How AI and Robotics Are Powering Modern Warehouses with Nimble’s Jonathan Briggs
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Ever wondered how AI and robotics are revolutionizing the logistics industry? Our guest today, Jonathan Briggs, VP of Sales and Solutions at Nimble, shares his fascinating journey from unloading trucks at UPS to spearheading cutting-edge AI robotics technology at Nimble—where the company is leveraging AI to transform order picking, box packing, and decision-making, rapidly adapting to a volatile industry.



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Show Transcript

See full episode transcriptTranscript is autogenerated by AI

Jonathan Briggs: 0:00

LinkedIn presents.

Blythe Brumleve: 0:10

Welcome into another episode of Everything is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight. We are proudly presented by SPI Logistics and I am your host, Blythe Brumleve. I'm happy to welcome in Jonathan Briggs. He's the VP of Sales and Solutions at Nimble, which is an autonomous logistics and AI robotics company. I love talking about all of these things, so, Jonathan, welcome into the show.

Jonathan Briggs: 0:32

I appreciate you having me, Blythe. It's exciting to be here. It's my pleasure and honor to be here.

Blythe Brumleve: 0:37

Oh well, appreciate it. Well, before we get into, you know sort of, you guys have a lot of awesome things, interesting things going on at Nimble. But take me back to before you joined the team over at Nimble. What was your career background? Because you have a pretty lengthy career in the logistics industry.

Jonathan Briggs: 0:53

I appreciate you calling me old without saying old, so thank you for that. Interestingly enough, I got into what I would call industry of logistics or transportation as a summer job. I started in my senior year summer before my senior of high school loading, unloading trucks, washing trucks at UPS, and then that turned into seven years with those guys before I knew it, and so operations and sales on the UPS side was what kicked off this career, and then across most of the small parcel carriers with FedEx and DHL two different divisions of DHL and then, at the tail end of my time at DHL, I got into e-commerce and regionalized fulfillment and made it over to a little company that a lot of people have heard lately called Quiet Logistics, which was purchased by American Eagle, and then got into the robotics industry because I saw all these headwinds and challenges with labor across the pandemic before pandemic, post pandemic, just felt like it wasn't getting better and, for whatever reason, I fell on a bunch of radar screens of folks in startups and robotics. And so here I am now kind of rolling up my whole life's work at Nimble in using my transportation because I run strategy for transportation for the business, oversee our sales, of which ultimately, the core product today is fulfillment. And then we're highly autonomous and robotic. So all those things I learned before coming here put to good use every single day.

Blythe Brumleve: 2:17

So it's interesting, you went from sort of the big corporate conglomerates to the startup world. How do you think that experience in the corporate world helped shape your role at a startup?

Jonathan Briggs: 2:28

Yeah, I think my time at DHL if you think about how big DHL is in America when I started in 2005, they just bought an Airborne Express and they were a challenger brand. They were a far distant third of three carriers in the US and so, even though they were huge, we fought like a strat, went to market like we were a startup and so I think that started it then and even within DHL eCommerce as I got to, they were very startup like and entrepreneurial and so, yes, had some benefits. A big logo is tied to those, but still I think those things got me on the pathway and then now it's. I think it'd be hard to go back to a big business. Just haven't been in this world a couple of years now and the scrappiness and how things can change and how flat the organizations are. It really is exciting when you can have a thought in the morning and it could be executed in the afternoon, like on some of these things.

Blythe Brumleve: 3:22

So it is pretty exciting from that regard, that's super interesting because you don't have, I guess, the handcuffs of getting approval after approval, which is not saying that DHL does that, but some of these other bigger companies where you got to go through a lot of red tape in order to get an idea to come to fruition.

Jonathan Briggs: 3:40

Oh yeah, far less signatures, but I roll into the CEO, so I'm not a whole lot of distance. I need to travel to get things done. So, yeah, and really we want to act that way. Even when we get big, we still want to be in this mindset, to be scrappy and live up to our name, as we like to say, and be nimble, and so yeah, absolutely. I don't know that this is something we'll get away with, even as we add levels and layers. We really like how quickly we can make things happen and get ahead of things. As you know, things are changing by the second right, especially with all of this AI and all these things. Like we've got to move quick, and usually by the time you deployed something, it's already too late, and so you can't just sit around and hang your hat on yesterday's success.

Blythe Brumleve: 4:24

And I think that that brings up, you know that, the first series of questions. I have a ton of questions that I wanted to ask about this entire process, because when folks refer to AI right now, they're typically referring to, you know, chat, gpt, these large language models, but nimble isn't an autonomous logistics and AI robotics company. So I guess, with respect to AI, how does all of that sort of fit together in its own little ecosystem?

Jonathan Briggs: 4:48

Yeah, I mean, those are all all the things you said are truly artificial intelligence. We're just doing very different things with it, right, we're, we're picking orders with it, we're packing boxes with it, we're making decisions. You know, as we've gone into our 2.0 of our software, it truly is artificial intelligence, machine learning, reinforced learning. The machine is now making decisions throughout the day of which order to pick, when to pick it, which robot to use to pick it. You know, early on we were kind of hard, hard wiring those decisions and almost walking alongside the robot, if you will, to make it happen. But now we've pushed enough data, we've done enough activities that we've been able to turn it over, and so things like picking paths and dimensions of which box to use at the Packout Station are all happening through artificial intelligence. Now, within our framework, which is very different than all the things we see on LinkedIn of it, can now do my homework for me and it can, you know, send more spam emails to the salesperson and not look like it came from a robot, like those things. But we're making it do activities that traditionally would have been blue collar work in a warehouse and and get rid of that monotonous, repetitive motion, high turnover, high danger activities, by by picking and packing through the hardware, which is then powered by the software, which is ultimately driven through on artificial intelligence.

Blythe Brumleve: 6:08

And I thought I was looking through the the NIMble website and there was a medium blog that that was linked on there and it says you know, there's a lot of hype playing into the robot takeover narrative. The purpose of this blog post is to present some exciting breakthroughs and robotics research while debunking fact from fiction. So Robox has been around and widely used in manufacturing since the 1960s, While we've been calling them robots for all this time, and more fitting name would be reprogrammable motion machines. They are explicitly programmed to treat to repeat trajectories exactly the same way every time. They lack the intelligence to self adapt if their environment or task change even the slightest. And now fast forward to today. Almost nothing has changed and what I found interesting is that that post was written in 2019. So we're still having a lot of those same conversations today with with respects to AI, with respects to robotics. You know how. What does AI look like, I guess, in the warehouse operations? You know, you kind of explained a little bit of like picking and packing, but what does it look like, I guess, from a large scale perspective?

