Diane Abruzzini Riggs & Colin Riggs / Rigorous
Start Here Podcast | Episode #86 | 01/11/2024
What’s the result of a veggie farmer and an engineer falling in love? A robotics company in Williston, Vermont. Diane and Colin are co-founders of Rigorous, founded in 2020. What makes Rigorous special is their ability to make robotics simple. So sit back, relax, and learn about how this young company is changing the industrial automation industry. P.S. A great listen if you’re thinking of starting a company with your significant other or even a friend!
Colin Riggs 00:04
You have to make 51% of the time the right decision. You’re constantly making bad decisions and you’re constantly making good decisions and you have to be making more good decisions than bad decisions. But you have to be willing to make decisions all the time.
Sam RG 00:18
from Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. It’s start here a podcast sharing the stories of active aspiring and accidental entrepreneurs. Today we sit down with Diane Abra Zini. Riggs and Colin Riggs co founders of Rigorous one of Vermont’s most exciting and approachable robotics companies. Welcome. This is Sam Roach-Gerber. And David Bradbury recording from the Consolidated Communications Technology hub in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Hi, Colin and Diane.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 00:47
Thanks for having us. Welcome.
Sam RG 00:48
We’re so happy you’re here. This feels like overdue, doesn’t it
David Bradbury 00:53
feels right? Yeah,
Sam RG 00:55
I had to check like four times that we already did an episode with you guys. I just realized we talk a lot we just haven’t recorded.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 01:01
David did once refer to the time that we recorded and yeah,
Sam RG 01:06
No way. Yeah. It’s not just me
David Bradbury 01:09
with like the female founders appearance and like, those panels are so amazing. And then this like the mash up, I just synced it up.
Sam RG 01:17
It’s good. It means we’re talking to these people frequently, which is good.
David Bradbury 01:21
And they come back, which is awesome.
Sam RG 01:25
Amazing. So I just want to start you know, your company is pretty new. So I want to talk about before Rigorous. What were each of you doing before you started the company?
Colin Riggs 01:35
Sure I’ll start before Rigorous. I worked at Greensea IQ for about a decade. It’s an underwater robotics company that specializes in deep sea systems. So 6000 meter remotely operated vehicles and 6000 meter autonomous vehicles. But they also do a lot of many other applications like jet boats and diver systems. And they do navigation systems and control systems. And something that was really exciting when I was there is we worked a lot with the Navy and explosive ordnance disposal groups and special forces. And they would bring us these these really novel projects. And we would also work a lot of manufacturers of robotics. And so through that experience, I got this really amazing, you know, I got to see how people did their mechanical systems or electrical systems and their software systems and really formed this strong opinion about how a strong robotics architecture can be very useful, you know, for for a lot of different people. So, a little bit about my background.
Sam RG 02:36
and Ben Kinnaman great, great founder to learn from too
Colin Riggs 02:39
absolutely and I got this really awesome experience for when it was asked above a boot shop with just a small team. And and you know, we really grew it from just a really tight knit, you know, five ish people and to now and they’re up to, I don’t know, 80 100 people
David Bradbury 02:54
in return Vermont and a few other locations. Ben says you you gave him the greatest cover letter he’s ever received. Like, like, like you ran out the door get a crayon and like I wrote this I love robots, because sort of thing. So
Colin Riggs 03:09
yeah, that was a different time I was in college studying physics. And it just started a farm. And it was in a totally different mindset. I’m sorry to get advanced robotics company. But But absolutely, I’ll get to that part of the journey.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 03:23
So my background is a little different. I had a first career as a vegetable farmer. And I did that for about a decade and absolutely loved it. On weekends, I would run an edible landscaping business and I’d built gardens for schools and campgrounds and restaurants. And then eventually I started my own market garden and a woodfired bakery called Mountain seasons up by a smuggler’s notch. And those were great formative experiences, learned a lot about managing businesses and teams, and then decided to formalize that education and went to grad school at UVM to do their sustainable MBA program. So that really put me on a different trajectory, more on the technology and manufacturing side. So I was working at some local Vermont startups, including venture Co. in between that time. And then when Colin wanted to found Rigorous, you know, I wanted to jump on board to wow, that is
David Bradbury 04:23
I didn’t see that coming.
