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Moises Barbera of Drill Surgeries: “Building a successful startup is not something you learn just from books”

Building a successful startup is not something you learn just from books. You need to create your own approach — a personal touch that will drive the attention towards you. What can you do differently in your strategy to keep the spotlight on your work and your passion? Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, […]

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Building a successful startup is not something you learn just from books. You need to create your own approach — a personal touch that will drive the attention towards you. What can you do differently in your strategy to keep the spotlight on your work and your passion?


Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.

Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?

In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Moises Barbera.

Moises started as a professional magician closing deals and performing at theatres, 5-star hotels and for football players around Europe before turning 17. He obtained a master’s in Physics from the University of Liverpool and worked as a researcher at CERN in Switzerland, a journey that culminated when he founded Drill Surgeries Ltd. a growing MedTech startup pioneering on the creation of Medical Devices featuring Augmented Reality and tracking algorithms, currently raising their next round of funding. As he describes it: they are working to Improve Healthcare Through Technology.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

You know, when we enter an operating theatre as a patient, our lives and good health rely on the hands of surgeons. Sometimes, these healthcare professionals struggle with the process as they do not have access to the tools that will allow them to do their most efficient work — this is the basis of the issue I hope to address with Drill Surgeries.

I remember when I was 5 years old, my dad — a salesman on the medical sector for 30 years now — would arrive home so late from the surgeries he assisted on due to delays in the procedures, as they were not performed efficiently enough, that he would find me asleep on the couch waiting for him.

At the time, I felt so sad, lonely and frustrated. It made me think, the kids of other salesmen and medical staff, who work so hard to help others, would also feel the same.

With time and many conversations with doctors over the years, I realized that I am capable of delivering the tools to perform more efficient surgeries, allowing these professionals get home on time with their families, while providing better results as an added bonus: reducing X-ray radiation, operating time, risks to patients and costs derived from hospitals.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

That´s simple, my father — without a doubt, although he keeps saying he had nothing to do with it.

Growing up, I always looked up to my dad, I wanted to be like him — a salesman of medical equipment. I spent the countless hours in the car, tagging along with him while he visited hospitals halfway around the country. One thing he kept telling me was,

“Moises, I work long hours and do not earn much. You need to work hard now while you are young, so that when you are my age you can have an easier life.”

Always humbled and grateful for the work he had, he kept pushing me and my brother to become the best versions of ourselves — to never settle, and long over a decade after that, I still believe that is the motivation that pushed me to start my entrepreneurial journey.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There’s a famous quote from Steve Jobs, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

While that has been a successful approach to many Silicon Valley Startups, that does not necessarily work in the medical business world.

What makes Drill Surgeries stand out, is that we followed the opposite approach than what would be expected.

We have followed the exact opposite approach to Steve Jobs, and that is what makes Drill Surgeries stand out.

Instead of creating a product and then convincing people to use it, we were first convinced to create the product by dozens of doctors from around the world. We then did the market research to confirm their claims and finally, started building the device with the constant input from experienced surgeons through the entire process.

When our product is ready, we do not have to convince anyone to use it, we will just hand in the solution they convinced us to create.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

1. At Dill Surgeries Ltd, we do not leave any stones unturned. When the COVID pandemic struck we knew we had to do something to contribute — we volunteered our time to create an open-hardware project to help fight the virus.

In less than 2 months, we created an easy-to-build product that allows individuals to protect their masks when they are not in use (either at home or in public places like restaurants) and it uses ultraviolet type-c LEDs to sterilize the mask enough which extends its usability lifetime and reduces cross contamination.

We released the project for free to the community and received over 100 downloads from all over the world in less than a week.

2. At Drill Surgeries we are heavily involved with hospitals, so over a year before the pandemic I had acquired several hundreds of masks and gloves to do our research. However, as the situation reached critical levels during the pandemic, seeing first-line workers struggling to access PPEs to do their work, it seemed unethical to keep this to ourselves, when they needed it more. I grabbed all the boxes that we had and donated them to the local community so they could be better prepared to protect us.

You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Be approachable — I am where I am thanks to the support of many people. This is a long journey, and you cannot do everything alone. I owe so much to those that helped me and always try to help fellow entrepreneurs or other professionals whenever I can.

As an example, I am a judge at an entrepreneurship competition in Liverpool every year where there are amazing ideas always popping up and others that need a bit more work. During the competitions, I share my thoughts with the candidates, as the rest of the judges do, but in addition, always share my contact details should they want to discuss their goals further or require some mentorship.

Integrity — On the journey to make your startup a success, you find shortcuts that might feel encouraging in the short term but might compromise your integrity to achieve them. Always remember to play the long game and don’t put your integrity in danger just to save some time — this is never a good idea.