Jonathan Briggs: 7:13

Well, it looks different, you know, because there's there's lots of different platforms within there. It could be controlling material handling equipment. It could be actually a pick and place robot, that is, that is, picking an item from, from, say, a tote and putting it in another tote, or putting it in a box or a mailer or an envelope. In the case of, say, a pack out. It could just be getting an item off the shelf and onto onto another cart or another conveyor belt. It could be inducting units into, say, a unit sorter. So all think about places where you have a lot of monotonous, repetitive motion lifting activities, right, so I have to take a box from a pallet and put it on a conveyor belt, back and forth, back and forth, and that that is a high labor sum, high turnover position. We now can do that through artificial intelligence and the vision systems. As an example, we can, you know place, if you've ever seen a unit sorter or even a parcel sorter. Somebody's there pushing one item at a time. Again, we just go back and forth and automate that. And so what's happened with artificial intelligence is really taking human like skill sets and applying them to machines. So vision systems, so the, we were teaching them to see the world. You know, think about any. You know, lately, anytime you go into a Google or anything and it's asking are you a robot or not? And it says pick if this is a crosswalk or a whatever. That's us being used for machine learning, for self driving vehicles as an example. Well, that's the same vision systems we use within our systems to be able to see products and say, all right, this is a mouse pad or this is a cup, or this is a t shirt or whatever. That starts with the vision system. And then we have, you know, have taught it over time to say, okay, when I need, you know, when I have to pick up a pen, I need to use so much force, just like your eye sees that and tells your brain I need to squeeze with two fingers or I need to use all five fingers and I need. You know. It's not. You don't tell yourself I need one pound of force, I need 10 pounds of force. But that's ultimately what you've trained yourself. When you lift something light versus heavy, you lift it differently versus like, let's say, something's on the ground and you're you're working out as an example and you're picking a kettlebell off the ground, you squat down, you get in athletic positions, you're using your whole body to lift that. Well, the same would hold true if I'm using a robot. I might pick something that's 45 pounds up, very differently if I pick something that's eight ounces up, and so. So this combination of what we, you know, what you might hear it as neural networks or artificial intelligence, ai brains, all of this stuff that we have built into our human brains, is built and programmed through repetitive things and tasks and over time, it starts to learn from itself and teach itself, and so we will continue to see the ability to be more adaptive on the fly. Less less shutdowns, less uh-oh does not compute. I don't know what this new item is, which is, you know, partly why we're very slow to pull the trigger on autonomous vehicles. Right, like we're worried about all the changing you know, the environment changing in real time, with weather and sunlight and darkness and kids jumping out in front of cars. Well, the same holds true in a warehouse, right, and if we pick something for the first time, the first time it might shut the system down, and in the second time it says, okay, I got this and then, but we may have had to interrupt that and say okay, we had to write code and tell it you need to do ABC and D in order to make this happen Over time. Now that vision system, that neural network, will actually make those decisions and teach itself to say okay, I'm going to pick this up the same way I did the pen, because this is a pencil and pens and pencils are pretty much the same thing when it comes to picking it up. So, getting smarter, their continuous improvement and the more we can start building the warehouse around the systems instead of the opposite, is what we've been doing to date systems around preexisting environments that were built for people to interact in. So it's around safety, ergonomics, you know, having a person come in and out of the workplace and not endanger that person is we can start from scratch and build it up from the ground up gets us that much closer to what everybody's kind of talked about this kind of lights out warehouse, and so that's where we've been doing. What we've done with our fulfillment network is we built greenfield environments, built it around the system first, and then we'll add people into it as we need to, and ultimately we want to get end to end. And I think that's not just true for us. I think that's true for this space, you know, continuing to get it to where it runs with more uptime and more precision and can adapt on the fly, as environments are always changing and products are always changing. We need something that can continue to do it and that's been the delay, I think, to date is that combination of the safety factors and also the stop start of oops new product, oops, new product. Where do we go from? But the more we can get that human intervention out of it, the more we can really turn it over and start really seeing this go to next level.

Blythe Brumleve: 12:12

Now are nimble robotics. Is most of your robotics? Are they pick and pack, or is it a variety? Or maybe the pick and pack is, like you know, 80 percent of the robotics that you guys have. What's the ratio there?

Jonathan Briggs: 12:25

Yeah. So right now we've done this in stages. So we've automated 100 percent of the pick side of the business. So we have gotten rid of what would be a picker in our warehouse, which is about 65 percent of the warehouse labor in a traditional environment that's got racking and aisles and stuff like that. So that's first and foremost. Now we're heavy in testing and R&D work to go to the next lowest hanging fruit of people and that's pack out, and so as we round out this year and roll into Q1, we think we'll have that solve for. And that leaves us then at that point with dock work. We need to unload trailers and we need to load trailers with people. We need to do a little bit of sorting and we've got a long, long line of R&D activities happening to do that to where we'll load and unload trucks. We will do robotic sorting of packages for our parcel carriers, we will do automated inductions into our storage systems and so little by little we will become fully autonomous. We just are starting from the pathway of where's the most labor to the least amount of labor and kind of working ourself backwards in that process.

Blythe Brumleve: 13:30

That's interesting because some of the drivers that I talked to, one of their biggest complaints is how long they have to wait at the receiver at warehouses, and so I would imagine that having robotics somehow integrated into that system will help drivers in the end even though there's a whole other show that we could do on, you know, drivers in autonomous trucks and that sort of debate around that. But one of the other big complaints is that when I'm pulling up to a receiver, pulling up to a warehouse, I am waiting for hours, and that cuts into their pay and cuts into frustration. So it's interesting that there are solutions being worked on to try to help alleviate that part of the job. Now, when it comes to, I guess, the products that can be picked and packed, are there good products? Are there bad products? Are there products that are a good fit but other ones still require that human element, Like you mentioned earlier, like a dumbbell or something like that? Are these robots that strong to be able to grasp products like that? Or is it mostly like makeup goods, beauty, health care, things like that?

