Building your very own robot has never been easier. @CAT brings you Cytron’s startup story.
If you are into robotics, you are probably familiar with Cytron Technologies and rero. Cytron, an electronics company, based in Penang, was founded in 2004 by five Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) students. Their primary goal is to help others by sharing their robotics expertise and getting those hard-to-find parts for projects.
In 2014, Cytron launched rero, ASEAN’s first educational robotics kit for students. With rero, the team aims to bring robotics to the masses. This encouraged many young children to learn robotics and new technologies with no sweat.
In this article, we are sharing the incredible story of how a group of geeky undergraduates started a fast-growing tech company in the second instalment of our Startup Story Series.
Inception of Cytron through shared dreams and passion
“You just have to pay attention to what people need and what has not been done.”
– Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Recordings
Cytron’s co-founders definitely had that in mind when they came up with the idea for this company. Back then, five friends on the same ROBOCON (Robot Competition) team were building robots day and night together.
After their success at a national-level competition in 2003 and 2004, people started going to them with all their robotics-related questions. Everyone wanted a piece of the team’s knowledge.
A light bulb had been switched on in their heads. The team realised there was a demand for robotics knowledge and components as both were hard to come by in those days.
The students came together to build Cytron Technologies.
They started out small; providing robotics training and developing their products. At the time, most of Cytron’s members were still studying at UTM. They answered customer calls during lectures, packaged parcels once classes were done and soldered in the middle of the night.
A few years later, sharing the same dream and passion, three UTM Robocon team members decided to join Cytron. From that day onwards, Cytron gained new co-founders and became a group of eight.
Red tapes ahead and triumph after much trials and tribulations
Running an enduring company was no bed of roses. When Cytron first started, people only knew of robotics as something they saw in movies like “I, Robot” and “Robots”. Online businesses were scarce as frog’s teeth, and people could hardly trust money transfer via the Internet.
However, Cytron persevered. They were driven to help Malaysian students because they understood how difficult it was to get information on robotics and to find the necessary parts.
Cytron’s first online store supplied electronics parts and free tutorials for students interested in robotics. Today, it’s a marketplace for robotics enthusiasts, makers, engineers and more.
Ober Choo, a name quite known to Penangites as a co-founder at Cytron, mentioned the toughness to run an online electronics business, especially a decade ago. Despite the obstacles, the team was determined to chase after their dreams and thus, fought hard to keep the company going.
The nascent times for Cytron
During Cytron’s early days, there were no such thing as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. No one talked about the Maker Movement. It was only after some time, almost a decade, did it dawn on the Cytron team that what they had been doing all the while WAS the Maker Movement.
Cytron’s initial motivation was to raise the skill level of local engineering undergraduates. From their past involvement with robotics competitions, they noticed the gap between Malaysia and other countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and China.
It was rather obvious the Malaysian teams lacked hands-on experience.
Since today’s formal education is immutable, Cytron innovated ways to improve undergraduates’ technical skills. So far, they have provided online tutorials and conducted classes on electronics and robotics at nearly all the universities and polytechnics in Malaysia. Besides, Cytron also supplies laboratories and students with whatever components they require.
Thankfully many things have changed since those early days. Technology has come a long way, and its advancement will continue to improve remarkably as it becomes more accessible.
Creating rero for the masses to learn robotics and coding
The co-founders of Cytron eventually saw the importance of exposing the younger generation (not only university students) to the wonderful world of electronics and robotics.
That’s when they came up with rero.
Cytron had a new goal. To start early robotic education for Malaysian and bringing robotics to the masses. Hence, benefit the younger generation like they did for undergraduates. The good people of Cytron believe that every child deserves an equal chance of learning robotics and coding.
rero is ASEAN’s first educational robotics kit for students. The easy-to-use kit allows children to build their very own robot from scratch minus the tedious procedures and dangerous tools.
But, rero isn’t just for kids. In fact, anyone can use it. rero is so simple that you don’t need to learn a programming language beforehand. They have different robotics programmes for all ages, spearhead by Cheryl Ng the Education Program Coordinator of rero.
One of Cytron’s latest endeavours is the 100 rero Jrs on a Mission program. The campaign aims to train and empower student leaders and teachers with the ultimate goal of introducing coding to 10,000 kids. Coding workshops for 100 students would be conducted at 100 schools in Malaysia.
Faces behind Cytron and rero
Cytron currently has 35 people in its design, engineering, education, and operations teams.
Their online store has evolved into a marketplace with over 2000 products in its inventory. At least 100 of those were designed and developed by Cytron engineers.
Their tutorial website has published roughly 400 articles.
Both these sites have monthly visitors amounting to more than 30,000.
Cytron has 22 international distributors spanning 17 countries and 15 distributors right here in Malaysia.
As for rero, it has served 120 schools nationwide and was presented to four other countries. Every year there is a grand rero competition with participants arriving from all corners of Malaysia.
What’s Next for Cytron
Moving forward, Cytron has big plans to introduce Malaysian electronics products to the world. They will be expanding to the overseas market, primarily the United States.
They hope to bring along other products from fellow Malaysians and share them on an international scale.
Aspirations and Goals for Cytron
Cytron has always been encouraging students to start their projects and develop their products by providing them with the best tools and parts.
Now, they want to take it even further.
They aim to assist students with prototypes and turn those into actual commercial products.
With the team’s years of experience in developing products, Cytron can guide young inventors and enhance the learning process for the public.
We can see how crucial it is to have experts impart their knowledge to the younger generation. This hard-earned wisdom would help many newbies in their learning and shape them into better makers.
Cytron’s advice to fledgeling startups, aspiring entrepreneurs and makers
1. “Get a good team who can work together through the ups and downs.”
Ober Choo, the Co–founder and Technical Director of Cytron Technologies, said that team members may fight and quarrel often. However, at the end of the day, it is the team that keeps the dream alive.
He thanked all the people and the government agencies for their full support and trust onto Cytron.
We need a team who supports us no matter what and fights for our passions. Achieving our dreams entirely on our own is impossible. The kindness and guidance of others to aid us in our journey to greatness.
2. “Trial and error is vital.”
According to Ober, it has not been easy creating and running a hardware startup. He mentioned the difficulty they faced developing and marketing Cytron’s products in the beginning, much harder than they expected.
The same happened for rero, ideas and reality were two entirely different things. They went through the trial and error process many, many times.
There were many setbacks, and at one point, they almost gave up.
Had it not been for the support of those people, Cytron Technologies would not be what it is today.
3. “Keeping pursuing your dreams using creative ways to overcome obstacles.”
Through their trials and tribulations, Ober highlighted how their drive to achieve their dreams, and creative problem-solving skills had helped them pull through. It was thanked our passion for robotics and education that we managed to overcome challenges.
Ober advised the importance of keeping focus and continually pursue your dreams.
- See a need, fill a need.
- Start small, think big and aim high.
- No matter the obstacles, keep fighting for your dreams.
- Be creative in your problem-solving. Think differently to come up with different solutions.
- Don’t stop at just one idea. You might strike upon the next big thing.
- The team makes or breaks a startup. A good team makes a difference in the success of your startup.
- Trial and error is a must to ensure your products come out the way you want them to.
- Letting your mistakes be your life lessons will make you a better creator and a better entrepreneur.
“We are proud to say that we are the pioneers of this field (electronics and robotics) in Malaysia.” – Ober Choo, Co-founder and Technical Director of Cytron Technologies
If you liked this story, we have more coming up. Be sure to check back next month for a new article in our Startup Story Series. Have some opinions on this story? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.