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Thread: advice for robotics startup?

  1. advice for robotics startup?

    I hope this isn't a dumb question but here goes: I am an incoming graduate student in Physics, but I have recently considered quitting my graduate studies since I would rather work on more interesting practical problems. So I am considering quitting the program to start a startup, possibly related to computer software or robotics. I would like to get rich like many others have in Silicon Valley. I am also considering staying in my phD program and just doing research in an area of Physics that uses lots of programming, such as computational materials science or astrophysics, as opposed to string theory.

    I have read a few of Paul Graham's essays, and I think starting a startup would suit me well because I am willing to take the risks involved in it and work the long hours to have a chance at winning the LOTTERY, as opposed to taking a low-stress, comfortable good-paying job working in a cubicle. The main problems at the moment are that I have poor programming skills (and have taken no classes at all relating to robotics)and that I have no friends that are interested in programming, robotics, or in a startup. But I have been considering joining a club on campus with other grad students that are interested in forming a startup

    I have always been fascinated with robots (since I used to love anime like Gundam) and I have recently been more interested in robotics startups, but I can't find much information as to how previous startups formed. I just know that the founders of Irobots met as EE grad students at MIT. Does anyone recommend any books that describe how previous robotics startups formed and became rich?

  2. #2
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    Apr 2010
    AZ and CA.
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    I'm sick as a dog right now but I have to ask, why would you ask a bunch of strangers for advice in steering your own future? That's completely beyond me but, if you want to abdicate the helm of your life, who am I to argue?

    ...actually, I'll need keep it short and not try to sway you into staying the courses - yeah, pun intended; might as well get as many laughs out of this as possible.

    Do you have any business experience?

    Software and robotics are hugely encompassing fields; if your studies excite you keep at them, otherwise speak with your advisor about exploring other coursework - artificial intelligence, business, materials science, mechanical, nano-tech (ah, that's physics stuff, eh?), programming (which touches just about every vocation you can think of)...that's all my mind cares to put forth at the moment, but as I'm sure you realize that's just a small fraction of disciplines "software or robotics" touches - and each one of *those* can be dissected into specialized arenas.

    As a grad student I'd imagine that you're crunched for time but, if you can carve out the time to at least dabble in a hobby-level pursuit of whatever's peeking your curiosity, that might be a more prudent course of action. BTW, evidently being a physicist isn't a half-bad way to earn a living:

    Seems like I'm driving home a 6d nail with a 20lb sledge? Good, then you're getting my sentiments as well. I'm speaking from experience. I'm assuming here that you're a 20-something restless to make your mark but, let me tell you, you won't have as much time to devote to your studies pursuits as you do while you can stay in school and not have to be concerned with supporting yourself or anyone else.

    Sorry, but I'm really running out of gas here, so...

    Find studies that you're passionate about. Get a good job - that will support you/yours and provide you with an ability to save like mad - startups need seed money! Pursue a hobby that pertains to your business interests - once you get involved in it you may find it's not what you're about, or affirm your life's ambitions with a better understanding of what's involved.

    Ok, I'm done; could be better but I'm far from 100% today - though I wouldn't trade-out that 20lb sledge on this one for you.

    Regards and best wishes.

  3. #3
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    Dec 2007
    Portland, OR
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    Quote Originally Posted by mechahunter View Post
    I have no relevant experience in robotics or programming (aside from liking Gundam), but I want to quit my physics graduate program and get rich quick with a robotics startup. HELP!
    Not trying to be a dick, but for me, this is what this read like. Stay in school.
    Last edited by Tyberius; 09-08-2011 at 01:13 PM.
    Andrew Dresner
    Principal Engineer
    Interbotix GIthub
    Interbotix Labs Google+

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  5. #4
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    Don't forget Rodney Brooks was one of the co-founders of iRobot, that adds a lot of credibility when it comes time to get investment money. The students alone probably wouldn't be where they are today without him there.


  6. #5
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    Get a job at a startup first. See how you like it. The smaller the company, the better, because you'll really get a feel for how many different jobs you have to be good at. I'd aim for a company of 4 people or less.

