If YPO member and Maidbot Founder and CEO Micah Green has his way, the next time you stay in a hotel, your housekeeper will be partnered up with a robot named Rosie. Unlike human housekeepers, Rosie will not only vacuum your room, but she will collect data about how dirty the floors are (take note, messy eaters) and determine how often your room needs cleaning.
Just 18 when he started Maidbot, Green was a freshman at the School of Hotel Administration, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University when he first thought about combining his passion for robotics with the family business. His mother had attended the same program, and his grandparents had run a summer camp for decades. While working for his grandparents each summer, Green fell in love with hospitality.
But it was during class, in an on-site rotation as a room attendant, that he started taking careful notes, creating granular data points about everything from time spent on a cleaning task to worker sick days and how often a room needed cleaning. What he found was an industry that had barely changed in the decades since his mother was in school.
“Hospitality is one of the oldest industries out there,” says Green. “It’s the biggest in terms of number of employees, and it is also very traditional. There’s a gap between hospitality and the engineering world, in terms of solving problems with technical solutions. So, one of our goals is to bridge that gap, to bring solutions in and hopefully inspire others to do the same.”
The making of Maidbot
Vacuuming is an unusual choice in the tech startup space – and particularly for a then-18-year-old. Yet, the decision was entirely rational and data-driven, with a little pop culture thrown in.
“Rosie from The Jetsons is our vision,” says Green. In the 1962 futuristic animated show, Rosie was a human-looking robot maid, who did everything from making beds to, yes, vacuuming. In that show, people also spoke by phones with screens that looked like TVs. Those seemed far-fetched, too.
“Everyone has a smartphone today,” says Green. “I strongly believe that everyone’s going to have a smart robot one day. And we want to be the ones to build that.”
Yet, before Green could take the leap from college student in remote Ithaca, New York, USA, to Maidbot CEO in Austin, Texas, USA, he had to convince his parents. This was 2015, and by the end of August of that year, he had a handful of interns and his first round of funding. A few months later, he hired his first two employees.
It quickly became apparent, however, that if he was going to continue to attract talent, build the business and not miss meetings for, say, a final exam, it was time to leave school.
“What’s the worst-case scenario?,” he recalls asking. “To me, it was like, school will be there. I can always go back. Since then, that worst-case scenario concept has become a helpful guiding question.”
An industry transformed
Four years later, and a year into a pandemic that has eviscerated the hospitality business worldwide, Green has learned more about leadership, pivoting and seizing opportunity from the ashes than the average CEO might in a lifetime.
“The industry got completely hammered,” he says. Indeed, in the U.S. alone, as of November 2020, more than half of hotels reported imminent foreclosure, and 63% of them were staffed at less than 50% of pre-pandemic levels.
That affected Maidbot in significant ways, in terms of how the company operated and where it put its focus. “We had to make some drastic decisions,” says Green, “like parting ways with certain team members, and trying to cut costs as much as possible to survive.”
The other side of the equation was opening up a dialogue with the remaining 20 Maidbot staff members, who had just lost a third of their colleagues. Green had one-on-one meetings with each staff member to listen to their concerns, re-form bonds and, essentially, heal from the company’s tough decisions. Those meetings paid off, he says, and led to new structures and rhythms that empowered staff to speak up and become closer.
New opportunities for Maidbot
In the months since those initial tough calls, Green has also learned to seize new opportunities that have come out of the global pandemic. Specifically, cleanliness being critical, and the push to minimize human interaction for added safety.
When you’re an entrepreneur you will hear ‘no’ a million times. But it only takes one yes. So, continue to see that light even when it’s really, really dim in the distance. ”
— Micah Green, Founder, President & CEO of Maidbot share
Hospitality is still Maidbot’s central focus, but the company has begun to garner interest from industrial real estate, including airports, shopping malls and multifamily apartment buildings and assisted living spaces. It is also exploring new avenues within the cleaning milieu.
“Another element we’re looking at is the disinfecting side of things and sanitation,” says Green. “I can’t get into too much detail. But I will say our Series B round was led by RB, Lysol’s parent company. So, we’re looking at some interesting, innovative solutions that we can work on together.”
The youth factor
Having started Maidbot at such a young age, Green has experienced what he calls two sides of the same coin. His youth, he says, helped lead him to forming a relationship, for example, with Thiel Capital founder Peter Thiel, and whom Green now counts as a mentor. It also, however, led investors to turn him down.
“It depends on the person,” Green says. “But there’s an energy that can come from youth; having fewer scars; that kind of ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality. It creates this confidence, essentially, that helps me or maybe other [young] people move forward and make decisions quickly, at certain times. And just lean in.”
Green shares lessons learned from which any starry-eyed entrepreneur, at any stage, could benefit:
- Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. “Whether it’s starting a company, owning hotels, or robotics – I have that beginner’s mindset. It’s dissolving the ego and really about learning and getting different areas of expertise. That’s helped us strategically to solve certain problems.”
- Build a strong support system. “On the fundraising side, building relationships in the context of mentorship versus ‘Hey, I want your money.’ One thing I tell people is, if you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice. That’s been really helpful to build this really strong support system around us.”
- It only takes one “yes.” “When you’re an entrepreneur you will hear ‘no’ a million times. Everyone hears that thousands and thousands of times. But one thing that I’ve kept in mind, and my mom reminds me often, is that it only takes one ‘yes.’ So, take it one step at a time. Continue to see that light even when it’s really, really dim in the distance.”
- If you don’t ask, you’ll never know. “The world is smaller than people think. It’s going back to the question, what’s the worst-case scenario? I encourage people to reach out, get out of their comfort zone. Get the right people around you. Even if it might be scary.”
The future of robotics
To Green, the pandemic has opened new avenues for his own company and for the robotics industry. Behavior has already shifted dramatically in the past year. As proof, Green points to mobile check-ins at hotels and the massive return of QR codes as just two ways that technology has become part of everyday life, practically overnight.
He sees how that will impact expectations in the hospitality industry, too. During a hotel stay, for example, “Do I need to see a human while I’m there,” he asks. “There’s going to be a societal shift in terms of how people are thinking about operations.”
I encourage people to reach out, get out of their comfort zone. Get the right people around you. Even if it might be scary. ”
— Micah Green, Founder, President & CEO of Maidbot share
Green also sees a potential for robotics in combination with emerging technologies; namely, his other two passions, teleportation and holograms. As out-of-reach as those sound, Green, unsurprisingly, has a vision. In terms of holograms, he cites the challenge of mobile hardware as one of robotics’ biggest hurdles.
“It’s complex hardware that interacts many levels. If you could make tactile holograms, essentially replicating robots but with fewer hardware needs, you could create a platform that could be used for so many different things. It seemed like a natural transition – a really far-out-there transition – that would make a lot of sense.” Green envisions tactile holograms as having applications everywhere from commercial services to eldercare.
As for teleportation, that idea may be further afield. At its heart, however, is Green’s desire to enable society to spend less time doing things like commuting and spend more time on things like writing or building a company.
For the moment, however, his focus is still on the entrepreneurial roller coaster. Despite the stormy conditions of the past year, Green is irrepressibly bullish on the future.
“This is the time to be implementing robotics,” he says “It’s kind of like the Wild West. The opportunity is there and it’s feasible now. It’s real.”