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Business Lessons from Tolkien and Stephenson | Dipanwita Das from Sorcera

The largest, most powerful industries are often both the most resistant to change and the most in need of it. In this episode of UpTech Report, I speak with Dipanwita Das, the founder and CEO of Sorcero, who recognized the need for the life science and insurance industries to organize, interpret, and refine massive amounts of unstructured text.

Sorcero is building the digital tools to help businesses develop governing knowledge bases, unify systems, automate workflows, and help massive corporations operate with the efficiency of a nimble startup. Dipanwita discusses the paths from human intelligence to artificial intelligence and the inspiration she draws from science fiction and fantasy.

Bringing insurance companies to the 21th Century

Life science and insurance industries are burdened with massive data in need of organization and interpretation. This is Dipanwita came up with the idea to create Sorcero.

By using data, she helps these industries to improve and get what they need. ” We like to refer to them as dragons. So, they have a lot of power, they’re typically old, they are whimsical, risk-averse, and they guard their treasure, they’re very determined in guarding their treasure”, says Dipanwita.


Dipanwita Das is an award-winning global technology entrepreneur. She founded and serves as the CEO of Sorcero, a venture-backed startup that builds the most advanced knowledge bases in the world using an AI & NLP platform that understands highly technical industries. 

Das has been accepted into leading programs for high-growth tech entrepreneurs, including Plug & Play Ventures, Mindshare, and Y Combinator’s Female Founders program.

Previously, she was the founder & CEO of 42 Strategies, managing digital transformation projects for Richard Branson’s Virgin Unite, Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. As an Atlas Corps Fellow and Board Member, Das designed the Global Leadership Lab, training leaders from over sixty countries.

She completed the Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Executive Program for Social Entrepreneurship, and earned her M.A. from the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, and her B.A. from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Alexander Ferguson 0:00
largest most powerful industries are often both the most resistant to change and the most in need of it. In this episode of UpTech Report, I speak with Dipanwita Das, the founder and CEO of Sorcero, who recognize the need for life science and insurance industries to organize, interpret and refine massive amounts of unstructured text. So Sorcero is building the digital tools to help businesses develop governing knowledge bases, unify systems, automate workflows, and help massive corporations operate with the efficiency of a nimble startup. Dipanwita discusses the past of human intelligence to artificial intelligence, and the inspiration she draws from science fiction and fantasy.

Thanks so much for joining me Dipanwita, I’m excited to learn more about sterile how it got started your direction and what’s coming up next, and how you continually personally innovate and and move forward. So first off, tell me what are your did it start and where are you guys located?

Dipanwita Das 0:59
So we’re based in Washington, DC, our offices are in Adams Morgan. We got started formally in April 2018. So we’re getting onto the back 20 months.

Alexander Ferguson 1:12
Oh, well, where are you VC backed or bootstrapped?

Dipanwita Das 1:15
We are VC backed. We closed earlier this year a our precede convertible note. So we raised about 1.7 on it, and actually are in the middle of a fundraise right now.

Alexander Ferguson 1:30
Wow, how big is your team so far?

Dipanwita Das 1:32
So we just just hit 14? Wow,

Alexander Ferguson 1:37
awesome. So I know, at the beginning, you’ve got your direction, you’re moving forward. Last year, you started? What’s the area industry that you’re focused on helping.

Dipanwita Das 1:46
So our go to market is in life sciences. We primarily work with med device, pharma biotech companies, we also support skilled trades. So we partner we support a couple of organizations in the skilled trades, and are moving into insurance as sort of our next vertical.

Alexander Ferguson 2:10
What’s the pain point then that you really helped solve for these folks,

Dipanwita Das 2:14
in late 2016, some of my clients, through my previous consulting firm, started coming back coming to me and wanting AI solutions, which is as broad and as nuts as it can get. So as I dug in, to what that could mean, and what what real world applications, they were of the current technology that we have in the market, there were two things that jumped out at me first is that there are certain kinds of industries and there are certain industries that need this more than anything else. So those are technical industries, we like to we like to refer to them as dragons. So they have a lot of power, they’re typically old, they are whimsical, risk averse, and they guard their treasure, you know, with the very determined in guarding their treasure. So if you look at them, you know, life sciences jumps out, insurance jumps out at you fintax supply chain, the sorts of industries that run the world. And what these industries really need to stay competitive and to grow and maintain their margins and market share is to be able to leverage their jewels the most. And they are mostly in the form of technical information, business knowledge, nuance, understanding markets, understanding customers, and a lot of the data is an unstructured text. And it is not just distributed and hard to find. But it’s also hard to tell the relationship between two different data streams or three different data streams. That’s one. So you know, first is zeroing in on certain industries. And second is, there are lots of lots and lots of job functions and job roles in each of these industries. And not all of them are as important as the others. So we zeroed in again, on the technical workflows, or the technical job roles that really drive the business of these industries. And you’ll find a good way of checking that is what are expert driven job functions that cannot be replaced by a machine where a machine even a very, very good at predictive analytics or search or whatever it is it by no means can the human being being replaced. And that’s sort of the two to the two indicators that we take into account in choosing a you know, life sciences or insurance and then choosing the job functions we support in the industries.

