[00:01:21] A.J. Lawrence: It’s toy platform app tool that kids can play with to help develop their coding capabilities. I’ve, not surprisingly, have pressed my kids to learn more about coding and sometime, especially for my youngest, the coding tools out there for kids are very, how to say this, very boy-focused and my youngest really wasn’t loving some of them.
[00:01:47] Now imagiLabs is really built not just for young women, but it does have a lot of focus on helping girls get interested in coding. So, let’s talk about Dora. Dora has this amazing background because she comes from a developer experience, but realizing that she was one of the few women in the area, she’s been very involved in different efforts to help develop gender diversity.
[00:02:13] Okay, this is really cool and very important because so many of our tools are being built without the developers really understanding their audiences. And we talk about this a lot in the VC and the tech space, but here she’s really come to the focus of what can be done to help build in the future a more diversified developer base.
[00:02:37] Now, what I really found interesting is she came up, she had this, and she’s been actively involved in this through different types of spoke roles, working in different types of not just corporate roles, but also working on being activity leader, helping and starting groups that really were working towards this. Now, she realized along the way that not just working and helping other people come, but by developing a company, she could really create more impact.
[00:03:09] So becoming an entrepreneur and she went through some wonderful programs like the Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellowship to being all sorts of roles that then led her to sound imagiLabs. Now, what I found so cool was here she is, she’s building this amazing company. They are raising some really great funds.
[00:03:30] They have a great valuation. They’re scaling, but they have some major issues in trying to figure out the marketplace and that lovely chicken and egg of where they go. Because while the toy for young kids is the basis, really they’re focused on the educational market and how do they get involved and go deeper in it.
[00:03:52] So some of the things she’ll talk about that I find really interesting, given that she frames her efforts to grow the company and where she’s looking in the future is by being an impact entrepreneur. It is really interesting that she focuses on building a team that’s gonna hold her accountable. Not only will she be holding them accountable to achieving their goals, but they’re also holding her accountable.
[00:04:16] Now when you’re hiring, that’s that little bit of extra that I think some of us forget. We focus on, I know I have and in discussions with other people around their hiring needs, it really does come to, Oh, can they do the work? Can they do this? Finding also that layer where they’re going to be able to bring back, in a constructive way, we’re not talking about, Oh, you didn’t do that.
[00:04:39] We’re really talking about finding constructive partners to work with. Really interesting how she phrases this and something to think about as we go about building our own teams. Also, how she’s using entrepreneurship as this long term commitment. Like I said, she wants to be an impact entrepreneur.
[00:04:57] imagi is just the beginning of this. It could be the long term commitment or it could just be the first step, but she’s committed to this mission of developing diversity. Now, the things she does and what she works on in her own capabilities than are more focused on the big picture, her overall capabilities as an entrepreneur to create this impact, to create this value.
[00:05:24] Just that little change of mindset I think is really worthwhile. Also how she talks about keeping yourself balanced really by utilizing yoga. And that’s something as I get older and I get cricketer and stiffer, I know I should be doing. Cuz the few times I actually do yoga, I’m like, Wow, I feel so good. Why don’t I do this more often?
[00:05:44] And then I say that again about a month later when I do it again. So I like how she talks about really bringing that into her overall effort and tying it then to her abilities and her focus on growing her own entrepreneurial impact. Now really getting to I think what’s an interesting part is how she’s looking and pushing the team to look at the different markets.
[00:06:11] Like I said, they really do have an interesting chicken and egg. And if you are building a product or an offering or a service that has two different types of audience or different pathways to developing, it’s worth listening to how they look at the educational market, both from identifying individuals who are looking to kind of grow into the space, to the institutions, to then the schools themselves, the universities looking at the teachers who will then be the future of developing the curriculums that they can be brought into.
[00:06:46] So it’s really interesting how they look, both long term and short term, around their audience development. It is something we don’t always talk about. A lot of times we may have a marketplace discussion of we have to have both sides. We have to figure out how to bring in the users and the providers. But here you’ll listen to someone who’s really deep into thinking about short, medium, and long term audience development.
