Startup Stories: Hugo Richard, Co-Founder & CEO at Dystech

Dystech co-founder, Hugo Richard, joins us on Startup Stories to talk about using machine learning to assess reading difficulty and dyslexia.

by hao-nguyen on January 25, 2022

Hugo Richard is the co-founder & CEO of Dystech, a platform empowering allied health professionals, teachers and parents to assess reading difficulty and dyslexia using the power of artificial intelligence.

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Welcome Hugo, great to have you here with us today! For those who may not know, can you tell us a bit about Dystech and what inspired you to launch it?

Dystech is an AI start-up; we have developed a technology to screen for dyslexia and assess reading performance by analysing reading recordings of students. We use applied machine learning on audio recordings to create an objective and efficient assessment for literacy. 

There are 4 of us, Gilles, Jim, Mathieu and I, and we all have a link to dyslexia (I am dyslexic & dysgraphic). I had multiple start-ups in the past, and back in 2017, the idea of Dystech was discussed, and because of the personal link to dyslexia, we decided to pursue the idea. 

The primary scientific assumption when we started was that, in theory, we should be in a position to assess dyslexia by analysing the observable symptom (reading difficulty). Fast forward to 2021; we have multiple peer-reviewed scientific publications; we supported over 5,000 families by screening their students/children for dyslexia, helping them advocate for support.

You mentioned that you’ve built several start-ups in the past. What did you learn from each one that you’ve applied to Dystech?

Lots of things, I’ve learned that market research is absolutely critical. I’ve learned that talking to your customer is a must when thinking about what to do next. I’ve learned that raising money CAN be done the wrong way. Finally, the most important learning for me  was the fact that no one cares about your idea; and thinking that people will steal from you is a complete delusion which leads you nowhere.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a start-up founder over the past few years, and what lessons have you learnt from them?

The biggest challenge was obtaining the data needed to test our theory and developing a predictive AI model. As an independent researcher, you get a lot of rejection when asking for the audio recording of 8 year olds to use for an AI project. But this struggle allowed us to be creative, and now, we have built robust partnerships with unique organisations that support our work and are now seeing the benefit of the product we have created. 

I guess the lesson that I learned not just from Dystech but since I started school as a child is that failure is guaranteed; when you acknowledge that, suddenly, it’s very easy to try again and again until some success happens.

How has your role as CEO evolved as Dystech has grown?

At the start, I didn’t have a clear idea of what product could be made out of our research if proven successful. So I  pitched so many different business models & products to literacy professionals & schools to test their reaction and better understand what direction we should take to have a product-market fit. Now, we have a much better idea of what type of product is needed for the industry. Since our fundraising round early this year, I have been heavily involved in product development, team building and sales.

What do you think are the most important skills or traits for someone to thrive in the start-up work environment?

It is being able to deal with uncertainty and being very flexible. We all know start-up projects change directions often. If you like consistency and certainty, a start-up is probably not the right environment.

With that in mind then, what do you look for when you’re hiring new people to join the Dystech team?

I am looking for what the person has done. A website, piece of code, organised event, public presentation, whatever it is. I am looking for people who have done things. I do not look at degrees; I believe they are less relevant today. Anyone can learn pretty much anything online.

One last question before we let you go, what’s next for ​​Dystech? Where do you see the company headed in the next 12 months?

While we are focusing on the Australian Education market right now, our technology is relevant for any English speaking country. Our way of thinking is always global, when we push a new feature, we always make sure it will work and be relevant for the world, not just the country. So in the next 12 months, we are seeing Dystech become the Australian literacy assessment company everyone uses, and after this we’ll be looking at the rest of the world.

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