Elnaz Sarraf is the CEO and founder of the award-winning Roybi Robot – the world’s first-ever AI-powered smart toy to teach children language and STEM skills. It also has been named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019, on the 2019 CNBC Upstart 100 list as one of the world’s most promising startups, and on Fast Company’s 2019 World-Changing Ideas. Elnaz is also a Board Member at the Consumer Technology Association, Small Business Council, and member of Forbes Technology Council.
Growing up as a woman in Iran, Elnaz witnessed the limited opportunities, leading her on her journey in the U.S. to become an entrepreneur and create a technology that would empower children by providing universal access to personalized learning and an education that prepares them for a better future. With 15 years of experience as a serial entrepreneur, Elnaz leads ROYBI (creator of Roybi Robot); an investor-backed EdTech company that raised $4.2 million in its seed round focusing on early childhood education and self-guided learning through artificial intelligence.
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, 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.
Where did the idea for Roybi Robot come from?
In our increasingly integrated world, teaching and exposing children to multiple languages can help them succeed in the future. But learning languages can be expensive. With Roybi Robot, we want to give parents an affordable option to expose their children to multiply languages with fun and interactive lessons. AI allows us to make learning experiences interactive.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every day is a different day when you’re running a startup. But I have to say, most of the time, I’m on a call with an investor, the media, or a member of my team. We’re a global company, so my days start around 7 am, and sometimes I have calls until 10 pm.
How do you bring ideas to life?
In order to make sure an idea is feasible, a lot of research is required. So you end up meeting with many experts before you start executing your vision. Then you begin fundraising for capital, which can take some time to secure. With funding available, you can then start building your prototypes and go to the market.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Because of the current pandemic, teachers are becoming more interested in using technology in their classrooms. That’s how they become more engaged in discussions about the use of technology in education. Maybe this is not necessarily a trend, but a change in our industry that makes me excited. We need more teachers to engage with us in perfecting our products to help them and their students.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Time management! I think I’m very good at keeping track of my tasks and projects. My days are too busy, and my commitments vary, so it is crucial to keep track of my
What advice would you give your younger self?
To not worry too much, keep exploring different ideas, and learn new things as much as you can. Everything will work out in the end!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Well, vets believe my cat is now too old, but if only they see him at home, they would know that I’m right in thinking that he is as lively and hipper as a kitten 🙂
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask around for opinions. I think you get too involved in your idea and your product to forget to look at it from different angles. You should talk about your work with people you trust and ask for their opinion and feedback regularly.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Understanding my customers is one of the most critical strategies for a hardware company that creates children’s technology. We regularly conduct user interviews to hear what parents and children want from our product, and based on their feedback; we sit down with our pens to enhance our development.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
As entrepreneurs, you have to knock on many doors, mainly for finding investors. When your calls don’t lead to success, you can initially feel like a failure, but you never know how investors may get back to you for collaborations.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Oh, maybe I cannot speak about one specific idea, but overall, I think working with early childhood education can bring many opportunities. There are not many education products in the market that address teaching and learning in preschool and pre-k, so there are plenty of possibilities, and there is still so much we can work on that can benefit that age group.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The last time we had a team meeting and a dessert party at our headquarter in Mountain View is something I keep looking back to with a big smile on my face. I’m pretty sure we spent less than $100 for our desserts, but we over-indulged ourselves.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
My alarm clock! Without it, I can easily miss important meetings on busy days because I’m too focused on projects.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel T. Willingham. I find the research by a cognitive scientist fascinating and enlightening. He gives us enough information to think and imagine how education can look like in the future.
What is your favorite quote?
It always seems impossible until it’s done – Nelson Mandela
• Roybi Robot empowered children, parents, and educators by creating universal access to learning through self-guided methods utilizing artificial intelligence
• Having the right team to share your vision is the most important part of each business. Great people can create great products.
• Allow your team to take responsibility and express their ideas openly. You’d be surprised how incredibly powerful it is to create an open and transparent company where people can freely express their opinion
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.