Oleksandr Iurkin, co-founder and project architect at Dynamic Division tells us about commercial cleaning robots.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Oleksandr Iurkin: We are doing well, thank you for asking. It was a challenge for us, but we did a great job. We stopped going to public places and started bicycles and fishing. We got closer to nature, and we also discovered new board games and began to spend significantly more time together. Though before 2020 we knew about similar pandemics of the past through books and cinema, we were complacent and perceived them as something that wouldn’t happen to us now.
Due to the fast pace of modern life, we forgot about how vulnerable we are. We were reminded that humanity needs to develop, including in technical terms. To improve. To grow.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Dynamic Division.
Oleksandr Iurkin: I am an entrepreneur and have held management positions in classic trading and manufacturing companies. I have been successful in developing and subsequently exiting a number of local startups. For more than five years I was in strategic communications and crisis management. Besides this I was always fond of reading science fiction, and since childhood has loved to watch films about robots. At the same time, traveling widely I constantly encountered the floor cleaning process in public places – malls, train stations, airports. A simple and repetitive task that does not require much involvement or creativity.
In late 2017 I remember watching a news story from Boston Dynamics, and I was inspired by their successes in the field of robotics. And so the idea to robotize this process was born. I proposed to my brother Vyacheslav that we try and catch the last train. He supported me by bringing his ideas and healthy skepticism to the project and we established our company Dynamic Division in late 2019.
That’s how the story began.
How does Dynamic Division innovate?
Oleksandr Iurkin: Initially, we tried to understand the cleaning industry and to learn about problems and pain points. We had a vision of what this sector might look like. Almost immediately we found that today robots are mostly products people use to bolster their image. They are too expensive to implement. Customers need to learn new technologies, and they are forced to adapt business processes and models.
Therefore, we decided to propose an industrial floor cleaning robot on the basis of the Product as a Service economy model. With payment for square meters cleaned only. Available twenty-four hours, seven days a week – on demand. No need to pay extra for overtime or nighttime work.
No need to purchase. No maintenance. No need for recycling. No need to retrain employees.
Fully automated water filling, adding of the cleaning liquid, emptying of the waste tank, battery charging, and cleaning. Customers can automate their floor cleaning needs by cutting up to sixty percent of expenses in three easy steps:
Subscribe. Push the button. Pay for the number of cleaned square meters.
And we got a great response from the potential customers. As an additional plus, this model allows us to install used and refurbished components in our robots. And it lets us reduce costs to make robots even more affordable.
This year has revealed another point – people are fragile and vulnerable. Cleaning may at first seem like a non-critical activity. But if you think more deeply about it, you realize cleaning addresses both air quality and infection control. Just add special disinfectants, and our robot becomes a sanitizer capable of performing tasks in places where it is dangerous or harmful for humans to work. Even though we are moving along a strictly outlined roadmap, we never stop brainstorming and experimenting. We want to bring change to the industry. We want to make it better, more responsive, and more flexible.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Oleksandr Iurkin: It has had absolutely no effect. In 2020, we closed the previous round of financing. We have a clear roadmap, and our main goals are in the field of R&D and programming. We optimized our burn rate since we understood that the situation would not be resolved quickly. I’m calling this phase “Dyn went into his shell”. We hid in our production office and at the test site, turned on bactericidal recirculation, and even managed to schedule visits during the peak of infections.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has affected other aspects of the project. The logistics have deteriorated at times. Some manufacturing companies have shut down. It has become more difficult to get the necessary components. There are work delays by contractors. We are still small, and all of these factors consequently have a greater impact on us. Many scheduled meetings and negotiations had to be postponed. The pilot phase may need to be delayed a bit. But in general, it so happened that we had a little more time on our hands. And we’re able to fully concentrate on the product.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Oleksandr Iurkin: I am sure every startup faces difficult decisions about human resources. We are no exception. For about a year we have been assembling a really sharp team. Since we were dying to begin as soon as possible, we made a number of mistakes. We analyzed the mistakes and made adjustments. We continue to create our dream team and focused on hiring like-minded professionals.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Oleksandr Iurkin: This is still in its nascent stage of development. Today we hire our potential customers to become our mentors. We are trying to pump them for as many of their pain points as possible. It is similar to the relationship between students and a professor. We carefully listen, watch, and consult. I’m not sure that questionnaires can be thought of as a specific tool in this respect. As for the software CRM products, there is a huge number of them on the market. And we will certainly find the best solution once we finish formulating our requirements.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Oleksandr Iurkin: Nope. We are fully funded and making huge strides towards achieving our goals. Nothing threatens our smooth sailing. The boat runs briskly through the waves. And our task now is just to keep it that way.
Your final thoughts?
Oleksandr Iurkin: We think that robots can be affordable, functional, attractive, and safe. And we are creating the machines that will work side-by-side with us in the world of tomorrow. Adhering to the Zero Waste philosophy, we are constantly looking for solutions in which we can use remanufactured components, reducing the need for recycling. We strive to optimize the use of natural resources. We want to extend the life of equipment and components. We aim to create mechanisms that can effectively cover for us, the fragile people that we are.
There is a long way ahead, and this is just the beginning.