Zhang Zhaohui, founder and CEO of Youaizhihe, talks with Yin Le, Managing Director of ZhenFund

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Haomai said: Opportunities of the times are driving China's industrial mobile robots to the world stage. Zhang Zhaohui of ZhenFund believes that the next 10 years will be a golden stage for the development of the robotics field. After two or three years, the key growth factors for overseas industrial robot companies will be generated.

The opportunity of the times is driving China's industrial mobile robots to the world stage. The transformation of the population structure, continuous breakthroughs in technological innovation, and the explosion of demand in industrial subdivision scenarios have made industrial robots an outlet for soaring orders and billion-dollar financing. In addition to the heat, the industrial robot industry is also undergoing changes that cannot be ignored.

The second season of the "Investment Capital π" live broadcast program hosted by 36Kr invited Cody Zhang, founder and CEO of Youai Zhihe, and Emma, managing director of ZhenFund, to participate in an in-depth online dialogue, discussing the For the following topics, we have compiled the content of the conversation into articles for readers:

• What factors have contributed to the exponential growth rate of the robotics industry?

• After the hot track, the future end of the robotics industry?

• Is going overseas for robot companies a major trend in the future? When will the outbreak of overseas markets come?

• As the "latest entrant" in the industry, how does Youaizhihe build core technical barriers and quickly penetrate the industry?

• How do you really think about the robot track?

• How do startups choose the right investors?

1. Talking about the track: the last one comes first, from the start to the end

36Kr: What is the important reason for the robot track to become more popular this year? What are the boosting factors that will affect the application and development of robot tracks in the future?

Yin Le:

We have always believed that new technology is advanced productivity. The robotics track has become particularly hot in the past two years. I think there are two superimposed factors:

First, the rise in labor costs has reached a threshold, and at the same time, the return cycle of robots has dropped significantly. In this way, a company's demand for using robots has greatly increased.

Second, the impact of the epidemic has accelerated the penetration of the robotics industry. At the beginning of 2020, many factories could not start construction, but if the factory has already made the layout of automation equipment in advance, some production work can still be carried out, which forces the factory to invest more in the field of robots.

At present, the epidemic has not been completely resolved, and there will be continuous impact; changes in the labor force and demographic dividend will continue to affect the development of this industry in the next 5-10 years; coupled with the country's emphasis on manufacturing and policy guidance, All will affect the development of the robot industry in the short or long term. I think that the next 10 years may be the golden stage of development in the field of robotics. I am very optimistic about this industry, and ZhenFu will continue to deploy in the field of robotics.

36 Kr: Why did you choose to focus on the two scenarios of precision manufacturing and energy? How does Youaizhihe build its own competitive barriers?

Zhang Chaohui:

Youai Zhihe was established in 2017, which is the latest start time among its peers. We often say that we are "last come first" - the last one to start, but the first to break through in the industry.

The landing of mobile robots is a typical long-tail market, and the overall pan-industrial scene has huge opportunities. When we first started our business, we hoped to serve large scenarios and industries and solve these fast-growing and demanding application scenarios. A nail worth hitting.

We have more than 20 years of accumulation in the industrial field. We chose to do industrial precision manufacturing and energy scenarios because we found the most urgent needs. Mobile robots are the last link of the entire automation transformation, so we must find the scene where the reform is relatively fast. For example, precision electronic manufacturing is the scene where digitalization and automation can do the fastest. In the energy industry, operation and maintenance have now become the core propositions, so the opportunity for maintenance by robots has come.

We do this with Three advantages:

1. Understand the scene, enter the scene, form a deeper scene cognition, and then combine robotics and the scene. At present, we are the No. 1 market segment in the precision electronics manufacturing represented by semiconductors and the energy industry represented by power plants.

2. Robots are the ontology of implementation, but the core point of penetrating application scenarios is still software, so whether to build a combination of material flow and information flow becomes the core issue. We are the earliest mobile robot company in the industry to deploy software systems. In 2018, we began to implement software delivery and build a software team to connect with the customer's business system.

3. We have deep technical accumulation in robot algorithms. In domestic and even international fields, we are one of the few that can accurately position and navigate industrial mobile robots to a positioning accuracy of ±2 mm—*1ab3 *There are no more than 5 manufacturers in the world that can achieve this precision.

The gradually mature algorithm is still inseparable from the iteration of software and scenarios. We believe that the chain of “scenario→algorithm→software” is the most important element in the future of this industry.

