Dialogue between Zhong Tianjie, Vice President of ZhenFund, and Zhu Lijun, Founder of Yiwu: You Need to Jump into the Water to Swim

Dr. Zhu, the founder of Yiw, is a down-to-earth entrepreneur with a long-term sense of mission that we admire very much. He has built a compound team with algorithmic ability, engineering and industry experience, and has worked hard on the difficult but correct track of logistics automation for a long time. In the past three years, despite the epidemic, the industry has undergone tremendous changes and progress. It is hoped that this dialogue can give readers a view of industry and entrepreneurship in the eyes of a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.

——Investor of Yiwu 

Zhong Tianjie, Vice President of ZhenFund


Zhong Tianjie: Could you talk about the future of the logistics automation industry from your point of view? How did you set the mission and vision for the company?

Zhu Lijun:I think the new generation of logistics automation solutions is a flexible intelligent logistics system. One of the characteristics of the traditional logistics industry, or the entire back-end supply chain industry , is that it is highly planned. Usually, the construction of logistics infrastructure and systems needs to be planned several years in advance, and the implementation cycle is relatively long. a difficult thing. Now, because of the changeable front-end retail and user needs, back-end logistics must also be able to quickly respond to such changes, which poses a great challenge to the traditional logistics automation system, so the entire market is calling for a new generation. Flexible intelligent logistics system.

The flexibility of this system is reflected in two aspects: flexibility at the physical level and flexibility at the business level. Flexibility at the physical level means that the system has strong flexibility in terms of physical facilities, and can flexibly change the number of equipment and logistics lines, and is easy to relocate and expand; flexibility at the business level means that the system can adapt to business Changes (such as fluctuations in order volume, changes in work processes, etc.)

To create such a new type of flexible intelligent logistics system, a core key module is an open software scheduling system, through which different functions and types of robots and automation equipment can be integrated to connect and optimize the flow of logistics operations, and Continuously adapt to business changes through algorithm optimization.

The mission and vision of Yiwu Technology is to create a new generation of flexible logistics automation solutions and "co-evolve" with our partners. The name of our company "Yiwu" is a homonym of English Evolution. We believe that in the unpredictable business environment of the future, the core capability of an enterprise is its ability to adapt to changes, that is, the ability to evolve.

Zhong Tianjie :We have seen that in recent years, many excellent start-up companies have participated in the logistics robot and automation industry, and the industry has developed rapidly. How did the team choose entrepreneurial direction and company positioning? Why did you choose algorithm-driven mixed field scheduling as the starting point?

Zhu Lijun :The founding team of our company has been engaged in the research and development and application of logistics technology for many years, and has rich front-line experience in the logistics industry and the application of innovative technologies in this industry.The intelligent transformation process of logistics is a large system project, which not only has a deep technology stack, but also has deep industry experience. Therefore, if we want to create a new generation of flexible and intelligent logistics solutions, we need a more detailed division of labor and cooperation across the industry.

The logistics problem itself is a process optimization problem. Robots are the carrier of task execution. Different robots can perform different tasks. Therefore, we need an open scheduling system to schedule and coordinate various robots to optimize the overall business. process. We found that few companies are focusing on this open scheduling system, but from our industry application experience, it has great business value, so we start from the perspective of software and open scheduling system to make flexible Smart logistics solutions. The positioning of our company is also a logistics technology company, and the core of our concern is the overall efficiency of the logistics system.

Taking the algorithm-driven mixed field scheduling as the starting point, it actually starts from the actual business perspective: a comprehensive logistics automation solution is bound to deal with different material types and different business processes. These different materials and processes need to be used to operate with different robot equipment. We naturally thought of doing mixed field scheduling of robots of different brands, different functions, and different navigation methods.

In addition, our team has conducted in-depth research and innovation in multi-robot scheduling algorithms. When the number and types of robots increase, the scheduling algorithm becomes the core of system efficiency. Therefore, we also spend time on algorithm research and engineering. A lot of energy has been put into it, and the mixed field scheduling solution created in this way is mainly driven by algorithms, without the need to manually set a large number of rules, which also greatly reduces the threshold and cost of the use and maintenance of the entire system.

