Photo courtesy of Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY)

A Robotics Entrepreneur

ARIX Technologies7:00 am: By the time I get online, our European engineering team is already up and working, and our early bird Houston teammates have begun sending emails. I love our diverse and global team but learning not to check email immediately after waking up has been a difficult lesson to implement. This has become especially important in the time of COVID-19. If you’re not careful, working from home makes it easy for work/personal life barriers to disappear (or at least what little barriers exist for an entrepreneur).

I then see a flurry of exciting emails come in from our director of business development, as well as some beautiful technology prototype updates from our data scientist. I answer what emails I can knock out quickly, and then visit with our Houston robot team as they arrive. ARIX is building a novel pipe inspection robot, and I saw an article the night before that gave me some ideas which could significantly benefit customers. I wanted to float those by our product manager and design leads to see if, and how quickly, we could incorporate those into the design. Before COVID-19, I would stroll into the lab more often to poke around firsthand, but now, on days when I am remote, a video call to the lab video set-up works very well as a substitute. While I do miss seeing the robot in person each day and watching the engineers perform their magic, I would imagine that this probably lets the engineering team focus better, too.

9:00 am: As a venture-backed company, part of my job is updating our investors. However, what we as a company appreciate more than just the money is the incredible knowledge and expertise our investors bring. This day, I’ve scheduled a call with one of our investors to run some strategy ideas by him. I love surrounding myself with mentors like him – people who have done it before and can help us see the big picture. I love how they can guide and push us to the next milestone but also aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and dig into the nitty gritty and whiteboard things out with us. Being an entrepreneur is a lonely road, and I truly cherish being able to learn from these generous advisors who just want to see us succeed.

10:00 am: We have a job coming up, so I visit with our operations and service manager to talk through the plan. Today, he wants to double check the logistics as well as walk through a job safety analysis (JSA) with me. Back when I was a young engineer at one of the ExxonMobil refineries, I absolutely loved being in the field and working with operations. They are some of the most knowledgeable and hard-working people in the plants, and I find myself missing that environment a lot. This industry’s focus on operational excellence and safety has been something both our operations manager and I personally have lived in our past roles, and they are the foundation upon which ARIX’s own operations have been built.

Now, while I try to be in the field for our work as much as I can, I often find myself living vicariously through our operations manager. He is a true gem who can run circles around me with his experience, so I’m confident we’re in good hands.

12:00 pm: After catching up on morning emails, I join my business development director on a video call and virtual demonstration with a customer. As our company has grown, I’ve focused on a great piece of advice a mentor gave me: hire yourself out of a job. This director is living proof of what happens when you do that successfully. Just a year ago I was the one handling sales calls all on my own; now, I am grateful to have such a talented partner that I can learn from. Whereas I used to do all the talking in calls, now I can focus on adding value around the edges and reinforcing key points while listening to him beautifully and concisely explain our value proposition, service offerings, safety impact and cost savings to this customer.

Although I unfortunately cannot attend every sales call these days, I always enjoy them and join as many as I’m able since being in the oil and gas industry gives us access to truly amazing customers. One thing that we really appreciate about this industry is people’s focus on safety and integrity, and that focus has shone through in every call we’ve had.

1:00 pm: Right after the sales pitch, I immediately jump on another video call, but this time with another oil and gas entrepreneur. One thing that I’ve learned after starting a company is that entrepreneurs are incredibly generous people who want to help each other succeed. That has resulted in many mutual mentorship or strategy share sessions, as well as some deep friendships.

2:00 pm: We’re currently hiring for a senior engineering subject matter expert role, and I’m excited for the two interviews we have scheduled. Our robot project manager and I have combed through hundreds of resumes of truly impressive candidates, and we’ve narrowed it down to our top six. Today, we have two back-to-back interviews, and I’m excited to get to know these potential teammates. It’s incredibly humbling each time we go through the interview process, as the sheer amount of pure talent in the world is massive and is often taken for granted.

3:30 pm: I finally get some quiet time to catch up on emails that have arrived during the day as well as to knock out some administrative work. When we started this company, I never could have imagined how many administrative tasks were necessary to make the company run smoothly. As a result, we’ve tried to leverage as many time-saving tools as possible in terms of technology and processes. There definitely is still massive opportunity here, though, in case any entrepreneurs are reading this and want to tackle the administrative burden problem of starting and running a company!

6:00 pm: I finish off my workday with a mentorship call from an aspiring entrepreneur. Both the entrepreneurship and oil and gas communities are so generous and focused on building up the next generation, and we want to do as much as we can to pay it forward. It’s the least we can do for all the help we’ve received, and absolutely a core motivator for ARIX. The people are what truly matter in this industry, and what better way for ARIX to thank all the inspectors, engineers, operators, innovators and visionaries at the oil and gas companies who have helped us than by delivering great service, technology and data to help make their jobs easier and safer?

10:00 pm: After a couple hours away from the computer, I do a final check of email before bed to see if there are any urgent new items needing to be addressed. We have a developer who loves working late, so the last thing I want to do is be a block for something he’s working on. If there’s nothing else I need to catch up on, I quickly glance over tomorrow’s schedule before signing off.

Headline photo courtesy of Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY)

Author profile
Founder and President -

Dianna Liu is the founder and president of ARIX Technologies, a robotic inspection company using pipe-crawlers and a data analytics software platform to help manufacturing companies better manage corrosion and schedule maintenance. Prior to founding ARIX, Liu was an engineer for ExxonMobil with roles in logistics/operations and engineering. She also has had R&D experience in the medical device and pharmaceutical industries and prior entrepreneurship experience in founding and managing a 20-year-old continuously operating online game. Liu holds dual mechanical and biomedical engineering degrees from Duke University and an MBA from Yale University.

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