Reach out to Brett Calhoun, Managing Director & Partner at Scale VC, at email@example.com to learn about Scale VC and subscribe to our newsletter here. Co-authored by William VanAlstine and Brett Calhoun.
Ruminant Robotics is revolutionizing the lawn care industry by replacing traditional human laborers with purpose-built autonomous robots. The company aims to build a vertically integrated lawn care company that leverages technology to solve the labor reliability issues that have plagued the industry for years. With its innovative mowing robots, Ruminant Robotics reduces operating costs by up to 30% and will increase these margins as the robots improve and take on additional tasks like trimming, blowing, and fertilizing. The company’s mission is to build a sustainable lawn care company that avoids the labor problem and delivers high-quality, cost-effective services to its customers.
The lawn care market is a growing industry worth $176.5 billion in the US. The market is fragmented, with the largest company in the market, BrightView Holdings, controlling 1.3%. Overall there are ~650k landscaping companies. There are 35–45 lawn care companies in Columbia, MO, with around 12,500 potential customers. However, labor issues are the biggest obstacle in the industry, including unreliable and expensive workers who frequently don’t show up for work. This has led some companies to turn to H-2B visas, but these visas are limited and have made workers more expensive for customers, averaging $17/hr. A survey of 280 lawncare businesses revealed that 92% have found it extremely difficult to find employees. The National Association of Landscape Professionals is leading the charge to attract 100k men and women to the lawncare industry by 2025 (NALP Industry Growth Initiative) or an additional need for a ~$3.5B labor output.
Technological advancements such as artificial intelligence, IoT, batteries, GPT 3.5, computer vision, and sensors have paved the way to build and train robots quickly and cost-effectively. Lawnmowers will be roaming fields before cars drive down the highway. Not only is the application safer, but the pain is greater due to the labor shortages. Additionally, the growing awareness of environmental concerns may encourage consumers to shift to lawncare providers that have adopted technologies that reduce emissions and save energy. The current market for autonomous lawn mowers is flooding with innovation, but none have been able to combine a winning technology, business model, and get-to-market strategy.
Below are the current solutions:
Product: Interchangeable battery packs, bulky robots, lack of battery life, undersized lawnmowers, poor sensor placement, or lack of data
Business model: Consumer product, subscription for lawncare companies, or sale of units No companies have gone to market with a robot that can mow a large acreage of diverse terrain on one battery charge. Currently, commercialized products are designed like a robotic home vacuum so the consumer can mow a small plot of land. There has been a lack of adoption of consumer robots because current models still require manual lawn care. Commercial products have yet to hit the market that delight customers enough to replace manual lawn mowing. Due to the robot, there is a massive opportunity to build a more efficient and profitable lawn care company. As other companies are hindered due to labor shortages and squeezed for margins due to licensing technology, Ruminant can build a cash-flowing and high-growth business that consumers will quickly switch to. Rather than leveling the playing field for existing companies, Ruminant will create a new level for lawn care and grounds maintenance.
Ruminant’s robot will operate on a proprietary motor controller with stereo-depth cameras and a 360-degree LiDAR. They’ve created a highly accurate SLAM system that can navigate almost any terrain. The robot will be medium-sized via a 33” deck with the ability to mow lawns for a full day on one charge. Residential or smaller commercial grounds maintenance can be completed with one robot and one human at the same time it takes 2+ humans. As a lawn care company, Ruminant can scale 2–3x faster and with higher profitability.
Ruminant Robotics is led by a talented and experienced team, starting with CEO and Co-Founder Kolton Speer. He has been solving autonomous technology pains at Caterpillar and Union Pacific Railroad. He also holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Vision and is publishing his final paper for a Ph.D. in Computer Vision from the University of Missouri. Alongside Kolton is CTO and Co-Founder Aaron Fuller, who holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering from Mizzou. Aaron has worked as a software engineer for Garmin. More recently, Aaron and Kolton have spent their time in the garage with their robot and the field mowing lawns. With their combined expertise in computer science, engineering, and grit, the team is well-equipped to bring this innovative product to market.
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