Alexander Ferguson 4:34
This being a year end and the plans going forward. Are you still then finding that product market fit? Would you say have you getting closer to Crossing the Chasm?

Dipanwita Das 4:44
Yeah, I believe we are I think we’ve got initial product market fit. We spend a lot of time on the research and the customer interview side of things before we started officially selling. So we spoke to a little over 200 companies in life sciences and healthcare before we chose what Vertical was the one that we would go to market with. And, you know, we’re delighted to come back and report back and say that sales cycles, notwithstanding our assumptions around the vertical in the use case have been, you know, have been corroborated by the industry. That’s, that’s great. Um, we are going to, we will, I believe that we’re going to be more like growth trajectory from q3 2020. Onwards. And in sort of moving sales from pilot and demo driven to more case study driven, that’s sort of where we are at. So we’re, we’re slowly getting to a point where we’ll have enough case studies or enough success stories to start the sales cycle and just to differentiate,

Alexander Ferguson 5:43
so five years from now, where do you see yourself.

Dipanwita Das 5:47
And I think five years from now, the first thing is that we will have established ourselves into different verticals. And you know, we choosing life insurance, well, life sciences, and then insurance, for that reason, one sort of very closely related to each other. And, you know, being able to draw a tie a ribbon around both of it. So the information that life sciences need to accumulate, organize and distribute is often in service, to the needs of the insurance industry. And a lot of the information and a formatting and data processing that the insurance industry do is not, it’s also oftentimes coming from life sciences. So I think that flow coming together is really important for us in five years, we expect to have established that in growing accordingly, where we will have built that singular workflow that captures both sides of the problem. That’s certainly what

Alexander Ferguson 6:39
got us but that synergy, I can see that then in five years, between those two things, obviously, even though it’s only been a little over a year. Now we’re ready to hear that. I’m sure there’s a lot of things you’ve learned, is there anything that you can share hurdles that you’re able to cross that other entrepreneurs can hopefully, maybe learn from and not have to go through?

Dipanwita Das 6:56
Yeah, I mean, I get to hear this a lot from some of the enterprises we work with. So sometimes when we first meet an enterprise that that we that has a use case that we can solve for them or serve them. Um, they tell us them working with startups is hard for them as well, there is a certain impatience in startups, that doesn’t go very well with their buying behavior. So I get a lot of apologies from folks going Listen, I thank you so much for being patient with us. Thank you so much for sending the extra material, we really need this case by you. But the one of the things I have realized is that it’s not. There’s so much that you can do as as the as the vendor in question, but at the end of the day, it will back into an enterprise’s normal buying behavior and legal procedures. So just going, going in expecting that is really quick, not not expecting that in two months, and you may, on occasion, in a month have a customer, but more likely, it’s going to be six to seven, it’s only to involve more money steps and potentially months of silence is one thing. I think the second is also very related to that is a no deal is ever dead. I’ll give you story. So it was really funny. But we were sitting around a conference room in our offices, we do have our investor advisors, and the revenue team is my colleague, John and I and our interim CEO. And I was like, Oh, great company is dead. Let’s just like scratch that from the list. We’re doing a review lay. As I see that I opened up my inbox, and I have an email from them saying, we’re ready to get started. Like, come on. This is eight months later. So if you will, first thing is that if you went silent for eight months, we’ll be talking. So I think one of the things that sales is just realizing the month of silence, they may be talking about you every day, you just don’t know.

Alexander Ferguson 9:01
So yeah, those are two very powerful, very powerful tips to share of knowing it takes a long time. Don’t Don’t rush it as a startup and also a deal is never dead. I like that. Now going forward to to realize this this vision, do you see what hurdles? Do you see you’re going to need to overcome going forward?

