Fight the Robots…

Antonio Lück
Apr 10, 2020 · 6 min read

………….……………, bet on people.

Youtube has a vacuum cleaner problem. The Smith family’s Electrolux vacuum cleaner just broke and, because dad lost his job last week, the family doesn’t have money to buy a new one. Dad has decided to try and fix it. The good news is that mom recalls how 6 years ago, when they purchased the vacuum cleaner, it came with a thick, 70-page instruction and troubleshoot manual. But, where is it? Unfortunately, we all know what happens to instruction manuals. A fight erupts between mom and dad -where did you put the instructions, dad? I threw them away, instructions are for wimps, mom!

Dad, always resourceful, did a quick Youtube search: “fix Electrolux vacuum cleaner”. Boom! There it is. Oh wait. Oh no. What is this? 500+ search results? How do I find the video that shows me how to fix that weird noise coming from the machine? How do I search on Youtube for a weird clunk sound? This is going to take forever. Mom fired dad on the spot for underperformance and replaced him with a robot.

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Credit — Real Steel (the movie 2011) by Dreamworks Pictures

For years, tech-first people have had a theory: dad is inefficient and needs to be automated. Dad jobs are doomed and they will disappear. It’s the inevitable truth: software eats the world, including dads. The obvious path is that dad becomes a software, because then it can search the entire Youtube library in under 0.2 seconds and command the exact steps to fix the vacuum cleaner. It represents a savings of 79.08 calories and, more importantly, it reduces the cash burden of the entire family since they have less mouths to feed. It doesn’t matter much that without dad, payroll for the entire family is reduced and consumption is diminished, because software owners capture more value and they compensate for the lack of family spend. Markets are in equilibria. All good.

This exact same logic applies to front-line workers and many front-line jobs. There is a front-line worker at a factory in Detroit, standing next to a workstation that operates a complex machine that just broke. The instruction manual, 700 pages long, and the business continuity process to avoid loss of calories, i.e. dollars, are right under the workstation table. Every workstation in the world has binders with instructions right under. But how can the worker find the right page? How do you search in a 700-page document for a strange sound that the machine makes? It will take too long. And don’t even think about the costs of on-boarding and training workers, that’s a whole other expense category.

The software-eats-the-world tribe have a solution: get rid of the worker. Automate, automate, automate. It reduces the cost of training humans on how to operate complex machines and on how to speed up business continuity procedures. Companies can save money in on-boarding and continuous training, and they save money on payroll. They just have to pay a subscription to the software each month, but the marginal benefit should outweigh the investment. That’s the game plan. And it is dead wrong.

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Andonix, a Detroit based firm, believes front-line workers* deserve a fighting chance. What if there were an app that allowed dad, with his phone, to take a picture or video of the vacuum cleaner, record the noise, and find the video on Youtube that has the exact solution, all in under 0.2 seconds? What if the app allowed dad to ask hundreds of dads who have solved the exact same problem before? Even better, the app could continuously train dad to fix all kinds of problems, and better yet, it would have a negligible cost. That would be, with absolute certainty, the most effective and profitable solution to the family.

Andonix has built a SaaS platform that empowers front-line workers by providing -on their own devices- access to on-demand push and pull manuals and instructions; step-by-step and on-demand training; and summoning help, escalating concerns, and teaching others. While the benefits for workers are evident, the benefits for companies that implement the platform include reduced downtime, higher productivity, safety, and quality with real time data analytics, and reduced paper manuals (in and of itself a multibillion dollar problem).

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On top of that, Andonix is developing “Safely”, a business continuity solution that increases safety procedures among the workforce during emergencies, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic. As frontline and critical infrastructure workers in food, energy, transportation, retail, distribution, and medical industries among others become absolutely essential, Safely allows an organization, in real time, to enhance remote communication among workers, monitor and trace an infected worker or visitor, and predict near term staffing needs to keep the lights on. You can download their business continuity guide and sign up to the free version of Safely here.

The Andonix platform can be implemented from the bottom up: a line supervisor with 20 workstations among a 500 workstation factory can adopt Andonix independently of the rest. Further, because of a low monthly per-user cost, line-supervisors can typically purchase the solution without the need for upstairs approval. And the platform enhances its value through network effects: the more production line supervisors adopt it, the better it gets.

At MatterScale we believe that now more than ever technology has to serve people. We believe the biggest investment opportunity is to back entrepreneurs willing to solve the complex issues that a majority of the population demands: better jobs, better education, better healthcare, better financial services, or better housing. The size and complexity of these problems requires entrepreneurs that are geniuses of industry, either because they’ve spent their lifetimes thinking about a solution or because they’ve worked on solving the problem before and have gathered the different pieces required to solve them. The founders of Andonix have been in manufacturing and production for decades. They’ve seen first-hand the struggle of front-line workers to increase their personal and team productivity. They’ve also lived through the digitalization of work elsewhere, with tools such as Slack, Asana, or online training platforms usually targeting white-collar workers. You don’t hear about a lot of nurses communicating via Slack to solve a problem, or a team of factory-workers using Asana in their weekly all-hands meeting. Those tools weren’t made for them. Andonix is fixing that.

If we were to define the path of the future of work, we would always bet on people first. We invested in Andonix because it puts automation at the service of people.

(* Front-line worker refers to jobs in manufacturing, production, healthcare support, food production and processing, agriculture, retail, oil and gas, and other labor intensive activities , and who are critical for business continuity.)

MatterScale is a venture capital fund investing in industries that matter and companies that scale. Our central thesis is that entrepreneurs are solving big and complex problems to offer health, jobs, education, property, transportation, and financial services to millions, yet many of these entrepreneurs live in capital constrained regions. MatterScale aims to bridge this gap.

The Andonix Business Continuity Guide Amid COVID-19 can be found here.

MatterScale Ventures

Investing in industries that matter and companies that scale.

Antonio Lück

Written by

VC at MatterScale, Brazilian Detroit lover, invest in start-ups reinventing services for the majority (S4M) in US & Latam, love spearfishing, fishing, & reading

MatterScale Ventures

Our central thesis is that entrepreneurs are solving big and complex problems to offer health, jobs, education, property, transportation, and financial services to millions, yet many of these entrepreneurs live in capital constrained regions. MatterScale aims to bridge this gap.

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