Episode #465: Where are all the robots? With Romotive co-founder Keller Rinaudo

Episode #465

Once you get past the fact that Keller Rinaudo and his Romotive team have built a programmable, interactive, responsive and, er, cute all-purpose and affordable robot for the home there are even bigger stories waiting to be told. Perhaps it’s that they built it with a smartphone on a tank-like chasis or that they went through Techstars or that they’ve done Kickstarter twice (after their first one raised 4X their initial ask). Maybe it’s the way they wooed their first investor, the fact they’ve actually raised $5M or that they had to manufacturer the first 5000 by hand in an apartment. All these lessons and experiences are incredible and part of what will become the lore of Romotive and their first product, Romo – the loveable (really!) personal robot that only costs $150.

But these are just the beginning of the story about Romo’s rise. The lessons Keller and his team have learned during this process are profound and the stuff you’ll want to hear: How succeeding at eclipsing their raise via Kickstarter could have actually bankrupted them. How they struggled being both a hardware and software company. Why getting the order is only the first 5% of the challenge. How they determined what features to add and remove from Romo’s brain. This is a glimpse into the inner-workings of a company on the fringe of rapid growth.

What you will also see is the makeup of the new prototype of entrepreneur and, is some cases, the investors that back them. This business is by no means conventional – he’s building a robot for home consumption – but the ideas and ideals he espouses will resonate. Romo is, on one hand, a “neat” toy to impress your friends and family and even entertain your kids. It is also a way to introduce computer science, conditional programming and invention to children as well as helping spark the imagination of future makers regardless of age.

Who knows what catches on and what doesn’t, the lessons that are exposed here will help regardless. The bigger story is the boundless opportunity that the intelligence of the networked devices we carry presents. You just have to find the inspiration and the possibilities will present themselves just like they did for Keller.


Here is a quick reference of what we covered in the show. Click on the link and the video will take you to that clip

1. Where does the love of robots come from 2:30
2. What is the state of robotics today 4:20
3. What was the catalyst for your vision of the affordable robot? 6:30
4. Why start Romotive? 11:50
5. How important was participating in Techstars to building Romotive? 13:55
6. How they landed their first investor – thanks to his son 14:55
7. How did raising $117K on Kickstarter change Romotive? 19:25
8. 2 lessons learned from their first Kickstarter experience 21:15
9. How did you manufacture the first robots? 25:40
10. How did you scale the manufacturing? 30:00
11. The 2 most frustrating things of building Romotive and Romo 32:00
12. What are the tradeoffs between price and features? 34:45
13. How do you decide what Romo should and shouldn’t do? 37:24
14. How hard is it to build a software and hardware company at the same time? 43:50
15. 2 years in, what would have done differently? 45:35
16. How can you teach computer science using Romo? 50:00
17. What is the connection to Tony Shea? 55:00
18. Why do Kickstarter more than once? 57:10

Be sure to subscribe to iTunes to be notified on all future episodes (they are free for the first week!): Audio or Video

About Keller Rinaudo
Keller Rinaudo RomotiveKeller Rinaudo founded Romotive alongside friends Phu Nguyen and Peter Seid. The startup makes Romo, an adorable miniature robot that harnesses the the powerful processor in every smartphone. Something between a personal robot and a pet, Romo has a personality thanks to controllable facial expressions and is able to roll around on a tank-like base. As CEO of Romotive, Rinaudo sets the strategic direction of the company, raises funds needed to scale quickly and focuses on growing the team through recruiting.

A 2009 Harvard graduate, Rinaudo worked with Dr. Yaakov Benenson and colleagues on biological computers — tiny devices made of RNA, DNA and proteins that, when implanted in the body, could work as molecular doctors signaling genes in need of treatment. Rinaudo is also a professional rock climber ranked top 10 in sport climbing. He has scaled alpine cliffs in France, underwater caves in Kentucky and the limestone towers of Yangshuo, China.

Before Revolv, Mike was the co-founder and CEO of Electric Rain, Inc., a 3D and multimedia software company that enabled Adobe Flash designers to create and integrate 3D into their Flash web sites and projects. Mike grew the company from a basement start-up to a $2mil / yr company, and licensed its technology to major players such as Macromedia, Adobe, Autodesk, and Microsoft.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

/* ]]> */