Innovation is a term that often gets batted around the Nearshore industry as a way to describe fresh operational thinking or the adoption of new tech, but one company hailing from Uruguay views innovation as an ethos, and its founders aim to spread that ethos on a global scale.
I know what you’re thinking: what does all this have to do with sex and story time? Don’t worry, we’ll get to it.
Years of Innovation Experience
Founded in 2002 by Juan Ciapessoni and Avedis Boudakian Badanian, two serial entrepreneurs from Uruguay, The Electric Factory Group (THEF) is a global, multi-award winning digital production house and “innovation and disruption consultancy”, as Ciapessoni himself describes it.
While THEF first started out in advertising, the company has now moved toward a more “liquid” business model that encompasses many facets, each focusing on applying creativity, strategy, and technology to solve problems in any kind of industry.
With a team of around 100-120 people – a figure that shifts depending on project requirements – the company builds highly interactive websites, mobile applications, and Internet of Things (IoT) prototypes, as well as producing films, medical 3D models, and even interactive setups for vending machines, among other things.
These capabilities are enabled by a number of divisions that operate under the same THEF Group umbrella, such as Niko Films, an audiovisual production company focused on post production and interactive video; Bunker, which handles and analyzes data on digital platforms; and Electric Factory Lab, a prototyping lab for IoT and training.
We all know that this kind of talent is scarce, so where does the company find people capable of delivering such a broad range of services?
Approaching Untapped Talent Opportunities
The Electric Factory has taken a unique approach to human resource acquisition, hiring multidisciplinary talent to enhance creativity during production. The group has contracted robotics engineers, industrial designers, cryptocurrency economists, neurologists, biologists, sociologists, and carpenters for its projects, alongside a steady stream of software developers and engineers.
“Thankfully, the business is moving into a very liquid model, which unlocks the possibility to hire more people,” said Juan Ciapessoni, Co-Founder and CCO at The Electric Factory Group. “Years ago, we were just in the market for .NET or PHP developers, or UX and UI experts, but today we are bringing in doctors, electrical engineers, robotics experts, and there is still so much opportunity to do so because these people are often working in boring places and looking for a change – we don’t usually take on projects that take longer than two months, which leads to an exciting and dynamic culture.”
Uruguay, in particular, is also home to Globant, Tata Consultancy Services, and Sabre, among other IT services providers, where people are often expected to work on long-term projects, giving THEF an opportunity to entice highly skilled labor with the chance to work on “as many cool short-term projects as they can”, according to Ciapessoni.
“Our main talent pool is focused on digital production, so our core is everything related with that and the front- and back-end development side,” he said. “We have a robust team for film and post production services, so if clients want to shoot in Uruguay or Latin America we can cover that, as well as in the United States.”
Furthermore, the company is currently focused on providing digital transformation consulting services to businesses that are on the verge of becoming obsolete. The company consults with clients as disruptive thinkers, focusing on changing their mindset and triggering innovation by discussing things in ways they have never tried before.
“We might ask “are you going to launch a product in the same way you’ve been doing it for the last ten years, or are you going to change it up?”, said Ciapessoni. “When people are ingrained in a company of any size, innovation can often become stagnant and they cannot deliver a solution, which is where we come in – whatever we suggest, we can try it, and that’s very powerful for clients, because it’s not just theory.”
Products, Projects, and Solutions
One of the company’s key innovations is an IoT device that projects real-time animations that play in sync with any words read aloud during a bedtime story. The product caught the attention of KPMG, which nominated it for the 2018 Interactive Innovation Awards, making The Electric Factory the only Latin American company to rank among the 65 finalists in 13 categories, competing alongside Airbnb and Microsoft.
Another more saucy campaign involved placing pressure pads under mattresses in hotel rooms that generate electricity through movement. In Latin America, some hotels offer hourly rates for couples who want a discreet place to get intimate. These hotels are listed on Reservatelo, an app that allows users to find and book a room specifically for sexual encounters. When things get moving between the sheets, the kinetic energy produced by the participants passes into the hidden pressure pads and powers a nearby electric sign that in turn advertises the app — an ingenious circle of energy saving and marketing.
When it comes to IoT, Uruguay has been a key component for the company to reach into device prototyping.
“We use Uruguay as a testing platform for different large-scale IoT ideas that clients may have, as testing in Uruguay is more affordable in terms of time, permissions, and budget,” said Ciapessoni. “This testing comes at a price range of around US$20,000 to US$30,000 and comes with an asset, which is often the prototype itself, testing results, and video footage that can be used to sell the product.”
Global Presence and Client Base
The Electric Factory has production offices in Argentina and Uruguay, as well as commercial offices in Puerto Rico, Chile, and the US, and has been primarily targeting global clients, working with such companies as Coca Cola, DirecTV, McDonalds, and Allstate, as well as Nintendo, Kellogg’s, Santander, Samsung, and many more. In fact, more than 90% of the group’s turnover comes from outside of Uruguay.
This January, the company moved to a 2,000-square meter space to consolidate much of its business into a single, extensive headquarters, aptly called La Fábrica (The Factory). A total of 85 employees are situated here permanently, while the remaining team members are scattered across its four other locations.
“For Uruguay, the issue that we have battled with for years is the pre-assumption that people have of the country and Latin America as a whole,” said Ciapessoni. “If I reach out to a client, they might think that what I’m saying is too good to be true, so people come to visit us to see if we practice what we preach, because often people cannot believe that a company like The Electric Factory exists in Uruguay.”
As well as housing The Electric Factory, La Fabrica has been designed as a home for startups and entrepreneurs to advance their projects, all of which are invested in by the group. Some examples are Cloud Stat, which builds drones and air mobility products, and Unicorn Games, a developer of interactive games.
In a market where most projects are sourced to numerous vendors, the ability to handle everything in-house places The Electric Factory on a unique platform to capitalize on the world’s continued forward momentum into digital.