It’s always about timing right? I met Yaro Tenzer, one of the co-founders and former CEO of RightHand Robotics in Las Vegas at a conference hosted by the system integrator SDI Element Logic. When I spoke the other day to Yaro and Brian D. Owen, the newly-appointed CEO of RightHand, we couldn’t figure on the exact year, but it was around 2015, the year that RightHand Robotics was incorporated. You can read today’s press release announcing Owen’s appointment by clicking here.
I remember a couple of things vividly from that first meeting. The first is that hardly anyone was talking seriously about robotics in the warehouse back then, with the exception perhaps of Quiet Logistics, which was commercializing Locus Robotics, and DHL Supply Chain, which was Locus’s second customer behind Quiet. And those were autonomous mobile robotics, doing something similar to what Kiva had done before the company was purchased by Amazon. I don’t think anyone was talking about piece-picking back then as something other than as a science project.
The second is Yaro’s incredible enthusiasm for the potential of piece picking robotics. It was palpable, and not just to me, even if it all seemed a little out there at the time.
While I think the industry would agree that RightHand has earned a leadership position in its niche, much like Locus in the AMR category, I don’t think even Yaro would argue that piece picking has had a tough time finding its killer app, especially when compared to AMRs. Yet, RightHand and its competitors have persisted. In my conversations with order fulfillment and logistics executives, it appears as if a segment of the market as now asking: Hey, now that we’re doing this with AMRs, what can we do something with piece picking?
With that in mind, RightHand Robotics says it is prepared to take advantage of the moment. The company closed on a $66 million Series C financing and today is announcing the appointment of Brian D. Owen, a tech industry veteran, as the new CEO. Yaro will remain in the company as Chairman and lead the board on strategy and business development. It’s all about timing, right?
According to RightHand’s press release, Owen was hired to drive growth. When we spoke the other day, Owen told me that his hiring was the result of an executive search initiated by Yaro and the board. He has 30 years experience working in technology, covering the gamut from supply chain to fintech to PLM to cloud-based storage and location based services. “I’ve been a manager, a CEO and an investor running a $170 million fund,” he told me. The companies he has been involved with have ranged from $5 million to $1 billion in revenue; some were successful companies poised for growth and some were turnarounds on life support. “I have a lot of scar tissue,” he said.
Perhaps most importantly, he said he’s not “a startup guy.” He looks for companies with a product ready for markets that are maturing, with growth potential ahead. In his view, RightHand Robotics fits that bill. “Every company and industry, like robotics, goes through a maturity model,” he said. “The first installations are installed and supported by engineering. In the next Rev(ision) the implementation team does the install with support from engineering. Eventually, you’re partnering with an integrator and they can do the installation and support.” That’s the point that RightHand has reached, he added. “That was a big part of my understanding of the maturity level of the company.”
So, what happens next? Owen said that over the years he’s developed a playbook that he’ll execute at RightHand. First comes internal communication, starting with discussions with management and then the company as a whole. Next is external communications with the market, including partners and customers. “I’m planning a road show,” he said. “I’m going out to meet and listen to people, including at ProMat, and from that I’ll develop a focus for the company that I’ll bring to the executive team and the board. With their blessing, we’ll move forward.”
Any preliminary thoughts? “I believe in focus,” he said. “It’s better to have five customers in the same category than to have one customer in 10 categories. I want to focus on areas where we can win.”
At the end of the call, I asked Yaro about the evolution of RightHand Robotics. “When we incorporated, there was a bit of hype about automation,” he said. “However, the reality in the supply chain is that a lot of processes are still optimized around manual labor and facilities had to go through a transition to embrace piece picking. It’s taken a substantial amount of time to get here, but the time is now.”
It’s all about timing, right?
Click here to watch a YouTube video of a recent RightHand Robotics installation in the pharmaceutical industry.