Perseverance– things take time and do not always follow the plan originally envisioned. That is why perseverance is key, it is important to have a vision of your goals but, in addition, to also work towards them as a 5-year journey. For instance, every decision you make today will likely have a relevant impact in 5 years to come.

If you follow this mindset, the occasional setbacks you will more than likely encounter will not feel as tough, and it will also set you apart from the common entrepreneurs that only plan 5 weeks ahead.

Think of it like chess — find moves that might seem predictable today but in months or years to come, will be decisive.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

“Do the sensible thing — focus on your studies.”

At University I spent countless nights at the University’s laboratory working on prototypes or mornings rushing to business meetings to kick off Drill Surgeries Ltd. The work was so overwhelming that sometimes I skipped some of my lectures to do all I had in my plate.

Eventually I got called to my supervisor’s office and was told to prioritize my studies and that I should stop thinking about this project and just focus on university.

I did that for weeks, trying to go along with what people considered the right pathway for me, but I could not take it for long. In that time, I missed many deadlines to participate in startup competitions and cancelled meetings with interested bodies that never contacted me again.

I am not saying that you should set your studies aside, as in the end I have got a reputable master’s degree, and knowledge is never a waste — but I am saying that if you are passionate about something, do it.

During my university days, just after I finished one of my final exams, I found myself rushing to a four-hour meeting with Angel investors to talk about my start-up. I then had to go back to the library to continue revision for the exam I had to sit the following day. It really was a juggling act I was trying to balance.

Do not listen to people telling you, you should stop working on your ideas just because it does not make sense to them. Find a plan to do what you really want to do and follow it through.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

I launched Drill Surgeries when I was just 19 years old from my college dorm. Conveniently, I had already gained much experience in closing deals from my time in the show business as a magician — ages 14 and onwards. With the ongoing support of established surgeons with whom I co-founded the startup, I was set to be the public face and the leading brain of the research of this company.

This was unchartered territory for me — I wanted to access an industry conquered by big multinationals and we were the new, small fish in the pond.

Being young was an added obstacle. Each time I entered meetings with my suit on, my hair gelled and started talking about how this new technology called Augmented Reality was going to reduce radiation by over 50% at hospitals, reduce operating time and was going to save money to hospitals… it wasn’t received well. If I heard back at all, it was just to hear, “We have it covered son, you need to focus on your studies.”

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

Starting out, it was at times more demotivating than exciting. I knew I could make things better in healthcare through technology, especially as there was no one doing what I wanted to do in the medical device sector. However, no one wanted to listen to me but still it made me think, if companies with thousands of people are not going to take the risk to do it, maybe it was up to this “uni-student” to do it.

I surrounded myself with remarkable people that believed in this mission — it became contagious. We started winning entrepreneurship competitions and just a couple of months later we moved into our own offices and prototyping laboratory.

My strategy: when you talk to people, share your idea and your story. Breath it and it will become contagious, the more it grows in others the more it will grow on you.

There are many people watching, you cannot let them down.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

Find yourself an “accountability buddy”, this is something that I never thought would need when I started but which has proven essential.

As you find your plate full of tasks, it is easy to forget to celebrate the good news and even easier to mourn the bad ones.

An accountability buddy is a friend, maybe a fellow entrepreneur, that keeps an eye on you and vice versa. You hold each other accountable to your goals but also, since you both are in the same position. They will remind you to celebrate your accomplishments or how a bad day is normal in this world, just have a break, watch a movie and carry on the following day.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

Money is as much a blessing as it is a curse.

For most, bootstrapping would be the dream — you find a problem and you can solve it on your own, start small to generate revenue and can re-invest your earnings to scale-up without giving up any equity.

Unfortunately, not everyone can reach this point, especially hard tech or moonshot-seeking startups. That is when Venture Capital comes to the rescue, ish.

In Venture Capital, investors share the risk by investing an amount of money in exchange of a percentage in your startup. This means you now have a new partner that you must keep satisfied and, if you expect to rise several rounds of funding, you might find yourself giving up a considerable amount of equity.

Consider your options and do proper due diligence before making any move.

For instance, I was approached by a VC fund before having our fully functional prototype ready. It was an interesting conversation but, I decided to pause the negotiations and asked to re-assess in 6 months. I knew that without a solid product to prove our research, they had the upper hand in the negotiations but, if we bootstrapped and managed to finish it without outside money, we would then be the ones setting the terms.

Personally, a mix of bootstrapping and VC can provide the best result. With this, you can start one step at a time and building something interesting enough so that you can choose the terms that benefit YOU the most.

Remember, not having money in the startup world is GOOD, it forces you to find new and innovative ways to grow, so be creative.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1. Knock on every door until someone says hello

When you are starting, no one knows you. No one knows who you are or what you do so, tell them. Knock on every door and talk to everyone — ask for anything that you may need, be it support, guidance or even money. You will probably find more NOs than YES, but in the end, you only need one opportunity to take the next step in your journey.

