The Next Unicorn — ROYBI
Interview with Elnaz Sarraf, the Founder & CEO of ROYBI
Tell us about ROYBI. What do you do?
ROYBI was founded in 2019 with the mission to transform personalized learning from a traditional method to an efficient one through artificial intelligence. Named by TIME Magazine as one of The Best Inventions of 2019, Roybi Robot provides children 3+ with a personalized education that is based on their individual learning pace and interests, setting the foundation for a successful future. The robot’s technology creates self-guided learning capabilities through AI and allows young learners to continue learning outside of classroom environments. It also produces digitized assessment, feedback, and content delivery that can further help teachers and parents to provide and participate in a child’s learning experience.
What is your startup’s origin story?
I came to the United States when I was in my early twenties to start a new life. Knowing English and the American culture helped me adjust to American culture and excel in my studies. So I experienced firsthand how learning a different language early on in life can help reach your goals later in life. We know that exposure to multiple languages at an early age is significant for children’s future success. Still, not every family can afford to hire private tutors or sign up their child at a language immersion school. Parents I met at different research groups also often told me about their interest in an affordable and smart technology that can expose their children to multiple languages. During a discussion I had with my co-founder, Ron Cheng, I learned about his shared interests as an engineer and a parent for a smart toy that can help his children with self-guided learning with fun stories and engaging lessons. Together, we decided to work on an education toy robot that can address this need for parents. With Roybi Robot, we chose to utilize AI early on in our planning stage to ensure that teaching with the robot is interactive rather than passive. We want the experience of learning and interacting with Roybi Robot to interest children more in STEM topics and curious about innovations.
Had you been involved in the industry before this startup? What is your background?
Before starting ROYBI, I co-founded and led a consumer electronics company, iBaby, serving as the company’s President launching into > 5,000 storefronts globally and making the baby monitors one of the most coveted products. As an immigrant and female founder, I have made worthy accomplishments in a short duration of living in the US. Honors include being selected as Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center Milestone Maker, named the Woman of Influence through Silicon Valley Business Journal and Entrepreneur of The Year 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.
What’s unique about your company? What are the key differentiators between you and other players?
ROYBI’s platform is firmly grounded, not only in cognitive development but also in social-pragmatic, interactive principles of children’s learning. ROYBI promotes active language learning beyond vocabulary and phrases toward developing meaningful, ecologically-valid communication skills. We use true AI to gradually adjust the content based on the child’s learning capabilities and provide a vast ecosystem of educational activities. Our platform guides parents and teachers with its automated / pre-developed content rather than just having conversations. The AI helps create progress reports where parents can track the material and better understand their child’s development.
Take us through a day in your life. What does the typical day look like?
Every day at a startup feels like a new day. My day starts early around 6:30 am by responding to emails and leads to meetings during the day and even night. Now that most meetings are being held virtually, we are able to secure more calls globally which is creating a tremendous opportunity for our global growth. However, this means I am busier than ever! My typical day consists of meeting with investors, talking to journalists for PR purposes, sales meetings, and internal meetings. When I get some extra time, I also tend to jump on some of our creative projects and work on the design. Art helps me relax and I deeply enjoy being involved in the creative process.
What has been the most challenging part of growing your company?
The most challenging part has been to secure capital at different stages of our startup. When you run a fast-growing startup, ensuring positive and continuous cash flow is the key to your success. However, there are circumstances outside of our control such as pandemic that change the company’s forecast. Once that happens, we need to be quick in understanding the impact, cutting costs, managing budget, and shifting the company’s focus to possibly new areas that can positively impact cash flow and look into alternative funding sources.
What has been your best marketing channel? What are some channels you are looking to explore next?
The best performing marketing channel for us has been TV placements that we generally get through public relations. We are now exploring new ways such as micro-influencer marketing, affiliate marketing, and retargeting campaigns.
What apps do you use that you would recommend to others?
At ROYBI, we use several tools to keep us on track. The most used tool is Google Suites and then Trello.
Do you have a book, podcast, or Youtube channel you would recommend to other Entrepreneurs?
I like to watch History channel on YouTube. It helps me to see where we were and what accomplishments we’ve made. Then I think about what we can do to make the future better. I recommend to everyone to learn more about the history because it is an essential part of who we are today.
If you could go back in time to the day you founded your company, what advice would you give yourself?
Put aside any doubts, you got this! :)
What’s something you’ve learned from building your business that someone else can learn from?
Running a startup requires resilience, patience, and passion. It’s a constant battle to survive and to grow but it’s the most fascinating experience you can ever have!