Learning How to Build a Learning Company | Elnaz Sarraf at ROYBI

In part one of my conversation with Elnaz Sarraf, the founder and CEO of ROYBI, she discussed her product—what she calls, “the smart, educational, learning robot toy for kids,” and its unique interactive functionality.

In this second part of our conversation, she goes deeper into some of the challenges she faced crowdsourcing a new company, getting that product ready for launch, and ensuring the deliverables are as promised—and she also discusses what it was about her own upbringing that inspired her to become an entrepreneur.

More information:

Elnaz is a serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in technology, business, sales, and marketing. Currently, Elnaz is the CEO and Founder of ROYBI; an investor-backed EdTech company focusing on early childhood education, AI, and robotics, which recently raised $4.2 million in its seed round. Elnaz is also a Board Member at the Consumer Technology Association, Small Business Council.

ROYBI is the creator of Roybi Robot, an interactive language learning, and STEM skills robot for children ages 3+. With over 500 lessons, including primary STEM, stories, games, and songs, Roybi Robot creates a fun, interactive, and personalized learning experience for children.

ROYBI earned many prestigious awards and recognition, including TIME Magazine Best Invention, CNBC World’s Most Promising Startups, Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas (2019), the EdTech Award in Robotics (2019), the Katerva Awards in Behavioral Change (2019), and the Silicon Valley Top 30 Innovation Award (2018). ROYBI has also been featured on Forbes, NYT, Washington Post, CNET, Fox News, CNN, EdSurge, NASDAQ, VentureBeat, ABC News, and CNBC.

Before starting ROYBI, Elnaz co-founded and led a consumer electronics/IoT company, iBaby, serving as the company’s President. As an immigrant and female founder, Elnaz has made worthy accomplishments in a short duration of living in the US. Honors include being selected as Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center Milestone Maker 2018, named the Woman of Influence through Silicon Valley Business Journal in 2016 and Entrepreneur of The Year in 2016 in Silicon Valley. She has been a speaker at several conferences such as the Mobile World Congress, ASU GSV Summit, Consumer Technology Association, and more. 


DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Elnaz Sarraf 0:01
There are so many challenges, you know, from fundraising to team building to making the products scaling road. So every challenge has its own solutions.

Alexander Ferguson 0:21
In part one of my conversation with Elnaz Sarraf, the founder and CEO of ROYBI, she discussed her product, what she calls the smart educational learning robot toy for kids. And its unique interactive functionality. In the second part of our conversation, she goes deeper into some of the challenges she’s faced at crowdsourcing a new company, getting that product ready for launch, and ensuring the deliverables are as promised. And she also discusses what it was about her own upbringing that inspired her to become an entrepreneur. Elnaz, I’m excited to continue the conversation, but now really to dig into you, as a leader to have grown not not only one company, but multiple companies. What is this journey been? Like? What’s, where did you begin, like your journey? Where did it start? And how did you get to building multiple companies? And to where you are today?

Elnaz Sarraf 1:10
That’s an interesting question. You know, I think in order to become an entrepreneur, you need to have a very special personality. I’m not saying that, because, you know, I’m an entrepreneurs, because, um, you know, it’s very challenging. When you look at companies, you know, from outside, everything looks amazing, everybody gets excited. But from inside, you can’t really see what’s going on. There’s a lot of challenges. But I think, personally, I always like challenges. The more challenging something is, the more exciting it gets for me to resolve that. And even launching a complex product like Roy me, it has been really, really challenging. When we started three years ago, actually, we had many cases that people did not even believe we are capable of launching this product. And, you know, some sometimes I got a lot of feedback that, oh, this is not doable, or why do you even need this. So you need to have the personality to accept these sort of feedback and get things better and better. For me, I moved to the US about 15 years ago, and I remember when even I was teenager, I always wanted to start my own business. Maybe because I grew up in a in a family, that we had businesses, you know, I saw that. And also even when I was a kid, you know, I think the reason that I’m so passionate about education is that my family was very, very passionate about making sure that I have good grades I study and education was really high priority. And that’s how I got started on my journey. I started some startups failed. And finally, things started working out. And even which royally after three years, I have to say, this is still the beginning, we have so much more to do every day, something new comes up and gives us the opportunity to make the product and our journey better.

Alexander Ferguson 3:28
I hear persistence in all of this is so key as you as an entrepreneur to not give up when one thing doesn’t work. And there’s challenges in your way. And people are saying, that’s not gonna work. What are you talking about? We don’t even need that. But yet, persistence, you kept pushing forward, what would you say then? Over the last? Whether you two previous ventures or this one, a tactical challenge that you were able to overcome? And what was that way? What was the solution that used to overcome

