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Three Startups I Can't Stop Thinking About (and You Should Start Paying Attention to)
Plus Serve, Toni Compatto, a ramen driving robot, robot insurance (←interesting!) and the State of OttOmate six months in.
Quick housekeeping note that I mention in the State of OttOmate section below, but wanted to make sure everyone saw. Starting next week, paid subscribers will get OttOmate on Thursdays, and free subscribers will get it on Fridays. I explain why further down.
And now I’m off to price tote bags! (That’ll make sense in a moment 😁)
Three Food Robot Startups I Can’t Stop Thinking About
De La Soul’s classic debut Three Feet High and Rising came out on March 3, 1989. I mention this because 1.) Wow, that stings because that makes me old, 2.) It’s a record I still think about to this day (though my favorite is 1991’s De La Soul is Dead), and 3.) the group’s breakout hit Three is the Magic Number provides a nice pop culture hook for today’s top story.
There are three food robotics startups that I can’t stop thinking about lately. Like De La’s songs, these startups are stuck in my head for different reasons. I wrote a big piece about them earlier this week (paywalled), and thought I would tease one of those startups here:
XRobotics — Power to the Pizza!
What does it make? XRobotics makes the Pizza Cube, a countertop pizza robot that tops dough with sauce, cheese and pepperoni.
Backstory: XRobotics is a good example of a company learning from its mistakes before it was too late. The company originally made a big, self-contained kiosk that used a robotic puck to shuttle dough around roughly a dozen different ingredient choices. This robot was used by a Dodo’s pizza in Mississippi, but XRobotics soon realized that it’s robot was too big and too expensive for most pizzerias.
So XRobotics made a huge shift, shrinking its robot down to its current countertop format. Dubbed the Pizza Cube, instead of trying to make a big machine that makes all different kinds of pizza, the Pizza Cube only makes two types: cheese and pepperoni, but those are the most popular types of pizza anyway, so no big whoop.
The machine is also more affordable, costing pizzerias (or anyone — more on that in a moment) just $1,500 a month. And since it’s small, restaurants can set it just about anywhere, and there’s no need to change worklines or re-arrange kitchen setups.
Why do I think about it? There are lots of great pizza topping robots out there, but XRobotics makes the process dead simple and easy to use. Set it on a counter, push a few buttons and bing-bong — you’ve got pizza. What I like about the Pizza Cube is that it can turn any restaurant, grocery store, convenience store, bar, or whatever into a pizzeria. Sure, you still need an oven to cook the pizzas if you want (and I’m not dismissing that out of hand), but the act of offering fresh pizza no longer requires a makeline or skilled workers to assemble them, and the robot is being offered at an affordable price.
To see the other two (one’s a restaurant robot, the other does mobile commerce), and what ties all three of these startups together, keep reading.
Chips Ahoy! Nvidia Invests $10M in Serve Robotics
When Starship raised $42 million last week, I wrote that perhaps the most interesting aspect of that new funding was the pressure it would put on Starship’s competitors. It’s great to have cool technology, but scaling requires money.
Cut to this week when it was announced that Nvidia invested $10 million in delivery startup Serve Robotics. Obviously this deal was in the works long before Starship’s announcement, but the optics are good for Serve. Nvidia’s money doesn’t just deepen the relationship with the chip giant (chips being in short supply nowadays), it’s also a vote of confidence in Serve’s technology and its team.
Back at the site, I break down where the money is coming from in the robot delivery space, and lay out just how crazy this Q1 has been for the sector. (It’s been crazy!)
Makr Shakr Shrinks its Bartender Bot
Italian startup Makr Shakr unveiled a smaller version of its bartender robot this week. Dubbed the Toni Compatto, the new robot makes both cocktails and coffee drinks, so it can serve different dayparts as it works around the clock.
Read the full story for more specs, competitive analysis and a bit about Makr Shakr’s other (faster) new robot.
And now, watch a robot car deliver bowls of ramen at a restaurant.
This is actually very cool. Nissan’s e-4orce technology allows the car to speed up and brake smoothly, so hot ramen broth doesn’t slosh around and spill out of the bowl.
Is Your Self-Driving Robot Properly Insured?
