Al Di Leonardo started HumanGeo with Abe Usher in 2011 after leaving a position with the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). HumanGeo was acquired in 2015 by The Radiant Group, which was later acquired by DigitalGlobe in 2016. Di Leonardo recently became a Lifetime USGIF Individual Member.
Q: What advice do you have for other GEOINT professionals considering making the leap from government to industry or starting their own business?
Always surround yourself with bright people when starting your own business—don’t do it alone. Building a strong team from the start is critical to success when you’re a government or military officer starting your own company in the private industry. Also make sure you combine complementary skill sets and relationships as you build your team. If you’re a GEOINT analyst and you want to create a GEOINT startup, just because you have the knowledge and domain expertise doesn’t mean you can translate that into a business.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about entrepreneurship in the GEOINT Community?
Abe Usher and I always use a line from the rapper Ice-T—‘game knows game.’ What he meant by that, relating it to GEOINT, is you have to bring your best ideas and integrate them into the system to have an impact on the U.S. government. Move beyond the basics—it’s not enough to put points on a map when you develop a capability. You have to create GEOINT solutions that solve a specific problem for your customer. Additionally, you have to create to integrate. There are many legacy systems in the government and you can’t scrap them and start over, you have to think about integrating with them in order to be successful in this space. You have to create a culture of collaboration to successfully create and sustain a business.
Q: Do you have any lessons learned to share regarding mergers and acquisitions?
When you’re a small business owner, what you really care about is your shareholders, employees, and the mission. In the end, it’s how you create value for your shareholders and employees. Make sure you want to sell—don’t do it because you think you have to. Check that the team you’re joining is aligned with your vision of and mission for the future. Also make sure the team you sell to will help your people and your business. Lastly, join a confident and ethical team.
Q: How has USGIF membership helped your business as well as your individual career?
At every stage, USGIF has played an important developmental role in my career. While at JSOC, USGIF helped educate me about the larger role of GEOINT. While founding HumanGeo, USGIF helped me provide branding and recognition within the community that I’m absolutely certain I could not have achieved otherwise. More recently, with The Radiant Group and DigitalGlobe, the Foundation allowed me to showcase some of our formal ideas around rapid feedback with multi-disciplined teams and GEOINT services to help change the ways agencies look at GEOINT. I trust USGIF will keep me innovative and continually push the GEOINT Community to educate, train, and create awareness about the many mission-focused companies that support the government.
Q: What excites you about the future of the GEOINT Community?
The convergence of machine learning with imagery. We’re moving beyond the pixel in a GEOINT-centric world to an era in which computers can see and help humans better understand activities occurring all over the planet. Also exciting is the emergence of open-source software as a trend enabling more rapid GEOINT innovation.