Ross blum: President & COO of Skyline Robotics – Ep. 94

About Ross Blum & Skyline Robotics:

Ross Blum is the president and COO of Skyline Robotics, makers of Ozmo, the world’s first high-rise window cleaning robot.

All those windows you see downtown? Someone’s gotta clean ‘em. And apparently it’s a $40B+ industry. Skyline Robotics has already received millions in funding, and Ross has had a meteoric rise to the top that I find fascinating.

He’s innovated his way to success in an unlikely category, so there’s lots of gold to be found in this episode.

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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*2:36 – “I’m the president and COO of a company called Skyline Robotics. Skyline Robotics was incorporated in 2017 in Israel. I joined the company on December 2nd, 2020, and officially have been here for 16-and-a-half to 17 months now. So it’s been a wild ride in terms of trying to reinvent this industry of facade access, starting with window cleaning…It’s really special, but it takes a lot of work to change the way an industry works.” 

5:44 – “The statistics are that 74% of window cleaners in the U.S. are above the age of 40, and only 10% are between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. And I think that’s really happened because if you put yourself in the life of a window cleaner…here in New York City, you’re hanging a thousand feet in the air, doing manual labor. It can be anywhere from 40 degrees to 120 degrees outside. And no matter what, you’ve got to get the job done. And here, even in the US and specifically in New York, where we have really, really tight compliance regulations for work at heights, as it’s called, unfortunately, some bad things still can happen. So we do envision this industry becoming a lot safer.” 

7:36 – “For me, it starts with Babson College, where I studied entrepreneurship. Babson was a pretty unique education from the standpoint that as a freshman, you’re forced to run a business with your classmates…The half of my class that I worked with on it started a grocery delivery service where our supplier was Costco. We called it Groceries to Go, and not everyone on campus had a Costco card. So we set up like a basic website, allowed people to make orders. I think we took about $4500 from the school to get up and running. And anything that you make above what you owe back to the school gets donated to a charity that you partner with. But for a whole semester you’re actually running a business with your classmates as 18-year-olds. And so working with the marketing team, working with the business people, working with the tech people and on the website and stuff like that, it’s a really unique experience and one that I wouldn’t trade.” 

9:18 – “I made the decision to go to law school back here in New York City and went to Cardozo here in New York. And in my third year at law school, I got to join what was called the tech startup clinic…A clinic is typically how you can work with people outside of the school, giving them legal advice, under the guidance of a professor or an actual lawyer. So we got to work with a bunch of founding teams doing everything from incorporating the very beginning stages of their entity, all the way through doing different types of legal research, drafting different legal agreements, terms of service and privacy policies, and just fell back in love with this notion that people were like living, eating, sleeping, breathing what they were doing every single day. And I didn’t have that same passion …as a summer law associate, in a cubicle billing hours.”

15:06 – “The thing that I’ll always look back on is just being willing to accept an intern job somewhere. Even though I had just gone through law school and I’m a lawyer here in New York – not being too proud of what I had achieved academically to be able to pursue the things that I wanted in my job.” 

15:56 – “I think no matter what job you’re in, you’re not always going to love your boss, right? Like there’s things about your boss you may like, there’s things about your boss you may not like. But at a bare minimum, you always have to satisfy your boss. So I’ve never said no – certainly I go back and try to parlay some things or make some changes to what I’m being asked to do. But then I’ve always taken it upon myself to just put in extra effort.”

16:20 – “There’s things that I believe should be happening at companies that weren’t happening. And just because the management team didn’t think that resources should be allocated or money should be spent in that direction, I never allowed that to stop me from pursuing it.” 

*16:50 – “If you believe in something put the effort in, show me that you believe in it. Don’t just tell me that you wish we were doing that, you wish we were doing this. Make it happen. And there’s nothing holding you back from making things happen. And I think that people get a little too stuck in the mindset that if someone’s telling them no, they have to accept that answer. The life of a start-up, though, is constantly people telling you no, whether it’s pitches that you make, you go to investors – it’s constantly people saying no. So, for me, people saying no is just part of a process and I’ll keep going and try to drive through that door no matter what.” 

18:17 – “We’re partnered with the largest window cleaning company in New York City, which is the largest window cleaning market in terms of dollar value on the planet. And we have the attitude that every day we have to earn it…We have a big chip on our shoulder and it takes that chip to go out and try to change and revolutionize an industry that is stagnant, that is old, that is antiquated, and that really needs to be rethought.” 