Jonathan Briggs: 14:36

Well, I mean theoretically, you can design a robot to do anything. We've put our focus around the small, lightweight items, so what we've built and developed is handling apparel, footwear, cosmetics, health and beauty, food supplements, those types of things. But the weight capacity is like I don't know. I think we can pick over 150 pounds now if needed to, but we're still because of there's a lot of complexity in those product types that we just talked about in terms of skew bases, picking lots of units per order. So we've created a lot of value for ourselves with somebody. Just when we compete with folks that are pushing carts up and down an aisle or using a material handling product that meets them and they place an item on there, because there's long pickpads and lots of units per order 3, 4, 5 plus and the more units you add to the order, the harder it is to pick that very cost effectively. So we've focused on those areas for the complexity side of it. Also, they tend to be higher margin products, so there's a whole bunch of things that come into play. But there's definitely robotics companies out there that are picking much heavier things or are working in palletized products and created products versus. We've focused heavily at the unit level Just because that's where most of the inefficiencies lie in terms of, as we've added more e-commerce as a percent of revenue or percent of sales versus, say, retail, we continue to add exponentially more inefficiencies to supply chains Because if you think about a big box warehouse or pallet in, pallet in, pallet out, truck in truck out, they might need 20 people on a shift If you had that same type of square footage and same type of volume. If it was unit level activity, you probably need two to 400 people on a shift in that same building, and the same thing holds true on the delivery side of it. Once we're taking a 53-footer with 26 pallet positions on it and taking that from point at a point B, now we're taking a parcel truck with one item in it weighing less than a pound going to the cul-de-sac making one delivery. We now need more trucks, we need more drivers, and the drivers tend to be the same labor pool that we also get our pickers and our packers and stuff like that. So e-commerce has created a lot of inefficiencies there, and so that's why we've been so focused on unit level type stuff and small, lightweight stuff is just because they require so much more labor and are so much more intense than we think we can set ourselves apart, is that? But back to your original question. Anything and everything can be lifted as long as you have the right machine and the right horsepower behind it.

Blythe Brumleve: 17:14

Yeah, it's almost like a business decision. What kind of market do you want to go after as a robotics company? The ones that the real value is there, I guess you could say, versus the latter. Now, what does the sales process look like for finding somebody? Is there ever a case where somebody is like I would like one robot? Does that ever happen, or is it? No, you got to do the full scale thing.

Jonathan Briggs: 17:39

So almost always people want to crawl, walk, run. This is a very different thing and I guess also to take a step. Currently we're selling our warehouse and the ability and we want people to put their products in our warehouse, so we're really now competing as a third party logistics or three-part provider.

Blythe Brumleve: 17:56

That makes sense.

Jonathan Briggs: 17:57

But we restarted out selling robots. My past life I was selling robots and everybody wants to start with just one because we're not sure how it's going to go. We don't know if everybody and a lot of people, especially in big enterprise level businesses, they're not sure how to purchase it. It's very different than if they bought a conveyor belt or a pallet jack or whatever the case may be is in their minds they buy this machine and they buy it one time and they sweat this asset out over 20 years and even though the manufacturer said 10 years, they all say, hey, we're better, we're going to double the life, so on. But with the robotics and artificial intelligence, it's a combination of hardware and this AI platform. So you upfront have a capital investment of the machine, but then you have to continue to license the know-how and the capability of how do I pick and pack and build stuff, because there's a lot of support and resources and R&D and maintenance and programming that goes into that. And that's where it's been challenging for a lot of the robotics companies to sell into the big Fortune 100s, if you will, for that mindset of they just want to buy this machine one time and not have to keep sending money every year for the same thing that they should have only bought once. In their mind, that is now there's a million and one reasons why you want to keep having the know-how and somebody to keep investing in the know-how to make it better. But when you're spending millions upon millions of dollars, that people get a little bit gunshy on that. Yes, it's a very common thing. If you were just selling a robot, that somebody would say Can we start with sending you products and you test it, and then you can then put one in ours, and then we might go to two, and that could go from years. A lot of like proof of concepts, piloting and stuff like that. That's why we're excited about we're doing. Is we get to, you know, show at scale a pilot people. Can, you know, test drive it, drop some units in our things and over time I will be putting systems back in other people's warehouses again. We just need to get through this, this stage of where we're at, and so it's a great opportunity for somebody that's Unsure, and they're not sure because if they were to buy our system, it is an example. Again, we haven't set pricing, but just as an example of what I see appears in the in industry. This is like a 30 to 50 million dollar upfront capital investment, and I think we've all been around the industry enough to hear brands and companies say I invested in something and it didn't work the way we thought it would. Now we got to rip it all out again. Well, if that doesn't go your way and you just drop 50 million dollars into a robotic system, somebody's gonna lose some jobs in a in a hurry, right. And so we like with our strategies, you can do a try before you buy. You can just, you know, say hey, would you want this type of system in your warehouse? Put some of your goods in our warehouse and we'll pick, pack and ship it and you can see it firsthand. It may not be what you want it to be, and that's okay, but you didn't spend 50 million dollars to find out the hard way that does, because ours isn't small. You don't just, you know, put one robot in. You put, you put a big system in and and, as a result of that, you know it would be very challenging for somebody just to like test drive it. So so, with us having this 3pl network, it does create that opportunity as we get back into system sales that they could do a huge try before they buy and study it out and test drive it proof of concept it with really no more Risk than their line haul of goods into into our warehouse to put their products. They're not out anything else because they have to pick and they have to pack and they have to ship those goods anyway. And we probably optimized it and we probably did it for a better rate and we zone skipped half the country. Instead of them being, say, on the east coast, we may have put it in our west coast and and so we give them a lot of gains while they're test driving those things out.

Blythe Brumleve: 21:35

Yeah, that's super interesting and very, I would imagine, more low risk than some of these initial, like you said, high capital Investments where, if you're gonna make that kind of investment, like, everybody has to be on board, whereas this could be something where, you know, maybe one executive or one department within a company can do a test drive and then be able to figure Out okay, what does that? I guess and maybe that that's my, my next question what does that next step? So they, they've test drove it. Everything looks good. What does that next step look like? Do they just, you know, just start sending all of their products to your different fulfillment centers? Or or do they, you know, start an integration process with a brand new warehouse? Is it possible to integrate into a current warehouse? What does that next step look like for them?