[00:07:12] And that’s just always a fun thing and worth listening and putting against what you’re working on yourself. And we’ll definitely dive into the value of creating diversity. We’ve talked again and again about the abilities of promoting diversity as an entrepreneur because the more different types of thought, backgrounds, voices we bring into the space as an entrepreneur, the more interesting things will happen. The more possibilities, the more value generation we can see. I love how she really takes that and brings it into the workforce.
[00:07:44] We’ve had other guests talk about this but this is really an important thing, and really where Dora is putting her focus on as an impact entrepreneur. So let’s really dive into this. I think you’re gonna enjoy this. It’s a lot to learn. Dora is just really a super smart entrepreneur. So let’s go talk with Dora.
[00:08:04] Hello Dora. Thank you so much for being on the show. It’s so great to have you here.
[00:08:09] Dora Palfi: Thank you for having me.
[00:08:10] A.J. Lawrence: I’m excited to be talking to you because since I just moved back from Spain, you are in one of my favorite cities in the world, in Stockholm, right now. And I am really missing my European life experience. Living in the US is fun, but I really enjoyed living in Europe and visiting cities like Stockholm was definitely among the best parts of my experience living abroad.
[00:08:35] Dora Palfi: Blessed to hear that. It is a lovely city.
[00:08:38] A.J. Lawrence: It is. It’s beautiful.
[00:08:40] I was just talking to the audience a little bit about your background and all the cool things you’ve been doing at all the different initiatives, but talking about imagi and just how cool this is for children and how to like bring coding skills in. You’ve created something very cool.
[00:08:58] Where do you see yourself as an entrepreneur now?
[00:09:03] Dora Palfi: Yeah, that’s an excellent question. So I’m working on imagi right, where our mission really is to close the gender gap in technology and doing that specifically by focusing on younger audiences, because we understood that sparking girls’ interest young is a really powerful way of increasing their chance of actually getting into STEM later.
[00:09:28] And so with imagi, which actually started during my research in my master’s degree here in Sweden, I’ve been now working over four years. So it started out as a research project in university and then like slowly transitioned over into being a company.
[00:09:43] But even before that, this problem space, like that lack of diversity in STEM has preoccupied me. I even started an organization back during my bachelor’s degree at NYU Abu Dhabi, and that was for women in STEM. So what I’m trying to say is it feels like I’ve been working a lot on this program, a problem, since the start of my career really.
[00:10:06] But still, I’m probably at the very beginning of my journey as an entrepreneur and I just received a nomination to an award, which is not important. But what’s important is that I was put in this category of young entrepreneur where they defined it is that someone who has already showed impact but likely the really big part of the impact they will create in the world is still in the future
[00:10:30] And I thought it was a really nice definition. And that gave me actually more motivation thinking that it’s amazing that I already had the opportunity to get started working on what I’m really passionate about. But I have so many years ahead of me, so I have plenty of time and opportunities to deliver more impact in the world.
[00:10:49] A.J. Lawrence: That is very cool and I like that. Getting this award, getting nominated, have you then given much thought to like what that impact could be? Like are you starting to think about that? I would love to hear what you’re thinking, where to take it next.
[00:11:04] Dora Palfi: This is also an interesting question because I think about it sometimes. If I was to not work with imagi in the future at some point, would the problem of lack of diversity in tech be solved? Or I would have to think of a different solution to this same problem and maybe approach it from a very different perspective. I’m not sure if it would be another tech startup or if it would be a complete different type of work, which is one way forward or would I want to use more of this sort of like tech startup skill set that I’ve developed to potentially tackle a different problem?
[00:11:40] And to be completely frank, I’m not sure yet which one it would be. But I think what’s important from my perspective is really I had a pretty like pivotal experience. Unfortunately, a couple years back when I was finishing university where I lost a close family member at a pretty young age, and I think that really made me think that, okay, I don’t want to spend any days or years in my life working at a large company where I don’t feel like I’m creating a big change.
[00:12:10] And I think that really kickstarted my entrepreneurial journey because it pushed me to think of how can I deliver the most value starting today and not wait for the right time later in life.
