What You Can Learn From Lowe’s Experiment to Employ Robots in Their Stores

The Lowebot is the latest incarnation of the relationship between Lowe’s Home Improvement and Fellow Robots, one of the many envelope-pushing startups we have at Singularity University. This collaboration, which also spawned the OSHbot which has now been in service in an Orchard Supply Hardware (a Lowe’s subsidiary) in the Bay Area for two years now, is an example that I always point out to the boards and executive teams that come through Singularity University. It represents two things that most Fortune 500 companies are not doing, namely:

  1. Being bold.
  2. Doing so publicly.
Fellow Robots
Image: Fellow Robots

While the Lowebot is certainly earning media mentions and could easily be mistaken for a media gimmick, the most valuable opportunity I see with the Lowebot is the opportunity to learn. Not just to see what robots can do in a retail store environment, but the opportunity to learn how humans use and interact with them and to leverage that information to evolve not only the next version of the Lowebot, but the entire field of robotic assistants. If robotic assistants are our future, then Lowe’s is quickly discovering more about that future, in a real-world environment, than anyone else and that has implications well beyond home improvement.

My advice to CEOs is to do something as bold as what Lowe’s is doing with the Lowebot. Do it to learn. Do it to stake a claim in a new or developing industry. And if you can’t figure out what to do, then look for progressive and forward-thinking talent and partners who can help you find something bold to do. Because in today’s business environment if you aren’t boldly leading into the future, you’re probably falling behind.

This post originally appeared on Medium on September 19, 2016.


Why I Keep Sharing “The First Follower” As A Leadership Lesson

Over the years, I’ve probably passed this video on to well over a hundred people. It’s a short, simple lesson in leadership and, just as importantly, follwership. The core lesson is that the most important person to a movement is the first follower. That first follower transforms the lone nut into a leader.

But what strikes me the most about this video is the lesson that the leader needs to embrace that first follower as an equal, inviting them into the movement and making it easy for them to invite others. The leader needs to make it all about the movement and not himself.

I wonder if Derek Sivers realized that he was following his own advice by making an easy to share, three-minute video. Or if he was unconsciously practicing what he preached?

In any case, I invite you to become part of the movement and share this with others.

Is Miami’s Moment in the Start-up Sun Finally Arriving?


This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend Start-up City: Miami sponsored by The Atlantic and The Atlantic Cities at Miami Beach’s New World Center. For me, this event came at just the right time. I’ve grown frustrated because I keep hearing the same lament from friends around our great city. Talented, driven individuals are faced with the choice of either leaving Miami to get the job they want, or making professional sacrifices in order to stay here in the city they love. Why do people in Miami feel like they have to make this choice? And could a burgeoning start-up scene in Miami provide another option?

After spending the day listening to a wide variety of speakers including celebrity CEO Tony Hsieh of Zappos, local success story Manny Medina, founder of Terremark, and Susan Amat, founder of Miami’s celebrated Launch Pad Tech, I left the conference hoping that a new technology age might be dawning here on the shores of Biscayne Bay. But it’s far too early to declare victory. Sure, having a conference like this take place in Miami feels like a massive endorsement of our city and the potential we have. And while that is great, Miami desperately needs a success story. We need a Zappos like Las Vegas, a Groupon like Chicago, a massive win that brings jobs, venture dollars and, perhaps most importantly, belief. And to the credit of the speakers, this was a theme that was repeated throughout the day.

It seems that Miami’s biggest problem in the start-up world is retaining growing companies. While there are many good ideas that get hatched here in Miami, once they reach the point where they need venture money they are moved to the Bay Area or New York by their investors. And I’m not sure how we reverse this trend without having an established funding source located here in Miami. I did hear the claim that we should expect at least one of the top-tier venture capital firms to  be opening an office here in Miami sometime in 2013, and I believe that would be truly groundbreaking. By serving Latin America out of our fair city, It would mark the beginning of a shift in regional focus from Sao Paulo to Miami, and entrepreneurs in South Florida as a whole would accrue many benefits in the process. The biggest would undoubtedly be the opportunity to grow their company while staying home in the Magic City.

The other request I heard from the panelists was for entrepreneurs in Miami to dream bigger. We have an enormous number of entrepreneurs, just relatively few who are working on world-changing ideas. In Palo Alto, every entrepreneur thinks they are going to change the world. Its hard-wired into the culture. To attract the focus of the venture funds, we need to start thinking about ideas that will do more than just make us our own bosses. We need to think about what the world needs, and how we can take advantage of our blessed location at the nexus of North America, South America and Europe to provide it.  And I think that plea needs to be made even more emphatically to local government. It escaped no one’s attention that there was not a single current elected office holder from Miami Beach, Miami-Dade or the City of Miami in attendance. I believe we need more than that from our local government.

In the wake of such an outpouring of entrepreneurial enthusiasm, we’re left to wonder what comes next. Will it be the arrival of a Sand Hill Road VC? Will it be a new public-private partnership to create Miami’s equivalent of Las Vegas’ Downtown Project? Ultimately, I don’t think there is any magic that is going to immediately change the course of Miami. It’s going to need to be done the old-fashioned way with people taking a chance on a big idea and busting their butts to make it happen.

Susan Amat made a commitment to the audience that I heard said in different ways by many speakers during the day, “Start a business and I will amplify you!” It’s time for Miamians to take up that challenge and give Susan, and others, the chance to make good on that promise.

An Update on the Great Work from Khan Academy

The lastest from 60 Minutes chronicles the continued developments and growth at Khan Academy. Its inspirational. I love following this story. I remember when John Doerr came to speak to us about education at the Stanford Graduate School of Business back in 1999. I believe that even back then, the future he was imagining was the one that Khan Academy is brining forth.

The Spanx Story: How Sara Blakely Became The Youngest Self-made Woman Billionaire

I love this story, not because Sara is a friend of a friend, but because she made a billion dollars reinventing the girdle. Talk about building a better mousetrap. Also, living in Miami, I really appreciate where she found her inspiration while working door-to-door selling fax machines in Florida: “Uncomfortable in the sticky humidity she was desperate to find a pair of pantyhose that didn’t have seamed toes and that didn’t roll up the leg when she cut them.”

Does Sara invent Spanx if she is selling fax machines in North Dakota? Who knows, but I love that she took an old product and used her ingenuity, and guts, to solve a problem that was very real to her.

Also, the story says that she has never advertised and never raised a penny of financing. So she owns 100% of the company. Unbelievable. Mark Zuckerberg can’t say that. Of course, there was marketing genius along the way (“Spanx” is a great brand name…funny and memorable), luck (Oprah made the brand an overnight sensation) and a brilliant ability to create an emotional connection with her customers (As they say in the video, “We thank God for Sara and Spanx.”)

Sara’s connection to Richard Branson goes beyond having been on his TV show, “The Rebel Billionaire”, to sharing some marketing DNA as well. “No butts left behind,” is how Sara positions her future, global ambitions. That could just as easily be on a Virgin advert as one from Spanx.

Good luck, Sara. $1 billion worth of girdles and still going strong.