Sam RG 04:25
I know it’s like I’ve you’ve mentioned the farming to me before, but I didn’t realize that like that was what you did for a decade. That’s crazy.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 04:33
Yeah I was 1,000% trying to be a vegetable farmer for the rest of my life. And in retirement. I’ll probably bring it
Sam RG 04:40
back. Oh, totally. And did you Is that why did you go to get your MBA to be a better farm? Farmer and or like, what was the impetus there?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 04:51
I mean, the impetus was I never figured out how to actually make a living. And that I mean, that was the hardest part on us. Lily and I think my approach to managing businesses I do it because I love the work. And the financial aspect didn’t really occur to me until I started thinking about, Well, how am I ever going to buy a house or start a family? So that really was the impetus for going back to school and kind of changing our trajectory a little bit. Awesome.
Sam RG 05:20
I think there’s a lot of Vermonters especially that experienced that, right. Like they have, like the job they get right out of college, and then they kind of have the realization of like, ooh, this isn’t gonna work. So it’s, it’s inspiring that you’re able to make that transition.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 05:36
And honestly, it was the best thing I could have done because spending my 20s doing something that I cared 100% about, that wasn’t about the money, but really about how I could advance my learning inside of a profession, set the foundation for what it’s like to care about a job in this side of the world. And I think a lot of people miss that aspect of their professional development.
Sam RG 06:00
And did you said like, when Colin wanted to start this company, you were on board? Like, did y’all kind of always know that you wanted to build a company together?
Colin Riggs 06:08
Yeah, in some ways, the second date that we ever had, we kind of talked about this idea. I mean, it wasn’t in the exact form. But we met in Richmond.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 06:20
spoiler alert, we’re also married.
Sam RG 06:24
We didn’t specifically mentioned that
Colin Riggs 06:26
Yes. But so, so spoiler on our second date, before, you know, we had talked about you know, I was still at Green sea, and I was consulting your consulting, I think you are consulting with fresh tracks at the time, even and I was
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 06:38
I was interning with fresh fresh consulting.
Colin Riggs 06:40
Yes. Okay, that that’s more accurate. But we talked about at the time, but we were deciding the time that, you know, our relationship was more important. And then we wanted to wait at least a year before even talking more about it. But we had big ideas for an agricultural business that use robots and and, and we love to dream. And so from the very beginning, we were always dreaming about the businesses that we were going to start, we didn’t know the idea. We didn’t know exactly where we’re gonna go. We certainly didn’t know we were gonna be in corrugated boxes. But, but but here we are. And, and it’s a really amazing experience. It’s hard, but it’s great.
David Bradbury 07:17
Do you leave work at the office now and you do have a division? Or is it just sort of 24/7?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 07:24
No, we’ve gotten advice that it’s a good idea to have cut off sleeve work at the office, and we are working diligently to take that advice.
Colin Riggs 07:35
At times, it’s just so impossible, because you both want to have the excitement about what you’re doing and be able to be talking about the exciting things, but at the same time, you don’t want to, you know, the things that may be exciting for one might be the most stressful for the other. And so you really have to respect those boundaries. And there’s just an immense amount of communication to start a business and be you know, married and have a life and be able to separate all those worlds, but maintain the exciting things without stressing yourself out so much that you can’t move forward. And so we have a lot of conversations that are like, you know, right now, I just don’t want to talk about business. And so you know, we try to respect those boundaries and just communicate when we’re, we need some time to do something else. Besides think about the one thing that we think about most of the time
David Bradbury 08:17
is that well, you have the dog to walk the dog. That’s a good break to build it out.
Colin Riggs 08:23
Absolutely. We’ll fix like that. And it’s helpful. It all comes down to communication.
David Bradbury 08:28
So Colin, want to ask you this. What do you love about robots?
Colin Riggs 08:32
Oh well, there’s a lot to love. You know, I think the infinite possibilities is really fun. I think unlocking things for small teams. Like one thing at Greensea was so formative, there’s a small group of people, were able to figure out this software that allowed us to make 10 times the systems in the same same year. And so there’s just this potential. And you can really help a lot of people with that potential. And so it’s just a really, that, that and I could sit and nerd out and write programs and try it. You imagine what you want the robot to do. And then you spend all this time and most of the time, it doesn’t work, you know, you try and try again. And it’s the most honest thing that can ever happen, because it doesn’t work. And it’s just a robot. So it’s you. And you know, you got to work and you got to work to figure out what’s going on. And it’s just this really fun puzzle is a complete other side to it.
David Bradbury 09:26
Now, Diane, do you share the same sort of fan craze?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 09:32
I mean, I love the benefits of robotics. You know, I think I’m one of the systems that we do. It saves operators from loading like 8000 pounds of boxes an hour. But if you look at also what Colin led at Green, see he was making robots for explosive ordnance disposal. So previously, there would be divers who would have to try and resolve these mines that are leftover from from war time. And so there are a lot of applications for robotics I got really excited about and I love to see the design process of idea to functioning machine come to life in front of my eyes. It’s super inspiring. Absolutely.