36 Kr: How does Zhenji view the robot track?

Yin Le:

In fact, we started to pay attention to the field of robotics very early. Around the big theme and direction of the entire robot, we have been making layouts on the robotics track, and there may be about 10 investments in the field of pan-robots. For example, in 2017, we invested in Feixi Robot; from 2018 to 2019, we successively invested in Juxing Technology, Youai Zhihe, etc.; at the beginning of 20, we invested in the core control intelligence of modular robots.

In the future, there will be many new technologies in the robotics track to accomplish things that traditional robots cannot do, including upstream sensor technology, flexible furniture manufacturing, and direct-drive motors at the end. There will be many new technology companies in the subdivision direction. At the same time, with the reduction of the entire upstream cost and the improvement of algorithm capabilities, in addition to industrial scenarios, more new scenarios will emerge in the future, such as commercialization scenarios, logistics scenarios, and home service experience scenarios.

ZhenFu will insist on looking for new application scenarios based on the background and experience of the team and people, and continue to invest in advanced technologies.

36 Krypton: If the robot track continues to explode in the next ten years, when will the market reshuffle occur? What might the market look like after the reshuffle?

Zhang Chaohui:

The industry is going through a process of reshuffle, We have 3-4 times growth this year compared to last year, which should be the fastest growing company in the industry. The reason is that compared with industries such as warehousing and automobiles, which have a very mature automation level, the customers we serve are basically in the stage of explosion of automation demand, and new application scenarios are constantly being developed. The shape of the industry's development is gradually changing, and the coming year is likely to see relatively aggressive growth rates.

Next, I think the robotics industry is about to enter a positional warfare phase. One or two positions may be formed in an industrial scene, among which there are one or two relatively strong competitors, and the state of integration of various manufacturers will no longer be the same as before. In the past, everyone always said that using robots to empower a scene is actually occupying a small subdivision point. Now that the subdivision point has been completed, the next step is to form your own base in the position —— also is the scene.

2. Talking about going to sea: a battleground for robot companies

36 Kr: How much help the overseas market may bring to the company’s business development in the future?

Zhang Chaohui:

From the market point of view: the advantage of overseas market growth is that customers are not as sensitive to prices as domestic ones, so the gross profit of overseas products will be higher. Secondly, overseas markets have a high degree of recognition of robot products and technology, and they are more focused on services.

From the perspective of competition: fierce domestic competition has increased the pressure on the upstream supply chain, which may affect everyone's efforts to develop good upstream services and products. Going overseas is an important decision and a right strategy, both for the consideration of the company's revenue and profits, and for the healthy development of the entire industry.

36 Krypton: How long will it take for an overseas industrial robot company to experience explosive growth?

Zhang Chaohui:

When we go overseas, we focus on Europe, Japan, South Korea and other countries with relatively good industrial manufacturing development, including some Southeast Asian countries that have relocated from China. Observations of the development of industrial manufacturing in each country have many implications for decision-making.

In Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and other countries, there are many 3C electronics factories that have moved out of China. Originally, it was due to the rising labor costs in China that they relocated to Southeast Asia, but in fact, due to the low quality of workers in Southeast Asia and the high turnover rate, many factories did not feel the decline in costs, but were more urgent for automation. This is a very good opportunity for industrial robots to be exported to Southeast Asia.

In Europe, industrial manufacturing maturity is high. Therefore, our basic strategy in Europe is to find relatively mature factories and agents to help us implement and deploy. After one or two years, let customers feel our growth speed and service capabilities.

To sum up, I think after two or three years, the key growth factors for going overseas will be produced. When each company invests more and more, there may be fierce domestic competition.

36 Kr: What competitive advantages will domestic robot companies have when they go overseas?

Yin Le:

According to my observation, the focus of the Chinese market is not the same as that of the overseas market.

Chinese enterprises often require robot companies to provide complete solutions: after enterprises solve end-to-end problems, they use a robot system.

The United States has a strong "maker" culture. There are many small to B companies or large to C companies overseas. They buy robots with modular components and program them by themselves, so that the robots can complete some relatively simple tasks. Recently, a company we invested in is making desktop-level, lightweight robots, and the proportion of overseas orders is very high.

Going to sea will indeed be a very important development direction for future industrial robots. I think China's overall supply chain advantages and product advantages, as well as an increasingly perfect delivery system, are the important competitiveness of the current overseas development.

Zhang Chaohui:

In 2020, our overseas revenue accounted for more than 20%. Last year, we exported to more than 20 countries around the world, including Italy, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Australia, etc. This year, we exported to Russia. Overall, our overseas layout is good.

