Cognilab is a research suite for the scientific study of the human mind. It powers some of the world’s top research laboratories, including labs at Harvard, McGill and MIT. CogniLab’s mission is to streamline the creation, distribution and analysis of advanced behavioural and brain science research.
About Cognilab Co-Founder & CEO Jose Barrios
Jose is a Mexican-born entrepreneur with a passion for the mind, brain and machines. His deep interdisciplinary knowledge of psychology and computer science has led him to consult for some of the world’s most renowned cognitive researchers, hospitals and universities.
Q&A With Jose Barrios
What’s the most important lesson you learned as part of GrowLab (now HIGHLINE)?
A lot of entrepreneurs — especially technically-minded founders — tend to focus obsessively on the product and ignore everything else around them. This intuitively feels like it’s the right thing to do, but it isn’t.
More often than not, entrepreneurs have an incomplete understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve. Unless someone is willing to pay for your solution, then you don’t fully understand the problem you’re solving. The worst time to realize you don’t understand the problem is once the product is finished.
As Cognilab’s technical co-founder, I was guilty of hyper-focusing on perfecting the technology and ignoring everything else. I felt ashamed of releasing it early — I felt like our baby wasn’t ready to face the world. I was wrong.
Thankfully, one of our HIGHLINE mentors was able to guide us in the right direction. She taught me that great entrepreneurs try to sell their initial, crappy-looking and buggy prototypes not because they want to make a quick buck, but because that’s the only way to find out if they’re addressing the right pain points.
Was there ever a moment in your entrepreneurial journey that you felt you’d failed?
I’ve failed on several different occasions — some were pretty spectacular — but I’ve always rationalized failure as a prerequisite to success.
During my early education, I was fortunate enough to attend a Montessori school, a non-traditional education system where students are taught that failure is intrinsic to the learning process. De-stigmatizing failure was the single greatest gift Montessori gave me, and it deeply shaped how I think about success.
Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Jeff Bezos and other Montessori alumni embrace failure not because it should be celebrated, but because it brings them one step closer to their goals.
Building a business comes with ups and downs. How do you motivate yourself in tough times?
In the past, we ran out of money, had to skip payroll for months at a time, lost a co-founder, and had to deal with expired work visas and bureaucratic immigration hoops. When it comes to tough times, we’ve seen it all.
The only thing you can do when you’re going though hell is to keep going. For every mentor who declared us dead, we found one who opened a door. For every skipped payroll, we managed to raise a round. For every nay-sayer, we found an early adopter.
The reason we’ve managed to work through tough problems is because our team is intrinsically motivated. We’re not in it for the money, but rather because we believe we have a viable chance at mapping the human brain. Nothing motivates our team more than knowing that today could be the day we uncover one of the most elusive mysteries of the universe: how the human brain works.
Who are the entrepreneurs that inspire you?
I really enjoy reading about true rebels. I admire Ben Horowitz’s brutal honesty, Ryan Smith’s vision and determination, Steve Jobs’ spiritual devotion, and Sean Park’s screw-you attitude. All of those founders took the road less traveled, and it made them all think differently.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received was by one of my most esteemed HIGHLINE mentors. His advice was to take all advice with a grain of salt, including his. A lot of successful entrepreneurs, mentors and investors erroneously believe there’s a silver bullet to every problem. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets. Just because the solution worked for them doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you. The job of the advisee is to understand that all advice comes wrapped in a context. Take what sticks, follow your gut, and don’t be afraid to dismiss the rest. Nobody knows your business better than you.