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.

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.