Like most businesses, there are fun parts and not so fun parts about growing a delivery robot startup. Building an actual robot? Fun! Thinking about insuring that robot for when it eventually hits someone or something? Not so fun.
Thankfully, a company out of Pittsburgh called Koop is thinking about this insurance problem for you. As we move from human-driven risks to AI-driven risks for autonomous vehicles, the inudstry will need new pricing models to properly insure all those self-driving robots/vehicles scurrying around sidewalks and city streets.
I talked with Koop Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Kamron Khodjaev, to learn more about this emerging — and necessary — way to protect your business.
The State of OttOmate
I launched OttOmate just about six months ago, and as I’ve told anyone who will listen, it’s been a daily mix of thrills, panic, pride and terror. I’m so glad I made the leap, I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I’m thankful for readers like you.
This post seems like a rite of passage for Substackers — the transparency post! The time where I reveal just how things are going… and ask for your help. But don’t let that stop you from reading! There’s a lot here to happy about!
Before we begin, I want to give a great, big thank you to all my subscribers and in particular the paying ones who keep this site afloat. I was lucky to have a number of supporters early on who believed in what I was doing and they have stuck with me throughout. So thank you. I really appreciate it. I also want express my thanks Substack, which is a delight to write on, and made this whole endeavor possible.
Now, on to the numbers.
Some OttOmate Stats
Total subscribers -
534up to 539 since I posted this story yesterday!
Total paid subscribers - 64 (11.8 percent conversion rate!)
Total unsubscribes - 2 (less than 1 percent!)
Total number of posts - 235
Total number of email newsletters sent out - 38
Average open rate of newsletters - 54 percent
Sleep lost - a lot
Fun had - a ton (97 percent conversion)
Things I’m Happy About
I’m adding new subscribers just about every day organically, with no advertising or marketing
I’m getting the right type of subscribers, founders, hospitality execs, investors, etc. I’ve always said I don’t need ten thousand subscribers, this is a very niche publication after all, I just need the right five hundred.
Once people subscribe, they don’t unsubscribe
My email open rate is high
My paid subscriber conversion rate is above the high end of what Substack considers “good”
I’ve held three online events (pizza automation, working with airports, NSF Q&A) that were each stellar in their own right
Editorially speaking, I’m thrilled with how OttOmate has progressed.
I’m an early, if not the first journalist to focus exclusively on food robotics and automation right as the sector is poised to explode over the next couple of years.
I believe my stories are punchy, easy to digest and yet packed with good, focused news and context.
OttOmate has already established itself as a leading source of news and analysis in the world of food robotics, with leading players in the space reaching out to me with pre-briefings and exclusives
OttOmate is uniquely positioned to grow with the food robotics industry over the coming year.
Things I Want to Work On
This is the hard part. Sure, there are editorial things I want to improve like breaking more stories, seeing more robots in person and providing even more value to the readers — but the truth is…
I need to get more paid subscribers or convert more existing free subs to paying ones. That’s the only way I can make OttOmate work.
Even though I written at various content sites throughout my career, I still underestimated the number of people willing to pay for news. I mean, I get it, but it still stings. I don’t want to lower the price because I think $5 a week is fair for the work put in and coverage put out.
The truth is while I have some runway and I run a very lean operation, I need your help right now to keep OttOmate going. Please consider becoming a paid subscriber today.
Ugh. I hate talking about this stuff as much as you hate reading about it.
But hey, even KEXP and NPR have to do pledge drives, right? (I sell OttOmate T-Shirts, should I offer tote bags?)[Ed. note - one reader wants a tote bag, anyone else?]
If you have any ideas on how to make OttOmate better, I’d love to hear them. Email me!
Finally, a Small Change
To provide more benefit to those paying for OttOmate, I am making a small adjustment to the publishing schedule.
In addition to getting full access to all OttOmate stories, starting next week paid subscribers will get the newsletter a day before free subscribers. Paid subscribers will get OttOmate, with its actionable news and insights on Thursdays, everyone else will get it on Fridays.
Thank you, again for reading! I really do appreciate your support these past six months, and hope to be doing this for many, many, many more months to come!
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading.
Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ‘90 rulez.