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5 Minutes with... Juan Ciapessoni


The Electric Factory co-founder and head of innovation discusses creating your own lane and why all businesses should embrace the void, writes LBB’s Ben Conway

5 Minutes with... Juan Ciapessoni

“Being inspired is an attitude and embracing action is the secret.”

A globally awarded visionary, inventor and serial entrepreneur, Juan Ciapessoni has dedicated his professional life to creative innovation and applied technology. After pioneering the development of the internet in his native Uruguay, starting one of the country’s first ISPs, he has been at the forefront of creating and implementing cutting-edge and disruptive solutions in a variety of industries.

He co-founded and leads The Electric Factory, a creative technology and innovation company which has created award-winning solutions, including work now on permanent display at the MoMA, and projects honoured by SXSW, Fast Company ‘World Changing Ideas’, Cannes Lions, LIA Awards and more. He has also started several successful digital agencies, a start-up incubator and developed several prototypes for data analysis and tech-innovation products. He is also director and VP of innovation for the Uruguayan Chamber of Information Technology, and a communication arts professor of 15 years.

Speaking to LBB’s Ben Conway, he reveals what his ‘Green Fluorescent Umbrella’ philosophy is and discusses how to avoid the temptation of commoditising a company, breaking paradigms to define successful creative tech disruption and becoming an industry - instead of finding your place in one.

LBB> What creative content inspired or interested you most when you were growing up? Were you obsessed with any TV shows, films or ads?

Juan> Watching movies in the cinema has always been my passion since childhood. I still remember the first time I watched ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Jurassic Park’. Not only was it a family event but [it was] also such an unforgettable goosebumps experience. However, I have also been inspired a great deal by movie trailers. It is interesting to see how they can entice people in such a short time - building enough engagement to make them wonder about a film, buy a ticket and devote time to it, just because of this brief piece of content.

LBB> When did the possibility of working in the advertising world appear to you? How was your journey into this industry? What did you study at college?

Juan> I was actually studying architecture at university, so I was already into design and designing new functions for things. It was the late ‘90s and I was initially planning to pursue a traditional career as an architect, encouraged by my parents. But I started to hear about telecommunications and ISPs’ solutions for an upcoming and uncertain new world. In many ways, it was about a new architecture for human interactions. Following my instincts, I decided to change my path and founded one of the first ISPs in my country. Suddenly I found myself installing wireless antennas on the rooftops of Uruguay, building the internet grid here. 

Little by little, we started to be asked to build websites and I encountered Flash Macromedia. That discovery changed my life forever. I decided to co-found The Electric Factory, a digital production company focused on ROI - ‘Return on Interaction’ instead of ‘Investment’ - 20 years ago.

LBB> What’s the most important lesson/piece of advice you received early on in your career? How does it influence you and your work today?

Juan> I still remember when I visited the hospital and my grandmother, from her bed, called me, held my hand and said, “Juan, never stop dreaming. Visualise your dreams and act.” One minute later, she died. That advice stayed with me forever.

Since then, my goal has always been to become an industry, not just to find a place within it. I set out to define, with specific new boundaries, every possible field of innovation in which I engage. I call this the ‘The Green Fluorescent Umbrella’ philosophy: being the best umbrella maker in the world might be rather difficult to achieve - but being the best green fluorescent umbrella maker is probably much easier, even if it means having to create your own roadmap towards success.

It’s very easy to fall into the temptation of commoditising a company - fitting it into the existing spectrum in order to chase temporary economic success. But we live in a time of shifting paradigms, so it would be a huge mistake to take advantage of an existing market rather than try to create a new one. Investing in macro goals is the biggest and most important commitment any business can make. Don’t be afraid to create your own lane.

This is why The Electric Factory has always been changing its shape, in order to deliver top-class products to the biggest clients in the world.

LBB> How have The Electric Factory’s priorities and focuses changed since then? And how has your leadership style changed? Are you still an advocate of ‘disruptive leadership’?

Juan> My goal has always been to not fear the void. The sensation of being at the edge but never really falling is the best way to describe how it feels to be fearless of uncertainty in business. It’s a feeling all companies should embrace.

Being aware of the void and possible failure forces us to keep moving forward. It is the driving force convincing every business to take the next step in order to keep gaining momentum and grow. Each step provides the company with needed confidence and comfort with uncertainty, clearing the way toward a more successful future.

A leader, in any industry, needs to live their purpose. I can’t promote innovation or embrace the uncertainty and change within a company if I don't live like that on a personal level. The length of our life is finite, but the width, how we live it, depends on us. We live in a world where doing is mandatory to guide and inspire.

LBB> What does ‘Creative Technology’ mean to you? And how does ‘Applied Technology’ fit into that?

Juan> I’ve always been involved with technology. First telecommunications, then digital production and so on. However, my obsession has always been the humanisation of it and the customer experience through our products. I always tried to engage through design, craft and creative ideas first - where tech becomes a tool, rather than the centre of the equation. 

