Throughout their four years as undergraduates, students at the University of Dallas might find themselves wondering what their current education is preparing them to do in the workforce.
They may find it comforting to know that the marketing and managing of lawn-mowing robots can be added to that list.
Robin Lawn Care is a business which launched only 18 months ago; however, its reputation for recruiting UD students and alumni is already established.
Robin seeks to function as a sort of Uber for lawn care, albeit with more expensive customers: the average Robin household might make between $100,000 to $200,000 per year.
From its outset, the company has attempted to finesse the often tedious process of finding and paying lawn-care crews.
With the ability to calculate costs online, send out crews and manage customer feedback, Robin already had its eye on updating the $70 billion lawn industry.
The robots, in fact, are not anything new.
The technology for lawn-cutting robots has existed for 20 years, and in many areas of Europe they are not uncommon household items.
However, the robots have not even caught hold in the United States, as they are both expensive and difficult to install. Further, the robots can only cut grass. They cannot, for example, trim hedges or pull weeds.
For this reason, many American families have simply chosen to use human lawn crews for landscaping.
Robin saw their platform as the ideal one to propel the robots into popularity by renting out the robots for a monthly fee and promising installation and maintenance.
The company went to the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in mid-September to pitch the idea in front of a panel of five judges and an audience of 2,000.
Joining them were UD alumnus Nick Van Schaijik (’16) and current UD senior Jack Teller.
“We were proud to have them join our team to represent Robin in front of the world’s tech community,” co-founder and Vice President of Operations Bart Lomont said.
Teller and Van Schaijik are not the only two UDers to be involved with the company. Others include seniors Joey Kelly and Roman Pennell, and alumnus Vinny Romano (‘16).
Most UD students who come to Robin are economics majors, though Romano says the full scope of UD’s education comes into play during the company’s day-to-day operations.
“We have the Core curriculum, which … really schools you in the human person, what makes people tick,” Romano said. “Obviously [the] econ major gives you a lot of analytical thinking ability, how to think through hard problems, numbers.”
The combination of the human with the logistical is a critical one, according to Romano, who described the two-pronged objective of the business:
“You have to do two things: you have to manage people’s expectations and their emotions [while] trying to manage work crews doing literally thousands of jobs,” Romano said.
This duality of skills is especially important in a start-up business, according to Van Schaijik.
“The ‘hard skill sets’ that you might learn at a different school are less important,” Van Schaijik said. “Having a quick mind, good instincts, good people skills and a strong sense of what’s important is what really matters.”
Currently, the company is well-established in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, Houston, Austin and Miami. In more recent months, it has also begun ventures into other southeastern cities.
This massive growth means that job descriptions are anything but static.
“You are going to end up doing everybody else’s job at least once,” Romano said.
The value of being at a small start-up company is one that both Romano and Van Schaijik believe UD students should keep in mind.
“Too often people think of these large, really well-known companies as the goal to get into,” Van Schaijik said. “My experience [as an intern at Toyota] was being one of 300 people who could do exactly the same job, and that job being something that was limiting me. I encourage people to look at smaller companies where they can have a bigger impact and they can work toward a higher potential.”
Romano, who also interned at a Fortune 500 company, does not dismiss the value of that experience, saying that having a variety of different experiences is always a plus.
“Internships, in and of themselves, are the way to be employed out of college,” Romano said “Those summers that you have are super, super vital.”
However, he too recognizes the unique opportunity that working at Robin has brought him.
“Knowing that you are like a quintessential cog in the machine, and that machine is just moving at hyperspeed right now, that’s just a really awesome feeling,” Romano said.
For students anxious about graduation and the job search, Van Schaijik suggested there’s one area in which they can quit worrying about so much:
“A mistake I made was spending a pretty, frankly, ridiculous amount of time looking over my resume and spending so much time on the most minor changes,” Van Schaijik said.
As someone who now looks at resumes, Van Schaijik said that seeming interesting is just as likely to get your foot in the door as being accomplished.
“This happened a couple times that people have just come in, in person, and put their resume down on our desk … and talked to us while they’re there,” Van Schaijik said. “That sends a really good message.”
Romano suggested that students maintain well-managed LinkedIn profiles.
“There’s not enough kids, especially I’ve seen in the UD community, who have really solid LinkedIn profiles,” Romano said.
Van Schaijik also brought up the importance of speaking to alumni, particularly of recent years.
“They’re new to it, they’re learning a lot and they’re excited about it,” Van Schaijik said. “They’d be more than happy to talk to people about it, especially fellow UD students.”
Though most UD students do not need (and certainly cannot afford) robotic lawn mowers, they very well may need the advice and examples of their fellow students and alumni.