How I Became a Robot Momma


Why Robots? I’m asked this all the time. Mostly by people who have known me a while, know my background in helping organizations adopt new technologies. Or it's someone who hasn’t spoken with me for a bit and knows I'm not really a “techie.” How did I become a robot momma of four and counting?  

To some extent it seems inevitable given my nearly two decades of experience in helping people in banks adopt new technologies and new ways of working. But that’s only in retrospect.  

  It started in December 2015, when I read Martin Ford’s “Rise of the Robots.” In my family, Ford’s book is what passes as a Christmas story, one to be read by all and discussed over dinner and wine.

  I don’t remember the details of our discussion, but I do remember being very excited.  “Rise of the Robots” was McKinsey/Financial Times Business Book of 2015 so I was not alone. Much of the press around the book was negative – it was all about how robots and AI were coming to take our jobs and would/could stress our social fabric. But that’s not how I saw it. I was thrilled.

Then I got busy. I had just hired my first person, for a 2 week, no wait, make that 3-month assignment. She’s still with me, which shows how little I knew. Then I brought on another 3 people, just as an experiment. What would happen when I added extra communications and graphic design capabilities to my team?

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It meant I launched a design studio! A year later we were 5. We had an extra office, it got decorated with holiday cheer. Good thing, too, since there were many late nights and working weekends. 

  Then I got busier. We moved into a beautiful space in the Entertainment District in Toronto. Just minutes’ walk from our key client in the Financial District/King & Bay but still funky enough to inspire our design methodologies. We hired more young guns in an experiment we retrospectively called “Summer of Love” for the magic of it. Beautiful space, fascinating, demanding work, a dynamic team of 8-14 depending on how you counted. Together we (including me) made many, thankfully small, mistakes. We made beautiful visualizations. Most importantly we proved our unique way of working, well, worked. We became Creative for Technology.

  Then, almost exactly 2 years after my family Christmas dinner, a client said: “I think you should start developing for robots.”  To say I was interested is an understatement. But I was busy. And I am not a techie. And I had never developed before. And I wasn’t sure what I had to offer the world of robots.


   In February, I decided to dip my toe in the water by hosting a mini-hackathon (another experiment!). We hired 4 young guns for one week to see if together we could make an Alexa app. We did! And with this my confidence rose. Our unique way of working worked for development too. Maybe we could develop for robots. And by then I thought I understood what we could offer the world of robots, or rather, what we could offer people in a world with robots. 

  So, we bought our first robot and hired 10 young guns – to launch the “Summer of Innovation.” I wanted to see if my client was right, if I was right and if we could develop for robots. For real.

  Then, we got a second robot and went on a field trip. We went into the wild to see how real people – not people who already loved robots – would react. It was illuminating and would confirm our thinking that taking our robots out into the wild was a key element of our methodology.

  Three months later we presented our first two robot apps to automotive executives in the United States.

  Two months after that we launched to the public at Elevate Tech Fest in Toronto. Calling one of our robots Saffi – and giving her a “co-worker role” as our social media correspondent. That was only 8 weeks ago.


  Our fourth robot arrived in October. We named her Eliza. My robot family continues to grow, and with it, my confidence in why we’re doing what we’re doing. So, why robots? Because our Orange Gate methodology of design and development delivers engaging robot experiences. Because our decades of experience in how people and organizations adopt new technology is a powerful starting point for robot app development. Because our unique way of working, well, works for robots.

  How did I become a robot momma? One baby, I mean one robot, at a time. My curiosity about “what do I have to offer in a world of robots?” drives me every day and will for years.

Janneke BlogJanneke Ritchie