We sat down with Adam Amos of Robotic Systems about self-funding to get your start, the importance of the customer and the future of his enterprise.
At 33, Adam Amos is the founder and director of engineering consultancy Robotic Systems, based in Newcastle, NSW. Founded in 2012, they create electronics, software, and hardware to solve some of the most challenging problems in mining and agriculture. Now a team of ten, they have completed over 30 projects with four patents being awarded to their customers.
Hello Adam. What inspired you to create Robotic Systems?
It was 2008, and I was about to finish a degree in Mechatronics engineering. I didn’t feel like it was going to leave uni with any practical skills to be able to build anything. I loved engineering competitions, but I didn’t want to get involved in any that were run through the university because they were large teams where nobody got much hands-on experience.
So I funded myself to enter a government-run robotics competition called the Outback Unmanned Aerial Vehicle challenge. During the six years of competing unsuccessfully in that competition, I learned more practical engineering skills than in my previous six years of university and guided me to want to work in a small business where I would be directly responsible for the success of projects.
You’re at the intersection of the software-electronics-hardware ‘Venn diagram’ specifically in mining and agriculture. How did you get here?
In my 20s, I worked for a small engineering consultancy in Sydney that unfortunately went broke. I was halfway through a handful of projects and had developed a strong relationship with my customers. When they learned what had happened, they insisted that I keep going and complete their projects!
I set up a small work area in my parents’ garage and Robotic Systems was born. 12 months later, I won a contract with Orica Mining to develop the electronics and software on their new generation of explosives control systems. I then moved out of my parents’ garage to Newcastle and got my first team member to assist with delivering the work.
So my first really important learning was that if you care enough about your customers, they will care enough about you to keep working with you.
In 2020 Robotic Systems is a staff of 11 full-time engineers, scientists and artists bringing together electronics, software, and hardware to turn our customers’ practical experience into game-changing new products.
In a competitive marketplace, how do you strike the right notes to cut through?
By 2019 I was feeling a deep sense of frustration as none of the ‘products’ that I had agonised over developing – mobile 3D laser scanners, drone aircraft, electronics parts – were getting any traction.
It came to a head when we were accepted into a technology acceleration program run by the CSIRO. In this program, we were challenged with making 100 customer discovery calls, which we did. I got to about call 50 and realised I had no idea what I was doing.
I learned that you can have all the technical capabilities in the world, but unless you have practical real-world experience with the problem you are trying to solve you won’t be able to do it.
So I scrapped everything we had made, instead I designed a process to turn our customers’ ideas into machines that they can own and sell. We call this product Practical Prototyping.
My first really important learning was that if you care enough about your customers, they will care enough about you to keep working with you.
Take us through a day in your life. What does the typical day look like?
We work from 6 am to 2.30 pm Monday to Friday with no overtime. Our days are broken up into four blocks of different size that are designed to get the team into the flow.
The first hour of each day is committed to working on some new asset for the business that is going to save you time, save your teammates time, increase production and quality (as there will be more work), what can be measured, and what can be standardised.
We focus every day on what can increase clarity and transparency for customers.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My biggest objective every day is to align the team with why we are doing operating the way we are, and have team members themselves create, plan, and set up their own metrics to decide if they are on track or not.
What kind of impact has COVID-19 had on the bottom line or the company’s strategy?
COVID hasn’t really impacted us. If anything, it’s had a positive impact. We have pivoted our engineering service to be designed specifically for hybrid in-person and online. Our customers would traditionally not accept an online meeting, but after COVID it has been proven that everything is possible over Zoom!
Now we are competing for and winning work in cities that we would have not otherwise been able to before.
What do you see as the next big move for Robotic Systems?
We are scaling up! Our key objectives are getting more work out the door, faster.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.