He started off as a pepperoni robot, and worked his way up to become CEO of Zume. Revenge, unlike pizza, is best served cold.
Manage a fleet of robotic pizza vans and you’re going to get a few head turns and long stares. Be a half-man, half-robot who rules a dystopian SoftBank-funded $800 million empire with no discernable product market fit and you’re bound to get even more stares. But for Zume CEO Alex Garden, that’s the way he likes it, or at least that’s the closest he can come to the human emotion of “liking” something.
Initially hired as a pepperoni robot 20 years ago in 1999, Garden has gone from slinging tomato sauce to Zume’s head boss, from washing plates to monitoring burn rates, from personal pans to running all-hands.
Let Domino’s fall where they may, this executive opens up about greasy meals, greasy deals, and “rising” to the top.
How do you measure success?
By the number of lives we’ve positively impacted through pizza, of course! Knowing that anyone within a 3 mile radius of Mountain View is able to enjoy hand-crafted, cheesy, gooey, delicious pizza made by robots is a wonderful feeling, at least I think that’s what a feeling is. Also we measure success by how many jobs we’ve automated out of existence and currently we are at 600 and growing!
Zume draws a lot of criticism from those in the industry who say you’re not a robotics company, nor a food company, nor even an AI company. How do you address the naysayers?
Well, first and foremost Zume is a people company. We always put our own people first, and we put other people way, way down the line, like not even in the top one-hundred. I mean, they don’t even really matter and yes, we are going to one day try and automate them out of jobs. Pizza, then coffee, then airlines, then radiologists, all of them. All gone.
What’s the best motivator for employees?
What was the hardest lesson in your first year of business?
That lack of sleep actually does not impact your daily work when your bones are made of titanium and you have no spleen, but you do sometimes pick up AM radio stations from San Luis Obispo and you just have to learn to drown them out, even when Kenny Rogers is on.
You’ve been called a disruptor. Assuming that your language processing functions have been upgraded, what does that mean to you?
I’ve been called a lot of things in my career – XP7-4000 Bot, “Stupid effing machine”, Alex Garden. This is the first time I’m hearing myself called a disruptor. Where did you get that information? You just made that up right now, didn’t you? I mean you people always come into these things with these agendas and made up questions. Who has called me that? I want names.