Duy Huynh, Founder, and CEO of Autonomous Inc. Autonomous leads by technological innovation since 2015 starting out as a group of people with an understanding of both software and hardware. The first product was a robot assistant named Maya whose job was to make lives easier, more convenient, and smarter. By owning every touchpoint along the supply chain, the company can offer high-quality products directly to businesses and individuals.
Where did the idea for Autonomous come from?
Autonomous started with a bunch of ambitious engineers with a big idea. Our priority was to combine expertise in both hardware and software by integrating our proprietary AI software into a standing desk. Though the initial results were successful, the AI we developed would be difficult for the mass market to adopt. After completely reevaluating our business approach and producing our popular SmartDesk and ErgoChair furniture, we have conquered AI in the work from home business.
Our products need to be adjustable and intuitive to attract people from a wide variety of professions and work environments. I think that’s why SmartDesk and ErgoChair furniture pieces have been huge players. They were both developed to be as ergonomic and user-centric as possible while adhering to a sleek and modern minimalist design aesthetic that would complement any professional or home setting.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I set my alarm for 5 AM every day. I have breakfast with my family and take my kids to school at 7:20 AM. By 8 AM, I cycle to work. I’m in the office liaising with 5 global offices until about 4 PM and I make sure to schedule a boxing session every day from 4:30 – 5:30 PM. Exercise is one of the key ways I stay focused and productive.
I like to schedule two focus sessions within my day, one from 5 -6:30 AMM and the other from 8:30 – 11:30 AM. I use these focus sessions to preserve my mental energy and boost my creative thinking. I find that morning time is the perfect time for me to flex and train my creative side of the brain.
Around 6 PM onwards is always dedicated to my family.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When I have an idea, I just do it. You’ve got to be proactive. Things never just fall into your lap or come to you out of thin air. If you have an idea only YOU can make it happen and second-guessing yourself or pondering over an idea doesn’t really help anyone. I’d much rather bring an idea to fruition and see it fail than wish I should have done it.
I like to run my ideas past others to see how they respond. I ask my staff and even reach out directly to customers to see if they like an idea. If there’s a use for such a product, I ask what features they would love added or even removed. Thankfully, I have an incredible team that can produce prototypes for me with fast turnover. These prototypes are sent out for trials and feedback, tweaked, and sent out again for further feedback and development. It’s a continuous cycle until we end up with a product that ticks all the boxes.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Hybrid Work! By hybrid work, I mean where some days are spent at the office and others remotely. I love being able to stay flexible with how I work. The Hybrid Work Model allows us the freedom to define how and where we work at our best. I’m sure we’ve all experienced it for ourselves, but sometimes the office isn’t always the place where we are the most productive. Sometimes a change of scenery really helps to recalibrate our focus and boost our productivity, whether it’s your own home, a coffee shop, or some sort of co-working space.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Exercise is a big part of my everyday life. I’m a huge believer that staying active is the secret to avoiding burnout. It keeps the mind sharp. A lot of the time we forget to take the necessary “time out”. Scheduling exercise into my daily routine forces me to zone out and focus on something that’s not Autonomous. I’m really into boxing. Boxing teaches me survival skills, keeps me strong physically and mentally, and a great way to relieve stress. After a good session, I always come back refreshed. Sweating it out activates my train of thought and definitely helps me focus.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your gut kid. Trust that your vision is sound. You’re damn good at what you do and you know what you’re talking about. If you can’t stop thinking about wanting something so badly, then you’re going to end up going for it in the long run anyway. Don’t be scared and pursue that dream.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I wouldn’t necessarily say people disagree with me on this, but it’s the way I perceive situations that gets some common reactions. When reading any given argument, or problem, or work challenge that involves multiple parties, I tend to have a very 360-degree view of the situation which a lot of others seem to find perplexing. There are no right or wrong, just different perspectives, and everyone’s beliefs and points of view count.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Find the right teammates! At the end of the day, you’re only as strong as your team and you should never stop searching for and growing your team until you find the best fits. It can be challenging along the way to find colleagues, employees, partners who truly believe in and share the same vision as you – especially when you’re a guy with lots of ideas like me – but don’t give up! The effort, pain, and sometimes disappointment that comes with creating a well-oiled team to run and grow your business are well worth it in the end.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Stop micromanaging and trust your team. When you’re a perfectionist with high standards, you have a tendency to involve yourself in every single task at hand. Your team is human, they need their space to breathe, to think freely, and not feel like they’re being watched 24/7. Give them the freedom and space to grow, and you for sure will be surprised by the results.
Of course, it’s all about balance. You’re still their leader, the vision and energy that your team needs. So you still need to be present. Be open to discussion and new ideas, be there when your team needs support. If you earn their trust then you can always count on your team to work their best for you.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My goodness, where do I start – I’ve had plenty of failures I can’t keep count! For me, the most important thing is your attitude when it comes to failure. Stay calm and be honest enough in asking yourself “what have I done wrong to cause this failure?” Failure is part of life, there’s no avoiding it, so don’t beat yourself up too much over it. If you need some time to rest, do it. You’ll soon bounce back with new gained confidence and optimism.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Some form of invisible/transparent mask allows us to see each others’ faces. A mask that allows us to interact comfortably with one other without feeling any physical barrier.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My family and I like to eat out a lot. Quality time with my wife and kids and a delicious meal is always money well spent.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
My team has been developing a new product called JAM. It’s a simple click-to-talk tool for meetings and quick chats. You can chat 1-on-1 or jump into group calls. It’s easier than zoom, quicker than slack, and its interface is super unique. I’ve been having a blast using it to virtually talk with everyone on the team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
For any business owner or startup, I think the most useful book out there is The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo, who is the former VP of Product Design for Facebook. Like most startups, when Autonomous first started we were just a small company with a big dream. Whilst I believed in the objective and knew that our vision could definitely be a success, it took a lot of time for me to find my feet as a manager as the company took off.
Julie’s book really helped me grow. She writes in a way that is accessible for a manager at any level, with or without success, and takes the reader through the intricacies of it all, step by step. It was the first book about management I had read that didn’t intimidate me.
What is your favorite quote?
The only constant is change.
– Be proactive! If you’ve got a brilliant idea that the world needs to see, YOU are the only person that can make it happen.
– The Hybrid Work Model is the New Standard of what it means to “go to work”.
– You’re only as good as your team. Spend the time building a strong unit that works best for you. Don’t settle for less.
– Failure is part of the game. No one is perfect.