First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: Thanks a lot for asking! Gladly my family and I are safe, and nobody got sick. We are trying to stay away from public places, especially when so many people around us got sick, and we saw the consequences of this terrific epidemic first-hand. Hopefully, people will fight it soon, and our lives will be as close to normal as they can be now.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Promobot
Oleg Kivokurtsev: I was getting my degree in Design Engineering from PSTU in Perm, Russia, way back in 2011. At around that time, I saw an article about Roombas, and how every fifth vacuum in Europe is basically a robot. I got more interested in robotics, and by 2015 already had some experience in the industry. It was that moment my university friends and I decided to start a company that creates robots for business. We commonly refer to them as service robots: they can communicate with people, answer questions, consult and perform service tasks of different types.
How does Promobot innovate?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: We are actively communicating with our clients, discussing new ideas. Their experience of using our robots is crucial for us, which is why we discuss that almost all the time. An essential part of our manufacturing process is the constant development of new solutions; we bring ideas to life, try things out first in our own safe environment, and then scale it up. Once the has proven itself and meets the demand, we introduce new products and features to the public.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: Our business is the development of service robots, and they operate primarily in public locations: those include malls, cinemas, museums, offices, and other public buildings. Because of the pandemic, the majority of those areas were shut down and temporarily unavailable to access. Because of that, we decided to turn our production around and started manufacturing temperature screening stations called Thermocontrol. They measure temperature using a contactless thermometer and are usually located at the building’s entrance. Thermocontrol helped us keep profits steady, even amid the massive crisis.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: It wasn’t easy for us ― we had to part ways with some members of our team, had to move almost everybody to work from home, on top of everything else. The most important thing that we learned ― self-sufficiency is the key. Not everybody is able to perform as efficiently without direct supervision overseeing their work process. Now the ability to work independently is one of the key characteristics we cite when hiring new people.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Promobot in the future?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: Entrepreneurship is always stressful ― that just comes with the job, and there are no ways around it. You have to be able to overcome it. As a whole, our team remains calm: we have backup plans, we support each other, and we are staying closely knitted, both in and outside of the workplace. I would say that our team is why we are growing as we do and with as much confidence as we showcase now.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Oleg Kivokurtsev: Currently, we see quite a few competitors from countries of Europe and Asia. Those regions are fairly advanced when it comes to robotics, we know that and come to the competition fully prepared: our product is always of the highest quality, our solutions are constantly more and more innovative, and what’s more importantly ― we constantly keep in touch with our clients. Our technical support is another thing that we are most certainly proud of ― imagine a multilingual support system that is always ready to help clients with everything related to operating our robots. Thanks to our customer support, we stand out among the competitors the most, which brings real results too ― in 2019, 30% of our yearly income was repeated deals, something that was possible largely due to our client support. We always ready to assist with anything and everything our robot users need.
Your final thoughts
Oleg Kivokurtsev: I could probably sum everything up with this important advice, even though you probably heard it before. The advice is to keep striving, keep reinventing yourself, and make sure you embrace changes. At the end of the day, your hard work and honestly is what is truly important.