Five Burning Questions: Sam Dunn, Former CEO and Co-Founder at Boston Tech Startup, Robin
Former CEO and Co-Founder Sam Dunn founded Robin in 2014 to help companies more efficiently and effectively manage their workplace environments. Robin creates a centralized and easy-to-use system that aids companies in space scheduling, desk management and sharing, and office space analytics.
The company has currently gone through three funding rounds – Seed in 2014 for $1,400,000, Series A in 2016 for $7,000,000 and, most recently, Series B in 2019 for 20,000,000. The company boasts a client roster that includes much more well-know names such as Twitter, HubSpot, and Shopify and has seen rapid growth into an additional 1,500-client book of business.
Startup Boston had the opportunity to sit down with Sam recently to discuss the backstory of Robin, the trajectory of the company going forward and what the broader Boston innovation ecosystem has meant to the company and its culture.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and the genesis of the idea for Robin?
Sam grew up in the rural Western Massachusetts town of Wilbraham, which he pointed out is also the home of Friendly’s ice cream. Outside of ice cream however, there is not a whole lot to do in Wilbraham, so Sam took up hobbies like skateboarding as a kid and web development as he got older. Eventually during college, Sam and his brother Zach went on to work on web development projects for major brands like Chipotle, Facebook, and even the band Blink-182.
In addition to co-teaching computer science courses at UMass Amherst, Sam subsequently worked on RFID access logistics at music festivals, and began to see the power that the technology could have on organizational management. This insight was one of the things that led Sam and Zach to co-found Robin in 2014 to help cut down on stolen conference rooms and scheduling issues in office workspaces.
Why did you decide to found Robin in Boston, and what excites you here?
Right away, the talent pool in the Boston area stood out to Sam and the early team at Robin, specifically around software engineering. With such incredible colleges and universities around the Boston and Cambridge area, there is no shortage of people early in their careers who are looking to join a growing, mission-driven organization.
Outside of access to top talent, Sam also highlighted the community of investors, serial entrepreneurs, and market opportunities that the Boston area offers. Although Boston may not have the big VC names that places like Silicon Valley or New York offer, it does have a very close-knit group of investors and operators who have deep connections with one another. This smaller circle offers companies like Robin the opportunity to integrate and make an impact quickly, while fostering strong relationships for the future.
What was the experience of running a company during a pandemic like, and how has your strategy changed?
The COVID-19 pandemic created an extremely difficult situation for individuals and families, but it also put strain on companies and organizations as well. However, Robin was uniquely well suited to face this challenge because of the hybrid office and work-from-home scheduling flexibility that the company was already in the process of building and scaling.
Sam pointed out that companies were already in the process of moving from cubicles, to open office space, to activity based work and clubhouse areas. However, COVID greatly increased the rate at which employers began to see the benefits of those types of office layouts, on top of the benefits of a hybrid work schedule.
Going forward companies will need to build an internal audience for working spaces, and create “on-site” experiences that draw employees into those working spaces for meaningful engagement. Robin will be here to continue to help companies manage that process.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and excites you about the future of Robin?
Sam highlights that helping to build the future of work is quite exciting. It is interesting to consider what it will look and feel like for different types of organizations going forward and how Robin will be able to support those varying needs. Some organizations may struggle with the question of whether or not they even need offices at all, and it will be interesting to see that play out as well.
Sam also remarks that pizza and ice cream will not work to get people back into the office. Companies need to actually create an environment and schedule that empowers employees and teams to work together in the most effective and impactful way possible such that employees are compelled to be in the workspace.
What advice would you give to people just starting their careers in the startup ecosystem?
“It’s about your team.”
This is one of the key points that Sam made when discussing some of the advice that he would give to people just starting their careers in the startup ecosystem. Sam also mentioned that people should focus on results and a strong work ethic in an area that interests them, rather than focusing on job titles or career progression. Put much more eloquently, “Don’t care about title, care about craft.”
A final insight that Sam offered was that people at other companies at the same level are grappling with the same existential questions. Don’t be afraid to reach out and collaborate, be open about your challenges and solutions and you will all learn more together.
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We hope you enjoyed this interview with this innovator! We’ll have more coming your way soon. In the meantime, don’t miss out on your opportunity to network with the startup community. Grab your free ticket for Startup Boston Week 2022 today!