Meet The Founders – Autonomous Tech and Robotics (Feb 6th, 2019)

  • Cynthia Yeung – COO of Cafe X Technologies
    • She received a degree in Business Engineering
    • She then spent 5 years at google before deciding to leave.  Afterwards she worked at 3 different travel startups in a row.  
    • She traveled with her wife (who does robotics) and crashed a bunch of robotics conferences where she talked to a bunch of robotics companies.  By meeting people at the conferences she found her way to Cafe X.
    • Cafe X is the cool robotic coffee bar machine that you may have seen.
    • Locations:
      • Started at The Metreon (135 4th St.)  (version 1.0)
      • Cafe X Market (578 Market St.) (version 1.5)
      • Cafe X One Bush (St.) (version 2.0)
    • ½ the company (about 12 people) reports to her and the other half reports to the CEO.
    • Cafe X has doubled in size since she’s gotten there.
    • Tips on choosing a good job:
      • It’s difficult, but try to find the intersection of what do you truly care about, what’re you good at and what the world will actually pay you for.
      • Keep your personal burn out rate low.
  • Ezana Tesfu – Director of Operations for Carvi, Inc.
    • He studied Civil engineering and political science but when he tried working for a firm for his degree he found that the work was not for him.
    • He then moved to a small company as a business analyst.  He started working there so early that when he came onto the company everybody met at Starbucks once a week and that was essentially their office. Later they started renting a small space and then a larger co-working space and now have multiple office locations.
    • After some time he left that firm and moved to Carvi.
    • Carvi provides vision-based safety for vehicles.
    • Basically, with their technology, an old car can become a smart car in the sense that it will inform you about the safety around your car.
    • Carvi is a startup of about 30 people.
autonomous technology event - cafe X
autonomous technology event - CarVi

Event Highlights

Thoughts on: Company Growth

  • Cynthia:
    • Hiring is very hard, especially for engineers but also in general for SF
    • Cafe X is always hiring for coffee bar specialists.
    • Everything about hiring somebody is about de-risking, which can be done.
      • By giving applicants coding challenges.
      • By checking the skills that they can checked.
      • Over time one will gain an intuition for who might be risky and who’s not risky as you gain more experience in hiring people.
  • Ezana:
    • When you’re small there’s a lot of people doing a lot of hours.
    • It’s very important to find the people who will definitely stick around over time and won’t be quickly burnt out.  You want people who are in your company for the right reasons.
    • Be sure to hire people who are there to have fun, but remind them that they’re also there to work.
    • Individuals wear many hats in the start of a company and they then become more specialized as time goes on.
    • With experience in hiring, you (the individual doing the hiring) will be able to know if somebody is right for the job within 10 to 20 minutes of meeting them.  You can just feel it.
  • Dave:  
    • Hire slow and fire fast.
    • Check in with your new hires at 30, 60 and 90 days after they’re hired.  Ask them how they’re feeling about their job and the company and what the team can do to support them.
    • Don’t just presume that the new hires will just catch on.


Thoughts on: Competing with Larger companies for both customers and new hires

  • Cynthia:
    • For customers: Look at the user journey, identifying the pain points, bottlenecks and points of friction.  Reduce those as much as possible
    • For hiring:  It’s all about word-of-mouth and branding.  Sell them on your values and your company for what the company is.
    • Supply/Demand – Engineers have their pick of the litter depending on their sub-field.
    • Years ago a person, on their own time, developed a phone app for Cafe X before they had one.  It was fully functional and just needed to be connected to the back end when they sent it to the CEO. They’ve been on at Cafe X as the Lead Engineer ever since.
  • Ezana:
    • Customers: Carvi focuses on Fleet companies with insurance support for safety purposes.  Technically they’re not competing against anybody today, but will be one day be competing on the data end for self-driving cars.
  • David on getting hired
    • You need to do stuff on the side and do real projects to show that you can actually code and didn’t just do the class.
    • If you find something you love to do, just start doing that.
    • People like it when you say “I just researched it myself” or “I’m self-taught”.


Tips/Thoughts on Remote Working

  • Cynthia:
    • You need a really really strong project Manager to insure that the long term engineers are effective.
    • Remove Tasks work best when there’s a very very structured roadmap and just need a person to implement.
    • If you’re in a phase in which constant iteration is happening, it’s not the best idea to have people work remotely on those tasks.
  • Ezana: – Echoed the need to have a goal set clearly.


Thoughts on the Individual difficult questions regarding their specific companies

  • Cynthia –
    • Statement: How do you respond to people who want to go to a normal cafe because they get interact with the barista who makes their coffee:What about getting to talk to your barista
      • How often do you actually get to talk to the barista?  The person behind the cash register has to attend to you for half a minute before helping the next person.  Anybody not on the register has a number of different responsibilities that need to take priority over talking to a customer.
      • Cafe X still has a person there who is PAYED to talk to you.
      • She doesn’t see it as us/vs them. When it comes to other coffee shops
    • Question: What about the jobs you’re taking away from baristas?
      • Come work for us, we’re hiring.  We’re aggressively hiring. We need good baristas.  If you’re worried about your job come work for us, we’re hiring and pay better.
  • Ezana: Security
    • What about all the data that Carvi collects?  What if y’all are hacked?
      • All of the customer’s data is anonymized.  Names and other identifying information is removed and the data is given a number which corresponds to each client.
    • There is a new law that every fleet driver needs to have a log of some kind to show how much they’re driving.  
      • Carvi logs that information for the driver automatically.
      • This law came about to avoid having drivers who are driving over 12 hours without sleep.
      • Most truck drivers drove 20 hours before this law was implemented.  Many trucking accidents happened because of strokes.
      • Carvi reduces accidents because they have alerts for the drivers.  As far as the industry, however, there’s an increase in accidents because drivers are trying to go as fast as possible within those 12 hours and thus creating accidents.
      • Ezana believes that this law is not fully working right now.  But in the future, maybe.


Thank you Terra J. Riley. for taking awesome notes during our event. To learn more about her you can find her work at and for her LinkedIn profile.