Jonathan Briggs: 22:15

Yeah, it varies, you know, and we find a lot of people that wanted to do it themselves after putting their product in our warehouses, don't want to do it themselves anymore and realize that, hey, this is really nice. Like we don't have all this capital we, we, we transactionally buy, we're on an OPEX environment instead of instead of this capex environment. So we get rid of fixed labor, we get rid of fixed cost and and we can amortize these things a lot easier. So but yes, we do see of the multiple paths, some of it's a hybrid our warehouses and their warehouses. Some of it's they shut off their warehouses and go to more warehouses. Long-term I think it would be systems of ours back in their warehouses, but then we also will have some, some nodes that will operate for them. Just depends on the size of the customer as to whether they're gonna go all in with one provider or they still want to be their own, their own operator for parts of their things. We talk heavily about hub and spoke networks and, you know, trying to localize and regionalize Products to get then customers really hard to put an entire SKU base in multiple locations and be and be right about it. So we oftentimes will talk about like, hey, put your slow movers Just. You think about apparelly. That's why the other reason I love them because they have hundreds of thousands of SKUs. So let's say the typical apparel brand, hundred thousand SKUs, 30% or making up 60% of the sales. Why am I putting that other 70% all over the country? Let's all operate it, or that I'm talking like them, you know, as the brand. All keep my say, my Columbus Ohio warehouse and I'll be the hub and I'll forward, deploy Into a nimble as a spoke and I'll put those fast moving 30% in in around the country so I can localize without overspending in my inventory and and avoiding double shipments and and things of that nature. So there's a whole bunch of reasons and strategies why we think hybrid is is the right way to help customers and one of the things that we, for us, in our current state, I find that the biggest challenge is the uncertainty of how many brands have still only been in one single site as a fulfillment company. To get to site two is a Huge lift and it is a fundamental shift. It is a system shift. It's it keeps people up at night, like at high, high levels about inventory placement and where to put the right inventory, and so we do a lot of data mining and visualizing of data to get people. And that's why we say let's start with just a real small pilot and just give us a subset of a subset of SKUs and let's let's start small and help you solve a problem that you need to solve, you know, whether it be from a Sustainability of cost or sustainability of the environment or you know all these other things. You know customers are asking for things to be delivered faster and more reliably than Again. There was a minute where it paused, but again they want fast and they want reliable, and there's still nobody is raising their hand to pay for shipping. And so you've got to figure out ways with with all the inflationary things, to get product closer to the end customer so you can ship it more cost effectively. And we kind of help with that crawl, walk, crawl, walk run strategy we put together.

Blythe Brumleve: 25:19

Are you in freight sales with the book of business, looking for a new home, or perhaps you're a freight agent in need of a better partnership? These are the kinds of conversations we're exploring in our podcast interview series called the freight agent trenches, sponsored by SPI logistics. Now I can tell you all day that SPI is one of the most successful logistics firms in North America. Who helps their agents with back office operations, such as admin, finance, it and sales. But I would much rather you hear it directly from SPI's freight agents themselves. I want better way to do that than by listening to the experienced freight agents tell their stories behind the how and the why they joined SPI. Hit the freight agent link in our show notes to listen to these conversations or, if you're ready to make the jump, visit SPI 3 plcom. In our industry we talk. We talk about what works and what doesn't, and Carton Cloud's easy to use warehouse and transport management software sure has people talking. Carton Cloud's WMS and TMS is designed for growing 3PLs, giving you the tools you need to compete with the major players with flexible pricing, no lock-in contracts and expert local support. They've helped nearly 500 logistics companies worldwide with hundreds of five-star customer reviews. Want to check it out for yourself. Everything as logistics listeners can get 50% off your first three months with Carton Cloud. Head on over to the cartoncloudcom website and see the show notes for more information. Now, with the crawl walk-run strategy, is this something that some of the smaller, medium-sized e-commerce brands can take advantage of, or is it really more? It just makes more sense for more of the enterprise level the big box retailers, big brands, cosmetic brands, things like that.

Jonathan Briggs: 27:10

I think anybody can To a certain point. There's probably somebody that needs to just flip the switch because they're only doing a couple hundred orders a day and it might be counterproductive. But if you were, let's say you wanted to have two locations and you're in one today, then you have that, whether it's your own site or your 3PL, and you wanted to get to two. Well, why not do that with us and test drive it? We don't disrupt what you're already doing If you already love your current setup, and we're just helping you just optimize a little bit of your skew base and helping out a percent of your customer base in another market. So we do see people, and I think that's also the fact of where we're at. We're a six, seven-year-old company that has been in stealth most of its life up until March of this year, so we don't have the brand recognition of the brands I used to work for, and so it is very much we used to talk about when I was. This is almost way, way, way back when I was at DHL 15 plus years ago. We talked about people could get fired for making a DHL decision, and I think that's true of any challenger brand, regardless of where it like if you're not a known, you create a perceived risk. Now, I didn't say that the risk is true, but because the CEO doesn't know about it or the other internal stakeholders or the shareholders or the board members don't know who nimble is, there's this like inherent perceived risk that they do, and so we're trying to de-risk, as I think we see more people that we've partnered with the date do very much a lot of crawling before they get walking, for that very reason. Now, the good news is we are getting them into that next phase and second phase and so on. We are proving ourselves and doing really well, but they start very tentatively because you know that we don't have a lot of customers. To date. We don't have, you know, tens and tens of years of running fulfillment centers through peak season. My operators do, I do, my leadership team does, but nimble itself doesn't, and so so I think those are all valid reasons why we see it, and you know, as we progress, as we get more customers, we have more testimonials. I think we'll get into more normalized buying cycles and people will be willing to do more of an all or nothing versus like just a little test drive.

Blythe Brumleve: 29:16

And when you talk about these test drives, what does I guess? What is the time line of a test drive look like? Is it a couple years? Is it a few months? Break that down for us.

Jonathan Briggs: 29:26

Yeah, it varies by brand to brand. We would not have it go longer than a year and we, more often than not, we're seeing it live kind of in the two to three months range. Is what we see play out with our customers, and then we can do different things. We can either, you know, build that ramp. In the beginning, which is mostly what most people are doing is they're like, hey, if we invest this time, we like what we're doing. I don't want to get back to the table again and redo all of our contracts and do let's. Let's plan for the future and say, hey, we'll do this as long as you do what you're supposed to do, and if not, we'll have some type of breakup time and we'll part ways or whatever. So more often than not, we're building kind of this phased approach and contractually accounting for this approach, and as long as we're doing what we said, we said we're going to do and and they're still on board with it, we'll continue to press on to those next stages and we don't have to start from scratch every time we go to expand together.

