Community//

A.K. Schultz of SVT Robotics: “The attitude is crucial when trying to get a new idea off the ground”

Together with my SVT Robotics co-founder, Michael Howes, we’ve developed a software platform that helps companies dramatically accelerate robot deployment in their warehouses and manufacturing facilities. On the “hardware” side of industrial robotics, there are so many innovative technology breakthroughs happening today. However, getting these technologies integrated into a warehouse or factory can take months — or […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Together with my SVT Robotics co-founder, Michael Howes, we’ve developed a software platform that helps companies dramatically accelerate robot deployment in their warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

On the “hardware” side of industrial robotics, there are so many innovative technology breakthroughs happening today. However, getting these technologies integrated into a warehouse or factory can take months — or even years for complex automation systems.

Our SOFTBOT Platform dramatically accelerates and simplifies the integration and deployment process for those companies. They can connect and integrate robotics in days and weeks instead of months and years. It’s a real game changer.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing A.K. Schultz, co-founder and CEO for SVT Roboticsand leads the overall company vision as well as product and go-to-market strategies for SVT Robotics. His work has primarily been in the Fortune 500 corporate sector leading the design and implementation of high-profile automation projects across multiple industries. He brings a unique understanding of customer needs and a knowledge of the innovation needed to drive solutions that meet client’s business goals. To date, he has overseen the successful deployment of over half a billion dollars in automation.

A.K. has created a pathway for top companies to lead the way in automation including Tesla, Walmart, Baxter, Target and Gallo.

SVT Robotics is a software company founded in 2018 that is revolutionizing robot deployments in warehousing and manufacturing industries. SVT’s software platform enables companies to easily connect their enterprise systems to any robot or automation, in a fraction of the time, empowering them to be highly competitive within the marketplace.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After my time in the Army, I worked in the nuclearindustry. It was a very challenging field, but was very conservative with little stomach for innovation. In 2004,when I discovered an industry that had warehouses with robots in them, I knew I wanted to be a part of that. Fast forward 15 years, and by then the industry I thought was revolutionary had become more mature. In contrast, I was witnessing very small, VC-backed companies developing technology that far exceeded what the big players were doing.

Startups have the freedom to solve big problems without a lot of the restrictions or bias that’s built into “big company” culture. My life as corporate VP was 75% “managing upward” and 25% value generation. My co-founder and I believed that by starting a company, we could reclaim that 75% back and could create an amazingly valuable product.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In my first 10 years of supply chain automation, I was an evangelist for using sophisticated automation in warehouses. While most supply chain VPs from large companies at that time were used to seeing robots in factories — car plants, food processing, and so on, they were not used to seeing automation in warehouses.

It was tough at that time to convince those VPs that robots in warehouses would be a good thing. To them, there was a lot of risk — placing a “bet” — a 5 million dollars to 50 million dollars bet — on automating a warehouse could be a career-ending event if it didn’t pan out.

But around 2015, there was a dramatic reversal of attitude among those same executives. Amazon had been gulping up more and more market share — they were really crushing it, and they’d been doing so by deploying more and more robots — tens of thousands.

The retail executives were realizing that Amazon had a major head start on all their competitors, plus 2-day shipping. Suddenly, everyone wanted robotics in supply chain. The problem was that integrating and deploying automation systems couldn’t be done quickly enough.

Demand had far outstripped capacity.

Looking back, we were witnessing a tectonic shift in the market. We saw companies complaining about it, and companies that were doing something about it. We wanted to do something about it.

Can you tell us about the “Bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Together with my SVT Robotics co-founder, Michael Howes, we’ve developed a software platform that helps companies dramatically accelerate robot deployment in their warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

On the “hardware” side of industrial robotics, there are so many innovative technology breakthroughs happening today. However, getting these technologies integrated into a warehouse or factory can take months — or even years for complex automation systems.

Our SOFTBOT Platform dramatically accelerates and simplifies the integration and deployment process for those companies. They can connect and integrate robotics in days and weeks instead of months and years. It’s a real game changer.

How do you think this might change the world?

Right now, it takes companies years to plan, build, deploy, and test automation. Most companies simply cannot keep pace with the changing economy. There are very few companies doing this well, the most notable of course is Amazon.

Let’s pretend you are a VP of Supply Chain at a huge retailer. It is December and you were unable to hire enough seasonal workers to meet demand. You had thousands of late shipments, massive overtime costs, and an insane amount of expedited freight bills.

You resolve that this will not happen during the next holiday peak. So, in January you get your team to build an awesome plan to fix this. This gets unveiled in March and you are ready to buy robots in April. The team gets quotes and schedules from suppliers.

The team informs you that the robot suppliers and software developers have committed to being done before the holiday code freeze in October — the following year. As in 18 months away. Hopefully.

Not only is it too late for next year, it may not even be relevant the following year. It is a massive bet. In our world today, integrating complex robotics into just one facility in 5 months is considered a massive undertaking.

But SVT can and has done it.

