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Duy Huynh of Autonomous: “Get it to the market as quickly as possible, get feedback, and keep improving”

First I would say a leader’s attitude. Welcome changes, be the first to adapt, and see them as opportunities to test your ability as a leader and learn from them. Then I would say the team’s power, because no one succeeds alone. If you can rally the hearts and minds of everyone on your team, […]

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First I would say a leader’s attitude. Welcome changes, be the first to adapt, and see them as opportunities to test your ability as a leader and learn from them. Then I would say the team’s power, because no one succeeds alone. If you can rally the hearts and minds of everyone on your team, you’ll bring out the best ideas, solutions, experiences, and creative approaches to problems, making the journey shorter and more fun. I would also say customer feedback is a key factor. A leader needs to listen to customers and ask what they need, rather than merely speculate. Often, their answers will surprise and inspire you, and ideally,, they can be part of the innovation process to build new products that they feel they can take partial ownership. Finally, I would say focus is crucial. When you don’t have much to work with, you’ve got to stay focused on the goal 200% and work with what you have to produce a prototype. Get it to the market as quickly as possible, get feedback, and keep improving.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Duy Huynh, Founder, and CEO of Autonomous Inc. Duy developed Autonomous as one of the first vertically integrated smart office furniture companies. By owning every touchpoint along the supply chain, the company can offer high-quality products directly to businesses and consumers at reasonable prices.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started as a software engineer working in robotics and artificial intelligence. I really wanted to explore the ways technology can help us automate ordinary tasks in smarter and healthier habits. Along with my partners, we started the company to highlight the importance of reinventing the office space. Everyone works from 18 to 65, ranging 8–12 hours a day on average. The office is where people spend most of their life, but it’s shocking that there were few upgrading products and innovations in the office in the last 50 years. We’re looking at every boring product in the office and reinventing them one by one, through reputable technologies.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?

All startups tend to make mistakes along the way, especially in the early stages…but of course, it’s learning from those mistakes that make us grow. There was a shipping incident a couple of years ago that was somewhat amusing but mostly embarrassing, and it was around the time of our first product launch. Back then we had announced that we would prioritize production and delivery for the first 1,000 pre-orders. What we didn’t know was that we had gotten a lot more attention from the market than we thought, and we got inundated with more than 3,000 pre-orders just for the first batch! It was way more than we were equipped to handle, and in all the chaos at that time we somehow shipped products only to the later 2,000 pre-orders, rather than to the initial 1,000 as promised. This was a nightmare for our brand image and our customer service team at the time, and we received tons of complaints as you can imagine. My main takeaway from this, and certainly my advice to young entrepreneurs everywhere, is not to underestimate small details and be prepared for all possible scenarios, so you don’t get overwhelmed as we did.

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?

The first “person” who comes to mind is multiple people, our very first customers. They’re the early adopters who made everything we do possible, not just because they purchased our products, but because they test them and gave us invaluable practical feedback that helped us ameliorate a lot of problems we faced in our product line at the time.

We’ve been able to make big improvements to customer service, shipping, and so many other areas of our business thanks to their feedback. One story in particular that I’ll never forget is when we were facing a lot of negativity online — most of it was coming from our competitors. That’s why I’m very appreciative to this day of all the support we got from them across multiple review platforms and social media.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

From day one, we set out to create products to help people work smarter and get the most out of their work every day. We realized that people spend a lot of time in the office, whether it’s their life’s calling or simply to make ends meet. The time we spend working is valuable, so we wanted to find ways to leverage it as effectively as possible. And that’s still the purpose that drives us at our core to this day. We will never forget what brought us together to build Autonomous and with every new product, we always target to help people with their working habits.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?

Our business focuses on building smart office tools and solutions. As we’ve grown over the years, we’ve taken a dual approach to this, both through our own home-grown software and hardware solutions. Our greatest successes have been with our SmartDesk and ErgoChair lines, and we’re constantly innovating to integrate software to enhance those experiences so our customers can keep track of their health and progress and get the most not only out of our hardware but out of their workdays in general. The last year 2020 is an unusual year not only for Autonomous but everyone when we’re all affected by the pandemic. People are working from home, taking more freelance jobs, and need to have a decent place to work in their own homes. That’s when Autonomous can help because our products are great for any workspace. For example, with Autonomous SmartDesk 2, its sleek minimalist design means it complements the user’s unique aesthetic without dominating the space or drawing much attention. In fact, it’s designed not only as a productivity tool that boosts your energy, but as a neutral backdrop to all of your gear and decor.

