Ladan is founder and CTO of Waveshaper AI (https://waveshaper.ai ), a startup that has developed technology for real time audio processing using deep learning. She is a machine learning and data researcher with a PhD in computer science from SUNY Buffalo. Since arriving in Montreal she has been on winning teams of AI hackathons held at Concordia University and MILA. She has also been training her personal organic neural networks on fascinating and useful problems such as communicating in the French language and discovering optimal vertical ascent paths on various climbing walls located throughout the city.
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OLivier: [00:00:00] Welcome to business, not 1 0 1 hosted by me, Olivier Bousette, founder, entrepreneur podcast creator. In this episode, we explore the founder's journey from their aha moment to the roadblocks and problems to what they would've done differently in hindsight, and the unique solutions they came up with. I hope you enjoy this episode.
Olivier : Hi, Ladan. How are you?
Ladan G:Hi. Thank you for having me. Good, thanks you.
Olivier : good, good. Thanks for joining us on Business Not 1 0 1. Let's get right into it. Please introduce yourself and give us your 60 second business pitch.
Ladan G:Okay. My name is Ladan. I have a PhD in computer science from SUNY at Buffalo. I am founder and CTO of Face Shape ai. We are in the business of making audio sound better using artificial intelligence. That means we train AI models that take streams of audio apart, process them. That means like, for example, removing the noise improving quality, adding or removing an effect, and then [00:01:00] we assemble them to a better quality signal.
And we do this really fast actually in real time. And this allows us to replace dedicated audio processing hardware and software that are used in many products and services.
Olivier : It's really interesting. So what was the aha moment, the light bulb moment that made you decide to start this?
Ladan G:Well, this is a funny question for me because my first aha moment was like, Aha. I am an entrepreneur and you know, I was new in the country and I was looking for a job and I came across a job posting by a company called Tandem Launch, and I had no idea this is a startup foundry and I'm gonna be an entrepreneur residence there.
So and I also wasn't exposed to startup culture. I wasn't reading books about Steve Jobs or idolizing like funders. So I joined Tandem Launch and then I saw is not a regular. But I was learning so much, I decided to go all in, and that was the very, very first big aha moment. But I also have aha moments regarding our [00:02:00] products and business.
You know if you wanted to replace dedicated audio processing hardware hardware is really fast and most of the AI is in Python. It's very slow. And also audio files are huge for neural networks. So the first aha moment. A product was that I can implement this such that it runs fast. And then we did more optimization and then we made it real time.
So that was huge. And the second aha moment was when we had a request to try our AI for something that it wasn't supposed to do. And actually we synthesize, synthesize some data and it worked. And that was like a flash of insight of the general applications that we can do.
Olivier : Okay. That's a, that's
Olivier : amazing. Yeah. That's a, yeah. But that's, that's really our true incredible aha moments on this. So what were some of the roadblocks? Because, I mean, obviously there's a lot of technology behind this, so what were some of the roadblocks you hit starting this?
Ladan G:[00:03:00] So, you know it was it's harder than it seemed to to communicate our technology. Because we, we don't do something that doesn't exist. But we just do it in a different way. And the AI is a new field and everyone, there are lots of different interpretations and hyper bully. So it's like communicating the value proposition has been a challenge also, like how when some people ask, Oh, what's your difference with another company that does ai?
Like, because of all the interpretations and hyper really, like, it can be tricky to answer. So this been a roadblock I can say,
Olivier : Yeah, I could imagine. I could imagine. And sort of now looking back at when you first started this project and how long has it been going for?
Ladan G:For almost two years and like 10 months.
Olivier : Perfect. So looking back at your, and this in hindsight, what would you do differently at the start of this project if there was something you [00:04:00] could do differently? That you can say, okay, you know what, I should have probably taken this path as opposed to this path.
Ladan G:So I would use more visualization, more metaphors, more. Demo demo videos to communicate the technology better. I would be also more bolder. I was pretty shy at the beginning, you know, I like I was just graduated from university. I wasn't sure what that my intuition is, right?
Everything is right. So I would like be bold.
Olivier : That's a really good point. That's really interesting and it, it speaks a lot to being an entrepreneur, you know, that sort of mentality around you fake it till you make it, but you also have to have a lot of inner strength to be able to really launch a new project. That's something that's. Very unique.
Olivier : And I also like the point you said visual. I think a lot of people, and I, and I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I, I think a lot of people sort of fail that they try to either build a minimum viable product as opposed they could just do a video. And I always think of Dropbox when the original founders created a video of how the system's gonna function and show that [00:05:00] as an actual MVP as opposed to building it.
And they got funding right away. Cause everybody didn't realize it was just a video. And I think. Powerful to be able to explain your story.
