We talked to Peter Mao of Senserbot Pte Ltd about the world’s first HF RFID library robot for shelf-reading, stocktake, and item location of books, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Peter Mao: Fortunately, we are all doing fine in this time of global crisis. The only issue is my wife, a French lady from Normandy, and I are unable to go back to France to visit her mother and overseas in Japan and Botswana to see our two daughters.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Senserbot.
Peter Mao: I used to study in France, and from there, I have more than 30 years of experience running companies in the IT, software, and Telco sectors. I also invested in a software start-up company in Lannion in Britanny, France, and was there running the company as the CEO.
In 2016, I met this group of scientists from Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR) that developed the shelf-reading robot. I went in as an angel investor, and Senserbot was then started as a spin-off from A*STAR.
How does Senserbot innovate?
Peter Mao: Senserbot’s story began with a collaboration between Singapore’s National Library Board and the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*Star), a statutory board established by the government of Singapore to support research and development across various industries. In a bid to radically transform the daily operations of Singapore’s information industry, A*Star’s scientists were approached to devise an innovative solution for one of the major difficulties faced by libraries – the issue of erroneously placed books and the number of man-hours wasted on correcting them on a daily basis. Senserbot then developed the world’s first HF RFID library robot for shelf-reading, stocktake, and item location of books. This robot helps the librarians handle the most onerous part of their daily tasks, leaving them more time with the library patrons and other valuable tasks.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Peter Mao: The coronavirus pandemic definitely slowed down our business as many discussions with overseas or even local partners and customers took a pause as no one knew what was going to happen next. There were many problems we had to overcome but fortunately, we managed to survive through this crisis, and things are all moving and getting better now. We also actually witnessed the library customers moving aggressively towards automation now as the library starts to slowly open, and our shelf-reading robots are becoming more useful as the library move towards a light-touch approach with fewer humans.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Peter Mao: Yes, certainly during the pandemic as there was a dramatic slowdown in the business, but because we have existing businesses and were on a few other robotic projects, I managed to keep my staff intact without any reduction in headcounts and also with some good subsidies from the Singapore government to help companies to keep their headcounts during this crisis. This definitely helped a lot.
The best result is that the staff are highly grateful and appreciative to be able to keep their jobs and are now very motivated to perform to make sure that the company excels. We are now more like a family, and our relationship is forged by hot coals and fire, which is a lesson I learned. Take care of your staff in bad times, and they will take care of your business for life 😊.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Peter Mao: Yes, we developed a set of remote monitoring tools and remote deployment and installation tools. These were quite sophisticatedly done and very useful during the pandemic.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Peter Mao: Yes. Since businesses all slowed down, we were fortunate to be able to get help from the government with different grants that help SMEs to get past this crisis. This includes grants for company development, technology development as well as human resource.
Your final thoughts?
Peter Mao: Never give up and fight for what you believe in, not only in business but in people management as well. Take care of your people, and they will fight for you and follow you where you go.