SAN FRANCISCO – Simbe Robotics today announced two separate funding deals to help expand the development of its mobile inventory scanning robot system, known as Tally. The company announced raising a $26 million Series A equity financing round, as well as an inventory financing agreement with SoftBank Robotics. Financial terms of the inventory agreement were not disclosed.
The Series A financing, led by Venrock, included participation from Future Shape, Valo Ventures, and Activant Capital. Simbe said the equity capital will be used for business operations, including growing the team, scaling up sales, marketing and customer service, and continued investment in research and development. In addition, the Simbe Board of Directors will get three new members: Tony Fadell, principal at Future Shape; David Pakman, partner at Venrock; and Ryan Gembala, managing partner at Pathbreaker Ventures.
The inventory financing agreement expands on Simbe’s existing partnership with SoftBank Robotics America, which began in early 2018 as a way to leverage SoftBank’s international reach and operational efficiencies to help scale Simbe’s global business. The additional funds here will be used to support scaled manufacturing of an additional 1,000 Tally units over the next two years. With more than 25,000 robots deployed globally, SoftBank Robotics “has the infrastructure in place to support Simbe’s need to scale manufacturing, shipping, deployment and field services of Tally robots globally,” the company said.
Simbe’s Tally system is comprised of mobile robots that autonomously navigate physical retail stores, executing inventory auditing tasks through computer vision and RFID scanning technology. The company then provides retailers and global consumer packaged goods brand partners with e-commerce-level insights into shelf data up to three times per day.
The company’s robots have been deployed in more than 12 of the top 250 global retailers in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, including partners such as Schnuck Markets, Giant Eagle, Decathlon Sporting Goods, and Groupe Casino.
The Tally robots have also completed more than 100,000 hours of autonomous operations, navigating more than 25,000 miles in-store alongside employees and customers, captured 500 million shelf photos, and analyzed more than 1 billion products and shelf tags.
Robotics Business Review spoke with Simbe Robotics CEO Brad Bogolea about the new funding rounds and expansion plans for the tally systems.
Importance of inventory financing
Q: Many startups don’t separate the discussion of equity financing and inventory financing, why do you feel that this is important?
Bogolea: From my perspective, they’re two kinds of levers to scale the business. We’re heavily focused on growing the team, expanding a new market, continuing to invest in R&D and marketing – those sort of things. We believe strongly that it’s equally as important to talk about raising inventory financing as it is with venture capital. What often happens is that startups will raise an equity round and they’ll tack on things like venture debt into the round, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense to announce it, so they may get some flexibility on how they use those dollars.
We’ve announced a global partnership with [SoftBank] and go to market – they’re reselling Tally in Asia, and they’ve been managing our shipping and logistics and global fleet operations, assisting with deployments with a number of different clients. This next step just really made sense, given that the more robots we sell, the more SoftBank benefits, given how much we leverage their fleet operations.
Q: Why is it important for Simbe to have a relationship like this with SoftBank? What else do they benefit from working with Simbe?
Bogolea: If you think about SoftBank’s experience, they’ve deployed more than 25,000 robots, mostly Pepper, but they also have other solutions. There’s a lot of experience in dealing with customs and handling hazardous goods. The first anchor point in the fleed operation side has been leveraging them for global shipping and logistics.
Step two is deployment support. Today we have robots on the ground in more than six countries, with more than a dozen of the largest retailers globally. Deployment reach for a Silicon Valley early-stage company can be challenging. We don’t have a significant amount of people on the ground in Europe, Asia, or the Middle East, whereas organizations like SoftBank have deployed their solutions all around the world. We’ve been able to leverage their fleet operations and deployment teams to extend our deployment.
As part of our go-to-market agreement, SoftBank has been reselling Tally in Japan, with some of the largest physical retailers in Asia. With an organization like ours going into a market like Asia, you relaly need a well-known local partner, so that’s been fantastic.
Q: As you’re working with new customers, do they understand more about robotics and the need for them within their companies, compared to when you first started the company?
Bogolea: Absolutely. Two years ago, it was rare for us to do a deal where we weren’t required to have physical staff follow the robot around, even though Tally operated fully, safely and reliably in these environments. What we’re seeing today is a much stronger appetite for instead of starting with one unit, they start with three to five and do more of an empirical pilot.
So what we’ve been focused on is areas that help minimize time to value, how do we make it really easy for the IT teams and dealing with things like information security, penetration testing, and ensuring we’re aligning it to their IT and business processes.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for Simbe as a company these days?
Bogolea: It’s making a lot of touch choices around opportunities for new business and lots of great customers that are scaling. I think the impetus for doing this round was we’re getting to the point that we weren’t really keeping up with customer demand, which is a good problem to have.
I think that quickly now shifts our focus to continuing to grow the team. Talent continues to be a very competitive aspect, especially as you think about robotics professionals and those in computer vision and deep learning domains.