Elnaz Sarraf – CEO Interview

Elnaz Sarraf

Founder & CEO of ROYBI

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

My parents had a significant role in my interests in entrepreneurship. My father was a small business owner in Iran. Even though everyone thought he’s running the business alone, it was my mom who took care of all the financial and operational aspects of our business at home. Because at that time, it was not acceptable for women to be involved directly in business negotiations or operations—although I hear that the culture has changed dramatically and more women are participating in running businesses. My dad took me along to many of his meetings; observing the art of negotiating and conducting business deals fascinated me with entrepreneurship’s business and social aspects. These experiences inspired me to pursue my own business.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted to create an AI-powered robot that teaches, but our subject matter was quite broad. With some research and discussions with educators and professionals, we finally decided to narrow down our focus on language learning and communications. Because our team all learned English as their second language, we felt strongly towards early education and exposure to different languages and cultures. Communication skills are critical to any professional and personal success, so we wanted to teach a language alongside good listening and speaking skills.

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

The more I talked to parents, the more I became convinced that we need a tool to provide an interactive learning experience for children in PreK and preschool. Providing quality education to as many children as possible has always been a cause that’s close to my heart, so once I found this need for an impactful technology, I was ready to start the company.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

My mom is my inspiration and my biggest supporter. She sees how passionate I am about my ventures, and she is always there to lend a hand whenever I need help.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

My favorite mentor is also one of our advisors. I can trust him to be honest with me and give me constructive feedback. Even if he doesn’t think one of my ideas is not right, he doesn’t tell me, no, but he helps me see why that idea is not as good as I had initially thought and how I can spin it to something much better.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

I think securing funding is the most critical and challenging part of having your own business. But if you believe in your mission and your product, you will eventually find someone who sees eye to eye with you and is willing to invest in your idea.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

Having patience. When you are so clear about your goal and know how much your product can be useful and impactful, it can be hard to stay patient with growth.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

I love how so many people are so passionate about education. Because we all go through it and have personal experience in it, we all have formed our opinions about ways of improving it.

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

Oh, I don’t remember a specific example. Some technical issues can sometimes come across as incredibly weird until our CTO and co-founder give me a reason behind the problem.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

My team members. I build my team very carefully, and I think every talent brings something new to the company.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

I cannot remember one specifically because I tend to let go of the mistakes and look forward to what the future has to bring. I make sure to learn from them and implement them in my future decisions, but I tend to think of them as “good lessons learned” rather than mistakes.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

It has affected our shipping tremendously and has brought new challenges to us with the schools closing. Still, it has also unexpectedly brought us closer to our customers, because now we can just quickly call them and ask them about their feedback and experience.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

I know AI can contribute so much to education, and especially early childhood education, that motivates me every day and being able to reach to as many children as possible around the world to provide quality education.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

I like going for walks. When I’m on a walk, I try to disconnect and think. I’ve been trying to go out for at least 30 minutes every day.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

If you are thinking of creating your own company, make sure it is aligned with your values and passion, which can give you the drive and courage to push forward.