Entrepreneurial Mind of the month: Dr. Adjmal Sarwary

Name: Dr. Adjmal Sarwary
Occupation: Founder @ Mind Trace
Wakes up at night for: Only an emergency. I am fond of my sleep.

We had the opportunity to speak with Adjmal Sarwary. Adjmal is one of the two founders of Mind Trace, a company initiated by two postdocs from Radboud University. We talked about Adjmal’s career, the product he developed and his most important lessons in business.

Adjmal studied cognitive science in Germany. But when he spent a semester abroad in the United States, he decided he wanted to spend more time abroad. He decided to continue his studies in Nijmegen. When he graduated from his master’s degree, he got offered a PhD at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour. And that is where his journey started.

Adjmal really enjoyed doing research on mechanism of motor learning. But during his research he started noticing that there were also a lot of marketing professionals visiting the research institute. “At some point I talked to one of them. I was just interested in what they were doing at the institute. I found out that they were researching how people really perceive advertising. I thought that was a valid question. I didn’t think much more of it. I just continued my PhD.”

However, after a while Adjmal came in touch with business again. He got asked to do a presentation about eye tracking (a technology that makes it possible to gain insight in human behaviour through tracking their eye movement) at the company where his dad was working. At the end of the presentation, Adjmal got a job offered immediately and he decided to take it. “I just mentioned a random number when they asked me what kind of salary expectations I had. They hired me immediately.  Then I realized the number I mentioned was too low.”

Adjmal started programming and when everything was ready, he performed the data collection of eye tracking measurements. He found out that the process was the same as in research, but not as strict. The data collection process was exactly the same. “I got a little bit upset. I thought it would be fun. I realized that the actual fun part was setting up the experiment.

Adjmal realized that all computers have webcams nowadays. Why aren’t these webcams used as eyetrackers he asked himself. That would get the whole process of collecting data done a lot faster. He thought that it would be possible to use a webcam and turn it into an eyetracker. “I talked about it to one of my friends, Ivar, who was more specialized in programming. Then it became clear that this idea could be executed. We were wondering why nobody does this yet. Then we continued doing our PhD without doing anything with the idea.”

However, Adjmal and Ivar were still thinking about the idea. They came up with measuring emotions through the camera as well and measuring heart rate. Then you really know how someone perceives any type of content. When Adjmal finished his PhD two years ago, he got a grant for a postdoc where he managed to work three days a week. The rest of the week he started working on his own business with his business partner Ivar, who also finished his PhD, which resulted in Mind Trace: A tool to gain consumer insights with the use of unique technology. “I had no idea how money flows. I came out of my science bubble.”

“I came out of my science bubble.”

— Adjmal

Adjmal knew money was necessary to build up and sustain his business. So he needed clients for his new business. “I thought a sales person is a slick guy with a suit. I tried to be that person and nothing was working. I could barely talk to people. I got super frustrated.”

He learned that it was necessary to be yourself in order to sell something. When he transformed back to being himself when selling his product, he actually started selling it. Now, Adjmal and Ivar are two years on the way and it is going better and better as they are understanding their market segments more and more. Adjmal told us that there is one thing about entrepreneurship he learned that he thinks is really valuable: “You need to understand that everyone has an opinion about your business. Ask them the ‘why’ question. Can they argue with valid arguments why they have a certain opinion? Then it is valid to me. That is my academic background applied in business.”

If someone needs some advise about entrepreneurship, Adjmal is happy to help. He has some last advises for students and PhD’s who have a great idea: “The business world is not that scary as some people think it is. It is a projection that is held up by a lot of institutions, but it is not as scary as they say. I would encourage you to develop a company if you really want that. Do you want to stay in science? If the answer is: Yes, then you can develop the idea and pass it on to someone else. If you don’t know, you can explore business a bit. At your own pace.”