What does "Delee" mean—where did the name come from?
Delee is part of the math formula that we use for the isolation of tumor cells from blood.
How did Delee get started?
I started Delee with my other two co-founders, Juan and Alex. We all had been personally affected by cancer, having lost family members and friends. We discovered that cancer is a very complex and aggressive disease. In a lot of cases, even if it's diagnosed early, there is no way for doctors to know if the treatment is working as intended. And the treatments can be very expensive. We decided that if there’s a way for us to help patients have a second chance and give doctors the information they need to effectively fight cancer, that we should do it.
How did you meet your co-founders?
I met Juan and Alejandro back in college. We took an entrepreneurial class together and that’s when we first discussed creating a business together.
If I’m being honest, they were the ones that found me. They had a hypothesis that a technology that could work, but hadn't built a prototype. They were looking for someone that could help them grow the business and who was passionate about it.
Being an entrepreneur is hard, and it’s even harder in the medical and health industries.
It’s not only expensive but it can also take a long time to get approvals and ultimately difficult to get the product out there. You need to be really passionate about your product and cause to be successful. That’s something we all share.
My goal is for them to not worry about the business. So, I take care of the accounting, marketing, PR, etc. The three of us make a really great team. We each have different roles, but approach our goals together.
You’ve founded companies before, what’s different this time?
We were accepted into Y Combinator early on, so we decided to make everything from scratch and move the company to the U.S. We actually took what we learned from our first company to build Delee, and we moved to the U.S. because it was easier and less expensive to start everything from the ground up there.
Y Combinator was intense, but being part of the program helped us a lot. It gave us access to a full community of entrepreneurs and resources. From there, we all helped each other; if we needed a supplier or wanted to connect to a distributor, we could find it in the network. Also, it helped us raise our first round of $1.2M, which we raised in only 2 weeks.Has anything surprised you when launching the business?
Everyday is a surprise! I think the biggest surprise came the day the technology was working on patients. I remember it was 9pm when our co-founder Juan called from the lab to say it was working! I almost cried of happiness--we had been working on this for 8 years and it was such a relief to know it finally worked as intended.
What’s your team culture like?
It’s important that the entire company speaks the same language. This was one of our first challenges. My co-founders have a background in biomedical engineering and physics; I have no science background, my background is in business. Our team consists of fifteen people all with different specialties.
To overcome communication challenges, the entire team had a meeting and explained what each area was doing. We then worked as a team to solve any challenges. We’ve since kept this tradition and do it weekly. This helps the whole team work together across different areas.
What’s the #1 skill you think founders need to succeed?
I can’t think of just one, there are so many! However, the most important one (to me) is the ability to unite the team. Being one team is an essential part of any business, especially a startup. You need to find a way to work together.
When you have co-founders, it’s like a marriage, except divorce isn’t an option. You are going to have good and bad moments, but the good ones make it all worth it.
The second is focus: the ability to have focus and research what the market needs. You need to listen to your customer and actually try to work with them. That’s one of the reasons our customers, scientists, and doctors love working with us.
The third is the ability to secure funds. Funding is like gas for a business. You need to be able to secure funds to keep going, and to secure funds, you often need to think out of the box. Today, there are many ways to get funding: grants, family friends, investors, even crowdfunding. It’s important to use them all!
What is your superpower?
I’m fearless. I’m usually the one that pushes even before my other co-founders. I always raise our hands and try to do more conferences and events to get the word out.
For example, we secured our first round of funding from Heineken and FEMSA because I decided to do a (literal) elevator pitch to a Heineken executive when I was 20 years old. I was riding in the elevator with him and took the moment to pitch the idea of what we wanted to do with Delee. We didn’t talk about numbers, markets, or anything. We only discussed the vision of what we wanted to do, which was to help patients receive the treatment they need. At the end of the discussion, this executive asked what we needed from him. We got $50,000 in support just because I was fearless and decided to ask for help.
What’s your kryptonite?
Patience. I’m not that patient, but my other two co-founders are. I cannot be still. I always need to be talking, moving, and getting through emails.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do?
I love to go sightseeing when I’m visiting cities. When I’m home, I like watching Netflix or movies, or grabbing a good book. I’m starting to read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, which has been great so far.
What’s been your experience as a female founder? Any advice for women thinking about launching a company?
As female entrepreneurs, we face different challenges than our male counterparts. It’s important to find yourself a really good team to work with--you are going to need them.
There’s going to be naysayers who will say you are not going to be successful or that a man would do a better job than you. You need to be true to yourself and remain convinced that you are there because of what you’ve done, what you’re capable of, and because your team has placed their trust upon you.
Keep working and trust in your team. Also, keep knocking doors, it’s a marathon.