Ladan G:Exactly, exactly. With visualization people, people like especially with audio is hard because people don't connect with it immediately, but visually, when they see something, definitely.
Olivier : Yes. Yeah, that's still true. So true. The, the concept of both the visual and the audio need to be hand in hand. And even though it's an audio application, so at the end it still needs to be visually explained to investors and to people. And to buyers
Olivier : So this leads me to my next question. Did you have a business mentor that helps you?
Along this path.
Ladan G:Yeah, so since I started in an incubator so general partners in the incubator have lots of experience that you can pick you know, their brain. If it's okay, I mentioned actually Hega sit as CEO of Tandem Knowledge is, has been a great mentor to me also along the way we met a lot. Cool people [00:06:00] in audio take space.
People like Peter Laz sorry, Patrick Laziz, who wrote a book about lean startups and CEO of superpowered. Also, Jim Brand is an entrepreneur in audio take from Toronto, and he's super nice. Like they just like help me sometimes even I don't ask the . They ask, check on me. How is, how's everything going?
Have you seen this? And this part of the entrepreneurship journey, I really value in it because I don't think I could get the same thing. I couldn't meet the same people if I had a regular job.
Olivier : It's, it's really interesting and, and, and I, I kind of agree with what you're saying because I think it's really important, certainly in the startup phase. Are you planning to continue to have a business coach? Is this something in that, in your plans now that you've experienced
Ladan G:Yeah. Yeah. Every, every time there is something more like, you know, you are in series seat, you know, you're in a seed. There's series A. People have already people that already have passed that step. It's nice of them that they send the elevator back and help you to [00:07:00] come up and they go further
Olivier : Yeah. That's such a great way to say it. Yes, so true. Send the elevator back down to pick you up. That's great. I love that. So moving along. How did you build your community around your project? Because obviously you're an incubator, it's a bit different. There's already an existing community around that, but how did you go and get an outside community, a fan base, that really sort of propel your project forward?
Ladan G:Right. So we are pretty new. You know, at some. We had applications in b2c and at that point we had like ads, we had, we had Instagram, we did like some outreach, community outreach. I personally like organic growth, but I understand, you know, sometimes, you know, you need to do some advertising as well.
And because we are doing something in AI and audio and. Pretty new. Some, like the research community is quite excited about it. But right now we are switching to B2B and it's more cold calls and like having partners or other big companies [00:08:00] to work with us. And that's like their ceo is doing great job on that part.
Olivier : That's interesting. So the did you, was there a particular reason you switched from B to C to B to B?
Ladan G:Yeah, so, so, yeah, at the beginning we were just for we were just working in a music industry. We were making plugins for musicians and it was good though. We figure out that our technology can do more things than just music, audio signals. So we, we, we decided to have a general audio processing platform.
And that was good for us because the total addressable market got bigger and we could attach to a bigger town. And so that's, we pivoted to like b2b then B2C plugin company.
Olivier : That's interesting. And so now that you focus on b2c, which is a lot more social media and a lot more you're going to get your community yourself. Did you switch to a sales model where you're planning to hire a sales team?
Ladan G:So we are [00:09:00] planning to have a sales team after we do the seed fundraising. So right now we are fundraising for seed round and we are planning to have a a one or two salesperson apart from our ceo to do the to find some businesses to work with.
Olivier : That's really interesting. I think this is one of the problems a lot of startups have is the sales side. It's finding people to help 'em to do sales. So sales, sales people are actually really complicated doing this for about a year. I've come to realize a lot of the small businesses struggle in that department.
They either become the only salesperson or the only person pitching their business. And hiring people is hard because you need to educate them to your level to be able to sell your business
Ladan G:exactly. For your deep take. Yes. I imagine . It's gonna be hard. Yeah.
Olivier : Yeah. And this sort of leads me to my next question. Now, looking at your business after two years, and obviously it starts an incubator and it starts moving up.
What are some roles you would've said, Hey, you know what? We should have hired this person from the start. That would've helped us propel us faster along this path. You know, it could have been accounting or salesperson, but [00:10:00] something you should have done from the get go as opposed to now you're sort of planning for it down the road.
Ladan G:Okay, so yeah, that's a tricky question. So I am like, we started with the tech, and I'm personally technical myself, and our first hire was also in tech. But what was lacking is someone who can communicate our technology in a good way because you. I'm more near the introvert and . I don't like, I, I don't have many communication skills.
English was my second language. I'm learning French. So that's what we have in our ceo in. Can communicate pretty well in our new CEO can communicate pretty well. So yeah, I can, I think it kind of depends on the business and what type of skills you have, and you have to get the compliment of your skills that is needed for the business.
