Behind Business  (BB) - How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur? Did you feel like doing a spinoff in your life?


Daniela - Actually, the spinoff came to me!

Behind Business  (BB) - How did you end up becoming an entrepreneur? Did you feel like doing a spinoff in your life?

So, I had my professional medical career in the hospital and in academia. During that period, I also finished my PhD. At the same time, being a neuroradiologist, I was already familiar with dealing with technology, in particular with image processing. Then the financial crisis came about, and I decided to do an MBA at the IE Business School, where the last 6 months of the programme would focus on healthcare. But this bit didn’t actually happen because there were not enough students for the healthcare course to start. So, I ended up choosing the entrepreneurship one. Turned out to be a good choice: adding to my entrepreneurship spirit, to begin with, the IE Business School already has a good reputation when it comes to entrepreneurship, so it was quite helpful - I learned so much during that time, which helped me to create this company.

And the TonicApp?

TonicApp started as an academic team project for the MBA. Then, my colleagues and I continued working on it after the program, and it became a bit more serious when we secured investment from a venture capital firm. Suddenly, my time was all being consumed by TonicApp, and I reached a point where I had to make the decision to work full-time on it - if I hadn’t done it, I would have regretted it my entire life.

"(...) I was arguing that we have to study, study, study, learn from others’ mistakes and then we can test, because at that stage we will be one step ahead."

This seems to be a prevailing attitude among entrepreneurs, who have decided to move forward with their projects because they felt, at some stage in their lives, that they would regret it if they didn’t at least try…

Yes, it was the moment that the project started to become more and more demanding. It was not the case that we were tired or sad about our jobs… I actually enjoy practicing medicine. And it was not because I felt I had to change my life either.

How long ago did it start?

 

It started in 2015 during the MBA. Then the company was founded in 2016, and the investment from Portugal Ventures happened in December that year. So everything went really fast.

You worked well then!

Well and a lot! Well is not enough when it comes to these things.

 

What were your biggest obstacles at the beginning of the whole process?

I think that the most challenging thing was to understand and to be sure that the project would have room to grow. It was difficult to know at the time because we first needed to validate all the assumptions we had previously made while thinking about the idea. It was important because I had to decide if I would give up my medical career to dedicate myself full-time to this project instead, given that I already had a long and fulfilling career. The other difficulty was to understand how we, the executive team - which was physically apart because we live in different countries -, would be able to work together in a serious project, in a committed fashion, to create and develop the company. In the beginning, all the co-founders contributed evenly to the project, but after a while, as I was living in Portugal, where the company would be founded and funded, I started having too much work. That's why we decided to expand the organisation - we were able to bring Gonçalo Vilaça on board to help me, as Chief Operations Officer.

What was the most difficult decision you had to make in recent years?

Well, I would say that, in a startup, we face difficult decisions every week, if not every single day.  Everything we decide has a substantial impact on our future, as what matters here is speed and execution. But, for sure, the most challenging thing I had to do recently was to fire an employee.

Can I assume that the human side of the business is what impacts you the most?

It affects me, of course, as it is quite difficult to find a balance between the people of the company and the company itself; what is best for the people is not always best for the company and vice versa, and that is the most challenging thing an executive director has to manage. I have to make decisions that might not please everyone at the same time.

App Screens

App Screens

UX

UX

Using a Touch Phone

Using a Touch Phone

Phone App

Phone App

Brain Sketch

Brain Sketch

Doctor with Files

Doctor with Files

Doctor Operating CT Scanner

Doctor Operating CT Scanner

Elder woman and her caretaker

Elder woman and her caretaker

Dental Tools in Pocket

Dental Tools in Pocket

3d Ultrasound

3d Ultrasound

Patient with Healthcare Nurse

Patient with Healthcare Nurse

What was the most significant achievement you had as an entrepreneur?

Well, I could mention the cliché ones, and those would be the prizes that we won, such as at the Lisbon Investment Summit 2018 organised by Beta-i; or the Venture Capital investment we received from Portugal Ventures; or the moment when we became the number one downloaded app in the app store - because the doctors rely on our platform;  or when we reached over 5000 users in less than one year. These are significant achievements that made me very happy. But what makes me really happy is when the team faces a problem and comes together in order to solve it as a team. That is actually what makes me really happy and proud.

 

How do you manage uncertainty?

On the one hand, I try not to pass my uncertainty onto the team, which means that I have to live with it all by myself. On the other hand, I deal with it like many people do, by having insomnias. Many times.

How do you choose people and how do you find them?

This is one crucial aspect of a startup, to attract and retain talent. We have been working from references; someone in a team recommends someone they have worked with. Hard skills are essential but, sometimes, I also look for someone who has the necessary competencies to learn those hard skills that are required in their future tasks. We very often give people room to develop themselves, other times we don't have that opportunity; sometimes employees can only develop some skills at a slower pace than the startup requires. It is also essential to understand if that person will be a good fit among the existing employees and if they will fit in the company's culture. If that’s not the case, I prefer not to move forward with that person. Sometimes we make mistakes, of course, and we think someone will fit and it turns out they don’t.

What unites you all and what separates you?

What unites us is precisely the company’s goals, which have to be really clear to everyone in the team, so that we are aligned and we know what each of our roles is. What separates us are the professional incentives each one has. For instance, I may be focused on the investor meeting I will have, and my colleagues will be worried about their tasks and development of the next features or the conference talk the following week, and so on. At the same time, the team should be in a place where we can all come together and talk freely, and this way we can decrease the level of anxiety.

Do you think the entrepreneurial spirit is born with us or is it developed?

Of course it can be learned, and at the IE Business School I learned a lot; there are lots of processes, frameworks that we can learn… Actually, I had a funny conversation multiple times with a professor in the MBA, who stated that we, as entrepreneurs, have to experiment, experiment, experiment while I was arguing that, instead, we have to study, study, study, learn from others’ mistakes and then we can test, because at that stage we will be one step ahead. There are always many things to learn, being marketing, sales, human resources, and many other subjects that are important for running a business. In order to try and always be updated, I read one book per week.

Amazing! But why don’t you read summaries of those books? Nowadays there are solutions for that...

No, no, don’t talk to me about summaries!  I want to really read them because during the reading process I have the time to reflect on the topic, about the company and about how I would use that in my context. This is my process. However, I think that the entrepreneurial spirit can be born with us when we always want to build new things and see them grow. And that comes with personality. To give you an idea, with or without this startup, I was never a couch potato - I rest by doing things. So…  I think that this is a profile that is born with us.

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