Blythe Brumleve: 30:23

And one aspect of it, because as a you know, just dealing with, you know a lot of folks who are really scared. You know about chat, gpt, ai, you know that that sort of the fear mongering side of the media. There's also, you know some aspects of. You know the onboarding process, where I've heard other robotics companies where they will talk about how they involve a psychological component to their onboarding process, where they actually have to train the employees to look at the robotics as a helper, as they're going to help you do your job. They're not going to take your job. Do you guys have to, you know sort of, I guess, deploy any of that? You know sort of the onboarding side of things? Or are most of these companies willing to take the help right now?

Jonathan Briggs: 31:08

Well, so we're indifferent. Right, we built the second or next generation fulfillment center from scratch and started with the robots already in store. What you're talking about is where somebody that's already had hundreds of associates and they're bringing in the next generation and there's this like are we going to lose our people or is everybody going to revolt? And so I've lived that in past life where you do have to say it's okay, like, this is an ergonomic thing, this is an efficiency thing, this is making your life better. But we're coming in, we already have that position and people already known and what they're getting into, and most of our associates are coming at a much higher level position. It's because of we've outsourced a lot of the more menial tasks to the systems and the robots. We're getting a higher level employee with a higher level skill set and it's totally different level. But I think that's more so when you start very manual and you start automating is when you have to go through that, and then, if you have unions involved, you have to do a whole lot more at the union level. You know, to make sure that they know that those union jobs aren't going where. But the data is all clear, right, Like there's nobody that has employed less people after they've gotten robots. Everybody that's employed robots has increased the amount of people I mean oh, wow look at the amount of robots that Amazon has, but look how many people that they've hired in the last 10 years. I mean they've gone north of a million people. Even though they have more than that in terms of robots, they're still adding people. I know, you know a lot of brands have been hit with some layoffs and stuff like that just because they out the you know the growth stop that we thought was going to live forever after the you know the 19s, 2021 timeframe, but but in general, like they still have exponentially more people than they had working for them in 2019, despite investing heavily into robotics. So it's just the jobs. The jobs change. Right, like we hire, like we're a tech company with an operations department, so I employ people that are developers and engineers and you know very high level skill sets, but I have a lot less people that are is an hourly associate and kind of the reverse. When we think of like a 3PL who's an operations company with a tech department, we're the reverse of it. So, so we're still hiring lots of people. They're just not your day to day associate that you typically see if you, if you went through a warehouse. But but we need this higher skill set to run the warehouse. So we were just hiring differently and more effectively and I think people that will be more career driven than just a paycheck driven.

Blythe Brumleve: 33:36

And when we talk about, I guess, deploying these different systems and how you, you know you have that, this, the pilot program where folks can send their products and they can test out Nimble, but then on the flip side, where you have these companies that have completely bought in and they, they want to the the Nimble robotic system inside their warehouse. You were speaking earlier about, you know, retrofitting older warehouses instead of, you know, starting from scratch. I get what does that process kind of look like? Is Nimble on site doing it? Is it? You know just the? Do you have maintenance people there? I imagine it's a whole. You know set up a whole team that that's doing this.

Jonathan Briggs: 34:13

It's painful enough that we started to build our own, our own warehouses that we decided that we didn't want to build. You know, what happens is, is every there's no two warehouses that are alike right, there's no. There's no systems. You know no tech stacks that are like no, no requirements, no designs, etc. And so all of a sudden, now you're a custom integrator. Every warehouse you went to, and so it was all the things you just said it was, we had. You know, hardware, folks on site, software folks on site, you know people just observing and watching a long period of time of continuing to like, monitor and record and figure out. You know what is causing it. Then there are tech resources, maintenance resources that are involved to do preventative maintenance and things that nature, and and certain we do certain things differently with certain brands, like some want to do everything and we're like fourth level contact, and there's others that don't want to do anything and there we do everything and anything. Our people are on site and we're running and maintaining and monitoring and all that stuff. So it does. It does vary, even within our own customer base of what we do and don't do for them. You know, brand by brand.

Blythe Brumleve: 35:20

Yeah, I can imagine that, that that takes an enormous amount of time, probably a year, maybe a couple of years, just depending on the location I can just think of. You know, went back when I used to do custom web development and I'm like, why am I reinventing the wheel every single time for new clients? Let's produtize it and then that way you can sell one, you know, go after one market, and then that way it's much more streamlined, you know, for a variety of different reasons, which helps a ton. Now you know you've spent. You know a while, not not, I'm not going to call you old, no, not just.

Jonathan Briggs: 35:54

you're good, you're good.

Blythe Brumleve: 35:56

You're, you're, you spent, you have it. You have experience in e-commerce, but you also have the experience in the level of e-commerce where you've seen these massive trends that have taken shape. You know, obviously we have the, you know, the dot com bust. We have, you know, the mid 2000s, maybe, like you know, 2015 to 2019, where it was just, you know, people are starting to get a little familiar with e-commerce. And then you have COVID. You know kind of explodes everything and now you know your grandparents are ordering from Instacart and everybody's comfortable with e-commerce. What are some current, I guess, maybe fads that you think are going to kind of go up to the wayside with e-commerce? And then what are some trends that you think have longevity?

Jonathan Briggs: 36:39

Yeah, well, I think first and foremost is 15 minute grocery deliveries. We're already seeing that pool of money dry up in a hurry and casualties. Don't say that. Are you an adopter?

Blythe Brumleve: 36:49

I'm an Instacarter.

