LA's Delivery Robot Race Is On. Here's How Coco Pink Robots Hope To Stand Out
Equipped with GPS tracking, two-way microphones and a human pilot controlling it from far away, Coco's 50-pound pink robots rolling around San Pedro, Santa Monica and other parts of Southern California are hoping to become a local mainstay.
Welcome to the delivery robot race.
As delivery bots take to the streets, Southern California has become a testing ground for companies like Coco that are trying to distinguish themselves.
The Los Angeles-based startup announced Wednesday that it raised $36 million in a Series A round led by Silicon Valley Bank, Founders Fund and the former president of Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman.
Coco, previously known as Cyan Robotics, operates a fleet of semi-automated robots that deliver food across neighborhoods in Los Angeles. It's one of several semi-automated robot delivery services that have popped up in California over the years including Kiwibot, Starship and Nuro.
The bots are piloted by remote drivers. According to the company, hundreds of stores and restaurants have signed up to use Coco's bots, which fulfill orders within up to a two mile radius of the store.
Colapasta, an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica started using Coco several months ago after being approached by the company.
Owner Stefano de Lorenzo said fulfilling orders through Coco is slightly less convenient than working with drivers from delivery apps — staff has to manually load the food into the robot instead of just leaving the order on the table — but customer reception to the robots has been overwhelmingly positive.
"When we started using the service, I noticed that there were three, four or five different orders the same day to the same address," he said. "So I guess people were just loving (the robot) going to the house."
Rash said the company is aiming to shift how people think of food delivery: using small, lightweight electric vehicles instead of large, gas-powered vehicles transporting "a couple pounds of soup a couple blocks all day."
Rash declined to say exactly how many robots the company has in its fleet, but claimed that Coco has the largest fleet out of all the robotic delivery services in Los Angeles, where the city is weighing regulations that could limit how many robots operate in certain neighborhoods.
The proposed legislation would cap the number of delivery robots a company could place in a city council district to 75 and require machines to yield to pedestrians and obey traffic signals and signs.
Some cities have implemented measures to help robot delivery companies. Santa Monica, for example, implemented a "Zero Emissions Delivery Zone," where deliveries can only be made by robotic carts or Electric Vehicles.
This raise brings Coco's total funding to around $42 million. The company is hoping to continue to expand, and is planning to continue increasing its fleet.
Launched in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has expanded operations from one Santa Monica neighborhood to six other neighborhoods in little over a year. In February, the company rolled out their robots in San Pedro, working with Councilman and mayoral hopeful Joe Busciano and the Chamber of Commerce. Several local restaurants including San Pedro Brewing Co. and Whale & Ale signed on.
Even as stores and restaurants continue to reopen after the pandemic, Rash said he's seen delivery sales numbers continue to increase and believes that delivery is here to stay.
"The pandemic gave it a huge boost," he said. "But I think what that really did is it changed consumers' behaviors and let them understand the convenience that they can have by ordering delivery."
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In this episode of LA Venture, Julie Wroblewski talks about starting Magnify Ventures and helping modern families.
Wroblewski worked with Melinda French Gates to start Pivotal Ventures. For Wroblewski, it was her dream job as she got to lead venture capital investment strategy for five years. One of the focus areas at Pivotal was around caregiving innovation and American family homes.
Wroblewski cites a report from one of Magnify's partners that estimates the care economy at $648 billion in the United States, already larger than the pharmaceutical market. Wroblewski's fund is writing up to $2.5 million checks into companies that will transform life, work and care for modern families.
"I started to see what I thought was a very exciting and still overlooked category of investment in venture capital around the care economy, and family-focused technology and was also seeing a lot of flow and founders," said Wroblewski.
As an investor, she is particularly interested in tools like household optimization that help families be both more efficient and joyful. She also wants to let parents know they don't have to be experts. Technology can help give them access to what they need, when they need it.
"Technology is moving closer into our lives all the time and solving increasingly human, complex, difficult problems, including, how we care for and manage care for children and our loved ones--the things that are most personal to us," said Wroblewski.
"We've seen such a wave of technology innovation in the workplace. You know, we now use so many different tools to help increase our productivity at work, to improve our health and well being in some cases in the workplace," she added. "And I think we haven't yet seen the same sort of investment in innovation move into some areas of family life and household management. And so I think that that's going to change."
dot.LA Audience Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
Pejman Nozad, a founding managing partner at Pear VC, joins this episode of LA Venture to discuss Pear VC's current initiatives, including its accelerator and fellowships. He's seen as one of the most successful angel investors in the area, and for good reason: he has made more than 300 investments in his lifetime.
"I'm a child of revolution and war and difficult times," said Nozad of his upbringing in Iran during the revolution.
Nozad went to college before dropping out. That's when his brother told him about his dream to go to America. After his brother was denied a visa multiple times, Nozad went himself to the embassy and got lucky; the woman in charge of the process liked him enough to approve him.
"When you're in [your] early twenties, you don't analyze much of the future. And then your risk-takers. I came to America in 1992 with $700 and I didn't speak any word of English," said Nozad.
Nozad went from working at a carwash, then a yogurt shop, to a (now famous) Persian rug store in Palo Alto. Many of his clients happened to be CEOs and venture capitalists; Nozad wanted to be part of that community.
"I was very lucky because I had access to people who normally nobody can see them, but I was hanging out with them at Sunday barbecues while selling carpets," said Nozad.
In his early days as an investor, Nozad bet on companies that included Dropbox and DoorDash. He said he took inspiration as a venture capitalist in lessons he learned from his time playing professional soccer in Iran.
"In soccer, you can score minute one, or you can score at minute 90. Both of them [are] one goal and you can win the game. So, when you go to fundraise, don't get disappointed if you hear a lot of nos, because the yes could be the last meeting after the whole two months," he said.
dot.LA Engagement Intern Joshua Letona contributed to this post.
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