Tech for Tykes | Elnaz Sarraf at ROYBI

There are a lot of early education technology products on the market, but most of them are fairly static. They’re apps, or in some cases electronic toys that deliver one-way content.

In this installment of UpTech Report, I talk with Elnaz Sarraf, the founder and CEO of ROYBI, a company that’s manufacturing an interactive early learning toy that doesn’t merely offer up games and puzzles—it can respond to children’s emotions.

Elnaz discusses why this level of engagement is so important for early learning, and some of the unique challenges a technology such as this encounters with such young users.

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, that 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 0:00
There are a lot of products and tools on the market in higher education. But when it comes to early childhood education, we are missing a lot of opportunities. We saw that opportunity, we decided to start as early as two to three years old in early childhood education. A lot of people actually don’t realize that that time is a very critical time.

Alexander Ferguson 0:30
There are a lot of early education technology products on the market. But most of them are fairly static their apps or in some cases, electronic toys that deliver one way content. In this installment of UpTech Report. I talk with Elnaz Sarraf, the founder and CEO of ROYBI a company that’s manufacturing an interactive early learning toy that doesn’t merely offer up games and puzzles, it can respond to children’s emotions. ls discusses why this level of engagement is so important for early learning. And some of the unique challenges a technology such as this encounters with such young users. Allows I’m excited to be with you today and be able to dig in and hear how did Roy B start and end? Where is the future of where it’s going. So, to begin, if you could describe what your company is the concept of it in a very brief five seconds, what would you say?

Elnaz Sarraf 1:24
Oh, five seconds. I like thank you for having me. And Roybi, we really appreciate it. I’m not so sure about five seconds. But we started a company about three years ago, which is robots and AI powered educational robots for kids ages three to seven in language learning and basic stem. And we launched a product last year in November, as a soft launch and continuing to expand this year as well.

Alexander Ferguson 1:58
Well, it’s an exciting concept. And now you’re just getting into it in an interesting world as it is. But tell me the problem that you initially saw because I actually have a four year old. So this easy sits right in the midst of your target market. So tell me what was the problem that you saw the like, I need to solve this?

Elnaz Sarraf 2:16
Well, first of all, I think to start a company that has to be a personal reason, a personal passion also behind it. Otherwise, you know, nobody’s gonna go after an idea if they’re not passionate about it. So education has been always a passion of mine. And also every individual in our team. By the experience comes from my previous company and one of the co founders of ima we we should have baby monitors. And I spent over five years communicating with parents understanding the pain points. And education was always something that would actually come up, even if it was just a soothing music or baby. Parents are always asking about content. And always I wanted to make a much bigger impact in this world. impact humanity if you want to, you know, add that. But, you know, I decided to find a three years ago with my co founder to start Roy be to have a much bigger impact on children’s education because we saw a huge need in the market. There are a lot of products and tools on the market in higher education. But when it comes to early childhood education, we are missing a lot of opportunities. We saw that opportunity we decided to start as early as two to three years old in early childhood education. A lot of people actually don’t realize that that time is a very critical time for the kids growth day, they build their self confidence and brain development. So we decided to utilize AI to personalize education for children to focus on their abilities and interests. Because as you can see, education system is quite traditional, a one size fits all, I can certainly say that it has to change. But making a change in education system is going to really take time, but we can start to change from our home. Right.

Alexander Ferguson 4:23
As you said he’s kind of came in in tandem with your other companies saw some of the opportunities when it was just five years ago that that started that I kept that right. And then but Roy B is two almost three years approaching, but now it’s just getting into the market. Your previous experience and knowledge that probably played a huge role in in seeing the opportunity and I kept that Right.

Elnaz Sarraf 4:47
Absolutely. You know, we made a lot of mistakes. We learned a lot and we really understood what it takes to build a company, especially when it comes to hardware, there’s so much into making a hardware product. A lot of people don’t realize it. But even one small component doesn’t fit with the other one. Oh, my goodness, you can lose like millions of dollars.

Alexander Ferguson 5:16
The business model for this, how does that work? Is seeing on your site even see like a financing? So what’s the they have to divide the cost for that the item is there isn’t a monthly fee. What does that look like the business model,

Elnaz Sarraf 5:29
actually, ROI B E is available at retail 199. And there is no subscription attached to it. And maybe in the future, we are going to have some on demand subscription plans, especially when it comes to language packages. But currently, we have English content for language development, but also outside of the US. Kids would learn English language, and it comes for free.

Alexander Ferguson 5:58
Wow. So the biggest focus of the area right now is on language to be able to learn a new language, what’s the number of languages that you’re supporting and supplying and helping.

Elnaz Sarraf 6:10
So right now would be an English language and then over the cloud, we will be adding more languages as we go on. So I would say within the next two years, we are expecting to have about three languages. And it is difficult because it’s still technology, it’s not there. And when it comes to different languages, specially because we use voice recognition, there are some limitation. That’s why we are taking some time to gradually develop that specifically for children.

Alexander Ferguson 6:45
So let’s dig into the technology bit more because I’m fascinated see the technical specs, there’s voice recognition, face recognition, emotion detection, dig into that, like what are all the inputs that it can receive and understand both from the child and then respond to it.

