This is a story about what two young brothers learned while turning a small venture that had nothing more than 3000 € (about 3300 USD) into a robotics company. And about the people who stood behind them.
Taking off for the first time is tough, always
Erle started in 2012 as a project (Project Erle Robot) that aimed to create tools for developers in the robotics area. Motivated by our previous experiences (and struggles), we wanted to create hardware and software that helped roboticists test and do their work without having to reinvent the wheel every single time they created a new robot.
David and I started with barely 3000 € borrowed from our father, Patxi. At the time, we had no office, so we refurbished a room in our father’s house and started it out there. Not many knew what we were up to, and the ones that did, didn’t seem to put much interest on it. We were indeed doing something out of the ordinary, but more than that, we started noticing that
failure in Southern-European countries is unacceptable.
The fear of failing kept many away from us from the very beginning. Still, we’ve always been a pair with that grit factor on us so, motivated by the growing popularity of the so called drones, we decided to focus in aerial robots. Slowly, we started designing, prototyping, assembling and testing ourselves the first concepts that later would become the brains for thousands of robots and drones out there.
A robotics startup needs cash
After a couple of prototypes that burned our few resources, we had the first results. We managed to put together a Linux-based single board base platform for building a wide variety of different robots. It felt great. We could sense that there was potential for business. It was time to look for an investment!
Unfortunately, many private investors closed their doors to us. Apps were popular at the time. Everyone thought that Android and iOS were all you had to know in the startup environment. Bootstrapping and getting a minimum viable product over the weekend was common, but we were trying to create hardware. Robots. We needed cash.
Robotics startups are totally different beasts from software startups and they need cash from the very beginning.
While many investors kept considering our venture too risky, we were lucky enough to get supported by the Basque Government through BIC Araba (previously known as CEIA) and their Ekintzaile program. A grant that helped us iterate and reach a certain maturity point that led us to finally convince the first business angels.
The team is the king
With the first funds available, it was time to grow our team. We hired our father as the finance guy in the company — a person we could trust while being focused in the technical development and commercialization of the technology. We also hired Alex, Iñigo and Irati as our first engineers. Incredibly talented people that helped to realize our vision step by step and motivated newcomers. We slowly kept incorporating new members. Lander, Asier and several others followed.
Starting such an adventure required people we could trust, so we hired carefully but mistakes were also part of the path. If there’s something we learnt out of these years of work is that
in a startup one needs to be prepared to hire, but also to fire.
Stay away from individuals that look solely for their self-benefit and growth while getting away from the company’s core values.
These last years taught us that understanding your team is as relevant as having a clear vision of what’s ahead in the business landscape. The team is the king and those that fail at accepting that just don’t fit.
As it’s already been reported in several places, Erle Robotics has officially been acquired by Acutronic Robotics, called to become a leading robotics firm focused on the next-generation robotic solutions.
One thing that entrepreneurs often forget is that being focused is as relevant as knowing when to celebrate. I strongly believe we’ve failed at this. Our focus has been constant and I don’t remember the last time we celebrated something as a group. Bülent Atlan a great technologist and an even better advisor once shared a few of his lessons with me. Now I know I couldn’t agree more with him:
If you work hard, party hard.
The future ahead
We’ve been extremely lucky over the last years to hire more experienced and talented profiles who helped us to reach the maturity we needed with an extremely committed attitude and a skillset similar to that of many founders. The fast growing team is extremely excited about leading the changes of what’s coming next in robotics since we truly believe that:
The best way to predict the future is to invent it — Alan Kay
We’re extremely excited about this chance to push our vision around hardware for robots further (summarized in H-ROS) and contribute towards a future where interacting with robots is not restricted to a few individuals with high technical (and mathematical) skills, but to a great majority of the users out there. Let's start.