[00:12:22] A.J. Lawrence: That is a great framing. I joke, there’s many different reasons we all become entrepreneurs. It’s this ability to create value and to use that to frame your efforts around how much impact you can. Working for the man or working for someone else lowers usually the opportunity, not always but usually, the opportunity to create this impact.
[00:12:42] But I think what’s interesting is you’ve had from an early this motivation of bringing STEM to women and young women and having watched my daughters just how quickly. When I did computer, gonna go way back into the 80’s, I didn’t see women in classes into university. It was never even a thought process. It wasn’t like, Oh, girls don’t, it was just, okay, they’re just not interested.
[00:13:11] Now, you’re realizing this was stupid. It was the way it was positioned and how smelly all the computer rooms were probably. But how greatly it’s changed. How did this come about to be your defining, because when you mentioned about thinking about the value you wanna generate the impact you wanna generate into the future, it wasn’t about creating big companies, it wasn’t about becoming rich, it was about this cause.
[00:13:41] So, how did that kind of become your defining thing that then you put through the prism of creating as much impact as possible?
[00:13:48] Dora Palfi: Yeah, so that’s the really important question I think, because I often say I’m an accidental entrepreneur. So exactly as you’re saying, my motivation wasn’t to start a company and all of what comes with it – flexibility, ownership – none of that was what I actively was thinking about.
[00:14:09] For me, it really started from the problem perspective. So I was really passionate about this space, how could we get more women into tech? And then I was studying a program called Human Computer Interaction, which was all about use-centered design and creating products together with the end users.
[00:14:25] And I had a prompt for one of my projects, which was about leveling the playing field for currently underrepresented group. And that for me was like naturally, Oh yeah, I should research how we could create a product for girls to get excited about coding. And then this research like transitioned into a company.
[00:14:46] And it was because I thought that starting a company would be the best way to create impact. And so I think, yeah, this is a bit different from traditional entrepreneurship and really the biggest motivating factor was how can we make the biggest change?
[00:15:01] And I think being in the Nordics was also a very big factor of that because when I was studying at KTH, which is the Royal Institute of Technology here in Stockholm, there were a lot of programs sort of supporting entrepreneurs to start out, start prototyping. It was really easy to get access to a business coach, to a grant.
[00:15:20] And then also, there started to be this really big wave of impact entrepreneurs and this idea that’s extremely popular right now in Nordics, that if you’re able to sort of link impact and profit, then you can really create change at scale, right?
[00:15:36] Because if you are constantly relying on donations, then you spend the big time on fundraising constantly. Whereas if you’re able to create a sustainable business where impact and profit are linked, then you know you’re set to to continue creating impact and ideally really scaling it. And I’m not saying that I’ve cracked this code yet. But this is the group that I’m feeling closely associated with and this belief.
[00:16:03] A.J. Lawrence: That is fascinating because it’s almost like you were playing with a puzzle and you just decided that, oh, by utilizing entrepreneurism I could actually solve this puzzle better versus, Oh, I’m going to create a business. You approached it from the curiosity aspect and the means of doing it.
[00:16:24] That is really fascinating and it is true as an American raised on the whole American dream, oh, we create land of business and this and that. I always find it fascinating going to the Nordic countries, going to Finland where there is such a higher per capita small business and startup culture. We have our Silicon Valleys, New York City has its own startup culture, but the reality is it is not very widespread within the US yet.
[00:16:53] In the Nordic and in Finland, you do have that greater widespreadness of that culture. It’s fun. It’s fun. And working on this and looking at how to help your, since you’re defining your entrepreneur as your ability to create impact, is there anything you work on either in the past or now that helps you be more deliberate in your ability to create this impact?
[00:17:20] Is there something you practice? Is there some way you work on your own ability to be an entrepreneur separate from running the business, which I know must feel a little crazy. But what do you do to help you become a better entrepreneur?