Jonathan Briggs: 36:52

I think Instacards save. I think that's a little bit different, but I'm talking about like true, like I order my entire house of groceries and 15 minutes later it's at my doorstep. Like that's been a big burn of cash and not very profitable for folks, and I think we've also seen a lot of those types of stores people re-entering stores again or at least doing the curbside pickup and you know things. So I think that's one that, like you know, super low margin products being delivered in seconds is not a sustainable business, regardless of what category that is. But I think you know most biggest fad of that falls into 15, 30 minute grocery delivery. So I think that's one I think we're going to continue to see more new channels develop, different acronyms that mean a different way to get your product. We've had the add-ons of buy online, pick up in store, pick up at curb, all those things. I think where we're starting to see it is now happening on the return side of it. So I buy online return to store or I buy online return to a return bar, those types of things. I think we're going to continue to see more of that and I think gone are the days of free returns. It feels like Too many people using their house as the changing room and buying five items. Sending three back is very expensive. So we're starting to see a lot of the brands start to put a fee up front now on returns whether it's to cover logistics back or just to be a deterrent, it depends on who you ask. What's happening there. So I think those are some things we're seeing change. I think gone are the days of just being direct to consumer and we see this play out kind of a new verse. Right, nike was firing all of their wholesalers a couple of years and now all of a sudden they're all friends again and they're adding every footwear DSW to Foot Locker or all friends again with them. And so they did that because they thought, hey, we're Nike and we can go direct to consumer. We can hire our customers very differently. And now they've been sitting on a ton of excess inventory and realize there is value in wholesale partnership. And the reverse side of that is all these darlings of e-commerce that you know, the digitally native folks that were anti-store. We will never have a store. They're putting up stores by the tens and the hundreds now and we're seeing people that I will never be on Amazon, be on Amazon. I think a perfect case in point is Victoria's Secret. I mean that is a solid well, I shouldn't say solid. That is a brand that most everybody knows and they decided here in the last 18 months, two years, whatever it's been that they're going to now sell on Amazon and they've expanded that relationship publicly and that's somebody you know. If you asked me five years ago, would a brand like them do that? I would say absolutely not, and so I think that tells me that there's. You know the cost of customer acquisitions for pure play. E-commerce has gotten really challenging in the wake of all the things that have happened with, like the iOS 14 and above, with getting rid of cookies. Getting rid of, you know, facebook you have to is very expensive now and they were felt like free for a while. And all of a sudden, people and profitability is important for running a business. I don't know why that stopped being important, but in e-commerce it didn't seem to matter for about 10 years. It was all about growth at any cost, and so, as we start focusing on metrics that matter, we need to figure out where else we can acquire our customer in stores and wholesale and marketplaces all seem to be kind of coming together as friends again.

Blythe Brumleve: 40:33

Yeah, it's definitely interesting. I love that point about Victoria's Secrets because I would have never purchased. I mean they were the mall staple you know to put, you know, I guess, an old date on myself. They were the mall staple of when you would. You know that would be the must stop. You know every single trip you go to the mall. But I only recently purchased from them online and it was I don't know why I never thought about purchasing from them online, but I think it's the foot traffic part of it where you just don't see them, so you don't think about it and I, you know I very rarely, you know, will watch live TV and so less time to see commercials. So that's interesting. We brought that up because now it puts them back in the forefront where it makes that purchasing so much easier. Because Amazon is so, you know, for better or worse, they're so ingrained in our daily lives. So that partnership is super interesting. Now shifting gears a little bit, going back to not going back, but I hate kind of, you know, curled, you know talking about, you know, the fear side of AI, but that's one, you know. I talk a lot about AI with respect to, you know, large language models on this show, especially over the last six months, and most of my family. They do not have any idea of what logistics is what I do, what AI is what it does. So they rightfully or not rightfully, but they are subject to you know some of the the fear porn that's out there. What do you say? I would imagine that you're kind of in the same boat where somebody kind of knows you're working a little bit in, you know AI and robotics and they get a little nervous and then they come to you and they ask you about it. What are some of those ways I guess you alleviate some of those fears from you know folks that are outside of the logistics industry, that really understand the nuances of it?

Jonathan Briggs: 42:20

Yeah, it's great call out. I kind of get a pass a little bit in the sense that we we often refer we use robotics more often than we use AI when we talk about robotics, and so everybody just thinks about the hardware and the systems and don't realize all of the the neural networks that I talked about were taking people's skills and applying them to a machine, so you know. So I don't get into that, but I see all the things you're talking about and I think about all these movies I saw as a kid, like Minority Report and like iRobot. It's there, right, like those were there. We're in that age now all of a sudden I don't think there's three people attached to a machine. These are like computers, but still the thought process behind some of those movies are very much coming to life and we're living the futures now, right. And so there's definitely things that are alarming and concerning, and I think it's really concerning when you see one of like the forefront folks in like the more chat side of this, stand up to government and say we need regulatory, we need oversight. Now, like that's really alarming to me, because most people in business do not want any government oversight or regulatory, especially on something like that, that can be a game changer and, you know, give you a ton of revenue streams and power and so on. So I thought that was very telling to see this year and but in general, I think there's a ton of positives of it. Right, it's creating, it's easing day to day lives and you know taking mundane tasks and you know throwing it onto something that can automate. Really early on in my career, I learned this process of, like time management, of eat the frog, where you do the worst thing you're going to do that day first thing in the morning so that you can like plow through it, and I could think of, like, how many times I could apply it AI to eat the frog activities I've done in my life. So it gets some of those things that we that are mundane and tedious and repetitive, whether it's mentally, through typing, through physical labor and it now makes where we're spending more of our day doing the things we want to do, like talking to customers, strategizing big picture stuff and we outsource, so to speak, these things that are repetitive and kind of mundane and we don't need it. So I think, as long as we are using it in those lenses. Awesome, all for it. It's when we want to take over the world and and destroy the world and use it for evil that it does get you a little bit. Like you know, you could keep people up at night in a hurry if they're not, if they get fixated on those things. So, but I think, regardless of positive, negative, whatever, there's a long way to go before these are very stable, viable, are going to do a lot of big things beyond writing your emails for you, things of that nature. But they will get there. They will get to where they can do big things and there's definitely probably more jobs than people realize they're going to be impacted by it, like programmers, people that write code. Eventually, those systems will write code and so there will be it's not just a blue collar job of labor that will have be impacted by this. It's every job and any job you can think of potentially could be impacted negatively or positively depending on how you apply it and how you lean into it.