The core is that the domestically produced reducers, components, etc. started relatively late, and the traditional domestically manufactured industrial robots such as robotic arms and manipulators are far behind overseas companies. But mobile robots are driven by algorithms and software, which the Chinese are particularly good at, and started almost at the same time as overseas. Therefore, many domestic mobile robot products are internationally competitive, and there will be no gap with overseas products.

3. Talking about entrepreneurship: keywords —— loneliness, tenacity, enthusiasm and support

36 Kr: Why did Zhen Foundation choose to invest when Youai Zhihe was still a small player in the track in 2019?

Yin Le:

In 2019, Cody participated in our entrepreneurial camp series "True Craft". During the event, he showed a strong learning ability and deep insight into the industry. What attracts me the most is his love and enthusiasm for the robotics industry. I think this is a very important foundation that can support him to go on, and it is also a very important quality for an entrepreneur.

A week or two after the event, we decided to invest. When I voted for him, in fact, he had just undergone a transformation, and the company after the transformation showed a relatively good development trend. Although the orders at that time were not as large-scale as they are now, I have seen that the trend in this industry should be about to pick up. Combining the two dimensions of people and things, I thought it was a very good investment opportunity at that time.

Of course, we were also worried when we invested. At that time, Youai Zhihe was not yet the leader of the industry, and it started relatively late. However, we decided to invest and believe that he can bring this company to the first tier. He has indeed accomplished such a goal, meeting our expectations in 20 years, and even completely exceeding our expectations in 21 years.

36 Kr: What is the relationship with early investors? How should startups choose suitable investment institutions and investors?

Zhang Chaohui:

After Zhenge’s investment in 2019, it took us a year and a half to become the first echelon in the field of industrial mobile robots, and Zhenji played a great role in this process.

The cooperation process with Emma is very pleasant. She will communicate with us often, especially when the epidemic is severe in 2020, because we are a physical business and there is no way to meet customers. At that time, Emma chatted with me a lot and said that it was alright, I would definitely be able to walk through. In the process of starting a business, In many cases, the founder is in a relatively lonely state. It is very rare for investors who can truly understand the entrepreneur, accompany the entrepreneur to move forward together, and give advice to the entrepreneur.

I especially love to participate in all kinds of entrepreneurial activities. This time, I went to the True Planet event to be a mentor. When I communicated with many entrepreneurs, I would feel that we are a kind of people. No matter in technology or point of view, we will feel that everyone cherishes each other.

When we choose an institution, we always prefer institutions that we are willing to believe that the founders can continue their careers to be successful for a long time. When choosing an investor, you must choose someone who has a long-term vision, is willing to believe in you, and is always willing to accompany you. To make a business well, it is actually inseparable from believing in your customers, supporting your suppliers, and supporting your investors. Therefore, I suggest that early-stage entrepreneurs choose an investment institution like Zhenge that is willing to invest and spend their energy and heart to accompany them.

36 Kr: Some advice for startups?

Yin Le:

Entrepreneurship requires a very strong heart. Because entrepreneurship is a very long cycle, it is a great challenge to people's physical, mental and physical strength. No matter what stage is, it is a continuous process of breaking through oneself, and it also faces many failures or setbacks. We conclude that the founders of these companies who have come out have the biggest commonality: they are very persistent, tenacious, and indomitable. They can resolutely transform even if they encounter many difficulties, although it may take several transformations to find a correct direction.

At the company level, cash flow is the lifeblood of a company. In a volatile environment, cash flow is the key. Make sure you have 18-24 months of cash flow on your account at all times. Especially in the stage of rapid development, once encountering unpredictable events, if the cash flow is not well controlled, many companies may owe debts and go bankrupt. With antifragile capabilities, companies can weather the storm.

Finally, I hope everyone pays more attention to their health. The body is the capital of the revolution, and this is the most important.

4. Conclusion

With the comprehensive industrial upgrading under the wave of new infrastructure in China, mobile robots will usher in unprecedented development opportunities in pan-industrial automation applications. At the same time, the continuous expansion of overseas markets has also made Chinese technology companies look global, and "large-scale going overseas" will become a reality.

ZhenFund will also discover and accompany more hard-tech startups like Youaizhihe to grow together in the entrepreneurial world full of adventures.

Disclaimer: This article is reproduced from ZhenFund. The copyright of the article belongs to the original author. The content is for reference only and does not constitute any investment and application advice.

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