Is renting better than owning? When Warren Avis in 1948 began the car rental company that bore his last name, John Hertz and his pioneering “Hertz Drive-Ur-Self System” already had had a twenty-five year head start. Matt Bush and Rob Goldiez, co-founders and principals of the world’s first robot rental startup company, Hirebotics, may well become the Hertz of robot rentals, but probably won’t get to enjoy the luxury of a quarter century head start before any competitors try to pull an Avis on them. However brief or long their solo cruise into renting robots lasts, for now, the stage is all theirs and they’re trying to make the most of it. Is it really a no-brainer? Their value proposition seems uncomplicated and very inviting. If you think that you need a robot to do a little or a lot of work or only during your busy season, they pop over for a site visit to show you how to utilize the robot for best effect.
Rent, and the data is free!
Once a customer is satisfied with the robot’s “resume” and agrees to the terms of the deal, Hirebotics schleps over the robot, sets it up, makes sure it’s performing the job correctly, and then leaves the new customer and the rental bot to work together and get to know one another. The customer pays for only the time that the robot is actually working, never a charge for idle time. Through a sensor on the robot, Matt and Rob can monitor the job being performed by the minute or even by the second, if necessary. Hirebotics’ offer seems compelling enough, but can they really make a business out of renting robots? Both Matt and Rob are quick with their replies; seems they’ve done their homework. Of course, with Hirebotics self-financed by the pair, they better have their business case for robot rentals down cold or they could be in very big trouble very fast. Citing a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group, the pair rattle off, almost in unison, that only 10 percent of the day-to-day manufacturing tasks that could be potentially automated are, in fact, automated.
That leaves a cool 90 percent up for grabs. That other 90 percent, they say, is mostly in the hands of SMEs who are hardcore, risk-averse to spending $30K or more to own a collaborative robot and then have to fret over ROI, especially, if like many SMEs, they need an extra pair of hands only during their busy seasons or for other time-limited stints in their workflows. In addition, Hirebotics boasts that SMEs can now achieve the same level of automation-and productivity-that’s usually accorded large companies with hefty budgets to buy robot-driven automation at will. “We’re democratizing automation,” say the tandem. Convincing SMEs that rental robots are an ideal substitute for temporary human help or even for recruiting full-time workers, Hirebotics better be able to make a deal that SMEs can’t refuse. Hence, their pay-only-for-work-done and we-take-all-the-risks offer. Rob Goldiez readily points out that today there are over 100,000 unfilled jobs in the U.S., while Matt Bush swiftly adds that by 2020 that number is expected to top two million. All of which means to them that employers don’t have to recruit and train in a tough labor market when there is a clear alternative: robot rentals that are cheap to rent and risk free. To date, five customers have called them to make good on that offer. Five customers is what’s called, a start; that’s why Hirebotics is a startup that’s hoping to parley the company’s small beginning into a rousing success, maybe one with a touch of Hertz-like grandeur. The rental kicker: free data The value-added to their rental agreement is something that a human worker simply can’t deliver: a steady, consistent stream of real-time production and quality data about the job that the robot is performing. The Hirebotics’ mobile app offers 24/7 data straight to a customer’s iPhone. Customers can also receive “push notifications of events that are important, such as low on raw material, job bins filled and needing replacement, etc.” Whatever the job data needed, robots can easily supply, which becomes even more important as the number of robots on any given job site increases. The dawning They are finding, and rather quickly, that bit by bit the risk aversion and hesitancy of SMEs to robots begins to lessen considerably when having to buy a robot or be responsible for its upkeep and repair are taken off the table. And paying only for the time that the machine is in operation is even better. Hirebotics’ rental offer encourages small businesses to experiment with a robot and never fear getting stuck with a machine that they really don’t need. There’s an escape hatch readily available, which is Matt and Rob driving over to take the robot away. With use comes familiarity. For example, one customer who rented a single robot now wants to try out one or two more; another is looking at a proposal for six rental robots. And that’s how good businesses are built: one trusting customer after another, like the slow mounting marvel of a little tree that sooner rather than later becomes a big oak. Pioneers in robot rentals to SMEs, Matt and Rob may be finding out rather quickly that in the process of “democratizing automation” for small companies, they are also inheriting a bag of lucky pixie dust from Hertz.