How to introduce the robot to the president of the corporation, what are the features of business in South America and how to save the robot from kisses of emotional Brazilians — tells Elena Senik, partner of Promobot.

I went to Brazil in 2008 to get a financial education. I didn’t plan to stay there, but I got married and started working. Having earned money, I decided to start my own business.

I accidentally stumbled upon the Forbes magazine and found Promobot there among the best startups. I was interested, because artificial intelligence has been on my mind since my studies at the University. But when I was a student, it was impossible to make money that way.

I wanted to buy a robot, bring it to Brazil and do something with it. I didn’t even know what it was. For me it seemed like a noble task, because I promote a unique product.

Problems and solutions

Umbo company was founded in 2018 as a representative office of Promobot in Brazil. I wanted to implement large projects, make integrations, formulate cases for clients and come up with content. Our main merit is our own linguistic database. To put it simple, we taught our robots to speak Portuguese.

Elena has two robots: Dubo (left) and Umbo (right)

The first problem I faced were the high Brazilian taxes. But I came up with the idea that I would take the robot as a product for demonstration (in fact, it was). Under such conditions, a delay of 12 months is given. A year later, if I leave the robot in the country, I need to pay tax. And during this time the money to pay taxes has already been earned. Profit.

Now my business is still in its infancy. We have existed for a year, and the figures show that the business will grow. It’s a small success for me.

We earn exclusively providing the robot to rent for events. It’s easy. We earn about $8 000 a month. Most often our customers rent a robot to show that their company is innovative. It’s even enough for them that the robot just says «Hello» to clients at exhibitions and conferences, but it’s too easy for us. Therefore, we help our clients — we implement the functionality of the robot into the scenario of the event. We offer our clients a unique product — we always train the robot for a specific project.

I strive to ensure that Umbo is used as a full-fledged employee, and not as an entertainment machine. Against the background of the wave of industry 4.0, all this theme is more fashionable than actually implementable. And all companies want to keep up with the times, and therefore use our services. We are a bridge between clients’ dreams and reality, no matter how powerful it may sound.

Kissing a robot

The main difference of the Brazilian clients is a technical one. They are willing to pay for everything, but only in installments. The second difference is emotional. Brazilians are less critical and are already happy when the robot just said “Hello”. While in Europe people would have found flaws and felt that the robot said something wrong. The bar of quality and expectations in Brazil is slightly lower, so it is easier to work here.

Since Brazilians are more emotional and more tactile, the robot is often kissed in its plastic parts, people want to hug it and even hang on it. I had to teach the robot to speak: “Please don’t lean on me, I’m so delicate.” It works.

Another reaction for the robot is petrification. People get lost in front of the robot, do not know what to tell it, what to ask. Then the robot starts the conversation itself. Its smile affects the feeling of communication. This is the advantage of Promobot — it provokes empathy in people — no one leaves it completely indifferent. Umbo is not Umbo without a sense of humor and light sarcasm.

There are no unusual requests from clients. There is an ordinary, Brazilian they want it to make coffee. But no unusual ones.

Meeting the president

Once we were invited to a private event of a large company that deals with equipment for the mining industry. They sent us a ten-minute video of some kind of super-digger so we could show it on a robot screen. Obviously, no one could stand a 10 minutes video. And we decided to teach the robot to tell the stories of miners. He put them well into the context of the story about the equipment. There was the president of the company at this event, an unattainable person. The marketing Department wanted him to see the robot himself. Then we taught Umbo to ask people: «Have you seen the president today?» People answered: «No, why?» And the robot said, «I have something to discuss with him». So the president learned about it. He came to Umbo, talked, admired him. After that, the company invited us to its event again. So, the robot presented and sold itself for the first time.

The main thing in this business is to plan everything. First, people are not yet accustomed to robots as they are to cars — and this is normal. Therefore, customers need help. If you are confident in your product (like us), then people will believe you.

Secondly, you need to understand at least a little bit in the communicative part of the robot. Or have someone on the team. The robot is prepared separately for a specific order. This is a simple but painstaking work. And if you offer customers a device, you lose all charm.

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