This former Apple prodigy just got $25 million from Google Ventures to build giant paper-reading robots
- Ripcord, founded by a former Apple whiz kid, builds robotic systems for scanning huge quantities of paper, with customers including big companies and universities.
- Ripcord has raised another $25 million in funding, led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). The company raised money three separate times in 2017.
- CEO Alex Fielding says that Ripcord is investing in R&D, and could IPO one day.
In 1996, at the age of 16, Alex Fielding went to work for Apple, where he worked on the first iMac under the just-returned cofounder Steve Jobs. From there, he started a company with Steve Wozniak, Apple's other cofounder.Nowadays, Fielding is the CEO of Ripcord, a startup running a growing factory floor populated by custom robots designed to scan, store, and index tremendous piles of paper for later retrieval, ten times faster than a human could do it.
And Ripcord just got a massive vote of confidence from GV, formerly known as Google Ventures, the venture-capital arm of Alphabet - which just led a new investment of $25 million into Ripcord.
For those keeping track at home, Ripcord has been on something of a tear, funding-wise.
In March of 2017, Ripcord announced that it had raised a Series A round of $9.5 million, led by legendary venture firm Kleiner Perkins, with participation from Wozniak himself. Then, in August, Ripcord raised another $40 million in a Series B round, too. The new GV money is technically part of the Series B round. All told, Ripcord has raised $51.5 million, raised at three different times over the course of a year or so.
"It's a substantial war chest, but we need it," Fielding tells Business Insider. "We're doing hard stuff."
Ripcord builds giant robots to sift information
What Ripcord sells is a way for companies, especially publicly-traded companies and universities, to manage the massive amount of information that passes through their physical and digital doors. He says paper has been "exiled" in the shift to digital, but he wants to bring it back to the fold.The vision, says Fielding, is to take all of a company's knowledge, digital and otherwise, and put it all in one easy-to-access place.
"There's so much stuff that's not searchable by technology," says Fielding.
A key part of Ripcord's solution comes from the aforementioned robots. Companies send Ripcord boxes upon boxes of paper records, and the robots remove staples and scan them in. From there, the information is retrievable from Ripcord Canopy, the company's PC, mobile, and web app for sifting your data.
Accomplishing that goal is harder than it sounds, he says, and much of the company's funding is going into R&D.
The robots themselves have to be constantly improved to better identify staples - which is tricky, when staples can be different sizes, different colors, and be placed on different places on a page. Plus, photocopies sometimes have a "phantom" staple that can throw off systems like Ripcord's.
As for the Canopy software, Fielding says the goal is to make it super-simple for even non-technical people to use. Famed early Apple engineer Andy Hertzfeld consulted on the user interface, Fielding says, in pursuit of a simple interface that even non-technical people (or non-lawyers) can sift.
Ripcord could go public one day
Fielding says building the technology is the chief goal of Ripcord at this juncture, and the company plans on ramping up the hiring of engineers to bolster its already 100-strong headcount. While there are no current plans, Fielding says the company "is a great IPO opportunity," which he's keeping in mind.
Intriguingly, Fielding says customer interest in Ripcord has been so strong, the company hasn't had to invest in a dedicated sales team. Word of mouth has carried Ripcord to strong uptake in a short period of time, he says."[We] don't need a dedicated enterprise sales team when customers are thumping down our door," says Fielding.