David Bradbury 10:12
You started to describe the box Hopper, right, which is the corrugated box loading system. Can you talk about how that came up and why you launched the company with that? That product, please? Absolutely.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 10:23
So our first product was actually for Slate manufacturing. And it was a vision and control system that identified a rough cut piece of slate picks from a bank of pick orders, what size that needs to be, and then it would pick up the piece, take it to a saw, trim off the edges, and then put it back on the conveyor belt. We showed this video to the owner of a corrugated box company that we personally knew. And she basically turned to us and said, I need this exact thing except a little different. And can you do it? And we thought she was joking, honestly, at first. So we started having conversations with her to learn about their need figure out, you know, from a market research perspective, where do you see robotics, helping your business? And as these conversations progressed, you know, we got more confident that we could do the job. And that confidence came through and they got more confident that we could do the job. And so they said, All right, let’s do it. Let’s do a research and design contract. And stand us up a system that hits our requirements. And so that moved us from we’re working from home and our house to Holy cow. Now we need a facility to put in a 13 foot tall robot.
David Bradbury 11:47
Awesome. And you were for time the robot company from Fletcher Vermont. Never forget
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 11:53
robot company in the woods. Absolutely. And that was our first spot. Honestly, we have to give a huge shout out to Bob Lesnikoski at Vermont Cranberry Company, he gave us space in his own personal machine shop. And without it, we could have never bid the project. Right. And without getting that projects, we never could have secured a space of our own. So that was a real incubator for us.
Sam RG 12:16
Are you happy that you like started that way? I mean, it seems like a really good way to like test things out include, like, how you work together, creating a product, like finding space and getting scrappy, like, I can’t imagine starting now that you’ve done it this way. I can’t imagine you starting any other way. Yeah,
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 12:34
I agree with that. I can’t imagine starting any other way. And I don’t think there was really an opportunity for us to start any other way. Right. And so you know, the obstacle is the way very much defines our business strategy, you know, we make a strategy based on what resources we have available at a certain period of time. Totally.
Sam RG 12:53
So, you know, I described your, your company as approachable. And that’s something that I want to dig into a little bit because I think we think of robotics, especially for small and medium sized manufacturers and businesses as out of reach way too expensive, complicated. Why do you want to change that? And how are you going about doing that.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 13:18
So we really see robotics as an opportunity for manufacturers to find efficiencies to retain their workforce and to provide professional development opportunities for that workforce. And we’ve seen that in some of the largest companies in this country and across the world. But the small and medium sized manufacturers who don’t have an in house robotics team have not been able to effectively leverage robotics to meet their business goals as often, because there’s a lot of different niche challenges. So a lot of these are one off designs. And also they just don’t have the full robotics expertise in house to troubleshoot or debug or add new features to a system once it’s installed. So that endless flexibility of robotics becomes a barrier to a lot of companies. And so we really see robots leveraged for business goals, when they’re operated like machines, you know, these companies, they’re familiar with large industrial machines, they operate and purchase them regularly. And the difference between a machine and a robot is really that purpose built design. It’s built to do one job exceedingly well, rather than a variety of jobs, however, well, one person can program it. And so when we install a system, we install it like a turnkey machine so that operators are familiar with the controls so that their safety features baked in so that someone can’t push a button accidentally and have something happen that was completely unexpected and dangerous. So a lot of these things we fully think them through as if they’re a fully baked machine product. And I think that’s really the The difference what manufacturers need is reliability and to know exactly what they’re gonna get it
Sam RG 15:05
to me what I love about that is it’s so clear that you talk to your customers a lot, a lot, a lot a lot, right? Because they know these problems better than anyone else, right? And so if you can kind of solve that problem for them before the robot is even there, that’s ideal, right?
Colin Riggs 15:25
Yeah, absolutely. And that’s something that we we love talking to manufacturers, because they all have very common problems across, you know, robotics and understanding those problems is just made a huge difference in how you know, we think about what robotics really should be. And so for us, the emphasis is always on the operators, the people who really use it, and day to day, what are their struggles? And how do we make a tool that helps them do their job better. And so talking to people, it’s just been, yeah, it’s been the most insightful part of all of us and so, so much about our business is really listening to the needs and building out these capabilities. And our philosophy has always been start with the needs. From from day one, we built systems based on customer requirements. And we continue to do that. And we think that’s really what’s we’re listening to that. And we can be the robot experts in the room, but they’re the corrugated box experts, or the injection molding machine experts. And so we’ve had a ton of luck partnering with industries, and, you know, really understanding robots and working really closely with them to understand corrugated boxes, or the industry itself,
David Bradbury 16:29
I’ve heard you describe that you’re focused on the dull, dirty and dangerous, right for for applications with your robots and provide software and hardware. So just talk about the software hardware? You know, is one more the problem for a small business or manufacturer to take on this investment and operate? Or the other?