Elnaz Sarraf 3:58
it? There are so many challenges, you know, from fundraising to team building, to making the products scaling growth. So every challenge has its own solutions. But um, to start, you know, for for fundraising part, it took a long, long time, lots of nose and rejections and I have to really mention that you know, a lot of people when they see the news at the company raise a lot of funding, they think, you know, it came easy, but it’s not and as an entrepreneur, you will have those times to say, oh my god, what am I doing? Why did I started this? It is okay. You know, even if you have these sort of feelings, it will pass because ultimately, you you look at the progress of product and everything and ultimately you will say this is the right thing. But also, you know, when it comes to team building, I think that’s the most most important part of every business. So you need to really make sure that you you start working with the right people. And that’s difficult, it is very hard to find the right partners. But, you know, gradually you will, you will have good understanding, make sure you you have rights, even agreements in place, because I’ve seen a lot of startups fail, because of some conflicts between co founders, team members, they didn’t have the right agreements, maybe you have to spend some money upfront for legal matters to make sure you protect the company. It’s not about trust, by the way, it’s really about making the business in the right way. Because that’s also very important to the investors. So that’s how you can get over some challenges that you may face in the future. Then, of course, you raised that fine, the TV’s there, it’s building the product is going to be a lot of, you know, interesting challenges that come up. A lot of testing, listen to people, after you launch definitely listen to your customers, because it’s very, very important. And of course, then it comes to the growth challenges.

Alexander Ferguson 6:14
Which is a whole nother Boatload. How did you know when, when it was time to write, it’s time to launch? Like, we spent enough time and energy and our MVP? We’ve got it? Like, what was the sign the catalyst that made that that first launch?

Elnaz Sarraf 6:27
It is interesting, because the reason I laugh is I don’t think there is any right time. Because I think even for us, we changed our launch date. So many times I can’t even remember. But um, I think it’s just the the business readiness. To give you an example for us, we started the launch of Rabee by launching our crowdfunding campaign. And initially we thought we should only spend like two months, gathering subscribers making sure we are ready, it’s, you know, it’s going to be like boom, and easy. No, it wasn’t like that it took us five months. And I still remember that the time that we wanted to to launch, we still had to push it additional like two days because we thought we can make some things better. And I say, just make sure your your business strategies there, your advertising strategies there, it really depends on you know, the company, but also making sure that if you launch and promise to deliver the product, whatever that is, is harder or softer. Actually, you can do it. And if you deliver, make sure it is the same as what you promised. Because even for us, we faced some issues, because we weren’t able to finish everything by the time we delivered the product that caused some problems. But we learned our lessons.

Alexander Ferguson 8:02
The tactic of starting with a crowdfunding as your way to launch at the beginning, would you recommend that to others?

Elnaz Sarraf 8:11
I do because it’s a really good learning process. For example, for for our product, it’s a complicated new concept. It can be used for many reasons language learning, speech, delay, autism, you know, we had customers that bought Roy B for many reasons. And for the duration of two months that we had our life campaign, we reached out to all these customers, we understood what they want, most, most often not all of it. But also to understand which regions we have to focus more, which features we could actually try to develop further. And it is also really good idea to gather these early users because they will really help you to shape the future of your product. But I just want to make sure to say that it’s you know, it’s a lot of work. It’s not easy. So don’t think if you launch it, people are gonna come and buy it. It’s not like that.

Alexander Ferguson 9:22
I really appreciate that that concept of and affirmation that it’s not easy. Don’t assume that it’ll just happen and you’re still in the journey. So if anything I look forward to maybe checking back with you next year. When as as you work on the on the scaling growth. Speaking of then, of how do you keep growing and you personally as a leader, what kind of books or audiobooks or podcasts or where do you Where have you looked for to find inspiration, innovation and ideas to keep you moving forward as a business leader?

Elnaz Sarraf 9:56
Sure. Um, I used to have a little bit more time I would read books and of course, just get them from from Amazon, looking at the reviews, more about business, even self development. And even some, like books that would help me to understand people better bhp, people management because I always say, you know, people management is the most difficult part of the business. But these days, because I don’t have enough time, I try to go over quick, like YouTube videos, and just read the news or just watch some clips that are about some business success stories and just see what’s going on in the world.

Alexander Ferguson 10:46
Do you have any favorite channels that you’re subscribing to or following or, or also books in the past that you have read that you would recommend?

Elnaz Sarraf 10:55
Alright, I watched TechCrunch, Mashable, TED talks a lot, especially TED Talk, is a very inspirational and it’s really good to see you know, what people are working on, especially the segments that about spreading new ideas. I really liked that. Four books. I can’t remember the last one that I read, but it was more about a guy again, like building business, and even some financial aspects of the business.

Alexander Ferguson 11:28
Now, I’m gonna end with this this last question as as a technology leaders as yourself and you, you are a visionary, you see what’s coming up? What kind of tech innovation do you predict? Overall, any category that we will see in the near term and long term? So the next year, and in the next 10 years?

Elnaz Sarraf 11:45
Sure. Um, I think when it comes to both AI, and robotics, we are going to see lots and lots of innovation, specially after this pandemic, I believe a lot of new ideas are going to, you know, to come up with, for example, with the social distancing aspect, how do we resolve that? How do we make things more hybrid, even, for example, let’s say, if we go to work, you know, how the future of work is going to look like? more distance? I’m not sure but maybe even in like, classrooms, let’s say, maybe we have to even see the temperature of the kids or even adults, because I do have to see these things happening in China. And I see a lot of technologies with AI or even robots are going to come up to do a lot of things in healthcare, delivery, food and education for sure.

Alexander Ferguson 12:55
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.



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