From Lawnmower Tech to Mobile Remote Controlled Robot Stores With Dmitry Shevelenko, Co-Founder and President of Tortoise

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 “I think where a lot of startups get it wrong is first building a company and then building products. From my vantage point, you don’t get the right to have a company until you have something that people want.”


How did technology for a lawnmower operated by remote control end up leading to mobile robot stores? Dmitry Shevelenko, Co-Founder and President of Tortoise, explains how his company landed on creating an original product — a mobile vending machine — while concentrating on last-mile delivery. He also shares how his passion for anthropology and how people behave has been a key driver in understanding customers’ behaviors to increase revenue.

Key Insights


How can an early work experience set you up with a lifelong skill?

“I often say if you can sell fine jewelry at Sears, you can pretty much sell anything.”

For Dmitry, his first job selling jewelry ended up being an empowering experience. It’s curious to consider what role this formative experience has had on the overall trajectory of his life. One possibility, given Dmitry’s later interests and success, could be that it provided him with more comfortability observing and interacting with people. You can’t easily sell people anything unless you’re comfortable being with them and capable of figuring out their desires.

How did people talking to the delivery robots lead to major innovation?

“And with just that one modification, we inadvertently invented the world’s first remote-controlled mobile vending machine.” 

The adjustment that Dmitry is referring to is adding an NFC reader to the delivery robot so that people could buy products from it. This idea was born from watching people try to speak to the delivery robot and then asking them why they did so. According to Dmitry, their reason for chatting with the robot is because they thought they could buy something from it. The team at Tortoise observed people and then changed their existing products to meet customers’ desires. This led to a change in concentration in the company from last-mile delivery to mobile vending machines that are remote controlled.

Should all business leaders be anthropologists too? (35:00)

 “It’s just really fun to see people experience a new way of buying things and just seeing the delight… I’ve spent a lot of time kind of just somewhat stealthily watching people interact with the robot.” 

Back in college, anthropology was one of Dmitry’s areas of study. His keen interest in observing people has also served him well in his entrepreneurial journey at Tortoise. By paying attention to how people interact with the robot and with each other, Tortoise has been able to make productive changes to their offering as well as learn what helps to upsell products.

About the Guest:

Founder of Tortoise and creator of the Mobile Smart Store, the first remote-controlled store-on-wheels.”

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Episode 209