Colin Riggs 16:51
Uh, yeah, absolutely. It’s software, you know, hands down at software. So we visit, you know, a lot of manufacturers, we ask them all the same question, what what is the biggest challenge in bringing robotics in your facility, and they all say, software. And and we’ve we’ve, there’s, you know, there’s, there’s information out there something to the tune of 60% of the cost of getting these systems up is the software. And a lot of this has to do with the bespoke nature of programming, where you have, you know, your PLC expert, or you have the programming expert who’s there, and they’re the one who, who designed all the software, a lot of times it’s from, you know, from scratch sometimes are not very complicated. But sometimes they’re extremely complicated. And you end up with one person who really understands this, even at larger companies. And if that person isn’t available to fix a problem, your systems down, and so it causes a lot of excess downtime. And also just the fact that they’re not using things that have been tested before they’re rewriting code from scratch. And then depending on how advanced their frameworks are, and how many different things that people will leave these side effects in their code that they’re not aware of. And these side effects can be things as simple as you know, we’re for this is this kind of like this latching startup problem. But you can imagine somebody goes to start a machine and they push the start, and it doesn’t start. And so they walk away, they’re like, oh, this machine doesn’t work. And then somebody else comes over, you know, maybe an hour later and they plug something in, and that resolves this can startup condition, then that machine just starts. And so we’ve seen a lot of these machines that will just kind of start themselves up after hours, because somebody plugs something back in. And those are extremely dangerous. And so we’re finding these things where people are leaving these little artifacts, because they think, oh, PLCs, you know, it’s really easy to program and I can maintain it. But at the end of the day, they’re getting hit hard and throughput and they’re getting a lot of excess downtime, and they have this one expert, if they’re not around, they just can’t maintain their systems. And that is that core problem that we’re really excited to solve, where we can help manufacturers stay up by by being their partner, and we’re the robotics experts, and we don’t expect them to become a robotic expert, but we do expect them to have you know, we work really closely with maintenance, maintenance departments and their operators and our our technology allows us to, to get on, you know, to see exactly what they see within minutes. And to really have those kind of conversations in real time which which really changes that allows us to again to to be that kind of robotic expert that they can leverage whenever they need.
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Sam RG 19:56
So box hoppers a great example of like you took On this project solve this problem for his company, then we’re basically able to take that product and sell it to other similar companies. Is that how you’re continuing to approach your product development? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 20:11
That’s exactly our approach to product development. And so the box hovers a great example. So we installed the first one in November of 2022. We sold the next to the following spring. So those will get delivered at the beginning of 2024. And now we’re talking to companies about an iteration of the box hopper that will work for them. So we’re talking about feeding different machines in the same plant, or feeding larger format blanks instead of the size range that we currently have. So all the needs are slightly different, but the core is the same. And so we’re able to reuse all those modular components and meet more of the market, which means
Sam RG 20:49
your margins are going up, because you there’s less upfront work for you to design the software. Exactly.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 20:54
And it totally changes the type of team that we’re growing as well. You know, we have amazing design engineers on our team. But now we’re adding production support and customer service, you know, different elements to make us a robust technology and manufacturing business, and really leverage all of that work that our design team has put in.
David Bradbury 21:14
So cool. Maybe just talk about the team then why you brought it up what, how many folks today? How fast is it grown? And where are you finding them.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 21:23
So we’re a team of 11. Today, we are four on the business side and seven on the engineering side. We started in 2020, as just Colin. 2021, I joined full time and then we hired our first employee. Last year, we finished the year as a team of five and now we’re a team of 11. So you know, it’s crazy. For us, doubles every year. Yeah. And we’re planning to double again next year. So we’ll see. We’ll see if we can hit then keep it up. Exactly.
David Bradbury 22:00
How are you finding folks, are you? What’s your sort of view on the talent available.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 22:06
So a lot of the positions on our team have been filled by people that we’ve had professional relationships with. And that’s been extremely helpful. A few people from Green see. And then also there are other technology hardware companies in this area like onlogic that do a great job of training their team. So we have a few former onlogic employees as well.