Dipanwita Das 9:20
I think the the customer success process is going to be very interesting for us, you know, at a pilot phase and one of the reasons I like pilots, particularly at this stage in our companies, because it allows us to get to know our users. So that launch and implementation and customer success plan is really well done and possible. But I see one of our hurdles is sort of as fast as possible standardizing that customer success process. So what happens after someone signs a contract, how do you launch a new product or a new application a new piece of software, how do you ensure adoption and growth? How do you serve them? To the role of support and the role of customer success, that part I, you know, is something that we’re going to have to put a lot of time into. And we’re already starting to do that. And the reason we’re so hyper focused on that is only about epochs and AI, islands actually converge and scale. So it’s very interesting that these even if because, again, end to end, the pilot could take six, eight months, that’s fine. But to actually flip from that, and hit that scale, Oh, that’s much rarer than one things. So we’re very, very focused on that 90 that being a continuous sort of thing that we’re going to get happening better and better.

Alexander Ferguson 10:45
It’s good to do realize the challenges and what you’re working on, and that in order to achieve what you’re moving forward to for you, personally, how do you innovate? How are you getting new ideas and thoughts to stay current and move forward?

Dipanwita Das 11:00
Um, so I read a lot. And I mean, a lot. And I probably spend anything between two and three hours a day reading sporadically through the day. With articles, it’s magazines, it’s blogs, it’s a lot of things.

Alexander Ferguson 11:14
Do you have any favorite blogs or articles that you go to on a semi regular basis?

Dipanwita Das 11:19
You know, who said podcast, I’m only started listening to masters of scale has been really good. So even the hard things about the hard thing about hard things by Ben Horowitz book that’s become a bit of my favorite. One of the things is that there comes a critical point where you’re like, wait, I read all of the startup books, and I follow all of the blogs. And beyond the point, none of them really make sense. You’re like, this doesn’t apply to me, why isn’t this fanning out. And I think the minute you stop seeking a formula, it’s very freeing. So I felt like that book, particularly for me, was very freeing. Because all it did was remind me personally, that things are gonna be hard, and your heart is not going to look like someone else’s hard. Um, so that’s been really great. So there’s a couple of books, I actually read quite a bit of time for it, I find it really refreshing, I find the context change really good for me, but it also allows me to be creative and imaginative. Um, and, you know, particularly science fiction gives me great product ideas. And I want to say, a fantasy. The fantasy helped me understand people better. It’s really weird, but it does a lot. I’ll give you an example. So for example, Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books has been since I was 10. And, at the end, you know, when I read it, I was very young. Um, and the thing that stuck with me from the age of pen was illegal and real. Turn down the ring from photo. And that act was an act of saying no to power. I mean, she was doing it as an act of penance. But that ability to say moden power is just an incredible it’s a very powerful ability and if you don’t kind of stuck with me, so I find that fantasy certainly helped me understand personalities that are and people better. And science fiction just gives me great product ideas. Just really, really great one. So Sarah was one of the one of the books that in Pfizer chose Neil Stevenson. Diamond Beach,

Alexander Ferguson 13:24
diamond date. Okay, nice. I’ll have to check that one out. I look, I agree with you that science fiction. I mean, that’s where we cope with our ideas of what we want to build. We read books, we’re like, wow, why is that? Does that not exist? And I love your point, that fantasy can even help us understand people the way that then writers can, I’m gonna look at Lord of the Rings completely differently.

Dipanwita Das 13:45
I may have spent way too much time on everything told him but you know, it’s worth it. Totally. That’s

Alexander Ferguson 13:51
awesome. Well, we’ll end with this last question. What kind of upcoming technology are you personally most excited about? or interested

Dipanwita Das 13:58
in? Hmm, interesting. Um, I’m really excited about the the interface between natural language processing and AR VR. I think particularly because we’ve been talking a lot with folks in the skilled trades. And what can AR VR combined with really good NLP do for you? In the sense of if you are wearing a headset and experiencing something or learning something new, what is the role of language and NLP will leave it assistance. That part I am quite interested in. And then entirely like unrelated to anything to do with AI or software. I’m really interested in a nano tech in general and particularly miniaturization around med devices. As I dig more into this space, I’ve come across a bunch of startups that are doing really amazing and very, very interesting work in hardware. So I’m just very intellectually curious about it. It’s just So far from anything I do, and particularly miniaturization of batteries, you’re

Alexander Ferguson 15:08
you’re keeping your eye on many different types of technology. I love it. I

Dipanwita Das 15:12
don’t know that I’m ever going to do it. But I certainly see why it’s so powerful and it’s very interesting. It’s a, it helps it helps my brain to learn a lot about someone else’s business. So

Alexander Ferguson 15:26
Well, thank you so much for joining us. Where can people go to learn more? Where do you say suggest the first good step for them to take

Dipanwita Das 15:33
so please go to Sorcero.com To learn more about the company and learn more about our philosophy and what we do and what we do for our customers. And then if you want to talk more info at Altero comm you know, it’s always live, and we’re happy to talk.

Alexander Ferguson 15:52
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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