Dr. D’vorah Graeser – CEO Interview
When did you know you wanted to start your own company?
I’ve been interested in tech for a very long time — I started coding when I was 16. This was back in the days before the GUI (graphical user interface) was common. I took one class in high school and then one at university but my interest led me to keep learning more by myself. Naturally, that just led me to look for a career in tech! It was when I worked in the Human Genome Project that I realized everyone in a leadership position was male. The only women who I knew, and who were in leadership positions, had their own companies. I understood pretty quickly that if I wanted to have the career I wanted and break the glass ceiling, I would need to have my own company. And that’s exactly what I did.
What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus & why)?
My original idea is pretty much the same as what we’re doing now as a company. Since the beginning, my main goal was to open access to innovators so they could have a seat at the table with the Big Cos. I wanted startups and smaller companies to understand the power of intellectual property and how protecting their ideas could also be beneficial to their businesses. Nowadays, although our services and the way we provide them are different, we’re still in the same mission: opening access to innovators. This time, we’re opening access to a faster and better innovation process!
How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?
I realized this was what I wanted to do and went for it.
Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?
I joined the Human Genome Project with a double background in life sciences and programming. I have a PhD in Pharmacology and that’s because of Dr. Jonas Galper at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Cambridge. I did my undergraduate research at his laboratory, where I learned to really enjoy lab experiments! Dr. Richard Neubig at the University of Michigan was my PhD supervisor. He helped me combine programming and biology, two areas that I am still focused on today for my patent work. And Mark Friedman (now retired) trained me in US patents. All of them pushed me to do my best and to really focus on the problem at hand, to solve it creatively. I think they believed in me because I’ve always been a hard worker. They saw my interest and the potential I couldn’t see in myself at that time.
Who is your favorite mentor and why?
The three of them were really important for my career, I couldn’t choose one!
What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?
One of the hardest things to do in the beginning was making my team grow. When I hired the first person, it was difficult because I was focused on explaining the problems we had, expecting them to just solve them. The problem was that I didn’t have any process in place, so it became a frustrating experience very soon. From that experience on, I’ve tried to be more process-oriented!
What has been the hardest lesson to learn?
Prioritizing. It’s not related to any particular moment in my company but it’s something we always have to be working on. We’re a small team so we really need to be careful with what we build and how we build it. Prioritizing is an ongoing process!
What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?
I really enjoy meeting new people and talking about their ideas. I’m always happy to talk with innovators about how they want to change the world and the steps they’re taking to make it real. You would think that after working with innovators for more than 20 years, I’ve heard it all. But that hasn’t happened! It’s amazing how people always have great ideas, ideas that will definitely change the world!
What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?
It’s not weird but I’m always surprised when people from far away countries contact me. The whole tech industry is very focused on the countries we all know like the US, China, India, etc. But there’s a lot of innovation happening all over the world. Sometimes I get messages in languages I’m not familiar with. It’s great to know that the internet has made this opportunity of helping people all over the world possible.
What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?
The best decision I’ve made is to follow my gut. It has worked for me even in moments when others think things wouldn’t work out. For example, my business has survived several crises. I launched it in Israel right before the big crash in 2001. It was tough for many companies but I followed my instinct and worked with clients outside of the US. Only those startups who ventured to other markets, and looked for new opportunities, were left standing. Many of my clients not only survived but exited with large multiples. Now, think about 2008. The year of the Great Recession in the US. Israel was pretty stable and strong back then so I took this as an opportunity to expand my patent business to a new market. I decided to expand to the US!
What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?
Trying to do everything by myself. In the beginning, it made sense, since I was starting my company. But then, it got to a point where I was having more clients. At first, I thought I could just keep running my business that way, working extra hours but I quickly started feeling burnt out. As an entrepreneur that’s building their own company is very easy to think that you can solve everything by yourself and that you’re saving precious money by doing so. In the end, it’s better and more productive to know when to delegate certain tasks so your business can keep growing.
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?
Talking about our services and the way we work, it really hasn’t affected us that much. We were a 100% remote company years before the pandemic started so our way of working didn’t change that much. Also, a lot of people finally decided to start investing more time and resources in their side-hustles or to accelerate things inside their companies. Overall, that went well. That said, it has really had a toll on our mental health. Since we all work from different countries, we’ve seen different kinds of lockdowns and restrictions going on everywhere. We have a teammate that has been in lockdown since March! Others have had better luck, living in places that haven’t been so affected by the pandemic. None of us has been able to live their “normal lives.” As a team, we have to keep strong and be there to notice when somebody is not feeling well. It’s very easy to overlook things when you’re not working in the same office, so we need to really be aware of how everybody’s doing.
What keeps you passionate about your company?
Supporting innovators. As said before, I meet with amazing people every other day (at least virtually, for now). The fact that innovative ideas will never stop existing is something that keeps me passionate!
What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?
I do exercise every day. This is what keeps me sane and in better mental and physical shape. I can’t start my day without going out for a walk or for a run. With the pandemic, I haven’t been able to do ultramarathons, which is something I really enjoy! But, at least, I can go out for a run. That really has helped me thrive in other areas of my life!
What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?
Whatever you’re working on, we need you to keep going. The world is going through tough times and we need innovators now more than ever. We need solutions, people that aren’t afraid to put their ideas out there. We need you to change the world!
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About the Community
On the podcast, Sean talks with entrepreneurs about the reality of their struggle to succeed, as well as answering questions from the community, and sharing nuggets of wisdom from his own life.
Discover through these amazing episodes the courage to open your mind, heart, and soul to the world so you can be the best entrepreneur possible, respect the people you work with, and improve the world with your company while not hurting others or yourself in the process.
Sean is an entrepreneur, investor, and advisor based in SE Asia for over 12 years. He is passionate about Psychology and helping others improve themselves.