[00:17:35] Dora Palfi: So there is one side of it, which is being an impact entrepreneur, or I guess you could call it social entrepreneur. But I like the expression Impact entrepreneur. I was lucky to be part of I think one of the best global networks for women Impact Entrepreneurs, which was the Cartier Women’s Initiative. And during this program, I got mentorship. I was given the opportunity to do a mini-MBA at INSEAD, which is the best business school in Europe specifically focusing on impact entrepreneurship. But it brought together 40 women impact entrepreneurs and used our businesses as the actual case studies.
[00:18:09] So like before, I also studied engineering and science. So I didn’t really have this business background at all. So I think having had the opportunity to learn about business and also surround myself with others who care about impact creation as well, has been a really important component of making sure that I’m on track and also accountable for the impact that I’ve promised.
[00:18:31] So I think also just defining our business goal, our North Star metric, as a mix of the impact that we want to create and traditional business KPIs is one part of it. Then I think speaking of improving as an entrepreneur, so much to do there. Obviously I just came right out of university and started the business, and so I think understanding that this was really a marathon and not just the sprint, giving myself the opportunity to make sure that I can stay motivated for years was really important.
[00:19:01] I’m actually a part-time yoga teacher on the side, and I think practicing yoga and having to show up for my classes was also a big component of my mental health and balance in this journey. Then of course, on top of that, just improving as a leader and improving as a sort of founder.
[00:19:21] I’ve taken this very seriously, and I think this is important both from a motivation perspective and also from the perspective of actually building the business.
[00:19:31] A.J. Lawrence: When did you become a yoga teacher? How long ago?
[00:19:33] Dora Palfi: More than five years. Five and a half. So before I started my business.
[00:19:37] A.J. Lawrence: I had a woman who used to work for me and was our head of data science back before I sold my agency. She went, became a yoga instructor just because she liked the discipline more so than just going to classes. And she still does classes and she’s a senior executive of Twitter now. She probably needs a little bit more now with all the gray things that’s going on for Twitter.
[00:20:00] But that discipline, that external discipline to the thing, creating that gives you more space within yourself to then be the entrepreneur. That is really cool.
[00:20:11] With imagi expanding, going out. One, who is the target? We’re talking about young women, is it six year olds? Is it teenagers? Who is the target audience for imagi to start exploring and using it?
[00:20:26] Dora Palfi: Great question.
[00:20:27] So our current sort of product and product offering is most suited from 8 to about 13 year old. And I think it’s important to highlight that we have designed this product with what we call a gender lens, so making sure that it is inclusive and appealing to girls. But through that process, we created something that is of course not excluding anyone, and I think it’s also a big part of sort of the impact strategy because how can you reach a lot of girls?
[00:20:54] Through schools. And schools of course, are a place where women is learning together. So it’s important for us that these tools are appealing to all and making sure that they can use in an integrated environment. And so the target audience, so the ultimate end users are essentially children between 8 and 13.
[00:21:12] And we have a consumer app which can be used at home. And on the consumer app we see that about 80% of the users are girls and non-binary, and then 20% boys. But then of course, now with our new solution, which is imagi Edu, which is suited for sort of classroom, summer camp and workshop settings. Oftentimes it’s a 50-50 split. And there of course, a big part of the end user experience is also the educator because I think a big factor in why it’s really hard to reach a lot of kids recruiting education is that there isn’t enough teachers who feel confident to teach it. So a really big part of our work is also making sure that the educators feel equipped and confident to deliver the material.
[00:21:58] A.J. Lawrence: It’s funny because you know, as we were joking before we started the interview, I had done with my children, I had done CoderDojo. I had volunteered and even, this is when we were in Spain at a private British school. There really was you know, this was coming from the parents and there were very few of us parents who had actually ever coded. There were a lot of volunteers, but there was like three of us. And I was self taught and my coding skills were 20+ years in the past.
[00:22:32] So it was like, Oh wow. But it was interesting, just the lack of that talent, yet the children were killing it and loving it. And like my youngest, they very much, the pure coding, not so interesting. But when it was to make a game work, it was amazing. Their tension difference and this, I was playing around your site and looking at it.
