Lessons Learned From Our Investment in Kindred

After Kindred was acquired by Ocado last week, we wanted to reflect on what we learned, and the ingredients that made Kindred successful in a short period of time.

We were fortunate to have the opportunity to invest into Kindred in the Series A.

We invested in the company in its early days based on three key beliefs:

  1. Team: The strength of the founding team and their vision for the company
  2. Market: Transformation coming to supply chain/logistics, enabled by AI and Robotics
  3. Focus: Their ability to deliver production quality, highly valuable commercial solutions

This combination of skills, focus and market potential enabled Kindred to unify around a great vision, iterate quickly, and demonstrate the persistence needed to achieve formidable success.

The team:

Kindred was started with a strong founding team possessing deep experiences in artificial intelligence, robotics, operations, and visionary enterprise sales.

Many of the founders had experience building other companies, including DWave Systems and Rypple (acquired by Salesforce).  

Once the founders started Kindred, they did a great job recruiting outstanding talent to join the organization. By growing in two locations simultaneously (San Francisco and Toronto), they could tap into two great markets rich with talent to support their expansion.  It was clear that the team had the determination and resilience to build Kindred patiently and methodically.

The market:

We believe that supply chains, logistics and distribution centers are undergoing a multi-year transformation as the world accelerates the shift to e-commerce and direct to consumer distribution. In addition, just as ecommerce sales are growing, there is a shortage of workers required to address the increase in demand. 

At the time of investment, Amazon was already an early adopter of intelligent, autonomous robotic capabilities, and we believed that smart automation was still in its infancy for most organizations. There was (and remains) the opportunity for many applications to be developed across distribution, manufacturing and warehousing. 

For context:

During the holiday season of 2015, nearly 17,000 warehouses across the US could not fill their warehouse positions, driving up wages, delaying orders and putting the supply chain at risk. With the need for warehouse employees growing 10% every year before the pandemic, there was significant pull for a solution like Kindred’s to alleviate the pressure put on retailers to compete for the limited number of warehouse workers available, and to reduce the strenuous labour demands placed on warehouse employees.

A worker at apparel distributor Beverly Rose searches through inventory to fill an order at the firm's warehouse in Miami.
A worker at an apparel distributor searching through inventory to fulfill an order at a warehouse in Miami. 

Kindred’s solution improved the conditions for warehouse employees by allowing them to work collaboratively with the robots, and fulfilled a demand in a market that was evolving, making its solution mission critical to its customers.

 Kindred’s robotic arm using its AutoGrasp technology - AI algorithms in vision, grasping and manipulation to operate with human-like intelligence in sorting products.

Delivering real solutions:

The vision of Kindred was to move quickly from developing intellectual property and AI frameworks to building, testing and refining real commercial solutions. While many AI-oriented firms are focused on conducting research and publishing papers years after their founding, Kindred had a vision to pragmatically apply their expertise in pursuit of high value solutions. This included the early insight that drove them to design a "human-in-the-loop" model, whereby staff are connected with the machines to both help solve problems and better train their AI.

This customer-driven approach led them to focus on solving a last mile problem for distribution centers by separating and assembling a set of customer orders using autonomous robots before these orders were packaged and shipped from the warehouse.

Kindred’s robotic arm sorting packages before they are packaged and shipped.

After signing their initial customers, they took a collaborative approach to refine their solution, continuously improving both the hardware and their intelligent software, while deepening their integrations into the warehouse systems.

Kindred’s improvements in  the efficiency and speed of their solutions were continuous and impressive. We were inspired by the team’s determination, adaptability and close relationships with their customers which helped drive useful feedback to their engineering team, leading to tangible improvements for their customers

A warehouse with an array of Kindred’s AutoGrasp robotic arms sorting orders. 

A bright future ahead:

As Covid-19 has accelerated the trends in ecommerce and home delivery, demand for Kindred solutions has grown dramatically. As part of Ocado, they will have the ability to offer their solutions to new industries while  developing new products that harness the core of their solutions.

We wish them continued success, and are looking forward to watching the remainder of their journey unfold.

Feel free to reach out if you are working on or know of a B2B SaaS business that aligns with out ethos. We'd love to hear from you.

Published on
December 22, 2020
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