2. Do not try to be like anyone else (The key is to be different from day one — keep people engaged)

Building a successful startup is not something you learn just from books. You need to create your own approach — a personal touch that will drive the attention towards you. What can you do differently in your strategy to keep the spotlight on your work and your passion?

3. Understand your audience

After knocking on all the doors, do not leave without convincing them to use your product, invest in your startup, join your team, etc. It is your job to say the right thing and win them over. If you are talking to investors, don’t go too deep into the tech side, they are unlikely to understand it nor will they care much about this. They care about results. On the other hand, if you are hiring engineers, go deep into the tech of course, and get them excited about their role in the team.

So, choose your speech wisely and people WILL listen.

4. Make your enthusiasm contagious

You are founding a startup to create change — that change does not come easily nor cheaply; you need to put together a team of experts to help make that happen. People will not follow you when you say you have a great idea, they follow you when they believe in your idea, and, most importantly, when they trust you.

The best way to bring the right team on board is to share that enthusiasm with them — be contagious — and when that happens, you will foster the right environment to succeed.

5. FAIL

“Only 1% of startups succeed”, most aspiring entrepreneurs have heard it and I am no exception. Whether that percentage is true or false, I believe that 1% is a promising number! It is basic statistics: if you fail 99 times, you are only 1 try away from succeeding.

Accepting early on that you will fail is the most important key to success.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

– Scaling too big from day one — you cannot conquer the world overnight.

If there is something I learnt from Startup School by Y Combinator, that would be: “Do things that do not scale”, and I believe that is the best advice you can give to an entrepreneur dreaming about taking over the world with their revolutionary idea.

I guess blinded by the success of FACEBOOK or UBER, etc., they think that a great idea will automatically put you in the eyes of the people worldwide, but it is not that easy.

This actually happened to several friends of mine, and you could see their desperation and uncertainty until we found methods to test their ideas in ways that do not scale — “move one step at a time”.

Early entrepreneurs should do things that do not scale, for example:

At Drill Surgeries Ltd. we work towards improving healthcare through technology, we want to get Augmented Reality in the surgery room to guide surgeons, improve surgery efficiency and reduce radiation, risks and costs. Now, that is a big goal so, we tackle it by parts, we find ONE surgery only, we demonstrate our technology by improving it and, once it is accepted in a couple of countries, we focus on improving a new one. If we follow this strategy, in a decade, we could be the most advanced Medical Device Manufacturing company.

– Worrying about IP protection too soon.

At the beginning of any business there are iterations in the product almost daily and getting obsessed with IP protection does not do any good.

I have seen founders file a new patent each time they make a change on their product out of fear that someone will steal their idea but, in the end all they do is burn money on pieces of paper that will generate no real value to the company since each patent becomes obsolete with every iteration.

Once you have a prototype, obtain feedback, improve it, iterate and repeat as many times as needed until you find a solid version ready to patent, this will help you work faster and more effectively.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Do something where you do not have to think (much).

Usually, startup founders are so passionate about solving a problem that they use every stimulus to think about how to do A, B or C task from their project, and that becomes mentally tiring in the long run.

That is why I would recommend doing something that requires little brain power, play some Table Tennis with someone (if you are alone you will think about your startup and we want to relax), play videogames with your mic open and listen to people talking in foreign languages or even go to the beach and wet your feet on the cold water from the sea — you get the idea.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Science for good — an organization using science and technology to solve problems in developing countries that seem unthought by the more developed ones such access to clean water, vaccines or pesticides adapted to the challenging conditions these countries find themselves at.

This recent virus has shown the world the importance of supporting scientific research and there is no better time to act than now that we know, firsthand, how devastating it can be if we just look the other way.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

With no doubts, I would be more than happy to have lunch with Peter Thiel, perhaps enjoying an Avgolemono soup followed by a game of Chess?

One of the things I enjoy the most about the startup world is its culture for disruption and taking risks, I read a lot about the history of successful and failing startups and if there is one name I have seen pop-up plenty of times, that one is Peter Thiel’s. He pursues improving civilization through technology and I resonate with that goal. With Drill Surgeries Ltd., I work to bring healthcare to the next exponential, envisioning Augmented Reality at the core of most orthopedic surgeries by the next decade.

I will be in New York in mid-July 2021 for a couple of weeks assisting an international event at the United Nations Headquarters so, I can easily get on a flight to meet him. Worst case-scenario we will enjoy a competitive game of Chess.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Check our website at www.drillsurgeries.com, we have a NEWS section and a newsletter.

Follow us there and in our LinkedIn pages:

Company -> Drill Surgeries Ltd.

Personal -> Moises Barbera Ramos (always open to chat about entrepreneurship, medicine, technology and art).

For more interested individuals, companies or investors, please reach out to us in:

[email protected]

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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