Elnaz Sarraf 7:02
The fascinating thing about technology is that we have a lot of capabilities. But the use cases could be different. And that’s why it makes a product really unique. For example, we use facial detection to say hello to the child. Because what we understood over the past two years of doing our research is kids really like to play with their toys. But when it comes to like after two weeks, they forget about their toys, they don’t want to have the interaction. So we want to make sure that interaction continues. Because if you don’t use it, you lose it right. You want to make sure they continue using the product and learn as much as possible and have fun. But also we use emotion detection. Emotion detection is a technology that has always been there. There is nothing unique about it. But the use case on ROI B’s very unique because we use this technology to understand if the child is excited or not happy while practicing on our lessons. And that shows us if that lesson actually works for that child. Because one of the issues we see with children is when you ask them how they feel, especially when they’re little they really don’t know, you know how they feel they don’t understand the emotions. But also if we see they are not so happy or excited. Roby can react to it. So sometimes it might just laugh, you know, to get them excited. For voice recognition, we use this technology to understand what the child says. So Roy B can respond based on the answers. And of course, it’s difficult area because for adults is easier for kids, they if they want to say like yellow it comes out as window below many different variations. And that’s the limitation, which is fine, but it takes a long time to develop that for a

Alexander Ferguson 9:03
kid for for your own that obviously you’re is you’re recording and capturing all this. Are you taking the recordings and using that to grow the database? And what’s that privacy look like?

Elnaz Sarraf 9:14
Here? So we currently do not record any audio or video to be compliant with COPPA policies is which is children’s privacy policies and GDPR. And that’s one of the reasons we acquired this company early on because when they started the whole privacy policy was completely different than what it is today. But gradually we will have our partnerships for which university schools so what we do is generally we pilot these products into classrooms, for example, or even at homes we the consent of parents, and that’s the time that we can do some recordings and analysis. But again for a Ah, to do better, we need much more data. But it’s just going to take time to go around these policies, making sure we are compliant, but also making our, you know, technology better.

Alexander Ferguson 10:14
Or you mentioned last, towards the last year’s when you truly launched it, soft launch, and now you’re growing, what’s the kind of the metrics and growth that you’ve seen since then, and adoption?

Elnaz Sarraf 10:26
We’ve seen a really good growth, I would say easily over 100% growth. But I think also the situation of pandemic played an interesting role in our growth, I wouldn’t be able to really give exact percentage now, but a lot of like, partners or even like retail partners that they wanted to evaluate Roy B, they were taking their time. You know, now they’re getting back to us and say, Wow, we immediately want to ROI B, because this is the future. You know, for three years, we’ve been talking about this, that AI remote learning, you know, is going to be the absolute future of how everybody learns. And it is interesting to see that a pandemic situation finally shows us where we are going. But also there are some challenging matters, for example, people are always worried. What about the human connection? Right? So everything needs to have balance, we don’t say we want to replace humans, or they praise teachers, we want to provide an additional resource to help children as they learn, why not make it a personalized experience?

Alexander Ferguson 11:48
I think personalized experience is definitely the future. So I think you’re definitely in in going the right direction. question I have for you if this this kind of the future as it comes to reality, there’s more and more opportunities for personalized learning and online education or digital education? What do you see as the different competitors that are out there? I mean, can can they just have the same as an app on a phone? Why did you go for the hardware? And how is it different from other options out there?

Elnaz Sarraf 12:19
Sure, um, I always say, so far, we don’t have direct competition. Of course, there are some social robots or even chatbots applications out there. But one of the very big reasons we wanted to stay away from apps is that kids already spent so much time on large tablets, phones, TVs, and that’s not really good for them. But the problem is, you know, there is no good product, replace that for them something fun that they see it like a friend a toy companion, that they can talk with, but also learn from it is one of the reasons really big reasons that we wanted to have a different hardware that limits the screen time it is fun, interactive, because that’s a very big pain point for patents. But at the same time, you know, I’m sure we are going to have competition, as so many other people have, as the open the doors and bring even more opportunities as one of the leaders in this category, we are going to face competition, but again, that means it’s a huge market. And it is so big. And then even if we have competition, we still have a large market. And I always say you know with competition comes opportunities to because you can partner with them. By them, right? There are many ways to to continue being a leader in a category.

Alexander Ferguson 13:58
Looking forward here then for you, what’s the the near term that you’re looking at working on your goals for the next year? And then maybe long term? Maybe five years or so what are you looking at?

Elnaz Sarraf 14:09
Sure, um, the near term is to continue with our partnerships. For example, where the last event I was at two months, we opened up sales channels on Amazon globally. We are available in the US, Japan, Australia now we are going to be available in Europe. And then we expanded in Middle East gradually expanding into different regions. Now we are in UAE and it is growing, of course continuing these partnerships and even partnerships in terms of pilot with schools because we really need to analyze how ROI be worse meeting the classroom. In large group you can just go and launch big. Normally if you go too big too fast. Things won’t work out, it fails. So we have to go step by step. These are short term goals, but of course, also improving our technology. Um, to be honest, over the past two months, our team has been working literally like day and night for the improvements, especially when it comes on the voice recognition because as I mentioned to you, it’s a very challenging area. And the difference is, is like day or night, we made so much improvement, and also continuing to add content. As an example, because of the pandemic situation, we created a new character, it’s also behind me, it’s called doc B, which is our little scientists that suggest to kids in regards to self care, well being to wash their hands, you know, cover their mouth if they cough or sneeze, and all these because they are all, cloud based. They it’s just software base and goes into the hardware. It’s been amazing to add this content and see the response from parents. So that’s short term, but also long term, we of course, want to expand globally, even work with government entities in order to make ROI be available, even in areas and referred families that they can’t afford royalty. We want to make sure we can provide quality education to as many kids as possible. So that would be really truly our mission. And of course, we will be working on adding more features and even next generation for Robbie,

Alexander Ferguson 16:43
what’s a good first step for people to take to learn more and take action with

Elnaz Sarraf 16:50
us to learn more about Roybi? They can go to our website, which is And of course, we are always available the customer series, our team would be very happy to answer any questions.

Alexander Ferguson 17:05
Be sure to check out the second part of my conversation with elnaz in which she talks about the lessons she’s learned from crowdfunding a new product and offers her view on some of the qualities necessary for a successful entrepreneur.



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