My Make in LA experience as an Argentinean entrepreneur from China

From left to right: Rudi (CEO), Plobot (STEM Robot)

We recently sat with Rodolfo (Rudi) Cossovich, Cofounder & CEO of Plobot and participant in our inaugural cohort, to reflect on his time at Make in LA. He was kind enough to share his experience with the world.

What was appealing about the Make in LA opportunity?

I was working in robotics for a while already. Prototyping a solution to a problem was not something new to me. Feedback from parents and teachers was outstanding. In our team we quickly recruited teachers, toy designers and illustrators. But there was something missing into the equation. I was suddenly talking with investors and I didn’t have any solid business plan. We didn’t know exactly how to communicate this exciting this solution we have created.

Einstein used to say: “For something to change, something has to move.” Make in LA reached out to me inviting me to apply and we saw the opportunity. We already got a proof of concept but we wanted to put it into the hands of many other people. We were offered simultaneously to enter into Make in LA and only cash from an angel investor. Definitively the cash was tempting, but the mentorship of an accelerator had a heavier weight. More cash would bring us only more of the same but mentorship would make something change.

Thinking back about that I remember clearly how excited we were when we saw the list of mentors that Make in LA had. Getting into it was definitively moving something and we got the project to change it’s future. I am so glad we made the right choice!

Why LA?

At some point, moving the team to Los Angeles seemed to be contra productive. English is not our mother language and we have been almost a decade based in China. Developers could be cheaper to find in South America and factories in Guangdong.

But when we started analyzing the logistics and where our consumers were, LA started to make more sense. The best products were being designed in California. Contractors can be easily hired online and factories can also be handled remotely. But knowing where your customers are and how the logistics will actually happen makes a difference.

For our surprise, when we moved to LA we also found a glad surprise. And it was the vibrant community of startups and bright people that are here. I would say that among the ratio average to bright is ten times higher in the Bay area than what it looked like back in China. I guess that it’s just a matter of where do you hang out but for sure the people from the accelerator helped us to network with the same people.

Tell us about the other teams in your class and what you learned from them.

I remember clearly the first weeks of the program. Every night we couldn’t stop talking about how smart the OTHER teams selected were. I am sure that it took a big effort to select the teams. We saw, first hand, how even the best plan fails without feedback.

We not only learnt from business but also from camaraderie. People from all around the world and all with common objectives, sharing in the flexible California culture their experiences. We couldn’t have asked for a better environment for us and Plobot.

Can you share some of your experiences interacting with Make in LA mentors?

There is always an area that will fall outside of your expertise. What could be better than suddenly getting experts that could complement your skills!

We were very lucky to match with an expert in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, doctor Tekin. He helped us out so much in the course of our startup and it was always nice to have somebody experienced to ask about all the technical difficulties we faced.

The same way, being a hardware startup, there are so many uncertainties about the manufacturing processes and how to get our Plobots to the next level. There we found such a generous timing from Professor Babak, that introduced us to uncountable resources.

The same way, anybody could think that starting a company is a headache. It is definitively a risky process, but it diminishes when you are able to talk with the best leaders to inspire you and the best lawyers to give you advice.

How would you describe the experience of being pushed beyond your comfort zone, and what did you take away from our stress tests?

Getting into any kind of startup means getting into the unknown. If you are looking for easy solution, probably other ton of people already are already working on that. And the harder you push, the further you will get. Anybody that starts new projects know this.

Each one of us have a different pulse, a rhythm to get things done. And when we are working in something we are passionate about we THINK that we are pushing as hard as we can. And we also THINK we are being as adventurous as possible. I guess that in some way we are all right. When you are pushing forward by yourself and your team, you can go pretty fast. Or that is what you think.

When you join an accelerator then everything happens ten times faster. And the exposure you get is great but it also attracts hundreds of eyes into what you are doing. I would say that the amount of pressure by then it just gets exponential. If something was not running smoothly with your team, it will definitively break at this point. And when you start talking to investors and try to convince them that you know better than anybody about your business, you better really know what you are talking about.

If there is a little tiny detail that you thought they might overlook, rest assured that they will find it. And it will be that number, that critical conversation with a partner, that technical decision the one that might make your team fail or not.

Rudi working on Plobot prototype at Make in LA

I would say that the lesson learnt was that if anything can fail, it will. Absolutely all assumptions you make should be challenged and tested. Bottom line all that speeding up and pushing you and your team through unthinkable challenges is what will make you get into areas you never thought about.

What is different about your company now because of the Make in LA experience?

It seems so long ago since we have been through the accelerator that it is difficult to remember how we were when we started. It definitively shaped our team. Some people left, new people came in. We always go back to very few simple habits we picked from the accelerator: keep metrics, find roadblocks and be open minded about receiving suggestions.

Last fall, it would have sounded crazy that to plan our retail launch in 2016. But it’s happening and we only have to thank Make in LA for that. Without those changes we could still be tinkering to optimize our hardware and service model. We really have to love this mindset change!

Who is the Make in LA accelerator for? What kind of entrepreneur should come here?

Make in LA is a place for entrepreneurs that are willing to push limits. If you are willing to go where others didn’t dare to go, it is the right place to be. The amount of support both at a personal level and at a business level has no comparison with anything else you might face. There is an unique cultural blend from California together with top notch startups entrepreneurial spirit that makes it THE place to be.