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This 35-year-old walked away from Google to start a robotics company that's rais ...


This 35-year-old walked away from Google to start a robotics company that's rais ...

Erik Schluntz and Travis Deyle (left) are the cofounders of Cobalt.

Cobalt Security robotics company Cobalt raised $13 million in a Series A round of financing this year, despite putting together a pitch deck the night before meeting with VCs. Cobalt's CEO Travis Deyle said the company wowed investors because it was able to deliver on two goals. Deyle set out to have a product on the market within the first year and land a paying customer before building anything.

Raising venture capital for a startup is no cakewalk. There are high stakes, probing questions from investors, and an unspoken pressure from your employees to return to the office with a term sheet.

So it's noteworthy that Travis Deyle and Erik Schluntz raised $13 million from investors for their security robotics company, Cobalt , this year, despite putting so little time into preparing their pitch.

"Ours happened so quickly. That sounds cheesy, but we expected it to be a giant slog. The bar for a Series A is substantial," Deyle said.

He and his cofounder were out mixing with venture capitalists when the duo suggested, "Hey, we think we're going to raise in six months," Deyle told Business Insider. "Then it just kicked off into gear. We prepared our deck the night before our partner meeting."

Sequoia Capital, Storm Ventures, and Founders Fund are among the investors pouring a total of $16.5 million into Cobalt, which makes a roving, robotic security guard that can patrol offices, detect intruders, and alert human authorities in the event of an incident.

According to Deyle, Cobalt had two things going for it that made raising the Series A easier than it should have been.

Deyle and Schluntz set two goals for the company before launching the business: have a product on the market within the first year, and land a paying customer before building anything. Those goals are ambitious for any startup, but especially for one building a five-foot-tall, all-seeing security robot with the intestines of a self-driving car.

Deyle said they delivered on both fronts (sort of), and that doing so wowed their potential investors into plunking down $13 million.

Here's how they did it

Deyle, who worked on developingsmart contact lenses at GoogleX, and Schluntz, who was an intern at SpaceX before launching Cobalt, spent months interviewing people across industries to figure out what exactly they should build. They found demand for robots that could help companies save money on human security guards.

The first version of a Cobalt robot had sensors and wires tucked into gallon buckets that were bolted together. After some months, the robot got smarter ― and more handsome. The company tapped Yves Behar and his design consultancy fuseproject to create a look and feel for the robot. Its matte blue body covered in fabric, which hides some 60 sensors, a thermal camera, and a carbon monoxide detector underneath, is more reminiscent of the Roomba than RoboCop.

An employee engages a security robot from Cobalt.


Cobalt started testing the robot at a nurse staffing company in the San Francisco Bay Area, before landing its first customer, which Deyle declined to name, in the first 12 months of the company's existence. Deyle said he also had handshake agreements with other potential customers before Cobalt came out of stealth mode.

"Our business model is sound," Deyle said. "There's no quantum leap in technology. We do not have to get to 100% autonomy in order for our business model to work. Our business model works as it is."

Right now, there are only a handful of Cobalt robots patrolling offices, warehouses, and manufacturing sites across the Bay Area and the company's second market, Chicago.

The company decided it was ready to raise a Series A when customers started asking if they could lease more robots for their offices.

Deyle said he aims to use the cash infusion from Sequoia to expand their coverage. Cobalt plans to maintain operations hubs in every city where it has customers, so the company can quickly deploy backup robots if a customer encounters an issue with their unit.

Having a product on the market for a year means there are already fewer surprises, and fewer breakdowns, according to Deyle. It's one of the biggest advantages of building a company in such short time.

"The real world is your biggest challenge," Deyle said. "So let's get the bots out of the labs and into real environments."

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