‘I’m on a mission to change how we interact as humans’ – Former UP student and founder of ‘butler app’

Posted on December 08, 2020

The only boundaries that humans have are the ones that they set for themselves. This is according to Mario Kempken, a former BEng Mining Engineering student at the University of Pretoria (UP), who has founded a start-up called BTLR (short for “butler”).

“It’s a technology that hyper-personalises all your hotel, shopping, business, dining experiences and more, ensuring that you never have to repeat yourself or feel awkward about asking for specific dietary requirements or any special needs you might have,” explains Kempken, who is currently pursuing a BEng (Hons) degree in Systems Engineering at the University of Portsmouth in England.

Users simply create an account via www.btlr.vip and set up their preferences. Then, next time they’re on holiday or out having a drink, they will be able to share their BTLR preferences and the restaurant or hotel will know exactly what they like and how they like it.

The project was developed with the help of an incubator in the Netherlands and inspired by Kempken’s most recent trip to London, where he experienced being waited on by a white-gloved butler. “I could not help but wonder how I could have this experience everywhere I went. I started asking myself: ‘How in a world with complete commoditisation and standardisation of infrastructure, products and services, do we achieve unique standards of personalisation and customisation? If machine interaction becomes standard, does human interaction become a premium service? How will we interact with hotels, restaurants and shops in the future?”

He and his team have developed a psychographic neural network that explores the core drives of users in an attempt to understand which personal preferences are most meaningful to them. The next big milestone is to complete the development of their BTLR Beta platform.

The budding engineer admits that it has not been a smooth ride getting the project up and running. The major challenge he encountered was that nobody understood his idea and how exactly it was going to work.

“I knew what the problem was and had an idea of how to solve it, but I had no clue what the technical solution would be,” he says. “So trying to explain what I was planning on building was literally impossible.” Trying to get BTLR going slap bang in the middle of COVID-19 lockdown didn’t help matters either.

Yet no problem is too big for Kempken, who attributes some of his success to UP. “The most valuable thing I learnt at the University of Pretoria was how to think logically about a problem. I learnt how to break problems down to a granular level so that it becomes manageable; then you solve one piece at a time. This way of thinking keeps reminding me that the problems I cannot solve are actually the ones worth solving. This is preparation for life that extends way past any workspace.”

Kempken says in the long run, BTLR aims to humanise technology so that people can live their lives to the fullest and build unforgettable memories.

“I am on a mission to change how we interact as humans on a global scale; we all understand how important human interaction is, especially now with COVID-19. Enhancing the value of our physical interactions to make them truly meaningful in a world of complete digitisation is my next milestone.”

For more information about BTLR, click here.

- Author Xolani Mathibela
Published by Xolani Mathibela

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