Zhong Tianjie : Can you share with us a project example of Yiwu? How to help customers solve the pain points in the business?

Zhu Lijun :One of our typical cases is the intelligent storage solution for South Korea's Yunda. The customer's business is cross-border e-commerce, which requires high-density storage and high-throughput inbound and outbound traffic. In addition, there aremany types of commodities, including a large number of small commodities, as well as medium and large commodities. What customers need is an overall solution, which not only helps them save storage space, but also saves manpower. It also needs to use one system to solve all types of material handling.

Starting from the business needs themselves, we designed a smart warehousing solution using three different mobile robots. Through a more detailed division of labor, the best functions of different robots are efficiently used, and the needs of customers are met at low cost.

The starting point of Yiwu's solutions is the customer's business needs, so as to obtain the most suitable business process, and then find the most suitable combination of robot equipment and system configuration. With this end in mind approach, the solutions we design and implement are often unique and closer to the client's own business. In addition, because we have built an open scheduling system, this makes our way of creating solutions more flexible and changeable, bringing more possibilities and room for imagination to the intelligent logistics system.

Zhong Tianjie :Since the second half of 2019, we encountered an epidemic, and you must have encountered quite a few challenges. How did the company and the team deal with it?

Zhu Lijun : The epidemic is indeed a big black swan event. Coincidentally, our company has encountered the epidemic since its inception, and the growth process has been accompanied by the epidemic in the past three years. The epidemic itself has deepened our judgment on this industry, that is, enterprises need the ability to respond flexibly to changes. In addition, in the process of communicating with customers, it is also obvious that customers will pay more attention to the flexibility and scalability of the system.

Therefore, although the epidemic has a certain impact on business in the short term, in the long run, more customers will pay attention to automated, intelligent, and flexible logistics solutions, which will promote the maturity of our industry's ecological environment. With a more detailed division of labor, more and more customers will accept and understand the value of our flexible and intelligent logistics solutions starting from software.

During some time periods when the impact of the epidemic is relatively large, our team is more focused on research and development, researching more innovative and efficient algorithms, more powerful system functions and better product experience.These research and development work are based on some of the projects we have done, starting from actual business needs to refine product requirements, and will not work behind closed doors.

In addition, when the epidemic was serious this year and it was difficult to go out and implement projects, we also started to carry out overseas business and landed several projects in South Korea, and the solutions were more recognized by customers, so we will go further in the direction of going overseas expand. Domestic business needs are complex and changeable, and products created in the domestic business environment are highly competitive abroad. Therefore, we also hope that more outstanding domestic robot companies will work together to promote our flexible and intelligent logistics solutions to the world.

Zhong Tianjie :Dr. Zhu majored in theoretical physics. Can you share how you view entrepreneurship and the world? Does learning physics help you later in the industry and starting a business? 

Zhu Lijun : From the perspective of "Tao", I think the biggest help to me in studying physics is to develop a strict scientific way of thinking. In the research of physics, our goal is to model the phenomena of the physical world, so as to describe the observed physical phenomena and predict some new phenomena that have not been observed. In the process of modeling, first of all, some basic assumptions are put forward based on the observed phenomena, and then mathematically rigorous deduction is carried out based on these assumptions to see if there are any inconsistencies or inconsistent with existing observations. New experiments are proposed to test this theory.

The entire process of hypothesizing, mathematical derivation, and experimental verification is very strict. In this process, expert opinions and personal opinions are not important. Everything is based on strict logic and experimental results. The training of this way of thinking is very helpful to me. It makes me think about the starting point of my work every moment in the process of starting a business, that is, what are our basic assumptions, and through these basic assumptions, what do we have? Logical inferences, whether they are self-consistent and consistent with the observed phenomena, whether we can deduce some new phenomena based on these basic assumptions, and support or deny our basic assumptions by observing these new phenomena. Through this process, we can more systematically check and revise our basic assumptions in doing things to ensure that there will be no deviation in the general direction, which is crucial for entrepreneurship.

