Alexis Montecinos, cofounder and Managing Director, talks to ecosistema startup about the challenge of bringing machine learning and artificial intelligence to the culture of companies in Latin America.
“Analytics can generate value in any industry, in any activity, under any type of question, using data”, says Alexis Montecinos, cofounder and Managing Director of Pharu, which was born in November 2022 due to the need to bring strategy and analytics hand in hand to different institutions, organizations and companies around the world.
Pharu is a Chilean startup specialized in building analytical models for interpretation, prediction and classification of information through machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). In this short time, they have achieved significant growth that includes two partnerships, one with the Innovation Center of the Catholic University and another with Google.
Alexis Montecinos spoke to El Ecosistema Startup about the challenge of bringing machine learning and artificial intelligence to the culture of Latin American companies.
His answers, below.
- How was Pharu born?
It is a product of what we were already doing between Optium SBI, which was my consulting firm in Boston, and Symnetics, which is the consulting firm of my partners in Chile, where Alejandro Inzunza is. So, the context is the one I have always told you about, in which I was solving this and people were considering models, but without added value, and under our approach we were giving added value, right? Because we were doing analytics based on the needs of the companies and their objectives, together with their strategy.
- What attracted you to the field?
Basically, with analytics you can generate value in any industry, in any activity, under any type of question, using data. And that really caught my attention because, as I had moved from industry to industry between medicine, mass consumption, retail, rent a car, supermarkets, what do I know, so many different things, you could generate a lot of value in all of them. I loved the feel because there was always something to do with tools that could help organizations.
- How has the company grown from its beginnings until now?
The growth has been high, fast because now in November we are going to be one year since Pharu was created. And we already have several clients, but not only that, we also have two partnerships, one with the Innovation Center of the Catholic University, another with Google. And we have had several important milestones such as the invitation to País Digital, but we are also growing organically very strong to develop new lines of business, so we have done really well.
- What were the main challenges you have had to overcome?
We had been doing this in the rest of the world, now more so in Latin America, and perhaps we have had to adapt processes, certain cultures and certain types of things that are different in all organizations, but I would say that the obstacles were not because we had thought about and planned this for a long time, we were very well prepared to do it.
I believe that one of the main problems that this business has in cultural terms is that the world is still preparing itself little by little to fully acquire this current industrial revolution, 3.0, 4.0, whatever you want to call it. And what does that imply? It implies that when I go to a firm and try to install a Machine Learning or Artificial Intelligence algorithm, it is not natural for people to want to use it, to adhere to the new technology, etc. Because effectively most of the people working today were not from a generation in which neither school nor university had this type of training.
And so that’s a hurdle that organizations run into because you come in, you set up the algorithms, but ultimately you have to convince the people to execute it. And as we have developed this in many places in the world, in each place the culture is different. So what is easy to adapt in Chile can be very difficult to adapt in China or vice versa. And so in other countries of the planet and therefore that makes it much more complex.
- In which countries do you operate and how many clients have you had to date?
Look, we have had several clients and we are operating in several countries – United States and Chile – because it is a combination of things that has happened in the last time, I do not know if I would like to give the exact number because I think it is also important the privacy of customers and many perhaps later between the numbers, things, what they themselves publish, may have associations that perhaps they do not want and for us it has always been very important to maintain privacy, but we have many clients in several countries and in various industries.
- What are Pharu’s short and long term goals?
In the short term we would like to continue growing as we have been growing and continue opening new lines of business. To start opening new lines of business and in the long term to be, of course, a macro consulting firm with several fundamental pillars, one obviously that of analytics as a consulting firm, another of creation of artificial intelligence applications and a third that is very important which is learning where we like to teach the rest of the world from scratch how this can generate value for them and we find that a very important mission.
Main lessons learned
- What are the main lessons you have learned from this experience that you can give to other entrepreneurs?
I think the main learning is that the most important thing in our environment, artificial intelligence and machine learning is that in the end a human being occupies the algorithm and that should never be left aside because if not the algorithm, whatever it is, the artificial intelligence application is not going to enter as it should enter an organization and it may not generate anything. And I believe that the greatest experience we have had being in different countries and in different industries is how to make the organizational climate, the environment of the workers the appropriate one so that they acquire this technology and use it to generate the value we expect.
We are learning many things very quickly, but little by little we are understanding the environment, how to run the business better, how to manage the experience, but that I could perhaps teach other entrepreneurs, look, this is what you have to do, these are the things you have to take into consideration.
Pharu has been a creation for many years and that is why I do not want to be unfair to the environment and invent something, because although Pharu is 11 months old, we had been developing these learnings, technologies and developments before joining as Pharu for many years. We began to understand this technology long before they became famous in the world, so it has been a very substantial learning and therefore when we launched it somehow we understood how it worked, we understood the platforms, the technologies, the algorithms, not as if we were recently seeing the obstacles, trying to understand how to incorporate it into the organization. On the contrary, we had a lot of experience in this, so I would not like to invent something that is not true about what is the learning that the entrepreneur should have.
I feel that I am a very, very incipient entrepreneur, that we have been very lucky, that we have fine-tuned a lot of professionalism in the teams that allows our product to be of first level, but from there to being able to teach someone and tell them these are the things I recommend to them as entrepreneurs, I don’t think I have the knowledge to give that answer.
Author: Carolina Figueroa from El Ecosistema Startup