Our Principles: Responsibility
By Patrick Sobalvarro, CEO and co-founder, Veo Robotics
This is one of three pieces on Veo’s principles, each written by one of the company’s founders. Although each of these posts are by a different founder and about a different principle, they are equally crucial to the company and build on each other.
We are a team of adults, working together to accomplish shared goals. To accomplish our goals, we created a company, Veo Robotics. At Veo, our goals are to:
- Build and sell successful, excellent, innovative products that improve productivity, safety, and working conditions in factory environments through fluid human-machine interaction;
- Build the most successful company in our market segment; and
- Do so in a working environment that is honest, inclusive, and respectful, and that prioritizes high performance.
Goals entail responsibilities—they are two sides of the same coin. Because we’re adults who are serious about accomplishing our goals, we must take on the responsibilities that our goals assume: to the users of our products, to our customers, to our shareholders, and to each other as team members.
Our responsibilities to the users of our products
Veo Robotics is creating a future in which people can interact easily and safely with large, powerful machines. This will improve working conditions; workers will be more productive and comfortable and won’t be excluded from as many jobs because of physical limitations. But ensuring worker safety in the presence of powerful machines is a formidable responsibility. Our products must be engineered so that a manufacturing engineer can use them to build work environments that always fail to a safe state.
Certainly this figures into company success: if a worker is injured because of a faulty product we build, Veo Robotics may go out of business. But much more important than this is that each of us bears the ethical responsibility to build products that ensure worker safety, and that responsibility comes before any other considerations.
Our responsibilities to our customers
Our responsibilities to our customers are to provide them with high quality, safe products that function reliably through millions of cycles; to be truthful in our dealings with them; and to listen to them, learn from them, and incorporate those learnings into our products. Fulfilling these responsibilities will enable customers to trust us, and their trust is absolutely crucial to our success.
Like us, our customers are mostly engineers and they are people seeking to do their jobs well. When they buy an innovative industrial automation product from a startup, they are taking a risk. They don’t have to take that risk, no matter how much better our products might be than the alternatives. Because Veo Robotics is a new company making highly innovative products, they could instead just wait and see, and there are perfectly justifiable reasons for them to do so. A great deal of money is at stake in factory operations, and adopting a new system that fails and halts production repeatedly can put an engineer’s career at risk.
Our customers will take that risk if they trust that we are giving them a better way to do their work. Unlike incumbent competitors, we have not existed long enough to build a track record of positive customer experiences. The only way to earn our customers’ trust is by delivering products that reliably fulfill their needs. And to fulfill their needs, our products must be safe, reliable—which means working for millions of cycles in factory environments—and delivered on time.
We have to earn our customers’ trust: we have to be trustworthy. And that entails a responsibility to tell them the truth. When they buy our product, they are trusting us to provide them with a system that functions as we say it will. Truthfulness will sometimes mean walking away from business opportunities, but that’s the way it should be: factories and processes vary, and we should seek to sell our products where they are the best solution for our customers’ needs.
No complex, innovative product is perfect when it first reaches the market, and the way to improve is not by building whatever we might wish, but by listening to customers carefully and learning from them. It is our responsibility to prioritize customer requests for improvements and always be attentive to their feedback. This will also allow us to serve as large a customer base as possible, while improving our products and retaining our customers’ trust in us as their partner. Industrial automation is a highly referential market and our customers talk to each other about best practices and vendors, so our reputation in the industry matters a great deal to our success.
Ultimately, a product company that doesn’t serve its customers has no morally defensible reason to exist. If a product company doesn’t make good products that meet customer needs, it will fail unless it has somehow taken advantage of others, perhaps through deception or some form of external intervention that prevents customers from having choices. We won’t do this at Veo Robotics: our path to success leads through success for our customers.
Our responsibilities to our shareholders
As a venture-backed startup, we’ve sold shares of the company to investors who purchased them with the hope that those shares would become more valuable through the work we do.
Directors and officers of the company, like the CEO (who is also a director in this case) have a duty of care to manage the affairs of the company legally and with good business judgement, and a duty of loyalty to put the interests of the shareholders, taken as a whole, above our personal interests. And as employees of the company, each of us has a responsibility to work to increase the value of the company’s shares and earn our shareholders a good return, as the funds they have provided us with have paid for our salaries, benefits, assets, and operations.
Our responsibilities to each other
Workplaces in which people are not respectful of each other create misery, but a workplace where people trust and value each other creates the circumstances for deep fulfillment in our work. As team members, we are responsible to each other to maintain a healthy working environment that allows each of us to contribute to the best of our ability.
The responsibilities of company functions
Company functions are the parts of the company that fulfill specific business needs, such as sales, product management, or engineering. Each function is essential to the successful operation of the company.Thus, each function has responsibilities to every other function and to the company as a whole. Additionally, each function has authority within its domain and those within functions are responsible for respecting the authority of other functions; this is how we ensure transparency and accountability while minimizing confusion and inefficiency.
The responsibilities of managers
Those of us in positions of leadership enjoy the privilege of being trusted by those we manage. That privilege comes with some very important responsibilities, namely, getting the job done and treating team members with respect. In order to ensure the timely delivery of their team’s work, managers must work closely with their team members to plan out and track tasks and results. If there are issues that might result in delays or failure, it is the manager’s responsibility to alert others and ask for help.
The responsibilities of individual contributors
Without accountability for commitments, no team can perform well. Team members become frustrated, simple problems can’t be solved, and sometimes they can’t even be understood. But if we hold each other responsible to our commitments and trust each other to follow through or ask for help, we can depend on our teammates, know the value of our contributions, and accomplish more than we thought we could.
Each of us makes choices on which the company depends. The scope of choices may be large or small, but regardless of function we should always be thinking of our customers, shareholders, and fellow team members and make the choice that will benefit them the most.
Because Veo Robotics is a venture-backed startup, our resources are more limited than those of most public companies or government institutions. As a result, when one of us is confronted with a decision about whether to build an element of a product or spend company money, we need to be asking questions like: Is this necessary? Will this help us sell more product, serve customers better, or deliver product more quickly?
The answers to these questions aren’t always clear, but the grounds for making the decision should be clear, and they do not involve an individual’s personal preferences or ego, but rather the interests of the whole team. The grounds for our discussions and decision-making should always be how we can best realize our goals as a company: to build and sell excellent products that serve our customers well; to make our company successful; and to do so ethically in an honest, respectful, and rewarding workplace.
Living up to responsibilities
Because we’re so deeply engaged with our work every day, it can be easy to forget the audacity of our goals. But what we are doing hasn’t been done before. No one before us has built a system that makes large robots perceptive and responsive to human presence. Doing so will change the world for the better: it will increase productivity and safety and improve ergonomics so that an aging production labor force can keep performing valuable work. To achieve our goals we must surmount not only technical challenges, but business challenges: our company is young and relatively small but must gain the trust of many of the largest companies in the world.
We can achieve our goals by living up to our responsibilities. If we are respectful and honest towards each other and fulfill our commitments, we will build a trusting, supportive workplace. If we respect our customers and focus on their needs, we will build successful products. And if we operate efficiently and grow the company, we will be the most successful company in our segment.
Life is imperfect and uncertain; only rarely does it present us with the opportunity to be part of something daring and excellent. What we are doing is worth doing. It’s up to us to make it real.