First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tristan d’Orgeval: So far, so good. We did not have any serious cases in our close friends and family. I think we are somehow privileged and lucky in our personal situation: my wife and I both have jobs we can easily do online, we have good internet access, enough computers and have kids grown up enough that they can manage almost independently their remote classrooms. I feel for people who had to juggle caring for toddlers due to closed preschools and jobs that are not easily done online or do not yet have that culture.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Nomagic.
Tristan d’Orgeval: I started with a Ph.D. in Climate research, and even though the topic was important to me, I got frustrated that my impact would be limited to papers. So I quickly got into tech startups in Product or Business Development roles, focusing on how to better use data and machine learning in products that bring material real-world impact. This led me to startups in Europe and San Francisco, operating in various markets, e.g., Energy, Agriculture, Public Health…
In 2017 I was lucky to meet Kacper (CEO and co-founder) and Marek (CTO and co-founder) when I got very interested in how to make use of deep learning for robotics products. Our very good alignment on everything from company culture, ambition to Nomagic mission to teach robots the real world convinced me to join them to start this adventure. From there, we focused on how to help logistics warehouses deal with repetitive manipulation tasks.
How does Nomagic innovate?
Tristan d’Orgeval: Nomagic provides smart robotic arm solutions for warehouses to automate repetitive pick and place tasks, focusing on e-commerce. The main difficulty is that our robots need to manipulate hundreds of thousands of different products and, therefore, cannot be preprogrammed to pick each of them. So we need machine learning algorithms to develop a form of intuition of how to pick unseen products in various environments. Something we humans learned when we were between 6 and 12 months old but is actually very tricky, especially when you need to make it more than 99.9% reliable.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Tristan d’Orgeval: On the business side, the pandemic has raised more awareness from our customers about the need to automate the most repetitive and tedious tasks in warehouses. So it accelerated the interest customers have in our solutions, especially when the online orders started to spike while companies had to minimize physical contact between operators in warehouses. There were some operational challenges with lockdowns and border closures, but we managed them thanks to employees working from a few different places in Europe and our strong reliance on online processes even to test and run our robots 24/7.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Tristan d’Orgeval: We were lucky here as we just closed our fundraising prior to the pandemic outbreak. So in March, when there was a lot of uncertainty, we made a conservative budget freezing most hiring keeping all current employees, and assuming very low sales to see what a worst-case scenario would look like. But with customers picking up, we quickly got back to our initial plan.
From there, it was less about specific difficult choices but rather constant adaptations to the situation to ship, operate robots, and keep our employees safe. What we focused on is to “face the brutal facts.” This is something that is part of our values at Nomagic and basically a guideline for us to spell out problems and act quickly, and this has worked very well for us.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Tristan d’Orgeval: I would make a strong distinction between the 2. Stress can be good if it forces you to focus on the problems you face and allows you to be faster or more efficient, like for athletes in a competition. You just need to use it as a motor for focused action. Anxiety is more diffuse and generally unproductive. So I try to turn anxiety into stress by clearly spelling out the problems in front of us. And then focus all the energy on finding solutions and acting. Now in current conditions, all our employees can face stress and difficult times working from home with constraints. So it is extremely important for us to build a strong team culture to make sure people support each other and feel this support even if most contacts are online.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Tristan d’Orgeval: Our competitors are almost only US-based startups working through large warehouse integrators to access the market. We first have a natural advantage in our first market in Europe, as our customers recognize how fast we are to deploy our solutions, work with them, and support them directly. But more importantly, we focus exclusively on building the best experience for our customers by providing reliable, smart, and simple robotic solutions. Our direct relationship with the end customer is very important for this.
Your final thoughts?
Tristan d’Orgeval: It is very clear in our business that the pandemic is just accelerating a pre-existing trend. E-commerce has grown tremendously over the past 20 years, and the pandemic is suddenly making even more people order various online products, putting more pressure on logistics warehouses. We now see a strong interest in solutions to address the labor shortage and automate tedious jobs in warehouses due to COVID, but this trend is here to stay even beyond the pandemic.
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