And, and also the budget also is important right now. Like we can, we wanna have a for example, COO also, but it's gonna be after
Olivier : Yeah, it obviously, it's [00:11:00] always budget and it's complicated. I agree. I agree. It is so important to have somebody who has the ability to speak to the. Customer,
Ladan G:Exactly, exactly.
Olivier : And you're not the first person. I find most technical founders have that same struggle exactly as you. I find the non-technical founders have the opposite, right?
Ladan G:Right, exactly. They, they find some technical person. Yes. They can just like sit and implement
Olivier : yet and be able to communicate to them. So a lot of them fail their projects because they can't call, talk to each other. So it's really interest. All right, so I, I would like to ask this question is if you could leave yourself a 30 or 60 second voicemail to your past self, what would it be and why?
Ladan G:Right. I would tell myself that, you know, it's gonna take longer than you think. Actually expect the take to be manageable and everything else to be a challenge. . You're gonna like, your life is gonna be on hold for a while and be bolder. And just expect this, [00:12:00] it's gonna be challenging. Takes longer.
Olivier : I love that. That's so true. That's great. All right, so switching gears a little bit here, we want to know about you as an entrepreneur. So one of the first questions I like to ask people is, cuz I'm a big, you know, proponent of this, what keeps you productive?
Ladan G:What keeps me productive? I would say my Linux laptop and my iPad any time that I don't code, I'm just like using my iPad for almost everything. And the rest of the time that I'm coding, I'm using Yeah, my Linux laptop and I watch lots of, when I had to learn something, I watch lots of YouTube videos.
I go, I use a lot of that, that actually makes me productive because, you know, there are so many open source things there that you can just reuse and beat on top of that. Yeah, these are the things that makes me productive.
Olivier : So what motivates you then? What keeps you motivated and on track and organized, I guess would be another question.
Ladan G:Okay, so what keeps me motivated? You know, [00:13:00] AI is such a, is such an interesting field that every week there is something new in it. And I should say it, it motivates me because I think I'm part of it. But at the same time, it gives me so much anxiety, , because I feel, oh my gosh, every, every week there is something new and I have to catch up to, to everything.
So, yeah, that's ai. AI makes me motivated and also makes, gives the anxiety both at the same
Olivier : That's, that's hilarious. I feel the same thing about cryptocurrency.
Ladan G:Oh yeah,
Olivier : it's, it's, it's like nerve-wracking because it changes, but it's, the foundations are the same. It's more the public's perception and as well the industry's perception of what it does. And I find there's a lack of knowledge. So. People are trying to explain it in such a way and you're feeling like you're missing on something because it's not the way you would explain it or understand it.
And so I find myself doing research on that. And same thing for ai. And then I realize, no, it's exactly the same thing as it was before. It's just now somebody had to explain it in a way for somebody else that just is [00:14:00] kind of new, but it is nerve-wracking. These new
Ladan G:I think exactly Every week. Every week something new is coming and they're like, oh my gosh. Well, it's exciting because I like, you know, I'm like, okay, that's great. You know, people are investing in this and this is just like their part of this. We can attach to this, but at the same time, like, oh my gosh, like if something comes like that is better.
If something comes that is like, I dunno, like just like make us stop. So it's both, both at the same time. You have to be very agile and to be able to move around and be able, yeah, to do, to survive in these waves.
Olivier : It's so true and to stay motivated. I, I do, I have a SaaS and I always feel like you gotta constantly move it forward, otherwise somebody's gonna come along and reproduce what you're
doing and take it over.
Ladan G:Exactly, You've, you've got to just like execute. That es me.
Olivier : That's excellent. So my next question is, what is one personality or trait. Or strength you feel is most important in an entrepreneur from your point of view?
Ladan G:[00:15:00] Right. I don't know if I can like point to one. I think there are a couple of them. I can list them. So I think like having an iron stomach is very important. Like great is so fundamental because things are gonna go the way that they, they shouldn't go. Everything's gonna be challenging. And I also think empathy is very important because, , you know, after you have, you make your POC or mvp after a few months to a year, you'll have startup is like a, a couple of people working through.
A certain goal, and you have to keep all these people aligned. So you have to have empathy to understand what makes them motivated, what frustrates them. And because you, you, you are waiting for the next big milestone. Like it's not clear. Everything is uncertain. So you have to have this empathy to be able to keep people aligned.
And also, like, for example, for us, sometimes we hire people In the management level, and you have to keep the investors the, like you hire decision makers and [00:16:00] then you have to kind of manage investors, decision makers, your employees, everything aligned. And I find like at at the beginning I thought, oh, okay, as long as the take works, I'm good.