Our platform decouples the need for direct integration and our SDK enables us to rapidly onboard interfaces to robot and software alike. Our technology helps enable modular robotic technology (usually Robots as a Service models) to pilot, test, and rapidly deploy technology between peak seasons.

This means retailers can be more agile. They can iterate and improve their business in smaller, more frequent steps. And once they figure out the right solution, they can scale it in a few months, not in 5 years.

Most retailers and manufacturers make or sell stuff and happen to have an IT department. The companies that will survive and thrive will be tech companies that happen to sell or make stuff. SVT Robotics will give them the tools to transform into the latter.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Some people are afraid of robotics and what it will do for jobs. In many ways, the most important “roboticist” was Henry Ford. His assembly line utilized process and machines which laid the foundation modern robotics. I am sure many people were worried he’d eliminate jobs. Those gains weren’t used to cut jobs, but rather to make more cars at a lower price, making them affordable for most everyone — it launched a century’s worth of economic growth.

It’s not a zero-sum game. Back in the 80’s, only a small subset of people were willing to learn MS-DOS, but along comes Windows and suddenly the computer entered most people’s homes. Like the 80’s, right now the robotics universe is one that very few are qualified to contribute. At the end of the day, we’re trying to make it so more people and companies can get in on the game.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

While Mike Howes and I were executives at a global robotics company, we were working on an assembly line for a large electrical car company in California. This was by far the largest automation project I had seen in my career. It required that a huge number of automation and robotic technologies be integrated, all in an extremely short timeline.

Interestingly enough, the machines were installed fairly quickly, but it took much more time to get the software working. Humans are really amazing machines, and the software required to do what people take for granted is enormous.

We were working alongside our competitors to create the most automated assembly line in history. Most of these companies were building software and data models in silos, but to work in concert, all of these need to be integrated using bespoke interfaces. As a result, a system like this has layer upon layer of software complexity until it eventually it becomes like a “Jenga Tower of Code.”

These experiences always stuck with me. When Mike and I started SVT Robotics, and we started really talking about what we wanted to do with this company, we realized that the thing that everyone in the industry needed was a thing that no one was building. A way to quickly get all these technologies to talk to each other — across platforms and across manufacturers.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We cannot just build an integration SaaS product and expect adoption. Our platform’s goal is to build a community that creates a tailwind for software companies, robot companies, retailers, manufacturers, and integrators.

Our job is to help robot companies to bring their product to market. Our job is to enable retailers retool their business before the next holiday peak. Our job is to enable integrators to embrace more technologies, more quickly, and with less risk. The more companies we help, the more the community grows, and creates a reinforcement loop of increasing value is generated on all sides.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We’ve been fortunate enough to get a lot of great press, and we really try to punch above our weight. It’s not so much that our marketing techniques are unique, but rather that it’s a compelling message, and we’re doing something that’s really needed in the industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

From the start, we built an amazing investor syndicate who have been balanced between industry domain knowledge and Silicon Valley. Ted Wang and Aileen Lee from Cowboy Ventures have provided amazing support and advice along the way, as has the investment team overall. Having the person(Aileen Lee) who coined the term “unicorn” invest in us, was a pretty amazing feeling. The folks from Cowboy will tell you they only invest in companies who they believe have the potential be one billion dollar companies, which is a real vote of confidence.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We believe in giving back as much as we can. One of our 5 cultural tenants is “Choose the moral high ground. Every time.”

“Choose” is an extremely important word, because companies don’t become evil or unethical because of one big decision. It’s thousands of choices happening every week, every month. These decisions have to be biased in the right direction. Our people know that if they make decisions that will stand the moral high ground litmus test, we will always have their backs. There can be a financial cost to those decisions sometimes, but it’s the right thing to do.

Whether it’s taking time to invite and work with middle school students who visit our innovation lab, mentoring other startups in the area, or working on solutions that may help with the pandemic, we try to choose that path whenever possible.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Sometimes, especially early on in a start-up, it’s more important to have people that share your vision and passion than it is to have the most experience. The attitude is crucial when trying to get a new idea off the ground.

2. A lot of people tell us that starting a company outside of Silicon Valley would limit us from a talent standpoint; however, we’ve been able to get great people and our costs are a lot lower. And with COVID-19, I think everyone is rethinking what workforces look like, and that opens up possibilities.

3. We were given great advice from Gaurav Dhillon, the CEO of Snaplogics. He told us that whenever you’re tackling a hard problem that just won’t go away, start “removing gravity” as a constraint. Sometimes we focus more on constraints than the solution and this can limit your thinking. Take away the thing that’s restricting you, even if it is a widely accepted concept. Start with the end result you want, and work your way back. Many times you will find that the constraints are less fixed than most people believe.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Dr. Eugene Izhikevich: “Embracing clean as a new brand value”

by Fotis Georgiadis
Community//

Dr. Matanya Horowitz of AMP Robotics: “Think bigger”

by Jason Hartman
Community//

The Future Is Now: “We are developing truly human-like robotic arms” With Jorgen Pedersen, President and CEO of RE2 Robotics and Fotis Georgiadis

by Fotis Georgiadis

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.