Combining design, creativity and disruptive tech to make an impact in this world has become my obsession. 

LBB> As an entrepreneur you’ve created innovative and disruptive solutions in the market - can you explain what it takes to be truly and successfully disruptive in the creative industry? What are some of your favourite examples of this?

Juan> For me, the goal of creativity should be hacking the system for a good purpose and creating projects that guide and inspire others to go in the direction of making a better world, and making an impact.

Ideas that use technology as a tool to enable and inspire change, break paradigms and redefine industries are the ones that define successful creative tech disruption. From The Electric Factory, here are two cases that won awards at AICP Next, Cannes, LIA, SXSW and Fast Company’s ‘World Changing Ideas’ among others:

‘Read To Me’

Bridging the gap between the physical and digital space, ‘Read to Me’ serves as an AR solution that allows the audible reading of tangible books to trigger projected illustrations and animations via an IoT-connected product, which comes in the form of a stylish, 8-inch lamp.

‘The Hy Project’

From this year, new hybrid and electric cars must emit an artificial sound as a safety measure. This news made us wonder, ‘what if the Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (AVAS) could contribute to the environment besides being functional?’. Global research on how noise affects plants shows that they react to specific waveform spectrum vibrations. When exposed to a specific range of frequencies, plants show better growth and absorption of nutrients. With this information in mind, we've developed ‘The Hy Project’, the first AVAS sound that benefits the environment.

LBB> As an academic also, how do you view the next generation of talent entering the industry? And how do you implement your learnings about disruption and tech when teaching others?

Juan> I strongly believe that clusters, labels and tags are disappearing within people and industries. This is the case with tech, advertising, consulting, gaming, content and production - everything is liquid now. Talent is emerging from different fields and spaces, and that's where the next magical wave will land. Soft skills are more important now, and the mix of different minds and fields is what's breaking the status quo. 

I'm happy to see kids with a science background working with developers for the next biotech achievement. There isn't an industry anymore. There are challenges - and then there are multidisciplinary people to solve them. My hope is to use that power for a positive impact for the next generations. 

I always felt like a puppeteer of other’s reality. It is a huge responsibility to be involved in the development of the next new thing. Like right now with the metaverse and immersive technologies, being responsible for how the mainstream will experience these platforms in the close future is a huge responsibility. This is why we need to have a clear purpose as a company at the time of execution.

LBB> What creative technology do you think brands should be utilising now? Has The  Electric Factory worked on any particularly innovative projects recently? Feel free to share a few examples of recent work you are proud of!

Juan> Everything related to physical/digital world interaction and intersection should be a priority now. All the web3 integration between the off and online worlds - through AR and metaverse - will redefine brands and user interaction forever.

Our latest project for Netflix (‘The Gray Man Metaverse Mission’) challenges fans to navigate a maze in ‘Decentraland’ to recover a drive with confidential information. Along the way, their knowledge of the film is tested with trivia questions, which leads to the final destination: a secret room where the special edition NFTs are revealed. 

Our Amazon Alexa Skill for the launch of The Sandman show is also a clear example of this opportunity. Another example is how we developed an amazing experience for Snapple with Deutsch LA, called ‘Blockchain Bodega’ in ‘Decentraland’ too.

Another project we created is a prototype for Snap's Camera Kit in collaboration with Snap and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, which leverages world understanding to create an immersive experience that promotes mobility post surgery. Kids can follow butterflies, plants and play with different animals and objects around their rooms to increase their activity and help them with their recovery.

LBB> And what technology is not getting the attention that it deserves in the creative industry… but will in the next five years?

Juan> We are entering a totally new world with AI platforms like Dall-E and Midjourney. This is just the beginning of real-time creation and serves as a totally new way to understand creative language and commands. I'm excited to be part of this right now, and to explore where the combination of these tools with web3 and the immersion/hybrid world will lead us.

LBB> What are your major goals for the Electric Factory in the coming months and years?

Juan> Right now almost all our work is for the US and other global markets. We are growing in a very efficient way and partnering with tech and entertainment companies to take things to the next level - and build the future of customer experience together.

Our final goal is to become a cult company with a strong purpose. As a liquid company of more than 20 years, [we’ve been] doing disruptive projects in the digital space even before it was cool. The Electric Factory started as a product, became a platform, and now our goal is to become a movement of creative doers. 

LBB> Looking at the broader industry, what gets you really excited? And what keeps you excited and motivated outside of work?

Juan> I love to live like a tourist anywhere in the world, even in my own country. I find inspiration in people, in art, in food, architecture, everywhere. Being inspired is an attitude and embracing action is the secret. I believe we are in the best moment of history. Everything is possible. There is energy flowing everywhere, and we just need to follow and make our lives wider. Be electric and, as Bruce Lee said, “Be water, my friend.”

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The Electric Factory, Thu, 15 Sep 2022 17:08:00 GMT