Kyle Turner’s innate curiosity and ardour to learn, an acceptance of failure and a steadfast passion for health took him on a journey that has included completing a PhD in epidemiology at the University of Oxford, working in prisoner health and disease-prevention in Aboriginal communities, and eventually to founding dental tech startup Pearlii. Available as an app, Pearlii uses AI image-processing to scan images of teeth (taken with a smartphone, by the patients themselves) to perform remote dental check-ups. Understanding that AI has the potential to revolutionize healthcare and with a resolute mission (“I don’t want any kid growing up with bad teeth,” he says) Kyle entered into the world of entrepreneurship.
“I’ve never been afraid to fail,” Kyle tells us. “Going to university, I knew I was going to really struggle early on. It was hard, it sucked, but it didn’t bother me that much to take that risk.” The startup world – a realm fuelled by original ideas, bold moves and risk-taking – appealed to him when finishing his studies. “Towards the end of my PhD, I was very frustrated. Then entrepreneurship kind of came on the scene. There’s an accelerator program at Oxford that I went into with an idea. In hindsight, they should have never let me in. I gave it a go, failed, and lost all the investors’ money... But it was great, I learned a lot.”
Kyle founded Pearlii by first identifying a problem. This, he says, is the key to entrepreneurship. “Don’t worry about trying to find the world’s greatest idea,” he explains, “Start by finding a problem… Once you have identified a problem you need to know if other people are having that same problem. Once you have defined your problem, and you know other people are experiencing it, then you start brainstorming ideas.... You don’t need any money to find a big problem or to test an idea. That’s a really important point: anybody can do it.”
The next step is to create an MVP (a minimum viable product) or, as Kyle explains it, “a lean version of what you’re imagining” for testing. “A really good website is Product Hunt. It’s a platform that any digital project, website, or app can be tested on. If you are a tech entrepreneur, you just throw it up, it’s free.” That’s precisely what Kyle and his team did for Pearlii earlier this year, “You want to look for people’s reactions; it’s called product market fit,” he says.
“Resilience is definitely something you need as an entrepreneur. Risk-taking means you’re going to get knocked down, it’s a bumpy road… Be prepared to hear ‘no’s. Most, if not all, investors in the early stages are going to say no. What we did – what you’ve got to do – is hustle.” Over several months of pitching, all Kyle and the Pearlii team heard from investors was “no”, but resilience and genuine belief in their idea carried them through. “Really just stick at it. Even when it looks hopeless,” he says. “If you want to help people, do something good, it makes it easier to get through those really tough times.”
Of course, the moral of the Pearlii story is this approach works: they have now raised $1 million, a salaried staff of seven, and big plans to grow exponentially. It’s that acceptance of failure, drive and resilience that carried Kyle through the processes of conception, development, pitching and fundraising—and continues within the company today. “Failure is an accepted part of the startup world,” he explains. “There is, and there should be, a really good culture around failure… Because you’re a startup, you want to try and create something new. There’s no precedent. You want to get them comfortable pushing it. Get comfortable failing… To be comfortable with it makes you a bit of an oddball. If you find yourself that one in the family who’s a bit weird, and you’re comfortable taking risks, I think you’ve got the makings of an entrepreneur.”