Moreover, Autonomous has helped lift people’s spirits by sharing inspiring work, setting up photos and videos featuring its products, showcasing its versatility and ability to adapt to limitless aesthetics and work styles. In March 2021, we hosted a desk customizing competition that resulted in thousands of submissions, engaging and rallying the community, and motivating people to make the most of their home offices.

Now we’re really excited to be helping parents and kids with this same philosophy with our upcoming line of SmartKids products, which will feature kid-centric tools to help set kids up for success in their education and their career aspirations as well.

Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?

The hardware and software integration we’re focusing on has really been a game-changer in our industry. It challenges the old way of thinking, which is just to market products without any ongoing development of those products our customer experiences with them. Now we’re in new territory, where hardware and software come together to continually benefit and renew people’s experiences with their products over time. It’s more than just basic hardware that serves a single purpose, but rather a much greater boost for productivity and efficiency made possible by software.

What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?

We are on track to make every product software-powered. We’ve pivoted to working on a brand new audio and video communication platform, hardware devices powered by software (apps) to power more efficient collaboration tools, as well as more efficient workspaces.

Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.

As we’ve all had to adjust to working from home during the pandemic, we had a moment where we realized a lot of small but irritating problems this can create. I started thinking about the role Autonomous can play in helping people find solutions for this. We’re at a point now where we know working from home has grown beyond a fad and is going to be a continual need, and it’s created an increasing sense of urgency to be prepared for unpredictable scenarios. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, are increasingly interested in taking freelance jobs that allow them to work remotely, rather than working in an office full time.

I myself had a realization when I was having a Zoom meeting with my team that there were some issues that prevented us from communicating well. That’s when I thought of creating an integrated platform for office tools that go beyond the basic capabilities of a Zoom call, which is why we’re hard at work on creating a new audio and video communication platform. Our goal is to bridge the gap and create a platform that increases the efficiency of communication and makes brainstorming as inspiring as it can be when having a meeting face-to-face.

So, how are things going with this new direction?

At the moment, there are still a lot of unknowns. We’re still working on it, creating new channels to communicate with our customers such as our recently launched Autonomous Labs online forum, and of course keeping a close eye on market demand. I’m definitely feeling optimistic about this new direction.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?

As a leader, it’s important to encourage your team to embrace change and adapt, rather than seeing it as an adversary. A lot of the pushback to change comes from not knowing whether current trends will stick or if they’re just a momentary fad. Either way, my role is to ensure we embrace those changes and keep up with everything that’s happening around us, and always find opportunities to learn from those changes.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

In uncertain times, a leader needs to be the bedrock of stability for the team. Recognizing and praising my team’s strengths and successes is just as crucial as finding areas that need improvement. Maintaining a solid and confident attitude to our direction is how I inspire my team to stay motivated and inspired to innovate and develop creative new solutions.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

What I see happen most often is that businesses try to keep doing the same thing and hoping for the same success, adapt to change too slowly, try to avoid that change, and even try to resist it. The key to success is adapting to those changes and going for the ride, rather than pushing back on the inevitable.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each./

First I would say a leader’s attitude. Welcome changes, be the first to adapt, and see them as opportunities to test your ability as a leader and learn from them. Then I would say the team’s power, because no one succeeds alone. If you can rally the hearts and minds of everyone on your team, you’ll bring out the best ideas, solutions, experiences, and creative approaches to problems, making the journey shorter and more fun. I would also say customer feedback is a key factor. A leader needs to listen to customers and ask what they need, rather than merely speculate. Often, their answers will surprise and inspire you, and ideally,, they can be part of the innovation process to build new products that they feel they can take partial ownership. Finally, I would say focus is crucial. When you don’t have much to work with, you’ve got to stay focused on the goal 200% and work with what you have to produce a prototype. Get it to the market as quickly as possible, get feedback, and keep improving.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Of course. “The only constant is change.” This has been my mantra as a leader, through many years of dealing with uncertain changes to the business, it’s extremely relevant to everything I do as a leader.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can follow our work and ongoing projects at labs.autonomous.ai

Or on our social media, we’re always sharing new campaigns and promotions, so be sure to follow us on your social media platform of choice (Autonomous.ai).

This was very inspiring and informative. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this interview!


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