might have a better answer to if I thought a little harder. I guess if I had to go with someone I’d go with Delta’s CEO, Ed Bastian, just because I think highly of him based on the interviews and quotes I've seen from him. So I guess I just have to choose him because you always want to get a one-up on someone you look up to, right?

Q4: Now that there are more and more software systems in our industry like Quantum, Ambry Hill, AvSight, Smart145, Pentagon, etc… what is the most important thing Rotabull can do to stay ahead?

It's always the case that more competition is going to be good for innovation. It's going to force people to develop. For us, we're really focused on the sales process - maybe in contrast with some of the other tools, perhaps they're more focused on inventory management and other aspects of MRO operations. They have sales under their umbrella too and we respect their capabilities. But additionally for us, what we're doing today is still only one small fraction of the sales process.

For example, automation and autoquoting can be greatly expanded from where they are today. There are other ideas we have in the pipeline too - whatever we can do to make it so that the sales process is as easy as possible so our customers can focus on developing new business instead of logistics and clicking buttons.

Q5: Clearly Rotabull has its roadmap that it continues to develop, but with a changing landscape, how do you adapt as you go? At what point do customer feedback and product requests outweigh the need to follow your current plan? 

That's always a challenge for every business, especially newer businesses because you have this idea of what you can offer to the world, but of course, the market and your customers are always asking you for certain things. Sometimes those things line up. Sometimes they don’t. And that’s always a challenge to work through.

The way I think about it is you need to have the attitude of “our work is never done.” Sure, we have a great app where customers can log in and do certain things… but our work is never done.  As the market changes, we'll continue to adapt. We’ll continue to roll out new integrations and features.

Another big piece of our strategy is we're focused on laying down pipelines for data and communications in this industry. Once you have those pipelines laid down, you can use them to pass different kinds of data and build different types of features on top of them. So when we think about development, we don’t necessarily want to focus on all the bells and whistles each time we release a new feature, but instead, let’s lay down a really solid, reliable foundation so that when things change, we can easily adapt to them.

Q6: With that said, what are some of the things you’re most excited about for the future of Rotabull and the ever-shifting skies of aviation? 

Absolutely! For me, it’s eVTOL. As kids, we have this futuristic view of the world with flying cars and we’re slowly getting closer to that reality. 

I think a lot about how I live in New York City, the densest city in the country, and how difficult it is for eight million people to navigate the city at once at surface level or in the subway. It opens up a world of possibilities to be able to travel around the city at altitude.

With all the advancements in battery technology and electric propulsion, we’re getting close. There are going to be plenty of regulatory challenges along the way, but I’m hopeful we get there sooner rather than later.

Q7: Word around the water cooler is that a little birdie heard through the grapevine that you’re quite the seltzer aficionado. Who is on your Mount Rushmore of seltzers? 

SpinDrift, Perrier, LaCroix, Hal’s.

Brendan Shannon
Aug 3, 2023