[00:22:56] That idea of, alright, I have to write a program. Oh, I want it so I can then do this and this. Oh, okay. And lo and behold, they have coding skills. It is an interesting way, a deeper way of bringing in that kind of learning than I think a lot of the education.
[00:23:15] So are there typical schools? Are you going in through public schools? Is it mostly private? Very curious because now I’m thinking about like the schools my children go to. Where do you see most of the type of engagement coming from?
[00:23:29] Dora Palfi: Even before we had this imagi Edu solution, which was platform, we had some partners such as Black Girls Code or the Girl Scouts just started using it.
[00:23:39] But then we’ve had this new educational solution now for about three months, which is very short because it’s been mostly summer break. So it’s really just now that schools are starting to use it and it’s really a mix. So we have some international schools following the IB curriculum, some public schools.
[00:23:56] So far, it’s been a mix. We’ve done some work to align our curriculum with some of the standards available, especially in the United States. My colleague Nadia, just now in July, was at the Computer Science Teachers Association Conference in Chicago. So now we have a couple educators in the US and again for a wide variety of schools.
[00:24:17] So we are the very beginning of this journey. But coding is going to be the new literacy, right? So I think eventually if you want to solve this issue, it has to be suitable for all. But of course from a business perspective, right now we are happy that there are schools who have the autonomy to just decide to implement our tools.
[00:24:41] And then of course, for scale we’ll have to work with sort of districts and the larger decision makers to be able to more institutions. I think kids in general, and based on research, girls especially get excited when you’re not telling them to learn coding for the sake of learning coding but it’s more just that coding is a means to a land.
[00:25:03] It’s a tool. It’s like an inner language. If you want to communicate with other humans. Like if you lived in Spain, right, like you have to learn Spanish if you want to communicate with the people in Spain. And the same way, if you want to be able to communicate and use your technologies and use them for something good and exciting, then you need to learn that language. And I think that resonates a lot better usually.
[00:25:25] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, and I find it, it’s so fascinating because as coding as about, I mean my very first class is just dating myself, was a punch card class compared to like scratch or some other type things. The evolution is happening so relatively quickly even though sometimes feels like forever.
[00:25:44] It is the ability to understand it. It doesn’t have to be that lingua, as long as you are understanding the logic and yeah, the underlying concepts I see. It’s fascinating just watching and also I laughed cuz my youngest, they were too young for the CoderDojo when they started so they started just pretending they were coding.
[00:26:07] It was very funny, like they would pick up projects and stuff and then hand it into the new and then lo and behold, yeah, the next year they went and they were queuing other people’s pro and it was like, oh, so you watched other people do it, saw the mistakes and then learned that and then you could figure out what they were doing wrong before.
[00:26:31] Okay, learning is fun. Really fascinating to see where this goes cuz I do think this is such a cool concept.
[00:26:38] Dora Palfi: Just one thing that you mentioned now about learning from others’ mistakes. And mistakes is also really big part of what we like to emphasize. In coding, like you will make mistakes inevitably and you’re supposed to learn from them, and that’s a good thing.
[00:26:54] Like you should make mistakes and learn and improve. And I think a big part of also what we are understanding is that oftentimes girls lack that type of confidence and they’re afraid to make mistakes. And so that’s why it’s really important to give this extra encouragement. And we often read and hear that this is what keeps them out of the STEM fields because they gravitate towards the fields that they feel like they’re less likely to fail.
[00:27:23] And so I think learning from a young age and like tinkering and just understanding that there’s no right or wrong, you’re just learning processes and how computers work and how the logic of programming works is a very important takeaway from all these exercises of coding.
[00:27:40] A.J. Lawrence: I’m looking forward to getting this for my youngest.
[00:27:42] In looking at now what you’re doing and we talked about how you’re looking at impact, have you also thought about not just the success of the company, but your success as an entrepreneur? What is success going to be? Is there like an actual thing? Is it a journey? What to you is going to be success as an entrepreneur?
[00:28:05] Dora Palfi: Of course, we set numbers. So until now, we’ve reached around, I believe, 20,000 target users. There’s still a really long way to go. At least for our goal for the next five years will be around 1 million. And so I think there is sort of numbers that we want to hit, again, especially on the impact side and the kind of proving this point that we want to create change at scale.
