10 year plan

10 Year Plan

March 25th, 2017

I’m sitting on the 22nd floor of a 5th Avenue financial building looking out over toward the Chrysler Building and beyond to the Hudson River. Next to me is Ian Bernstein, Sphero’s founder and progenitor of the advanced robot team at Sphero. Across the table, silhouetted in the window frame, is one of my favorite investors that I’ve grown to know well over my twenty years as a company builder. His voice is excited — at a fever pitch, almost.

This investor pitch has gone differently than any of the over 100 pitches I’ve done in past companies. This investor has leaned forward from the first minute of speaking, and after only 45 minutes (vs. three meetings over two months) just said: “I want to do this; can you come back and meet my partners a week from Monday?”

Wow. Alternate reality. This is nearly unheard of and not at all how the last three venture raises have gone. Maybe this time will be hyperfast vs. the slow slog of the past.

Flashback to fall of 1989. I’m 24 years old and the A’s and the Giants are playing in the World Series.

I’ve been working at Apple for three years; working with inventors to create all kinds of awesome uses for Mac buyers. Like many twenty-somethings, I’m wondering what “adult life” is. Much of my family and their friends are lawyers. Despite a degree in electrical engineering and computer science, yep, I must become a lawyer too.

So, here I am sitting on the corner of Emerson and University in downtown Palo Alto waiting for my Stanley Kaplan LSAT training class to begin. All of a sudden, the ground starts to shake. And I mean shake. No, actually, scratch that. The ground is rolling underneath my feet like I’m on a boat. The huge plate glass windows on the bank to my right are wobbling back and forth like crazy.

“Class Cancelled” says the sign on the training room door. “Cool, I can go listen to the World Series on my way home.” I turn on the car radio to the Giants station. Static. A’s station. Static. Other stations. Static. “This was a big earthquake.”

This brush with nature’s most awesome power caused me to stop and look at the bigger picture of life. I’m jolted into pondering my purpose and longer-term future. Do I really want to be a lawyer; is this my calling in life? I’ve been talking to some patent lawyers and it’s certainly not patent law (or criminal law — dad, or estate law — grandpa). So… OK… not law.

Engineering? Maybe. Apple is filled with amazing engineers, opportunities and glory. While I like solving technical problems, I love solving people ones — that’s where compelling challenges lie for me.

What about Steve and Steve; what did they choose? Before Apple, I had no idea that two people could build one of the most famous companies in the world — I just figured that big companies simply started out that way. The word “entrepreneur” was an unknown term.

“But, then again if they could do it, why not me?”

I know everyone talks about being inspired by Apple. After working there for almost a decade, though, how could I not be?

Almost 30 years later I’m still pursuing that initial entrepreneurial inspiration.

You may have heard about Misty Robotics.

Maybe you’ve heard our vision: To put a personal robot in “every” home and office.

I want to be absolutely clear about our intention with this statement. We define “every” as at least >80% of all homes and offices — in other words, on par with penetration of cars, televisions, personal computers, and smartphones.

This sort of adoption will take time. Likely decades. A phenomenal result would be to penetrate more than 10% of homes and businesses within 10 years.

The point is, it’s a massive undertaking.

However, we are hardly alone in this mission. Many of “the Big 5,” or well-funded startups, or aspiring entrepreneurs have a similar vision.

Some sibling strategies we see at work in the market today are:

    1. The “iRobot” strategy: make single-task robots that do tasks amazingly well for consumers and add multi-purpose capabilities over time.


    1. The “Amazon” strategy: make robots with ears and mouths and, over time, add eyes, then mobility, then hands, then legs to become fully multi-purpose.


    1. The “Softbank” strategy: make very expensive full-featured multi-purpose robots and over time make them more affordable.


    1. The “Sphero” strategy: make toy robots that are not sophisticated and, as technology matures, add sophistication.


  1. The “Mayfield Robotics” (aka Kuri) strategy: make robots with a few “killer use cases” that consumers will want today and then open them up to become multi-purpose over time.

And then there’s the Misty Robotics strategy: make the very best multi-purpose robots available to programmers and makers (a.k.a. dreamers, inventors, creators) and enable them over time to add tens of thousands of skills to make them eventually useful to office and home consumers. Similar in some ways to Amazon’s Alexa strategy (open APIs for programmers to make skills) and different (we include makers and robots are eventually useful to millions).

