An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t assume your investors know better than you — This advice I got from our investor Guy Katsovich is critical for disruptors. When you really disrupt, you are alone in the journey. Being a CEO of a startup that changes an industry is a very lonely place to be in. Yet, as human beings we seek reassurance, and in entrepreneurs it is usually from the investors. This advice gave me the courage to “do my thing”. Investors have great visibility into the industry and what other companies did, but in the end you are the only person that sees the full picture of your company’s challenges.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roy Cohen.

Roy Cohen, one of the Co-Founders and current Chief Executive Officer of Behavidence, has years of leading experience in advertising in digital marketing. He created one of the most disruptive frameworks for machine learning algorithms at Facebook. In between the full time building of Behavidence, he is currently finishing his second Masters, this one in Neuroscience.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have been working for ages in marketing, advertising and business development. All these industries have been dealing with consumer behavior in some way or form. I’ve spent around five years at Facebook, working mostly with direct response advertisers and helping them utilize Facebook brilliant ML algorithms to grow their business. When you think about it, Facebook can predict what you would like to see next or even what you are going to buy next based on how you use their platform. Just around the time I left the company, I listened to a brilliant podcast interview with Dr. Moran Cerf, who left his job as a successful software engineer and had his own security assessment company, to study neuroscience. This interview sparked my interest in understanding our brain better. I decided to start a masters in Neuroscience at King’s College London. The more we got to dive deeper into Psychiatry and mental health, I have realized that this field in medicine lacks rigorous methods to measure and monitor mental disorders and even the classification method (DSM-5 / ICD-11) is based on observed symptoms rather than biomarkers or behavioral markers. I did my 1+1 and decided that I want to create an algorithm that will predict mental disorders the same way Facebook predicts your content preferences.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Behavidence, we have developed a set of tools that can predict and measure your likelihood of having a mental condition based only on how you use your phone. Sounds creepy, doesn’t it? The thing is that we employed a “Privacy by design” methodology so unlike other platforms, we are not collecting any identifiable information. Today, we have the most accurate models to detect depression, anxiety and ADHD, and all that without asking the patient or user even a single question. This can enable psychiatrists to measure and tailor better therapeutic interventions and get unbiased reporting, but it can also help users to manage their way to optimal mental well being in an easy and fun way. Imagine that we can alert family members about a relative who’s depression is deteriorating and by that prevent suicide. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide in the US every day. Usually they become “silent” before they decide to take their lives. We can assist with identifying this for early interventions. But even in day to day scenarios, for example, when I’m dealing with accounting (I hate it) I can see my anxiety going up. I then stop everything and go out for a run. It really helps me get myself together at these stages.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, one can say that I’m quite passionate about is what we are doing and about fixing the wrongs of the mental health industry. I could literally speak about it forever, more than that, I can argue about it for hours and hours. When we first started, our pitch deck was over 50 slides long. I wanted to cover psychiatry from the minute it was created until recent days and explain why it makes so much sense to do what we’re doing. The team at FusionLA, our first investors, saw it and virtually slapped me in the face. They have then taught me how to compress and translate the message to investors, payers and providers in a way that is compelling and addresses shorter attention spans. The funny thing is that for years, I worked with advertisers to minimize their messagings to address consumers’ short attention spans, but I guess that when you love what you are doing, it’s unavoidable that you’ll drill into their brains when they ask you “So why…”. My core learning is that every story could be compressed into three slides with the right metaphors and with schemes that the target audience is used to.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’m happy to say there are so many people that mentored me along the way. I should probably focus on apologizing to all those that I won’t mention here (Or, Girish, Janine, Jonathan, Ido, Elad — I’m sorry). But I’m lucky to have amazing investors that are also my mentors in this crazy journey. I have started, ran and sold a couple of businesses in my life, yet none of them were VC backed. It is a completely different world. I have Guy and Yair from FusionLA, Amir and Galit from Welltech and Raissa from Longevity Venture Partners that I call on every critical point of our business. Each one of them has such an extensive knowledge and overview of the market and I’m glad to say all of them have no issue telling me the truth to my face. I love this about mentors, I think it is worth much more than the money invested. One of my favorite quotes is from Guy of FusionLA who told me “Don’t assume that we (VCs) know what we’re doing… You run this venture and we’re only here to remove roadblocks and make you successful”. It shaped the way I’m looking at our investors and made me choose the most sincere and honest ones.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I had the pleasure of working with a brilliant person named Jill Gray both at Facebook and Vidmob. Jill told me recently a phrase that really resonated with me: “If you are not doing a reorg at least once every two years you are either not growing or you are doing something wrong”, so to the point of this question, I do think that any disruption is good, even if it fails. Disruptions are our way of calibrating whether we are on the right trajectory. Most of the disruptive products have failed the test of time, but they have paved the way to the next disruptor to success. In the case of Behavidence, a lot of companies tried presenting the concept of digital phenotyping to the world in the past. Most of them are no longer with us, either because the founders were heading in with previous assumptions, or the product was adding a lot of respondent burden to the user or they just collected sensitive and private information which made compliance impossible. We have learned from all of them and we appreciate our predecessors. But disruption is required for us to survive, even if you look at genetics, many mutations in our DNA can be lethal and cause horrible diseases, but the reason we are here today, still evolving as human beings, is those mutations. Eventually the disruption lands the right solution and then it is worth the historical failed disruptions.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Done is better than perfect — This is my motto for life. It was on posters all over the Facebook headquarters. I think it represents the previous point, do things, release them, learn from your mistakes and re-iterate. Between March 21st and October 21st we have released 40+ versions of our app. We have sent notifications to users that had weird typos and mistakes. Yet I have always celebrated these mistakes internally. We are better in doing and learning than over discussion until everything is perfect. It will never be perfect, and in many cases the users know better than us what needs to be fixed.

