Automation and robotics is a niche category in the industry, especially in India where most start-ups incline towards the e-commerce or retail sector. However, Gurgaon-based Grey Orange Robotics is one such start-up that is making waves by providing automated solutions for warehouses and other retail-related spaces.
Founded by Samay Kohli and Akash Gupta, Grey Orange began by being an education and training firm. Though, seizing the opportunity warehouses provide, they jumped into delivering automated industry solutions for the e-commerce and retail industry. Though they captured an uncharted territory, Kohli and Gupta went ahead to gather successful funding rounds from noted investors and also attracted foreign enterprises from South East Asian countries.
In an exclusive conversation with My Big Plunge, Grey Orange co-founder Samay Kohli speaks about Grey Orange’s journey and how the company plans to expand in the future.
MBP : Grey Orange has a very unique space in the start-up industry. Tell us a bit about how it started out.
Kohli : We actually started around mid-2011 but we hadn’t start out as a warehousing company first. Me and Akash both come from a hardware background and built humanoid robots in college where we had a lot of fun as we took part in various competitions. When the time for graduation came, we decided that we needed a job that gave us the same amount of adrenaline and thrill. Moreover, we were never into the work culture of a corporate job. We were looking for something that will be fun and preferably in India since we spent much of our college days representing India in different countries and as a result, spent half our time in travel only.
So our goal was something hardware-based that we liked doing and something that could be based in India. So we started Grey Orange and aimed at doing products in the hardware space. Later we were looking at the right application in the industry – so we can apply our robotics and hardware knowledge. That’s where we came across warehousing as an industry. E-commerce was starting to boom at that time. There were lot of new problems coming up in the warehousing industry since it is fragmented. So we looked at global models of warehousing and saw that the industry is quite nascent, maybe just 10-15 years old. That’s when we decided to jump into automation of products in the warehouses.
MBP : What was your first robot like? What did you design and what was the motive behind it?
Kohli : At Grey Orange, the first ones that we started out with were the Sorters which could sort out packages based on courier destinations. We saw a lot of people having problems while sorting out. So getting the packages lifted and sorted out to match the aeroplane takeoff times was an issue. It was basically a time problem.
A sorter basically sorts out packages based on information. The second one was something called the Butler system. These are the robots move inside warehouses and change the way warehousing works. Traditionally, people are supposed to go inside a warehouse, pick up items and get them out. This can get very inefficient due to the complexity. So we took the reverse problem of – what if we instead make the racks come to you. So these racks travel to you and the worker just has to pick out whatever rack comes in front. So that’s the butler system. So we automate the warehouse so the goods come to people. We call this a “Goods-to-Man” system.
MBP: What are the kind of opportunities that you saw around the use of robots in this industry?
Kohli : Akash and me are strong believers of the fact that we are not doing something for the sake of selling some products. So we had always looked for disruptive chances. For example, in some places clients are able to manage 400-500 shipments per hour to the facility which after they use our machinery, they can do atleast 3000-4000 or even higher numbers. So it has to be a big application for us and to solve a major problem. We don’t think selling machines is viable because that won’t solve a big enough problem. We always looked for solving a big problem – that was the opportunity that we saw. We’ve seen that India’s IT presence outside the country is strong but using this strength inside our boundaries, in warehouses was still limited. So we’ve always focused on solving a big enough problem.
In 2014, Grey Orange raised its Series A funding round worth Rs. 54 crore from Tiger Global and Blume Ventures. Apart from domestic companies, this innovative start-up has also attracted foreign enterprises from China and other Southeast Asian countries. Its Butler and Sorter models have particularly sparked a huge amount of interest.
Not many take the unconventional path but Kohli and Gupta have successfully created a space for them in the difficult hardware industry. By adding speed and productivity to the e-commerce industry, Grey Orange is not only helping the start-up ecosystem but also leading the way with novel and ingenious workflows.