The Misty Robotics strategy is essentially the personal computer strategy. And the Internet strategy. And the Web strategy. And the AR/VR strategy. Each of these technologies, before they became mainstream (or will become in AR’s case), were expensive, cumbersome, arcane, and for “experts only”. Then, Apple and 3Com and Mosaic and Oculus came along with:

    • Well-integrated, mass-manufactured offerings


    • That did most of what those inventors wanted them to do


    • In very easy-to-program ways


  • For an affordable price

Our 10-year plan is a simple one.

Phase One: Unleash the inventors (year one to three)

We will make products that finally make the promise of robots accessible to every programmer and maker — having learned lessons from the tens of thousands who use Sphero’s SPRK. No longer does one need to be an electro-mechanical wizard who spends 6–12 months assembling “their unique robot” and then a few more months programming it to, maybe, move from point A to point B reliably. No longer does one need to beg to have some “compute time” on the industrial robot or the retail robot at the office. No longer does one have to save up the price of a new car to get their own. No longer does one have to stare at the ugliest pile of parts on the planet (that usually doesn’t have “eyes”, or “ears”, or a “mouth”).

“If you could program a robot to do something in 30 minutes; would you?” We think most will say a resounding yes!

Instead, we’re humanity’s number one fan: we believe in the the inventiveness of the dreamers. All one has to know is how to program a web site (JavaScript, Python), a mobile app (Java, Objective C), a PC app (Java, C#, etc…) to be able to program an almost fully-formed robot.

It’ll be as easy as:

function RobotGo () {
GetMap ();
Navigate (pointX, pointY);
DoAnything ();

Phase Two: Enable Early Adopters (year three to year six)

Now that tens of thousands of enterprise programmers, entrepreneurial programmers, makers, job seekers, and fun seekers have built and published useful, fun, practical, or ingenious uses for a personal robot, early adopters will see that there’s a robot for them that is appealing.

Early adopters aren’t interested in having all ten thousand skills at their fingertips — they’re interested in having a few dozen that make sense. They want to save money. They want to save time. They want to avoid the mundane so that they can have more time for the joyful. They want to be safe. They want their loved ones to be safe. We’ve done the hard work so that they can achieve these benefits.

And, now, hundreds of thousands of inventors are creating skills for Misty Robotics’ robots. At scale this looks like the computer industry’s independent software vendor (ISV) with hundreds of thousands of software programs or the smartphone market with millions of apps.

By this time, our robots will be more advanced in their learning capabilities, in their physical attributes and in their diversity. All of this will be driven by the multitude of skills the inventors create and share with other Misty Robotics’ users in our marketplace.

Phase Three: Cross the Chasm (year six to year ten)

Early adopters and the company have now shown the “early majority” that robots aren’t the risk they fear today — that they can fulfill a wide array of human needs — in the office and in the home — easily. Crossing the chasm now means handling all of the important practicalities that come with owning a robot — where can I easily see them to evaluate them (mass retail)? Where can I get them serviced if there’s an issue (the local electronics repair shop)? Where can I see the company’s track record with respect to protecting privacy and security (on the web site, in the robot itself)? Is the company legit? Who are the competing personal robots and are they any good?

And, because more inventors continue to pour into the marketplace, the Early Majority understands this is no passing fad. That, instead of a few dozen useful skills for this one robot at this one price, there are now hundreds of skills for their specific situation. Now we’re talking!

Our robots are starting to learn from each other so they’re even smarter and more skilled. They’re made for all types of environments and uses (indoor, outdoor, hot, or cold).

And, still, inventors continue to invent. Misty Robotics’ robots are finally becoming like colleagues, friends and family members — fun, useful, interactive, evolving.


Why did we choose to share this when so many of our competitors will now understand our plan? Because our plan is much more about you than them. This team has shipped over three million robots while working at Sphero; we know how to “do robots.” We’re obsessed about delivering on this promise and we’re convinced that if we stay focused on delivering a robot that every programmer and maker in the world can do fun and useful things with, then we’ll be on our way.

Sure, other companies might try to copy this. And, sure, maybe there are already some out there with the same strategy and approach. We’ll take our chances on putting our team on the field and compete with the best of them.

We’re that ready.

The Chrysler Building and 5th Avenue beckon. We just met with the partnership of the firm. In a whirlwind of ten days, we’ve also met with other partnerships who were equally excited about our 10-year plan and long-term vision.

At the elevator, our lead partner, David Pakman, shakes our hands as we seal the deal.

He says, “When we meet as a partnership one question we always ask ourselves is: what could this become if it goes right? Ian, Tim — sky’s the limit on this one. Let’s go make some robots.”

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