Sam RG 22:30
And, and I just want to touch on that, because I feel like this people ask us a lot about like the ecosystem and how do you know it’s healthy and like, because there’s people like Lisa and rollin that train people that give them the skills and expertise to level up, and then are stoked when their people get other jobs at places like Rigorous and I think it is a wonderful thing for startups. It’s a wonderful thing for our business ecosystem. And it just, it’s exciting because it brings new people to the area knowing that they have options as well. Absolutely,
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 23:04
we really benefit from the fact that companies like OnLogic, and Greensea were founded 1015 20 plus years ago, and have been steadily growing here, you know, that definitely affords us different opportunities with workforce, but also with being able to learn from companies that came before us that they didn’t have quite the same opportunity when they started something
Colin Riggs 23:28
really special in Vermont, it’s just the willingness to help, you know, a does feel like a team, it doesn’t feel like Vermont is in competition. It’s in. No, it’s this sea of plenty that everybody can work together and, and really help each other. And that’s been another really, you know, it doesn’t feel like we have a great relationship with grinchy and onlogic. And these companies and it’s not cutthroat like, Oh, I got you know, it’s just as really amazing collaborative. And, you know, we felt so supported in our early days and continue to feel supported as we still feel like it’s our early days but and is and so that’s just a an amazing part of Vermont and it’s I think really unique and special.
Sam RG 24:06
I think I see I saw like on your LinkedIn you like announced a hire and then like someone from onlogic was like amazing. This is so cool.
David Bradbury 24:15
Chelsea Allen like the secret weapon of startup. With you guys now she was with Pony. And then Greensea for a bit. So alright, let’s just imagine there were a competition between Greensea and onlogic you at Rigorous for the battle bot war? Which team would win quick.
Colin Riggs 24:39
Easy its us. Why? Because our robots are bigger and more powerful than either those companies. Okay, just comes down to basic physics. Yeah, they make smaller systems. We make huge industrial ones. So I think
David Bradbury 24:53
what if we were in water?
I think Greensea has got us unfortunately, I gotta admit it because OnLogic
David Bradbury 24:59
does Uh, you know,
Colin Riggs 25:02
we didn’t bring on AI yet because you know, you know, really it’s their computers that that power both of our systems and in a lot of ways and so they may ultimately we’ll get back to that that could be quick to come up that but
Sam RG 25:17
Dave is stirring the pot
David Bradbury 25:24
It’s a competitive group so I bet everybody feels strongly about them. It’s gonna be it’s gonna be the high school robot students in Rutland that will be every everybody imagined? Exactly sorry, Sam No, it
Sam RG 25:40
was getting a little too chummy for you, I guess
David Bradbury 25:43
it is it is pretty friendly. So
Sam RG 25:46
um, can you all talk to us a little bit about your capital path and why you decided to take on investors? And I have to say he, Diane, you are the most knowledgeable farmer when it comes to venture capital that I’ve ever met.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 26:05
There’s a lot of overlap. So I see that it was very competitive. Yeah, to say that. So thank you. Yeah, so actually, after grad school, I interned at fresh tracks. And then I worked at venture CO, which was a tech startup, but there are also a broker dealer. So I was able to work in finance for a few years before coming into this company. And that was really helpful both for building relationships, and also just understanding what we were getting into and what the pitfalls to look out for were. And so we ran Rigorous for two, three years, sorry, three years before we raise any outside capital, we were working largely off customer funding, we were doing jobs, those jobs were successful, and we got paid for them. And that was great.
David Bradbury 26:55
It didn’t have SBIR grant to didn’t have some government.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 26:59
We had a USDA grant, to do an greenhouse robot, actually, we’re just finishing up the final report for that program now. So that also was one of our first projects in collaboration with Jericho settlers farm. And that was processed and funded through ne ser, which is a great program out of UVM. And so we were largely doing customer funding, and that had kind of a one for one scaling factor for how much design and engineering work that we could put in. So once we had our first system in the field, and we wanted to productize it, we knew that we needed to invest in our team and our capabilities ahead of what we were delivering. And so in January of this year, 2023, we started fundraising and raised enough capital to kind of get us through about a year and a half, which is our next milestone to set up the box Hopper as a product and establish a foothold in the corrugated box market.
Sam RG 28:01
Because you knew you could continue what you’re doing forever, basically, but never scale.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 28:07
Exactly. If we had Yeah, it would have been slow growth, it would have been a very small business team. And it would have largely been a design shop, which would have been super fun. But it wasn’t necessarily the vision that we had for the company.
Sam RG 28:20
I love that you took that approach, because it was so obvious, right? That if if you want to get to this next level venture is the right way to go. And I think sometimes companies try to make that decision too early when they don’t actually know the trajectory of the company.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 28:36
Absolutely. I think if we took capital any earlier, it would have just confused us or we would have spent it in ways that didn’t help the vision for what we’re building. And they made us very scrappy and very efficient. You know, I think our team is grateful that we’re not returning to that time anytime soon. But the lessons learned by going through it those will last a lifetime. Yeah.
