An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Paolo Pirjanian (founder and CEO) of Embodied, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Embodied – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
As a teenager, I was fascinated by computers and taught myself to code in my bedroom. After getting a PhD in robotics, I was eager to work in the field of consumer robotics and began my career at NASA JPL. I then went on to lead teams and companies at iRobot®, Evolution Robotics®, and others. In 2016, I realized that I had strayed from my dream of using robotics to help improve the daily lives of people and founded Embodied. My goal at Embodied is to build socially and emotionally intelligent animate companions that can improve care and wellness and support people in living better lives.
Moxie, Embodied’s first launch, is a safe and engaging animate companion for children designed to help promote social, emotional, and cognitive development through everyday play-based learning and content. Moxie is a new type of robot that has the ability to understand and express emotions with emotive speech, believable facial expressions, and body language, tapping into human psychology and neurology to create deeper bonds. To do this, we developed SocialXTM, a platform that enables children to engage with Moxie through natural interaction (i.e., facial expressions, conversation, body language, etc.), evoking trust, empathy, and motivation, as well as deeper engagement to promote developmental skills. With SocialX, we are introducing a whole new category of robots: animate companions. “Animate” means to bring to life and SocialX allows Moxie to embody the very best of humanity in a new and advanced form of technology that can fuel new ways of learning.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Deep tech companies like Embodied have to face a tough VC model that expects products to launch within a year after your seed round and before you go for a Series A. At Embodied, we’re solving complex problems that are seemingly impossible. This requires years of research, development and capital. Additionally, as a company that develops hardware, software, content, behavioral analytics (and more), it’s typically harder to raise based on the typical VC milestones. We are extremely fortunate to have a passionate and committed base of investors that have an understanding of how profound our technology platform is and the patience to support moonshots like ours.
What does the future hold for Embodied?
Right now, we’re focusing on perfecting Moxie and ensuring that our launch this spring goes as smoothly as possible.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Pasadena?
Pasadena’s startup scene is extremely stimulating because of the many deep tech companies here, from self-driving car companies, to robotics and AI companies. Also, because of Caltech and JPL, we have access to a talent pool that one cannot find anywhere else in the world. The city has a quaint charm, with restored buildings and a lot of options for restaurants and shopping, which makes it much easier to attract talent to move to Pasadena to work at these startups.
I moved to Pasadena more than 20 years ago to work at NASA JPL and then joined Bill Gross’ Idealab to join my first startup. I haven’t looked back since.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
The most useful and globally valid advice is to preserve cash, be conservative about your projections, and extend run-way as much as you possibly can. Burn is one of the few things that we, as entrepreneurs, have the most control over.