Like we are done . But then I figure out, actually I'm spending 60% of my time on communication, as you said, just like keeping people align, keeping people motivated, and just going, so
Olivier : That's so true. Yeah, that's great answer because that's so true. I find when you're a solo entrepreneur, it all falls on you and the moment you add a few people to the team, you're no longer about the product or the service you're trying to sell. You are about managing the
Ladan G:People's all about,
Olivier : your customers.
Yeah, that's, that's a great answer. So my next question actually, it's kinda unique because you are an incubator and a few people have interviewed have been in incubators. But one question I was never asked them, and I I wanna ask you, is the term fake it to you making, is this something that is still pushed even at incubators when you feel this is a common thread among startups still?
Or do you feel that's, that [00:17:00] term itself is becoming. Sort of passe and it should be dropped.
Ladan G:Right. So I've heard this word even in the, in the incubator. But, you know you've got, because, you know, you've got to do what you've got to do, but, but with some ethical boundaries, right? You've got to do what you've got to do. But I personally is not, I'm not a fan of me. Fake it. Make it, and also it.
Something that we could do because, you know, we are replacing hardware. So the, the thing already exists and it's fast. So like, I can't fake that. , I can't fake. So for us, we like, we don't fake anything. But if you've got to do, you have to say something exists, you know, you've got to do it.
Olivier : So we can safely say fake it to make it is still well and alive.
Still? Yeah. , I still like,
Olivier : Excellent. So my next question, and I love this question, is if you can have a coffee with any entrepreneur or any business person, who would it be and why?
Ladan G:Yeah, that's, I'm gonna have a cheesy answer for that. You know, [00:18:00] when I started at the incubator, as I said, I, it wasn't like that I was doing business or was going on. I think it reverse. And then I was like, in the incubator, I was like, oh, I dunno what's valuation, I dunno know what's capable, I dunno any of this.
So I went to Netflix and I started watching Dragon then. And I really like, like all the episode of the, all the seasons of Dragon that were in Netflix and I really like Arlene Dickinson. I like, I I, she's just so nice and I find that like a lot of investors, you know if you put in their shoes after, if you put yourself in their shoes, like they lose money.
Lots of people BSing them. Lots of entrepreneurs like yes all the time and they invest and they lose their money. And I, so some of them become heartless, but Arlene is like someone. For a long time. She's an investor and she still has a big heart. So I, I really just like respect her. So that's one person.
But I know, I don't know what I'm gonna talk with Arlene about because she is like investing in food business and I'm like in take. So I think if another person, apart from [00:19:00] Arlene I could meet would be some ultimate from a sea of open ai. Because he's also founder and investor in ai, and I think I think he has seen it all and he, like, he knows with how much resource in AI you can get to, how far you can get.
So these two people I'm gonna
Olivier : Yeah, those are very two interesting people and two new people. Arlene Dickinson. Guess how you say her last name? Yeah, she's she's, she's, I follow her on Twitter and she has some good tidbits
Ladan G:Mt. Yeah.
Olivier : She's an interesting character. All right. Now if my next question is book and what is the business book or any book that's changed your course or has really influenced your business journey?
Ladan G:Okay. So again you know, Because I wasn't, I didn't know many things about like business terms. The book that really helped me and I started in an incubator was Venture Deals. I forgot the who's the author. But that book like explains [00:20:00] everything from perspective of investor and from perspective of entrepreneur.
Goes through all, all the things that's gonna happen, what's term sheet, what's valuation, what's capable, what's dilution, and that would help me a.
Olivier : That's great. I've never heard of that book. That's interesting. So we'll add that. Perfect. So this is wonderful. Last question for I have for you is how do people come reach out and connect
Ladan G:Okay, so I have a personal blog io. You can also reach me from Wave Shaper AI websites, wave Shaper, do ai, and my email is laan Wave Shaper ai.
Olivier : Perfect.
Ladan G:write, I really like writing technical post, so I, I've been very busy. I didn't have time to do it that much. But yeah, if you like take a person, I write technical post both in the way, shape, or blog post and also in my blog post.
Olivier : Perfect, and we'll be adding those to our show notes
Ladan G:Thank you so much. Thank you so much.
Olivier : I wanna thank you so much for taking the time and being with us today,
Ladan G:[00:21:00] Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed, this was my first podcast, but I really at first I was nervous, but good. Thank you,
Olivier : so I'm sure you'll have many more. Perfect. Thanks again. Have a wonderful day.
Ladan G:Thank you. You too.
Olivier :Thank you for joining us today and listening to this episode of business, not 1 0 1. I hope that this interview gave you some invaluable insights and that will help you along your business journey. If you have any questions, comments, feel free to reach out to me and as always, please like share and follow.
Thank you and until next episode.