In addition, I also realized in my work that there are actually great similarities between physics and logistics. Physics uses mathematical models to describe physical phenomena, and logistics also uses mathematical models to describe the operation of the business world; the core problem in physics is the optimization problem: finding the energy ground state of a system; the same is true in logistics, we usually A solution with the lowest system cost and the highest efficiency is required. Therefore, many mathematical tools and techniques used in modeling and solving in physics can also be used in logistics, and can bring many new ideas. This also helped me start a business in the smart logistics industry from the "technical" level.

Zhong Tianjie :You have worked in Amazon, Facebook and Cainiao before. What do you think is the biggest change before and after starting your business? What is the way to learn and iterate by yourself?

Zhu Lijun : My main work in Dachang was research and development, applying some cutting-edge algorithm research to different business scenarios. During this process, I fully felt the magic of technology to expand business boundaries. Of course, in the process of applying cutting-edge technology in business, I have stepped on many pitfalls and accumulated a lot of experience. These are of great help to the current entrepreneurship: I can more clearly analyze which business problems are suitable for technical solutions, and what is the greatest value it provides, neither blindly adding technological advances, nor potential applications of cutting-edge technology in business are overlooked.I think this balance is very important and difficult to grasp.

After starting a business, I need to jump out of my previous way of thinking and doing things mainly as a technician, and need to look at problems from the perspective of the development of the entire company. I need to spend more energy to strengthen my ability to communicate with people, business negotiation, and strategic planning. In this process, I need to keep an open mind at all times, listen and observe more, and learn to consider problems from the perspective of the other party.

I mainly learn how to start a business and manage a company by jumping to the front line to do things. I will discuss requirements with customers with the sales team, discuss technical solutions with R&D engineers, go to customer sites with implementation and project managers for implementation and debugging, and work with customers' workers to understand their pain points and concerns The problem. I think starting a business is like learning to swim. We can learn a lot of theories and do some simple exercises "on the shore", but the most important thing is to "jump into the water and swim". So over the past few years, I will often "jump in" to truly experience the entire entrepreneurial process.

Zhong Tianjie :The logistics automation industry is facing problems such as project system and low gross profit. What do you think of this problem? 

Zhu Lijun : Ithink project customization in the manufacturing and logistics industries is a common phenomenon in the industry. This is a fact and there is no need to avoid it. We know that different factories and warehouses often have different business processes and requirements, which are related to the customer's own business and also related to the customer's development process. Customers will not modify their business processes because of upgrading a new system and solution.

Therefore, customization is something that our entire industry needs to face directly. To solve the problem of customization, it is important to have a detailed division of labor among partners in the industry, and to work hard on system modularization and productization, and to meet the customization needs of customers through the splicing and combination of modular products. As I talked about before, the division of labor in the entire industry is actually not detailed enough. Under this situation, it is necessary to create many vertical customized solutions for customers. Such efficiency is not high, and the gross profit is naturally low. Therefore, I think the core of solving the problems of project customization and low gross profit is the division of labor in the industry. Each company focuses on its own products, and meets the customized needs of customers through the combination of these products, so as to expand the entire business plate together.

Zhong Tianjie :Can you share with us any beliefs that you and the team firmly believe in, but have not yet reached a general consensus?

Zhu Lijun : Our team firmly believes that in the future, the intelligent logistics industry will be more and more detailed, and each company will do what it is best at, and work together to create a more efficient overall solution. Therefore, in addition to many emerging excellent robot companies emerging in China, there will also be companies that focus on software, and these companies will work together to serve customers.

When we were in the early days of our business, many people questioned our positioning based on software. They thought that many robot companies now have their own scheduling systems, so why do we need an independent software layer for open scheduling? We believe that a sign of a mature industry is a more detailed division of labor between partners in the ecosystem, and the current division of labor has not been detailed precisely because the industry is not yet mature.

The intelligent transformation of the manufacturing and logistics industries is a very large systematic project. We are still in the early stages of this process, and the market space has not yet been opened. However, more and more customers and partners in the industry have begun to realize that building a global solution requires more organic integration and collaboration, and companies in the industry have also begun to cooperate more closely. is a good sign. We can clearly see that the entire industry is developing in a more open and cooperative direction, but this is not a general consensus, and it will take some time for the entire industry to stratify and mature.