Duality Technologies Co-Founder And Chairwoman Rina Shainski On Innovation, Team Culture, And Preserving Privacy And Trust

August 4, 2021

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds and are now leading successful companies.


Rina Shainski is the chair and co-founder of Duality Technologies, a leading provider of privacy-enhancing technologies based on homomorphic encryption. Following a career as a high-tech executive and a general partner in a leading VC and serving on boards of high-tech companies in a variety of IT areas, Shainski, and her co-founders, founded Duality with the goal of enabling organizations to collaborate on data, including sensitive and regulated data, to drive value while preserving privacy and trust.

Duality was created to bring about a fundamental change in data utility by enabling users to process and analyze data while it remains encrypted, preserving the confidentiality of personal information and ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations.

In this Q&A, Shainski shares the experiences that led her to found Duality, her insights on entrepreneurship in technology, and her advice to first-time and current female founders.

Rina Shainski, chair and co-founder at Duality Technologies headshot
Rina Shainski, chair and co-founder at Duality Technologies

Q: Why did you choose to enter the high-tech industry?

My start in the high-tech industry was very natural given my background in computer science. But in hindsight, the choice of high-tech came because it provided me the perfect medium for creativity and innovation – creation of new products and the satisfaction of knowing that customers were using them. I studied computer science for my M.Sc. degree and I loved designing algorithms to solve complex problems in the field of cryptography. 

My first job was in Silicon Valley where I worked as a software engineer developing an innovative compiler for a new language that simulated complex integrated circuits. I have always cared about how my products were used and wanted to make sure they deliver value to customers. So, even though the beginning of my career focused on software engineering and architecture, I was fortunate enough to experience the entire business cycle – from conceiving and creating innovative new products to bringing them to the market. 

Later on in my career, I helped support companies as an investor and general partner at Carmel Ventures (now Viola Ventures), and four and a half years ago I began a new journey as co-founder and chairwoman at Duality Technologies.

 

Q: What inspired you to start your company?

What inspired me was the brilliant team of co-founders at Duality Technologies, who include: CEO Alon Kaufman; Turing Award winner and chief scientist Prof. Shafi Goldwasser; CTO Kurt Rohloff; and chief cryptographer Prof. Vinod Vaikuntanathan. We all were passionate about productizing the amazing technology enabling the protection of data in-use, i.e. the ability to collaborate on sensitive data without exposing it. The realization that this transformative technology can help resolve the conflict between the two mega-trends of data privacy and machine learning/AI that are on a collision course, inspired us to start Duality. 

 

Q: In 2019, only 3 percent of venture capital was invested in female-only founded companies. Did/do you feel welcome and accepted as an underrepresented group in the VC space?

Duality’s founding team includes two female founders: Prof. Shafi Goldwasser and myself. But it’s regretfully true that female startup founders are still a rarity. It is, of course, very helpful to have a successful female executive as a mentor, to help and support when dealing with the challenges of the entrepreneurial journey, including fundraising. Having said that, I hope to see VCs and founding teams becoming more gender balanced in the not-so-distant-future.

 

Q: What is your advice for other female founders at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

When embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, one heads into an unpredictable roller coaster-like environment with scarce resources. So, my advice revolves around how to best prepare for such a high-risk endeavor: 

  1. It is preferable to not start the journey all by yourself, but rather to form a strong founding team consisting of several co-founders. Remember, nobody climbs Mount Everest on their own – a great founding team significantly improves the chances for success as well as keeping personal sanity intact.
  2. In a startup, often, the gap between success and failure is razor-thin, so the way you interpret reality will likely determine on which side  you end up.  Your co-founders are key for getting additional views and interpretations of threats and opportunities. Additionally, my advice would be to find a few experienced mentors who can serve as sounding boards to help examine the challenges and decide when to keep on fighting and when to retreat and recalculate your course.
  3. Founders have to combine two often conflicting characteristics: optimism and realism. Optimism is necessary to believe that a difficult task is feasible, while realism is paramount in order to see the dangers and manage them wisely and swiftly. Everyone is likely to be biased towards one of them – either you’re more of an optimist or a realist –  so try to balance yourself out with your co-founders or advisers.

In short, you need all the support you can get, so in parallel to building your company, make sure you also build a strong personal support ecosystem for yourself, and seek mentors who will serve as role models, sounding boards and supporters. 

 

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or “personal mantra” you use to keep yourself motivated?

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” — William Gibson

“Innovation makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old regime, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new.” — Niccolò Machiavelli

 

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your own company structure?

Our whole team is committed to the values our technology brings to the market: protecting data privacy. Additionally, strong teamwork is an important value at Duality –  a challenging one, especially with a cross-continental company structure and even more so in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people are working from home. 

That said, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is the importance of a team. We devote a lot of attention to encouraging and nurturing great teamwork. This might be a cliché, but it is the most significant aspect of a venture – giving it a “fighting chance.” We see excellent results from our team collaborations. We also insist on hiring people that fit Duality’s teamwork-centric culture.  

The founding team, along with the team, which is built as a result of the company’s growth, is truly the key to a startup’s success.

 

Q: How did you know you were choosing the right investors? What have they brought to the company?

The alignment of values, vision and purpose as well as an understanding of the effort it takes to build a deep-tech, transformative venture.

 

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

A deep passion for innovation and the magic of technology.

 

Q: What do you find most rewarding about your experience as a founder so far?

What I find most rewarding is the experience of creating, jointly with an extraordinary team, new products and businesses by introducing technology-driven innovations to the market and witnessing market adoption of these new products –  essentially forging a new reality that supports the values I believe in, like data privacy.