    Right now you have romantic notions of startups. You don't want to be someone who decides to be an olympic swimmer before dipping his toe in the water. Experience it yourself first. 99% of what you read about startups is written by people who are outsiders, or viewing the past with rose-colored glasses, or part of the lucky 5%. Most startups aren't in the lucky 5%.

    Getting investment for robotics startups is almost impossible. Nearly all technology startups are web startups, for a reason: Web startups can be funded with a million dollars or less, but the returns can be huge. There's also a stereotype that helps young inventors - some young people understand the web more intuitively than experienced management.

    None of this applies to robotics startups: Robotics involve hardware and manufacturing. It's not like a web app where you just write code in a dorm room. If you have a consumer robot, like a toy or cleaning robot, your margins are razor thin and your production costs will be in the 8 digits before you see your first unit -- you need deep supply chain connections in China to even play that game. If you have a low volume robot, like a medical or manufacturing robot, you have enormous certification and safety requirements.

    Getting either type of robot into production costs millions per quarter, so even short delays can cause enormous losses for investors. You can't depend on angels because their pockets aren't that deep, and venture capitalists aren't interested because the risks are so high and there is no 'Google' of the robot industry (yet).

    If you look at robotics startups, they are either started by investors -- people who made millions in software, or are started by highly qualified people -- well-connected and famous researchers, or people with decades of industry experience.

    You should also try to get a feel for whether you want to be a founder/executive or engineer.

    If you're an engineer, running a startup is not fun. It is far removed from engineering, and you'll rarely get to be creative. Running a startup is like the job of a secretary, customer service, door-to-door salesman, and dish washer mixed together. The main difference is that when you drop a dish, you may never get funded again.

    If you're not really enjoying engineering, but you think you have a knack for running businesses, I would continue education in business administration. Successful startups require leaders who can organize a business. Creative people will tell you differently, but the creative people are just the icing on the startup cake. Most startups are all icing and that's why they fail.

    After running my own venture for a while, I realized I enjoyed the startup environment, BUT I only enjoy doing the creative/engineering work. So I continue to join new startups as an engineer/architect. I get to have fun, but I don't get the equity of a CEO. Likewise, I don't have to be miserable.

    - Nammo
    Last edited by Nammo; 09-10-2011 at 12:15 PM.

  7. #6
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    Alkmaar, The Netherlands
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    This plan sounds a lot like that of the underpants gnomes...
    Click image for larger version. 

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    Except that Phase 1 is not collecting underpants but starting a business.

    I would like to get rich like many others have in Silicon Valley.
    I'm pretty sure a lot of people got poor there too. Especially with ill-conceived plans like you seem to have now.
    I think starting a startup would suit me well because I am willing to take the risks involved in it and work the long hours to have a chance at winning the LOTTERY, as opposed to taking a low-stress, comfortable good-paying job working in a cubicle.
    Why not just buy a lottery ticket then? At least you know in advance how much money you will loose, and you'll have plenty of time left to enjoy life working a normal job.

    I am considering quitting the program to start a startup, possibly related to computer software or robotics [...] I have poor programming skills (and have taken no classes at all relating to robotics)
    Doesn't sound like such a good idea then, does it? If ├Żou're going to start a business in any field, you'd better make sure you're good at it before you start. So, if you really want to pursue this dream, learn what you need to know.. Learn to program in at least a few languages, write some software. Gain some experience, you will need it.
    Last edited by The Headacher; 09-12-2011 at 06:53 AM.

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    Re: advice for robotics startup?


    Good advice to work for a small company first... Then you get a true understanding of the meaning "worked like a dog!" And whether you want to run the place with the impossible deadlines, or try to meet the impossible deadlines... Definitely fun working for a small company if you like to be pushed to your limits though.


  9. #8
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    Re: advice for robotics startup?

    I've worked for two different startups and let me tell you this: The hours are long and the pay minimal. The founders had to be in a place where they could go without a paycheck for a few years before they could start getting paid. It was a lot of fun but "Get rick quick" and "Startup" are very rarely used in the same sentence.
    "If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut."

    Don't be a HelpVampire

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