When Dvorah Graeser realised her career was about to hit the glass ceiling she circumvented it by starting her own company using technology to simplify the patent application process.
What’s your story?
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 was common. I largely learned on my own.
It was when I worked in the Human Genome Project that I realized everyone in a leadership position was male. The only women 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 excites you most about your industry?
That innovation never stops. I’m a techno-optimist!
Last year was very difficult for everyone. But, despite the circumstances, I saw a lot of innovation going on.
Even having a vaccine in this record time is something that amazes me!
It’s exciting to know that, as human beings, we’ll always have the ability to make this world a better place through innovation.
What drives you in business to push beyond what other people consider normal?
Something that really motivates me is 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!
Learning about what others are building and creating always pushes me to offer better solutions!
What have been the most useful skills you have learnt and applied in your journey?
Prioritizing. It’s one of the most important skills you can have as an entrepreneur.
It’s not related to any particular moment in my company because it’s something we always have to be working on as a small team. We have to be very careful with what we build and how we build it. Our resources are limited so we need to be smart about tasks and priorities!
Prioritizing is an ongoing process!
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I learned it from both Dr. Jonas Galper, who I worked with at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Cambridge, and Dr. Richard Neubig, who was my PhD supervisor.
They taught me to focus on the problem at hand and narrow it down to one that can be reasonably solved.
It sounds like “simple” advice but, trust me, as an entrepreneur it’s sometimes hard to focus on solving just one problem at a time when it feels like a lot of problems require your attention.
But, every time I feel overwhelmed, I remember to focus. It has always helped!
Who inspires you?
Arlan Hamilton. She was so dedicated to her goal of starting a VC fund that would focus on women and minority founders that she slept in the SF Airport at night. That VC fund became Backstage Capital. She showed true dedication — and made me realize how comfortable my life was, even now!
What have you learnt recently that blew you away?
I recently spent some time conducting customer interviews. I specifically talked with people involved in research and big data.
It blew my mind that many innovators were worried about doing innovation “right” – and about establishing benchmarks. Of course, there’s no cookie-cutter way of “doing innovation.” Still, I think we should make an effort to establish some guidelines and benchmarks, since having it will make cooperation easier for everyone, especially if we’re talking about tech transfer, for example.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Not try to do everything by myself.
In the beginning, it made sense, since I was building my own company. But, once I started getting more clients things became more difficult. I quickly started feeling burnt out after working many extra hours.
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to think that you can solve every problem by yourself and that you’re saving money by doing so. Sometimes it’s more expensive to do things on your own!
It’s better and more productive to know when to delegate certain tasks so your business can keep growing.
How do you unwind?
I exercise every day.
Exercising every day keeps me in mental and physical shape. I can’t start my day without going out for a run. I also got a rowing machine during the pandemic, so now I’m into it, too.
Before the pandemic, I used to do ultramarathons, which was something that really helped me have other goals besides work. I haven’t been able to do one in a long time so I’m looking forward to things being safe again for me to do one!
Exercise has really helped me thrive in other areas of my life!
What is a major mindset change, belief shift or ‘ah ha’ moment that you’ve experienced in relation to your business?
My first major mindset change happened when I started building my first company. My goal was to support startups to get patents. I found that was difficult for them because most law firms charged by the hour. This made the final costs high and unpredictable. By the way, this is something that still happens. Even after more than 20 years!
I decided to do something about it. By using technology and automating several processes, I was able to offer fixed prices for all of our services.
Clients would always know how much they’d pay and for what!
Everyone in business should read this book:
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz
This is a book that everyone in my team has read, or listened to, at least once. If you’re building a company, it’s a must-read because, as the title says, it talks about the hard things of running a business, like working with friends, how to sell your company, and how to lead a company during difficult times.
Shameless plug for your business:
iSearch.ai is a competitive intelligence tool that will help you validate your idea, uncover your competitors, and iteratively develop your idea! You can sign up for free here: https://isearch.ai/
How can people connect with you?
You can reach out on LinkedIn or through mail at email@example.com
Social Media Links?
This interview is part of the CallumConnects series.