Don’t assume your investors know better than you — This advice I got from our investor Guy Katsovich is critical for disruptors. When you really disrupt, you are alone in the journey. Being a CEO of a startup that changes an industry is a very lonely place to be in. Yet, as human beings we seek reassurance, and in entrepreneurs it is usually from the investors. This advice gave me the courage to “do my thing”. Investors have great visibility into the industry and what other companies did, but in the end you are the only person that sees the full picture of your company’s challenges.

This chaos, it defies imagination — This is actually a quote from a song by the band “Muse” that my partner is obsessed with. When you run a start-up that disrupts an industry, chaos is all over the place. You have to create new structures and figure out everything. Yet this is the only way to create something better and something new. This song, called “Panic Station” by Muse describes exactly that. I love this quote because it encourages me when everything feels in chaos. If you think of Behavidence’s algorithms, they are doing exactly that — they look at the chaos to defy what was possible up until now, and detect mental disorders in a far more accurate way than ever before.

If you were able to break it, you are able to fix it — A week into my first job in advertising my boss then, Eran Arden, sent me to present to the agency’s biggest client. I was scared as hell and kept begging him to send someone else, as I didn’t even know what an advertising agency was. He took me to his office and told me “Roy, I count on you. I’ve hired you because I know you can do it. Remember even if you’ll mess up this client pitch — if you have the power and ability to mess it up, you most definitely have the power and ability to fix it.” That has stayed with me ever since and got me through a lot of turbulent times. Eran stayed a life-long coach of mine and he was also the one who married my partner and I.

There’s nothing you can’t solve with a shot of vodka — My grandmother, may her soul rest in peace, was a holocaust surviver, immigrated to Israel, started a family, got through cancer, hip replacement and lived gracefully until she was 90. She had tons of influence on shaping me. She was taking part in the first ghetto uprisings during WWII. While running from the Nazis she was shot in her shoulder. She fell to the floor and found the strength to stand up and keep on running. With a wounded hand, she hid in the forests and joined the partisans. As time went on, the wound got contaminated and a doctor she met a couple of weeks later told her the hand had to be amputated.

My brilliant grandmother told him “Give me 2 shots of vodka. One for the wound and one for me.” Decades later she had her hand fully operational and a strong passion for vodka shots. She used to tell me, if life treats you badly, drink a shot of vodka, it fixes everything, even my hand. When she passed away, I created bottles of triple distilled high quality vodka with her name, Genia Galberstadt, on it. There was no better way to commemorate her.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have so much on our plate at the moment, we are not even 0.5% done. One of the things that excites me the most is that in our pipeline we have two groundbreaking technologies in development. The first — the ability to predict dopamine levels in the brain passively through your phone. The second is to predict connectivity between your prefrontal cortex, the part that helps you make rational decisions and your amygdala, the part that helps you make quick, fear based decisions, based only on how you operate your phone. It is a bit more long term product but initial signals are very encouraging.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Tom Bilyeu has a great podcast called The Impact Theory, where he hosts amazing people to talk about their journeys to create more impact. Two of my favorite episodes are the one where he hosts Moran Cerf, and the other where he hosts V. S. Ramachandran. Both are brilliant neuroscientists. This podcast is actually the reason I embarked on my Masters in Neuroscience. Our brain is fascinating, yet we know so little about it. The faster we progress with understanding the way it works, the fast we will be able to live better lives and enjoy life more.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Allow me to be a Facebook nerd again. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. That quote that was on posters through the offices, and quite often quoted by Sheryl Sandberg. It is also the one that made me leave Facebook at the end, pursue a Masters in Neuroscience and start my own neuroscience disruptive company. I had a great salary, comfortable life and a convenient thought leader position. I left it all because of that quote. If you are really honest with yourself when asking this question — you can achieve most of your dreams. It is amazing how much fear is involved in our day to day decisions. I keep challenging myself with this question and that serves as an engine in creating new things and pushing myself to redefine what I achieve in life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Wow, this is a tough one. I think that currently the business model of pharmaceuticals does not allow companies to develop solutions that are optimal for patients. When there is a revenue based model in research, it poses a lot of challenges. I would love to see a social movement that sponsors medication development that is not dependent on revenue. A movement that will encourage re-purposing medications with expired patents, medications that are cheap to produce and medications that will make researchers happy and not necessarily pharma companies happy. This is one of the sectors in our economy that must not be capitalistic in the R&D process. One day I might get to it.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am really bad at this. I post mostly on LinkedIn, so this would probably be the best platform to follow me on.

In addition my “Hobby” is neurobiology, so you are more than welcome to follow me on ResearchGate and read my weird research ideas:

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Meet The Disruptors: Roy Cohen Of Behavidence On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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