Blythe Brumleve: 45:41

Yeah, I think it was a Gartner study that said up to 30% of all office work tasks have the risk of I don't even know if risk is the right way to put it but the risk of being automated away to AI. But I mean just in my own anecdotal experience, I used to have to type out transcripts for podcast episodes, for videos, and that took hours to do and now I can do it in minutes and it frees up and that's just one simple use case of the podcasting process where AI and chatGPT and tools like that have really helped streamline the mundane parts of that so I can have more conversations like this, like with you, and breaking down these complex topics, and so I'm a fan of it. I recognize that some of the dangers around it, but I think I more see it as like a glass half full because it does help me with a lot of those mundane tasks and I can spend the rest of that time doing cool stuff and talking to cool people. So works out for me. But I know that there's definitely especially with some of the truck drivers I talk to They've already been facing it with ELD and a lot of the monitoring that goes on within the truck and I could see some of those use cases coming to the white collar jobs too. But I think it's going to come to the white collar jobs a lot faster than it will for some of these blue collar jobs. All right, so last question that I have for you before we get into a couple of rapid fire questions that I wanted to chat with you about. But with Nimble specifically, you guys just raised a series B round of funding for $65 million. You added Boston Dynamics founder to your board of director. So we've talked about a lot of cool things in this interview. So with all of that recent news, what's next for Nimble?

Jonathan Briggs: 47:24

Yeah, turning up all things Nimble right now, a lot of things going our way. It's been a good life choice for me to be over here at a right time where we're really hitting stride, and adding to that, it's a total $115 million raised across the A&B rounds to do very meaningful work, and so for us, it's continued to put more pins on the map. As we like to say, get more fulfillment centers out, get even outside of the US. So we have aspirations to go into Mexico it's probably going to be our next market outside of the US to be able to open the door for some of the cross-border things that are happening to avoid duties and taxes but still provide automation in what we're doing there. Even though most people don't think to bring automation to Mexico, we still see value in it. So I think it's that We've got to continue to scale and acquire new customers, and so it's programs like this that will help us do that, and as we do that, we will continue to put more things. And then, within there, it's also the R&D framework that we talked about of automating the pack side of the business, then automating the dock door side of unload and load and parcel sortation, and then there's even some things where we can see taking our systems and our solutions and actually putting them on the road and applying them to trucks to have loading and unloading of vehicles and different delivery things. So there's a whole roadmap as long in terms of what we're going to do and we just unfortunately have to take them one step at a time because of the capital, because of the revenue that we generate. We have to balance those things, but in the very near future we will see many of these second and third steps be coming to fruition.

Blythe Brumleve: 49:02

Well, I think you guys have a really cool approach just as far as allowing businesses to be able to do a test run and not having to worry about the capital intensive nature of having to retrofit an old warehouse. You just start fresh. Start it with a blank slate, and sometimes that's the best route to take. Now a couple of rapid fire questions for you. This is something new that we are debuting, starting in July. I just want to get a pulse of what the industry, thought leaders and supply chain and logistics are thinking about. So these don't have anything to do with Nimble, but just your own personal experience. So the first question is what's your favorite social media platform and why it can be inside or outside of the industry?

Jonathan Briggs: 49:47

I'm LinkedIn. I'm a one trick pony. I am all things LinkedIn good, bad or indifferent. So it's been very valuable for me, for my career, whether it be finding jobs, whether it be for sales, whether it be for networking. It's helped me create a skill of networking that has been life changing for me. So I'm all about LinkedIn. Probably I should get into other platforms. It's hard to pivot and find something that creates as much value for me as they do.

Blythe Brumleve: 50:16

So surprised that other people who are on social media platforms Instagram is probably the big one that I get made fun of for saying you should take your talents to LinkedIn, because that's where people with the organic reach is on LinkedIn, and you can actually get some ROI versus Instagram, but that's a topic for another day. Next rapid fire question what is your favorite supply chain of factoid?

Jonathan Briggs: 50:43

That's a stumper, can we?

Blythe Brumleve: 50:47

call e-commerce.

Jonathan Briggs: 50:49

What's that?

Blythe Brumleve: 50:49

I said it could be e-commerce related.

Jonathan Briggs: 50:53

So I think I'll leave it to something we've done. It's a factoid of Nimble, but I think it's applicable where we've shrunk down our buildings by 82% to get the same throughput of getting rid of racking and aisles. So that's been a mind blowing number. That still scratched my head and think about of how much waste there is in a building by using the cubic footage of a building versus just the square footage of a building, and so that's probably something that is really interesting but unique to us.

Blythe Brumleve: 51:26

And you're talking, I guess, that the floor to the ceiling, using that space instead of just the spread out space.

Jonathan Briggs: 51:32

We work from ground to 30 feet high in all of our buildings and have zero racks and zero aisles. So, for example, in a typical warehouse that you would see with an aisle, I can put about 200,000 to 400,000 units of storage units in an area that they need to just walk up and down to push a cart or have a machine go through. And multiply that times 10, 20, 30, 40, however many aisles they have, that's a lot of units that we can take advantage of. So you'll see this as you watch, watch all your feeds in LinkedIn and watch how many warehouse operators are showing a picture behind them and the rackings at their head and then there's like 30 feet above them and just think how unproductive is that warehouse. That's a million square feet, but it's got. 70% of the cubing is not being utilized, and so we've been able to take advantage of all that, because the average warehouse now is 36 feet high and they go over 40 feet high in the new construction. So if you're not working vertically, you're really overpaying for all the other aspects of your building.

Blythe Brumleve: 52:30

Oh, that's super interesting. I would have thought that a warehouse operator would see that almost like a real estate part of their warehouse and recognize we probably need to do something with this. Why are the roofs so tall on a warehouse, is it just? That's just what they've always done.

Jonathan Briggs: 52:43

Storage component to put skids up on there and put racking. So there is part of it is being used. But when they get into like their pick side, that's usually we're limited to like six, seven feet of reach, and steel got really expensive. So adding mezzanines or other types of platforms is counterproductive. So now people are just working inefficiently as a result of it.

Blythe Brumleve: 53:04

That's super interesting. Good one, good job, all right. Last one Favorite SaaS product or tool Campy nimble.

Jonathan Briggs: 53:13

I will step out of here. I'm all about AI note takers now and my go-to is pattern AI you cannot take that away from me that attends meetings religiously for me, whether I'm there or not, it's always there and it does all the things you just talked about the transcribing, the summaries, the let's go back and see things and catch things and then send it to everybody that was on the call and nobody has to. How many hours have you spent a week just typing and typing and how much did you miss in those meetings? Because you're head down trying to capture what did the customer just say that was so juicy of a nugget and then meanwhile you missed a great opportunity to go into some other question or some other problem that you're trying to solve for them. And now we can sit back with our eyes open and our ears open and our hands on our laps or on our desk and just enjoy conversation and we don't skip a beat because we've got AI note takers. They're the whole ride for us.