David Bradbury 29:02
I could tell they’re rolling in it now. Because they got the fancy hoodies.
Colin Riggs 29:06
Yeah, we started big. I mean, yeah, in so many ways, those early efficiencies are things that we, you know, we’re really passionate about continuing on. I mean, we really have this concept of lilypad approach where we started doing research and development, and we were successful with that we were profitable with that, and now we’re trying to get to products. And, you know, once we’re successful and profitable that, you know, we have a larger team that can score products and, and then we can just look, you know, our plans go to infinity and beyond. And so as we scale, you know, we’re really looking into our software platform and bringing that out. So our next kind of exciting lily pad that we hope can help medium sized companies maintain robotics at scale. And so it’s just a really exciting time for us.
Sam RG 29:48
I wonder because I think one of the most exciting things about your company is there are so many applications like I’m sure the conversations that you have with people when you’re talking about your car Andrea’s, can you do this? Can you do this? And you’re like, yes, yes. Yes. How do you kind of like, pull back the reins? And seems like maybe it’s Diane’s job to, like, you know, like, slow your growth and focus on the things that you can do in the next 6, 12, 18 months.
Colin Riggs 30:17
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s awesome. I mean, you’re exactly right, there’s people coming to us with tons of different problems, and we really try to look at them from a number of categories. I mean, I mean, some of the most important you know, immediately are just return on investment like is that there, you know, and is this robot going to pay for it and be a meaningful tool for you, you know, another thing that we use to really evaluate these are our is there, that kind of scale and that product, you know, potential privatization path that that follows, because we invest a ton into research and development and research development just doesn’t have a lot of margin or improvement. And so when we do that, we invest a lot. So, so we try to be as particular as possible to for our customers, you know, because it’s to their benefit. Ultimately, when there are a lot of there’s, there’s an ecosystem of box hoppers. And when there’s an ecosystem injection molding, and so we’re actually very, at this point, we need to be very particular about the projects that we take on, we took on very large projects, and we need those projects to last 10 to 20 years. I mean, I mean, the lifetime, they don’t, the projects themselves, doesn’t the technology sits in the field for that long. And so we are slow and steady trying to really understand industries and be industry partners. And so that alone, you know, we would love to work on the variety that that research and development can really offer. But we think the robustness for our end customers is just of the most important and the way to really do that is to, to really focus in on certain types of products and certain product categories and, and ultimately just segments of industry that that that are overlapping, so that we can really understand corrugated box, and we can really be a partner for that industry, in both, you know, understanding AI that’s coming up, and also both the delivering systems and so we really value those relationships, and it does help filter we really can’t take very small disparate project. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, as our technology matures, we’ll be able to expand that portfolio. But right now, we’re hyper focused on specific industries, and that does a lot of the filtering for us.
Sam RG 32:20
So how do you you know, in this early stage, when you are going deep on certain industries and wanting to be an expert in those fields, how do you hire for sales?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 32:31
I mean, sales has to be a generalist, because those industries will change. So we really looked for someone who was critical at relationship building, and who could ask great questions and do a lot of market discovery, you know, a lot of the sales role starts before you would traditionally think the sales funnel starts. And I think the experience of selling for Rigorous is likely unique for other companies around here, because, you know, you have to learn robotics, and come from the point of view of you’re a subject matter expert in that field. And you also have to understand all of these different industries that we’re selling into. But if you have people who take that approach, you know, it’s a much longer sales cycle, it’s much more one on one personally, and getting to know a wide variety of people, even within the same company, let alone industry. When you find someone with that partnership model, that’s what we’re trying to scale on the sales side of things.
Sam RG 33:34
That’s so cool. And someone who’s generally like curious, right, because like, there’s a lot of learning that goes into that.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 33:40
Absolutely. If you talk to these people, and you just try to, to our prospective customers, and you just try to sell to them, what we’ve already developed and not really dig into what their pains are, what their problems are that they’re trying to solve on a day to day level, then you’re not offering any value to them. And so we definitely take a provide as much value as possible during the discovery phase, help them set themselves up to be able to determine if they’re ready to take on a robotic project, if they’re ready to maintain a system like this. And if they have all of their requirements listed so that they know how to communicate what their needs are.
David Bradbury 34:20
So cool. I know right? It’s very inspiring, isn’t it? Yeah,
Sam RG 34:25
I got jazzed on that one.