21:19 – “There’s just such a tremendous opportunity to reinvent this industry, not just from the perspective of the service provider, but really from the asset owner or the developer themselves. Because right now here in New York, they might get an update every 5 to 6 years on how healthy their facade is. And that’s based on a local regulation called Local Law 11 and without Local Law 11, I’m sure that the time would be much longer than those five or six years…What seems to have happened over the last 10–15 years is people are really starting to view these buildings not just as gems in their crown, these are really being viewed as assets. And most of the technology that’s being put into these buildings, a lot of it’s related to energy efficiency in one way or another…But there’s no one that’s really focused on what happens outside of the four walls.” 

24:15 – “You’ve got an aging workforce with no new people signing up and only more and more windows to clean…But the way that we speak about our technology is about workforce augmentation. So we think that these guys who do go out on the side of buildings, they’re much smarter than they get credit for. They can handle doing more, being upskilled and really operating in a safer sort of way. But at the end of the day, we still have a human onsite on the rooftop because they’re monitoring the system as it’s working. They’re there just in case anything happens, but really for compliance reasons as well…So we will never have zero people on site.” 

25:57 – “I think that there’s some fair statements that are made about AI taking jobs and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, if it’s an industry that people don’t want to work in and, again, the data backs that up, whose job are we taking?” 

27:25 – “As humans, we like to be comfortable. And if you have a choice between a job that’s comfortable, pays you the same or if not better, and you don’t have to put your life at risk and think about your family when you’re going up on the side of a building. You know, I think it’s just an easier path for people.” 

*28:01 – (Ross) “I think it’s something we all have to wrap our head around. It comes easier to certain people versus others. Some people think in terms of possibilities, other people are more holding on to some mythical thing in the past, in general. I find myself more in the camp of what can we do with the future? So I say, let it ride, let’s just see where it goes. That’s generally my approach – just go for it and see what happens.” 

29:30 – “Even when I was in law school, my goal at the end of the day was: how do I create a great life for my family that doesn’t yet exist? What am I willing to do in order to put myself in that position to feel like I’ve provided a great life for my family? And so that’s always my motivation. Even before I met my wife. Even when I was still in school, I knew I wanted to figure out some way to feel like I was successful.”

31:04 – “I spearheaded a bunch of things that, even with the success that I felt they had, I still didn’t get management approval to go along with it at a bigger scale. But I was never going to stop putting myself out there. I never stopped trying. But it’s really an attention to detail as well. So you can’t just do a lot of things and have it be sloppy and messy. As a young person, you’re always judged by the work product that you produced. So it is going back and rereading, proof-checking your sentences. If you’re creating visuals or slides, trying to make it as close to pixel-perfect as possible as you’re going, and just trying to show a level of care that, candidly, is more rare these days.”

32:41 – “Never stop pitching yourself. Because by pitching yourself and pitching your ideas out there, you’re putting yourself in front of management constantly, and you’re always showing them that you’re willing to think of new ideas, think differently. You’re always there to try to improve the business that you’re in.”

*34:10 – “Bring a notebook with you when you go to meetings, look like you’re taking notes, whether you are or not, I don’t know that anyone will ever know. And I think I’ve seen people actually taking notes and seen a lot of people not actually taking notes, but it’s these little things that I think add up over time. My mentality in this company, in the last company or wherever I’ll go next, is always that small wins turn into bigger wins and big wins turn into even bigger ones. So you got to start small, focus on things that you can control. Win each day to win each week to win each month to win each year. You don’t go from 0 to 100 overnight. It’s a process.”

38:53 – “Every day I start with a to do list. I try as best as possible to get through the to do list. As in any company, things do come up during a day. And sometimes that can reprioritize your day as it’s happening. I try to be transparent with what I’m working on. So my calendar is public to the whole company. They can see everything, every call that I’m on, every item that I’m working on, on behalf of the company…I come in with a game plan each day and I can execute close to that game plan, I know I’m prioritizing my time correctly on behalf of the company. And from there it’s just willingness to constantly adjust.” 

43:27 – “I tell my team all the time, all I’m asking of you is to come in to work every day with an open mind, positive attitude, and a willingness to get 1% better. Because I really think that, as cliche as that is, you don’t take leaps and bounds every single day, but you can make small improvements. You can push yourself a little bit in this direction, push yourself a little bit in that direction.” 

44:23 – “I don’t believe that people have to have gotten five degrees to be brilliant. I don’t think that people have had to graduate college even to be brilliant and be an asset to you. I don’t think that the traditional perspective on how you evaluate a prospective employee necessarily makes a lot of sense because there’s really smart people in a lot of ways, and it’s tough to find really smart people who are willing to come and join you on your journey because there’s so many other journeys they could go on.” 

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