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A 35-year-old recently quit Google to start a robotics company. Now he has raised $16 million. Here's his best advice for building a hot company quickly.

Published by Business Insider on Fri, 17 Aug 2018


The security-robotics company Cobalt raised $13 million in a Series A round of financing this year, despite putting together a pitch deck the night before meeting with venture capitalists.Cobalt's CEO, Travis Deyle, 35, said the company wowed investors because it was able to deliver on two goals.Deyle set out to have a product on the market within the first year and land a paying customer before building anything.Raising venture capital for a startup is no cakewalk. There are high stakes, probing questions from investors, and an unspoken pressure from your employees to return to the office with a term sheet.So it's noteworthy that Travis Deyle and Erik Schluntz this year raised $13 million from investors for their security-robotics company, Cobalt, despite putting little time into preparing their pitch."Ours happened so quickly," saidDeyle, 35. "That sounds cheesy, but we expected it to be a giant slog. The bar for a Series A is substantial."He told Business Insider that he and his cofounder were out mixing with venture capitalists when the duo suggested, "Hey, we think we're going to raise in six months.""Then it just kicked off into gear," he said. "We prepared our deck the night before our partner meeting."Sequoia Capital, Storm Ventures, and Founders Fund are among the investors pouring a total of $16.5 million into Cobalt, which makes a roving, robotic security guard that the company says can patrol offices, detect intruders, and alert human authorities in the event of an incident.According to Deyle, Cobalt had two things going for it that made raising the Series A round easier than it should have been.Deyle and Schluntz set two goals for the company before launching the business: have a product on the market within the first year, and land a paying customer before building anything. Those goals are ambitious for any startup, but especially one building a 5-foot-tall all-seeing security robot with the intestines of a self-driving car.Deyle said that they delivered on both fronts (sort of) and that doing so wowed investors into plunking down $13 million.Here's how they did itDeyle, who worked on developing smart contact lenses at Google X, and Schluntz, who was an intern at SpaceX, left their jobs in 2016. They spent several months interviewing people across industries to figure out what to do next and found demand for robots that could help companies save money on security guards.In just one year, Cobalt went from an idea to paid robot deployments, according to the company.The first version of a Cobalt robot had sensors and wires tucked into gallon buckets that were bolted together. After some months, the robot got smarterand more handsome.The company tapped Yves Behar and his design consultancy, Fuseproject, to create a look and feel for the robot. Its matte blue fabric-covered bodywhich hides some 60 sensors, a thermal camera, and a carbon-monoxide detector underneathis more reminiscent of Roomba than RoboCop.Cobalt started testing the robot at a nurse-staffing company in the San Francisco Bay Area before landing its first customer, which Deyle declined to name, in the first year of its existence. Deyle said he also had handshake agreements with other prospective customers before Cobalt came out of stealth mode."Our business model is sound," Deyle said. "There's no quantum leap in technology. We do not have to get to 100% autonomy in order for our business model to work. Our business model works as it is."Right now, a handful of Cobalt robots are patrolling offices, warehouses, and manufacturing sites across the Bay Area and the company's second market, Chicago.The company decided it was ready to raise a Series A round when customers started asking if they could lease more robots for their offices. Deyle said he aimed to use the cash infusion from Sequoia to expand its coverage. Cobalt plans to maintain operations hubs in every city where it has customers, so the company can quickly deploy backup robots if a customer encounters an issue with their unit.Having a product on the market for a year means there are already fewer surprises and breakdowns, according to Deyle. It's one of the biggest advantages of building a company in such a short time."The real world is your biggest challenge," Deyle said. "So let's get the bots out of the labs and into real environments."SEE ALSO:Tech founders take their self-driving food-delivery robots out of San Francisco to focus on cities where they feel more welcomeJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: We interviewed Pepper - the humanoid robot
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