Zume: Silicon, Sausage, and Pizza Automation

As we hear about automation changing the face of work, consider the future for the neighborhood pizza worker.

I'd also like a glass of Chianti with that...

I’d also like a glass of Chianti with that…

Zume Pizza, a startup in Mountain View, CA, is imagining a different future for how your pizza will be made and delivered.

According to this article, Zume is a pizza chain startup that is envisioning a future where machines and robotic arms press the dough, spread the sauce in “near perfect circles”, add the ingredients, and slide the pie into an 800 degree oven for the first few minutes of baking. The pie is then transferred to a delivery vehicle that will finish the baking process in on-board ovens on it’s way to your house – a baking process timed to complete exactly as the vehicle arrives at your location.

Suddenly I’m getting hungry….

As you might imagine, Zume currently spends far less on labor costs than Dominos or McDonalds. They are currently leveraging that lower cost basis to provide higher pay and full benefits to their fewer employees, but I suspect that sort of California idealism won’t last long as the model expands in the market and new competitors enter. In just the past few months McDonalds has increased their roll-out of automated ordering kiosks, which many (including McDonalds executives) say is a response to the recent efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 in various cities.

Given the rise of driverless cars and trucks, I absolutely envision the day when we will order our pizzas using convenient mobile apps or voice assistants, get an alert when the truck is in front of our house, walk to the (driverless) truck to tap in the code that appeared with the alert, and get the boxed, piping hot pizza we ordered right there.

Sure, it doesn’t sound as cool as motivational pizza dough tossing, but when new forms of automation like this are introduced, after a couple good experiences we tend to get over our initial worries, order extra cheese next time, and go with the flow.  Expect that to happen here.

Many will see this as another example of automation displacing jobs – and for certain, there will be less jobs associated with pizza making and delivery. But as this article points out, our history with automation indicates that our worst-case scenarios usually don’t come to pass. When Deep Blue beat Gary Kasparov at chess in 1997, people thought that was the death-knell for the game.  But in fact chess’s popularity grew after that, humans became better at chess, and many chess leagues are now combinations of humans and computers.

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 4.01.32 PMBut the fact is there will be fewer jobs for the neighborhood kid to drive around in his beater at high rates of speed to deliver pizzas that were made by people back at the shop.

Automation is a wave, and when it comes to waves, it’s more fun to be on top of them than under them.  Think about how repetitive tasks around you might be automated, and think what you can do to deliver new value when those tasks are automated.

Good luck!