Pivoting Amid a Global Pandemic

by David Dorfman

Panic

When COVID-19 began spreading from China to Northern Italy, my co-founder and I knew it was only a matter of time before California started experiencing the pandemic first hand.  

We figured we were fourteen days behind the global spread.  My anxiety started rising exponentially, not knowing exactly what we would do.  How would we stay in business? How would we pay our employees? How would we raise money?

A whole new world

2020 has been the year everyone woke up one morning and realized the world as they knew it no longer existed.  That’s a crazy feeling, right? For most of us, it has been a mixture of terror, fear, helplessness, anxiety, and depression. Not necessarily in that order! At other times it has been liberating, exciting, revolutionary, intriguing and relaxing. 

I've experienced all of this at different times, and for different reasons, especially as a father and husband launching a startup.

On the positive side, getting to spend so much time with my kids has been a real blessing.  A stressful, non-stop blessing. 

Before the pandemic, I would rush to get them to daycare, and rush home to see them, and feed them, and bathe them, and get them to sleep, always feeling like I was missing so much of their day and life. 

Now my son and daughter have formed a deep bond and I get to see them grow every day. Amazing!  Not having to commute. Amazing!  Having a job that affords me the security of working from home. Amazing! Time slowing down and speeding up all at once all while I’m still wearing sweatpants. Amazing!

On the negative side, many people in the world are suffering economic distress, acute depression and anxiety, physical and emotional abuse, loss of loved ones, systemic racism, discrimination and sexism and a sense of dread for the future.  These things are all palpable even if experienced through a news feed and more so when a family member or loved one faces these challenges first hand.  

With that said, in my experience, you can only control your own reaction to events and the actions you take as a result of the things that happen in your life. Focus on the positive and make the best of whatever is being thrown your way. 

Process

Luckily, when I get stressed, my co-founder, cauri, gets focused.  He had a plan.  We started preparing an update for our investors and advisors.

At that point in the business, we were about two thirds of the way towards our goal of completing eighteen months of recorded live learning and development sessions for business professionals.  

We had created a unique educational-neuroscience-based live learning session specifically geared towards teaching an intimate group of people a new skill rapidly.  

By video recording the session in 360, we were also growing a proprietary data set around human learning and the emotions and states of mind people experience when transmitting and learning new information. This data would be the ground truth for our human comprehension AI.

It so happens, we saw the trend of growing video communication and remote working eighteen months ago.  Little did we know this trend would go through a rapid acceleration, and in four months, push adoption forward by four years. 

At first, we thought strengthening culture and the communication paradigms that form a company’s culture foundation would be key to riding this trend into the market.  As we gathered our data and started to understand on a deeper level the central elements of effective communication, we discovered empathy at its core.  

This discovery began our questioning.

“How could we leverage this at scale?” 

“Can you train people to be more empathetic?”

“What digital tools can assist with this training?”

“Can you use machines to help humans be more human?”

New approach

For us, we were always focused on creating a learning AI.  The pandemic forced everyone into remote video communications faster than we ever anticipated and it gave us clarity in our approach.  We’ve harnessed the trend and evolved from a learning focused AI to states of mind, which betters communication and enhances learning for everyone.  This challenge is so immense, so interesting, so potentially revolutionary, we’ve been passionately pursuing the answers since we first asked ourselves these questions.  

 

"First, keep an iterative mindset when it comes to business development.  Meaning, embrace experimentation, maintain patience with incremental development, focus on your goals and be transparent about your failures and successes."

 

After eighteen months of critical building, executing and testing, we’re still at the beginning of our journey to help empower humans with more empathetic communication.  Our augmented intelligence is training and growing exponentially, and our approach to designing and testing our models is creating a strong ethical framework to reduce bias and ground-truth our data sets.  

We’re now working with select Alpha partners to refine our use cases and hone our value proposition(s).  It’s an exciting time to be building a company and a technology that has such enormous potential to positively impact our ability to deepen our connections with other humans, especially during a time in history when we’re forced to be physically distant.  Now that we’ve secured funding, we can continue to work to bring our inventions to the world. 

Lessons learned

The past six months have given me a new perspective on iteration, fortitude, performance under pressure and maintaining equanimity in the face of daunting challenges and unknown unknowns.  

First, keep an iterative mindset when it comes to business development.  Meaning, embrace experimentation, maintain patience with incremental development, focus on your goals and be transparent about your failures and successes.  This is how great products are made and great companies formed. 

Trust your team and make sure your team has shared values.  If you all agree on core values, and you all have passion for what you’re doing, you can always discover the right solutions and find the right path forward.  

Here’s the most difficult learning: if there is anyone on your team who doesn't share your values, they are in the wrong place, and under times of pressure it will come to the surface. It’s better to act quickly and deliberately to align your team than to suffer any toxicity which can erode team cohesiveness and will inevitably permeate all aspects of your business. 

Now that the world is collectively journeying through the same unknown unknowns, the people we journey with are more important than ever. 

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Recommended Follow Up Read: 

 176 Pandemic Pitches 

 



 

 

Tags: Lean startup, EQ, Empathy, Business

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