Where: Guangdong, China
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Head Tim Enwall says the startup looked to the center of the hardware supply chain for a manufacturing partner.
After revolutionizing the toy robot with Sphero, Ian Bernstein wanted to create a robot for developers, and spun off a second company in Misty Robotics.
While Sphero's robots (like BB-8 from Star Wars) were designed for entertainment first and foremost, Misty's mission was providing the coding community with a platform to develop applications.
After working out the kinks with Misty I, the $3,1999 Misty II started shipping in November 2019.
The market reception has been positive, says Enwall. "I think it's gone exceedingly well when you think about what our concept is, which is for third parties to build robot solutions on an incredibly affordable, incredibly easy-to-program robot that they have no clue how to build," he says. "We're trying to open the world of robotics to 23 million software developers, where the world is currently constrained to maybe a thousand credible roboticists."
He breaks down the market into three segments: businesses, educators and libraries, and individual programmers and hobbyists. Early applications include elder care, greeting, security, and entertainment. (A magician in New York uses a Misty II as an assistant.) "Most of these customers are knee-deep in building the application," says Enwall. "When 30 customers buy 30 robots and they put an application into use in the marketplace, they could drive sales of 10,000 units each -- or 100,000.
This build-it-and-they-will-come approach "is the history of the last 40 years of this industry," says Enwall, citing personal computers, gaming consoles, and smartphones as examples.
Where Misty Robotics manufactures
While about 70 units of the Misty I were "handbuilt in Boulder, Colorado," Enwall says the Misty II required mass production.
As a spinoff from Sphero, Misty has worked with the same contract manufacturer, Jetta Company Limited, at a facility in Guangdong, China. "Sphero had already started working with a manufacturing partner that had produced 5 million products," says Enwall. "That's the why and where."
Enwall says it's ultimately about "access to nearby supply chains," namely tooling manufacturers. "That's something that really doesn't exist anywhere on the planet except China: the depth and breadth and experience of the tooling industry," he adds. "We in America tend to forget that we once had it and it just migrated away rapidly. It's really a skill set."
The only other option was to work with manufacturers in Vietnam or Mexico after sourcing tooling from China, adds Enwall. "Certainly for small companies like ours, you can't really manage a sophisticated, complex supply chain like that, whereas the Chinese manufacturers have been operating those kind of supply chains for decades," he notes. "The one we work with has been in business for 40 years."
That experience is especially important when it comes to the Misty II. "There's virtually no one on the planet that is making thousands of $2,000 robots," says Enwall. "The combination of mass production and relatively low price, there's just not a lot of that experience anywhere in the world. Robots like these have more in common with a car than they do a laptop."
He adds, "For fledging hardware startups, I personally think it's very difficult to manufacture anything in volume in a place other than China."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, tariffs have impacted Misty Robotics, but Enwall says that the supply chains and skill sets for hardware are not easily replicated outside of China.
"Vietnam is the biggest recipient of this whole trade war as far as I can tell," he notes. "Those networks have started to get created in Vietnam, but the ability to do due diligence and the ability to trust the partner is so much different."
But it's not just tariffs, adds Enwall. "The civil dislocation that's going on in Hong Kong at this point is another complicating factor. There's now a more significant level of uncertainty."
The next iteration of Misty's robots is on the horizon. "We've got work internally to look at what the next generations are," says Enwall. "We're going to have an announcement in the next couple months about some product line additions."
He adds, "Mostly though, we are really wanting to understand what the marketplace really needs in the Misty next. This is not a mature laptop market where you can start planning out laptop version 28, 29, and 30 all at the same time and build a five-year pipeline of product."