First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
David Dorfman: After getting Covid in March and recovering, my family and I are now doing very well. Our life involves working remotely, zoom school and at-home daycare for the kids, lots of home-cooked meals, and family time.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Empath.
David Dorfman: Before launching Sesh, I helped build TAU Ventures, an early-stage deep tech venture fund for Tel Aviv University. I also founded and ran an accelerator program, Immersion IDEAS, for the university graduate students launching new startups. My co-founders and I met through my work with the accelerator. We all brought strong backgrounds in technology, AI, corporate tech development, and creating strong cultures rooted in communication. We shared a strong passion for helping unlock effective communication through scalable technology.
How does Empath innovate?
David Dorfman: We apply the scientific method to everything we do. We hypothesize, research, test, and iterate the findings, better known as the lean method. We also draw inspiration from the world around us and each other.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
David Dorfman: 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?
Luckily, when I get stressed, my co-founder, cauri, get 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 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?”
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 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.
After eighteen months of critical building, executing, and testing, we’re now going to market to help empower humans with more empathetic communication. Our augmented intelligence is training and growing exponentially. Our approach to designing and testing our models creates a strong ethical framework to reduce bias and ground-truth our data sets.
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.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
David Dorfman: 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.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Empath in the future?
David Dorfman: Exercise, healthy food, family time, strong culture, and work processes are my stress relievers, and all help keep me and our team focused.
We anticipate a multi-billion dollar valuation in three years with fifty employees.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
David Dorfman: Although there are other cognitive AI companies in the world, our approach to democratizing access to states of mind analysis, along with our proprietary technology which enables us to analyze a growing list of nuanced emotions and states of mind, differentiates us in a big way and keeps us highly competitive. Our continued approach of building a state of the art technology with a growing portfolio of strong IP will sustain us for long term growth.
Your final thoughts?
David Dorfman: All human leaps forward have come through improving communication: cave drawings, speech, writing, printing, broadcast, and digital communications. Empath takes a new step in improving communications – giving us insight into each other and ourselves – to become more effective communicators and increase understanding. Empath delivers communication intelligence at scale.