INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Rethinking Our Approach Due to COVID
Hadrien Laporte, founder and CEO of SmartPixel tells us about making presentations to potential customers.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Hadrien Laporte: Pretty well, I am aware of only one person close to me who got infected, with very mild symptoms, and quick recovery, with no long-term side effects. The fact that I lost the social aspect of running an office had a significant impact on me, but after more than a year already, I got used to it.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SmartPixel.
Hadrien Laporte: I studied digital arts; I am a big fan of science fiction and always enjoyed building eye candy presentations. In 2009, I found that the digital signage industry was not at its best and lacked creativity. Since it was obvious that interactive displays were to become more and more popular, I decided to launch my company in that domain. Since then, we have emerged as global leaders in the specialization of designing interactive experiences, merging hardware innovations with state-of-the-art gaming technologies, helping companies communicate, present, and sell more efficiently.
How does SmartPixel innovate?
Hadrien Laporte: In many ways. Two of my associates are brilliant software engineers coming from the gaming industry. By combining their skills, we are now able to push the boundaries of real-time 3D visualization, with innovative user experiences adapted to all sorts of digital displays, such as walls, tables, domes, and so on. Yes, we also do VR, AR, but since there are so many companies in this area, I don’t consider this so much as an innovation. For example, here, you can understand how we adapted our Unity framework for large-format touchscreens to run inside the Station IX immersive dome. It is made of 7 giant curved mirroring screens, enabling a truly immersive experience without the need for VR goggles. Up to three people can experience this at the same time. Our partner, Imagine-4D, calls this experience multimersive. It’s awesome!
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Hadrien Laporte: Well, it certainly had an impact. Our sales dropped drastically for the first two months of the pandemic and slowly ramped back up. We realized that offices, tradeshows, and showrooms would be closed for a long time. Our clients were wondering how to use our powerful sales tools without the benefit of having the buyer right next to them. Thanks to my amazing team, and other partners, we adopted our presentation tools to be used with a streaming server, enabling salespeople to present to buyers anywhere around the world. While this put my vision temporarily on hold, we knew that this choice would be widely adopted and, now we are seeing it being combined with the reopening of showrooms and offices.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Hadrien Laporte: Of course. Building a team from the ground up to more than 60 colleagues is very demanding, and we get to have a strong feeling of attachment with each member on board. Being separated from one day to another had clearly a social impact on everyone. We had to work harder to ensure everyone kept a clear mindset and good focus on quality deliverables. We are so confident with the talent we have among the team that it was very difficult for us to make critical decisions on staffing based on workload. In the end, we decided not to downsize our team and focused on reorganizing things internally to overcome the pandemic.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Hadrien Laporte: Just like everyone, everything became remote. We use Google Hangout, Slack, and more custom streaming solutions to pitch and showcase the benefits of our solutions. Now more than ever, being available for our clients is an even greater priority. Tracking hours and workload capacity also became very demanding, so we had to build a new workflow and homemade tools mainly based on Google Spreadsheet to ensure we met our client’s expectations.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Hadrien Laporte: Yes, in Canada, the government set up an emergency fund to help companies keep their employees. Since our sales have clearly been impacted due to COVID, it was important for us to benefit from this fund. I must say, it was a savior.
Your final thoughts?
Hadrien Laporte: Long story short, Covid made us stronger and better at what we do. This enabled us to review our internal and external processes, how we can get better at what we do, and how to work in a hybrid environment. We truly believe that when we finally emerge from COVID, we will reach extraordinary heights.
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