David Bradbury 34:26
I kn ow. God, he comes so far. Like, stone corral having a beer with you, too. During COVID. Hey, we’re thinking about like, Who are these folks talking about hoop houses and gantry robots and all the rest? Is there any any project on the horizon that you’re really excited about that you can you can share publicly or like, like, it kind of sucks. We have to ask what’s next? Because Because what is is awesome.
Colin Riggs 34:56
Yeah, absolutely. So a product that we’re going to launch in 2024 We’re really excited about is part tender and so part tender, and we’re really focusing on injection molding. And so we’re kind of focused on that advanced capabilities side most often for robotics things that are pushing the boundaries of what these kinds of advanced systems but not so far that people are uncomfortable. So So for injection molding, there have been gantry style robotics and robots attached injection molding for years, but they’re limited in the complexity of what they can do in some regards. And so we’re really excited to be launching a new product that allows kind of the six axis really, very dexterous, they can do a lot, they’re a little bit slower. But because they’re so mobile, they can actually add processing before and after that, which is a bit of a added complexity.
David Bradbury 35:49
So not a big business, or folks coming to you with that kind of problem, or what was the genesis of that? I mean, do your market research Diane, or?
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 35:56
Well, we actually started as we start most programs through a customer R&D program with another company, and that company wanted something very specific. And when we were walking through their problems, we realized, okay, this is actually a much bigger problem. So we’re going to separate this project, everything that’s custom for the company, we’re going to put in this bucket. And then anything that we want to develop on our own dime and retain for future products will put in this bucket. And so we mapped out the projects to run so that when we installed the first system in the fields, in September of this year, August, September of this year, we now already have a functional example. But now we’re talking to other injection molding companies about what is your tooling need to look like? What size is your product mix, things like that. So we can figure out when we launched the product next year. What’s the generic application that can fit more businesses than just one who needed something hyper specific?
David Bradbury 36:56
So cool. I want them to just come run our organization for a little bit.
Sam RG 37:01
I don’t think that’s a good idea.
David Bradbury 37:06
We don’t want we don’t want that.
Sam RG 37:08
I don’t think that’s a good idea. So you’ve mentioned a couple, you know, a couple of resources, I would as we’ve been talking, you’ve mentioned, like UVM, and fresh tracks and stuff. But I’m just curious. And I think folks find it helpful to talk about some of the resources in Vermont that have been helpful as you’ve started and scaled the company.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 37:29
Well, I mean, I probably should have said this when you asked how we found a lot of our talent because actually a lot of it has come from visa, we’ve gotten three referrals now. Two have turned into critical team members one may turn into a critical team member this summer, we’ll see who can edit that part out. I feel like my Mulligan on that you’re right. Yeah, that was a you know, we’ve hired two critical team members, both who have come from VCET and for a team of 11 You know, that’s a pretty good percentage
Colin Riggs 38:03
With all the introductions and you know, tons of support whenever we have a question and so yeah, we have to you guys because we love you provide us anytime you know, we need something you’re always there so we really appreciate it.
David Bradbury 38:18
Well, we just want a hoodie and we should we should disclose to our listeners too. We are an investor in the company as well we’re part of that round that started and thrilled to be a part of your journey.
Sam RG 38:34
I believe Dave actually was quoted saying I would back Diane with a creamy stand
David Bradbury 38:44
have maple creamee off and no row Yeah, it’s seriously you’ve got to just you know there’s takes different personalities and skill sets to build a company you two are very complementary and you overlap in the right places clearly earlier they told us I know when to leave each other alone and go walk the dog and that’s just so important at the at the early stage and and I think your highlight a little bit about your model for growth has been hey we can take a lot of money we go raise eight or $10 million so we’re gonna take on the world all at once scale up flame out you know struggle that wasn’t a path you you chose right you knew you needed more product market fit time more development time and sort of have phased it out and I think that’s smart that last that sustains and that creates a lot of value and purpose so good for you. There was no question of you saw such a softy had me a creamy Yeah, I’m like hungry now.
Sam RG 39:51
What so you know a lot of our listeners are sort of aspiring entrepreneurs people that one day hope to start a company What do you wish you had known before you started Rigorous? Is there anything that you would have maybe done differently? No, you nailed it. I like.
Colin Riggs 40:14
Because you just you just, you don’t know what you don’t know. And I don’t think that’s, it’s like you get into it. And you have to be open minded and you kind of just go, you have, you know, it all figured out, you don’t have to have it all figured out. But you have to be willing to always be responsible, you know, and there are things that just you have, you know, some of the advice that we got early on, which I think we talked about at least weekly, is you have to make 51% of the time, the right decision. And so, but that other 49, or higher or higher, yeah. And so, I mean, essentially, you’re constantly making bad decisions, and you’re constantly making good decisions, and you have to be making more decisions, good decisions than bad decisions. But you have to be willing to make decisions all the time, and not making decisions and getting stuck is some of the most but ultimately, we did make a lot of bad decisions. But we also made more good decisions.
