Do You Have What It Takes to Become a Robopreneur?

The year is 2020 and you’ve just stepped out of your autonomous electric car at the entrance of the office. You get out and ask the car to self-park. Though you work remotely most of the week, today there are some face to face meetings you want to attend. Fortunately, during the 20 minute ride you were able to catch-up on some reading. Before taking two steps to the main entrance you remember your daughter’s birthday gift for her party tomorrow. You quickly hop on over to Amazon to select the “Lafreddy Race Wheeled Skate Shoes” she’s been dying for. The order is placed and you select 30 minute delivery, knowing the shoes will be waiting on the lawn when you get home.

Over the next 4 years the world is going to fundamentally change. Science fiction will become reality as the emerging tsunami of robotics and automation reaches through all lines of business and commerce and society. We’re at an inflection point now and things are about to get interesting!

Warehouse robots are already quietly transforming the whole packaging process at Amazon fulfillment centers. Drone delivery is about to become reality as well. Google, Tesla, and a number of other automakers are all pushing to introduce self-driving cars to the consumer market within the next 1-2 years. While the home robotics space is still up for grabs, smart home and Internet of Things technologies are rapidly expanding with a wide range of consumer products already available that automate everything from lights to heating and cooling to security.

The business impacts of robotics and automation in the next few years will be profound. Market intelligence firm Tractica estimates that the global robotics market will grow from $28.3 billion worldwide in 2015 to $151.7 billion by 2020. What’s especially significant is that this market share will encompass mostly non-industrial robots, including segments like consumer, enterprise, medical, military, UAVs, and autonomous vehicles.

While there are lots of naysayers who say robots will steal all the jobs, people have lots resiliency and adaptability to adjust to the changes imposed by these new technologies. Granted, new training and developments will be required to keep their jobs relevant, especially by onboarding with higher order abilities such as coding, statistics, visualization, information management, and Big Data. But we seem to be getting by fine without switchboard operators or on-site travel agents. Times change and so do people.

To be sure, the robotics revolution will be the stimulus for trillions of dollars of investments on a global scale leading to enormous new job opportunities, startups, and business growth. Imagine working as a drone pilot, social robot learning specialist, or chief robotics officer – to name just a few of the emerging roles designed for the robotics era. As one insider has well stated, “It’s job transformation, not job replacement.”

The role of entrepreneurship in the emerging robotics economy will also require new skills, approaches, and competencies about doing business. Traditional methods and models will not be enough to compete in this new space. Consider the following focus areas that will be required for the “robopreneur” of the 21st century.

Digital Literacy

Competitive advantage in today’s emerging robotics economy means that business leaders must be in lock-step with the technologies, devices, and behaviors that are part of today’s world of work. This goes beyond just knowing how to use smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCS. What is also required is familiarity with Internet of Things, automation, and smart machines. Knowing how to engage and use these tools and platforms will be key differentiators in the emerging robotics economy.

Autonomous Business Models

New breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and Big Data in recent years have brought us ever closer to what Gartner Research calls “autonomous business.” This is defined as a business “where goal-seeking, self-learning artificial agents pursue the optimization of business outcomes on their own initiative.” What this means is that tasks once ascribed to humans can now be performed more efficiently by smart machines. Robopreneurs will need to identify and understand jobs that can be automated and outsourced to machines and to then replace these tasks with less routine human work.

Industry 4.0

The manufacturing industry is undergoing a quiet but steady revolution that will have significant impacts on the robotics economy. It is known as Industry 4.0 (or in some sectors, Internet of Industrial Things) and represents a convergence of “cyber-physical systems” – cloud computing, augmented reality, robotics, and Internet of Things – focused on transferring digital instructions to the physical world in order to build the next generation infrastructure (think smart factories, smart streets, and smart cities). One example of a company that is “catalyzing digital manufacturing” is a Massachusetts-based firm called Tulip. Robopreneurs will need to understand the direction of Industry 4.0 and how robotics plays an integral role in this digital economy of scale and production.

Open Source Hardware

Hardware prototyping has traditionally been difficult, expensive, and lengthy. But as costs of materials for microcontrollers and circuits have plummeted over the past decade, and a new generation of DIY prototyping materials like Arduino and Raspberry Pi emerged, the open source hardware (OSH) movement has gained rapid traction and growth. Add to this the phenomenon of 3-D printing, and you’ll quickly understand there has never been a better time for modeling, building, and scaling robots and robotic technologies. Robopreneurs will need to be fluent in the OSH ecosystem and be able to strategize the best and most economical means to prototype and build robots.

Content Marketing

It’s easy to focus on the “nuts and bolts” of robotics building – the hardware and software and advanced AI that go into building your cool invention. And this is where many roboticists err; they assume that “If I build it, they will come.” Any cool robot needs to be properly showcased and marketed to the public, and that’s where content marketing comes in. Content Marketing has been around for awhile but is gaining resurgence in many sectors. The idea here is that instead of focusing on the product first, as most businesses do, you instead focus on your target audience and early adopters by providing them with rich content. After picking a primary delivery channel such as a blog, podcast, whitepaper, or video, you deliberately stream content to build a following of customers that you can eventually sell to. This is a different model than many traditional business methods but there are many examples of individuals who have built multi-million dollar brands with this approach. The advantage is that anyone can adopt content marketing and it takes very little overhead. Robopreneurs will need to be as deliberate about blogging as robot-building in order to provide the highest value to their customers.

So What Does THIS Really Mean for You and Your Organization?

There’s never been a better time to think about becoming a “robopreneur” – the robotics economy is just about to take off and the knowledge, skills, and resources required to build a robotics startup are accessible to everyone.

The best thing to do is to proactively start today to ask yourself what it will take to get onboard with the latest innovations to achieve your robotics business-building objectives. Set yourself up with a 6 month, 12 month, 18 month and 2 year innovation plan which maps to a broader 2020 strategy. Here are a few recommendations for how to seize this current opportunity and move ahead in the robotics economy.

Don’t Boil the Ocean – Start with incremental changes and scale up. Try automating as many as product and services as possible while establishing some KPIs to measure your initial progress.

Remember Content is King – Businesses tend to get on the blog-writing bandwagon but then peter out after a while until eventually the blog becomes irrelevant and sporadic. Focus on using a resource like My Blog Squad to jumpstart your content strategy.

Skill-Up – No one has an excuse today for not being up-to-date on the latest and greatest innovations. There are a wealth of free and modestly priced resources online today that can teach you anything from robotics prototyping to deep learning and more.

Outsource – Building a startup –whether a robotics business or otherwise – can all seem a bit overwhelming. So don’t feel that you need to climb Mt. Everest in one week! Make the most of the freelancing economy and gain access to high quality labor for a reasonable price. Leverage a platform like Upwork to hire a market strategist who can help with kicking off your research and development efforts.