Original Article: http://blogs.calgaryherald.com/2013/06/07/startup-of-the-week-ez-robot/
The personal robotics industry made $1.6 billion in 2012 and will pull in $6.5 billion by 2017, according to ABI Research. The market has been proven by the success of iRobot Roomba Vacuums, robot fashion in current pop culture, and a variety of new science fiction movies. Despite the amount of money going into personal robotics, the same research suggests one obvious reality is holding up the technology - it is tough to make compared to your average automatic vacuum cleaner.
However, Calgary Roboticist DJ Sures says robots are no longer confusing or complicated to make, thanks to his company, EZ-Robot. EZ-Robot unifies all the essential electronics, modules and software along with video tutorials so you can easily build the robot of your dreams.
Bootstrapped out of his basement a little over a year ago, the company has grown to nearly 10,000 customers in over 116 countries. According to DJ, most of his customers do not have prior experience and are using EZ-Robot to build science fiction grade robots. The software is graphical for beginners and requires no programming; however, it also scales to advanced users with customizable functionality.
I just caught up with DJ to learn more.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an "ah-ha" moment?
One summer day my grandfather asked if I could help him build a robot, and said if I could help regular people build robots it would be world changing. That was the day EZ-Robot was born. Piece by piece, I began designing a unified product to easily encompass everything the world needs to design, build and assemble robots.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
When I started out, there were many products that were far ahead in features and customers, so it took great effort and innovation to catch up. As I scrambled to develop and design the framework, customers continued to pour in - to the point I wasn't able to keep up alone and expanded to China for manufacturing. Many of the other competitors have since become vapourware, and EZ-Robot continues to innovate and push the limits of robotics.
EZ-Robot is not simply a company with a product; it is also a community and lifestyle. Customers are welcomed in to the open community to share ideas, suggestions and build the robots of their dreams. As the company grew, this caused challenges in finding the right talent that would fit within that culture.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?
The Calgary startup community has been very supportive. Our involvement with AcceleratorYYC has been irreplaceable.
What's new with your startup that we can share?
In transitioning from hobbyists to mass market, we recently released EZ-Robot Revolution. Revolution provides an online library of 3D Printable parts (EZ-Bits), a 3D EZ-Robot Designer, online storage of apps (EZ-Cloud) and brings it all together with our amazing robot control software (EZ-Builder).
Personally, do you think it is more difficult to raise capital or find the right talent?
I bootstrapped EZ-Robot using sales to fund the company. Our customers are our most important investors and we take their feedback very seriously because they're the ones who use our product.
As with any new startup, talent is challenging for two reasons - money is tight, and new technologies are demanding.
What has contributed to your success to this point?
Establishing a community is not something you can premeditatedly plan or design. Successful entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about their product, which their customers recognize. This personal touch results in a culture that defines the community. New entrepreneurs should obsess about their customers and focus on creating a great experience for them - this will ultimately turn customers into evangelists and fuel an organic culture and community around the company.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
I have a background in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Digital Communication and Electronics having worked for such companies as NASA and Cisco. Wherever I've worked, I've exceeded expectations and taken tasks outside of my responsibilities. This characteristic is a trait demonstrated in many entrepreneurs. That coupled with my passion for robotics and desire to change the world made it easy to dedicate my life to this.
What are your thoughts on Calgary's startup community?
Calgary's startup community is strong and well cultured. Calgary is home to many successful exits and entrepreneurs whom are eager to provide support. The only weakness in a startup community is that of a doubtful entrepreneur. The community may be an important support group for startups; however, it should never be accountable for the failure or success.
What's your ask right now?
As our product has been compared to the early Apple computers, the growth of our business is no different. From a hobby to a company run out of a basement with 2 people, we have now expanded into a beautiful location in Inglewood with 8 employees in Calgary and 4 in China. To support our growth and maintain aggressive innovation, we need talented software developers that think out of the box and push the limits of technology. We have many more ideas and features, check out EZ-Robot.com - the world will be hearing a lot about us!
I read that yesterday on facebook, very inspiring story and really does show what happens when you have the love and passion you have for your product.
Quote:EZ-Robot is not simply a company with a product; it is also a community and lifestyle.
And that right there is what I put the majority of the success down to. Well, that and the hard work, dedication and passion DJ has. And unlike pretty much every other CEO DJ is a huge part of the community, interacts with us, listens to us and gives us what we want and helps us.
An inspiration to us all and long may it continue.
@Rich - Users like you make it easy for users like me to get on board as well. Though ezr is not really complicated, I have a tedancy to second guess myself sometimes and it's nice to have people who will tell you not just "that" you are right or wrong by "why" in either case. Even though it's just me in the garage (pretty much moved in now), I do not feel alone.
EZ-Robot is a very exciting company, it's just the beginning.... I can't wait to see the company and the power of the platform evolve over time.
I didn't even know about robotics. I just desided to go on youtube and searched robots. Then the video with DJ introducing ezrobot came up. then, I was on ez-robot learning about EZ-Builder and the ez-b, in 2 days!
It took only a kid who was interested in robots with no knowledge on it to build a fully functional wall-e replica!