Sam RG 41:08
And at least you made one right, so a decision. I think that’s you touched on that a little bit. I think that’s exactly right. I think it’s where the issues end up being is when you’re kind of paralyzed with fear of not making the right decision, so you don’t make any decision.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 41:23
Well, I think the reality that doesn’t get shared as much when you’re starting a business is that it’s not only hard, but it’s extremely risky. You know, you really put your entire financial situation on the line, whether it be a home that you own, whether it be just the fact that you’re going to work for two years and not really turn a salary. I mean, all of these things really mean that you want your business to work out. And so it can be a ton of pressure. But it is what you sign up for
Sam RG 41:59
Is Colin crying right now?
Colin Riggs 42:01
Well, I will say that recently, we’ve been asking other entrepreneurs that have been in this world for much longer than us we say, Does it ever get easier? And recently, they all said, No, it just gets different bigger.
David Bradbury 42:11
After you sell your company that is to build it. So at the end of this arc, if that’s the goal or not, but know
Colin Riggs 42:17
that the decisions you make just have more impact and the amount of money that’s involved just gets larger and, and and ultimately, you have to kind of find peace with that. And then I think that we’re on that journey right now. And we’re wheeling away, but it is it’s just really hard as it turns out for a lot of reasons. But it’s also the most rewarding thing that that we’ve ever done and gives us this opportunity to, to build these amazing things that help a lot of people and so at the end of the day, it’s absolutely worth it. And it’s just this like really amazing opportunity to grow ourselves. But but there’s just no hiding behind the fact that it’s terrifying and really hard.
David Bradbury 42:55
It should be hard. Otherwise I’d be doing it.
Sam RG 43:03
It’s this is precisely why I don’t have my own company.
David Bradbury 43:06
Oh my god, I can’t wait to sponsor like a robot team to go after this battle the bot thing.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 43:12
Did you back? Oh, wow.
Sam RG 43:16
The kids right.
Colin Riggs 43:17
The first robotics.
David Bradbury 43:19
I look forward to the robo rattlers we’ve been supporting since like Inception. Like yeah, I don’t know yet. But we definitely would sponsor. I mean, heck, we sponsored a sled dog team for a few years as well, because we’d like those entrepreneurs.
Sam RG 43:32
that’s very adjacent to technology.
Colin Riggs 43:35
I like it. It’s gonna be really fun. All right, we’ll
David Bradbury 43:38
work on that. We’re gonna get to the wrap up question. Yeah, you go for it. Dave K Magic want superpowers. You each get to give a short answer. Please. If you could change one thing in Vermont, what would you change? Diane? This is when we cue the music and post production. Yeah,
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 44:02
I feel like this is jam time. Wait, don’t tell me and I’m supposed to have some like really hilarious quip. For the sign off.
David Bradbury 44:09
We’ve had red. Was it red pandas? Yeah, traffic light someone wanted on spear Street. We’ve had, you know, hunger and health and all the
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 44:19
public transportation to the rural communities.
Sam RG 44:22
Great. Love it.
Colin Riggs 44:25
Colin has to be a little bit self serving it for us. But you know, I would love our robotics and autonomy lab. I would love to go to a place where, you know, kids can all come together and like, you know, students at the university level and professionals could meaningfully, you know, advance robotics in this area, kind of that level. And I think there’s actually some momentum in the area for this. And so I kind of want to keep pushing this out a little bit. But robotics and autonomy are super important for our local economy and growing that skill set and that ecosystem around here I think would just be right really amazing. And I think there are a number of companies
Sam RG 45:02
may be able to make that happen and all the folks from rural areas will will get there, right Diane?
Colin Riggs 45:10
You know, part of it could be like you could log into from the rural areas and like have like there’s like remote telemetry areas where like, you know, the rural could maybe come in and plug in and we love it. I think the robot the robotics in the woods groups out there, that, you know, they’ll have access to that
Sam RG 45:26
David Bradbury 45:26
Colin and Diane thank you so much for coming in and sharing this part of your journey. It’s I can’t wait to come back in a couple years and see what they’ve done.
Diane Abruzzini Riggs 45:35
Oh, we’ll see you next week.
David Bradbury 45:39
Or next week. That’s true. All right. This has been starred here podcast sharing the stories of active aspiring and accidental entrepreneurs. This series is supported by the Vermont Technology Council and Consolidated Communications. Let’s go build a robot, Sa