[00:28:31] Of course, the depth of the impact is also important. So meaning that what can really be motivating is individual stories that we hear, and we do hear a lot of those to sort of see that we’re actually touching lives already. There’s a really recent blog post on our website for example of one of our coders. And they started with imagi, I think not much after the app came out, which was I think now two years ago. And they’re still using it, and that was their first experience coding and they have since then attended a coding course. Really seeing that it can actually be impacting young people.
[00:29:09] And then I think for me as an entrepreneur, like beyond the goals with imagi and what the company can do, I of course also invest my personal time like advocating in this space quite a lot and spreading awareness about why we even need diversity in tech.
[00:29:28] Maybe it’s about speaking at events or writing on this topic, but really making people understand that the lack of diversity that we currently have in the tech industry is leading to products that like don’t serve all of us as well as they could. And then I think in the long run, going back to the initial point about impact, of course I feel happy and motivated as long as I feel like I’m in the place where I can be creating the most impact. Of course, be challenged and also be the right person for the job.
[00:30:01] And I think there could be a day when I believe I can create more impact on a different journey. And I know in the beginning I was saying, would never work at a big company. Like we said, I’m still at the beginning of the journey, so who knows? One day maybe that will be the place for me to create the most impact.
[00:30:18] But right now and for the foreseeable future, I think, yeah, growing my own organization in this space is what is the best opportunity for me to make the change that I want to see happen.
[00:30:29] A.J. Lawrence: Yes. This is definitely the type of product that I could see being acquired from a Microsoft or a type of thing that fit into their gaming portfolio type of thing. And that, not Microsoft, but many others. So that is an interesting thing.
[00:30:51] But just your ability to bring this to more people is going to be a very enjoyable and fascinating journey for you. As a company, are you taking on funding, I see you’ve been going to different fundraising events. Sorry, I was going through a little bit of your background and everything in some of your social.
[00:31:09] What are you looking for now for the company to take it to that next level?
[00:31:14] Dora Palfi: We’ve been lucky to be able to raise some financing through angel investors who really believe in our mission, as well as being part of accelerator programs and also I’ve received several grants. So in total, through these sources, we’ve had financing of over $1 million, and that has been an incredible opportunity to, first of all, bring a hardware product to market and then start growing, and then go through this process of understanding the needs for the educational product, which is our most recent development and release.
[00:31:50] We are actually joining an accelerator program that I’m really excited about in a few weeks. And with that, we’re really now doubling down on our new product that we’re offering for the educational market. We will be looking for additional financing next year to be able to grow further.
[00:32:09] A.J. Lawrence: Let us know when that happens and we’ll make sure the audience hears about it.
[00:32:13] You know, myself and a few, there are more than a few in the US. We have to be accredited investors for that. But then just, I know plenty of other listeners in Europe and elsewhere that do like to invest in cool startups like this, so please let us know and we’ll shoot it out to the list. Where can people go to learn more about imagi?
[00:32:33] Dora Palfi: So you can check out our website, imagiLabs.com, and we also run cool socials, be that on LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok even. So pick your poison when it comes to spending time on social media. And yeah, please connect with us there. We also send out newsletters, so you have several options to follow our development.
[00:32:57] A.J. Lawrence: Cool. And to learn more about you Dora, your Twitter, where should someone go?
[00:33:02] Dora Palfi: Yes, maybe it’s a bit uncool, but I think I’m most active on LinkedIn when it comes to sharing my thoughts. So you can follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, but I can also be found on other socials and usually on my full name.
[00:33:16] A.J. Lawrence: Cool, then I’ll make sure we put all this in the show notes. And when we shoot out the email for the thing, we’ll have all the ways to find you and imagi.
[00:33:25] Dora, thank you so much for coming on the show. I can’t wait to see where this goes and I can’t wait to get this for my youngest so they can play with it.
[00:33:33] Dora Palfi: Thank you so much.
[00:33:39] A.J. Lawrence: This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye bye.