Blythe Brumleve: 54:11

That's super interesting. I haven't heard of that one before. I use orderai and it does a lot of the same things that you just talked about. Some people freak out when it joins a meeting, but I'm like, don't worry, it's going to send you a copy afterwards. And then, once they see it, it's like $100 a year but it takes care of everything and it sends everybody a copy of it afterwards. I got to check out patternai because I've used even some podcast transcription tools and none of them are as good as orderai. So they don't pay me to say that, but I feel like they should, because I feel like I mentioned it all.

Jonathan Briggs: 54:43

I don't think you got AI. I think if you do that, you're going to find somebody that cuts material but just type like patternai, note taking or something like that, and it'll get because I forget their actual domain. Shame on me.

Blythe Brumleve: 54:55

Oh, get patternai.

Jonathan Briggs: 54:57

That's it. There we go. There's something slightly different, yeah, but here we go. But you sound like you've got it solved. But in general, ai note takers. So I use AI just like everybody else does in my day-to-day life and it is a life changer for us.

Blythe Brumleve: 55:11

Are you guys using chat? Gpt BARD, Do you have, I guess, a large language model of choice?

Jonathan Briggs: 55:16

We do so. We are an AI company, so we get to do something. Interestingly enough, we've created our version of that for RFP responses.

Blythe Brumleve: 55:25

Oh cool.

Jonathan Briggs: 55:26

So I'm sure you've lived this being in sales before, where you get asked 1,000 questions. They're almost all the same question but slightly different, and so we've written a tool to automate as much of that as we possibly can and it's the same kind of construct as a chat GPT and goes through there and we dump the questions and the answers and the output. So we're pretty excited about that.

Blythe Brumleve: 55:50

Oh, that's super cool Because then that cuts down on a lot of the I guess the tire kickers who they just want the information. They're not exactly ready to make a purchase yet. But meetings we just talked about. Meetings take up so much time and I think I read a stat the other day it's like 35% of meetings are our waste.

Jonathan Briggs: 56:07

I don't know where that set came from.

Blythe Brumleve: 56:08

But it came from an email.

Jonathan Briggs: 56:09

It's a true thing because we got rid of meetings. We were beginning the year kind of following Shopify Anything that was three or more we were asked to get rid of and see how long we could go without. None have been added back on my schedule that we've eliminated. We've gotten very few. Now. We use Slack and we do communications. We also create a PowerPoint that we update, live out of Salesforce as an example. So a lot of our tell the business about what's going on with the business type stuff. We just auto-populate this deck and then we meet on a more bi-weekly basis instead of a weekly basis. So things that nature. So I wholeheartedly hear that and understand that and believe that because we've gotten rid of it, we did this whole exercise. I was shocked we were averaging seven hours a week of meetings that we figured we could solve through Slack or through automation of some sort and we did and we've been four or five months still going without it. So we now it's like to get a meeting set up in the business. It's like are you sure you have to get sign-offs, almost. So I was talking about not like this is where our systems come into play. Is like you have to get like sign off to get the meeting. That's where we get rigid.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:22

I love that approach. I wish I could do that as a business owner, when somebody is scheduling meetings for me and they're not exactly a good fit to purchase a product from me, but I still want to hear them out. But the meeting's already booked so it's kind of awkward to cancel it at the last minute.

Jonathan Briggs: 57:38

I love that. I appreciate you not canceling us getting on today because I so.

Blythe Brumleve: 57:42

thank you. Well, this happened off camera, but my camera did not work. It was facing my own robotic issues. I've had to self-diagnosis, but wouldn't you know, shutting it off and turning it back on again, that did the trick.

Jonathan Briggs: 57:58

Not the Panic King trying to-. This is sometimes the power button right. Pull the plug, make sure it's plugged in. That's like the most commonly asked question in IT, right, it's like is it plugged in?

Blythe Brumleve: 58:05

Yeah, throw it in rice, like, or just don't throw it out a window, because I was very close to that. But, jonathan, I appreciate your time today. This was a really fascinating discussion. Where can folks follow you, follow more of your work, follow Nimble, you know all that good stuff.

Jonathan Briggs: 58:21

Yeah, definitely our website, simple and easy. Nimbleai Courage you to go see that I'm active on LinkedIn, so feel free. There's not too too many Jonathan Briggs out there, but if you type in Jonathan Briggs and Nimble, I'm pretty sure you'll get to me. And yeah, love to connect, love the network, love to talk, supply chain, anything and everything. So hopefully I can expand the network as a result.

Blythe Brumleve: 58:44

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show Again. I'll be sure to link to all of those things in the show notes, just to make it easy for folks. Thank you, Cool conversation.

Jonathan Briggs: 58:52

Yeah, same here, Blythe I appreciate it.

Blythe Brumleve: 58:58

I hope you enjoyed this episode of Everything Is Logistics, a podcast for the thinkers in freight, telling the stories behind how your favorite stuff and people get from point A to B. Subscribe to the show, sign up for our newsletter and follow our socials over at everythingislogisticscom. And in addition to the podcast, I also wanted to let y'all know about another company I operate and that's Digital Dispatch, where we help you build a better website. Now, a lot of the times, we hand this task of building a new website or refreshing a current one off to a co-worker's child, a neighbor down the street or a stranger around the world, where you probably spend more time explaining the freight industry than it takes to actually build the dang website. Well, that doesn't happen at Digital Dispatch. We've been building online since 2009, but we're also early adopters of AI, automation and other website tactics that help your company to be a central place to pull in all of your social media posts, recruit new employees and give potential customers a glimpse into how you operate your business. Our new website builds start as low as $1500, along with ongoing website management, maintenance and updates starting at $90 a month, plus some bonus, freight marketing and sales content similar to what you hear on the podcast. You can watch a quick explainer video over on DigitalDispatchio. Just check out the pricing page once you arrive and you can see how we can build your digital ecosystem on a strong foundation. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I'll see you all real soon and go Jags.

About the Author

Blythe Brumleve
Blythe Brumleve
Creative entrepreneur in freight. Founder of Digital Dispatch and host of Everything is Logistics. Co-Founder at Jax Podcasters Unite. Board member of Transportation Marketing and Sales Association. Freightwaves on-air personality. Annoying Jaguars fan. test

To read more about Blythe, check out her full bio here.