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Interview with Sameer Shariff, Co-Founder Cambly

This article is written by Jeremiah Uke, a Contributor Author at Startup Istanbul.

Sameer Shariff is the co-founder & CEO of Cambly, an education company that gives English learners on-demand access to English tutors over video chat. Sameer holds engineering degrees from Princeton University & Stanford University.

Prior to the start of his interview, Sameer talked about how learning a new language would require much more than the normal ‘one to many’ teaching model used in schools today. To properly learn a language, you would a lot of practice and the ‘one to many’ teaching model does not give room for this.

Sameer joined us in a live interview where he talked about his journey with Cambly. He started out by explaining how it all came up. Prior to starting Cambly, Sameer and his co-founder worked as employees with a small startup in San Francisco with poor structure. They were two engineers who started out by building a simple app which had one big red button in the middle called ‘practice english’. When you clicked it, it connected you through video chat to Sameer or his co-founder so they can talk to you. This was what version 1 of the app could do.

Sameer and Kevin spent the early days of Cambly writing code for the app while meeting a lot of their potential customers. Sameer mentioned that the constant interactions with the customers helped them build better versions of the app which the customers wanted. With time, they started recruiting teachers to take over the tutoring on the app, while they focused on developing other aspects of the business.

Sameer and Kevin combined their plan for what they wanted the app to be with the customer feedback they received to make the decisions they made. At the beginning, the plan for Cambly was to help people learn a new language, and it has sticked to that same plan till today.

The idea was to make the service as easy as possible and make accessibility to tutors easy and fast. So early on, they started building a community of tutors from year one. This community made sure that tutors were always available round the clock. They also experimented as customers and tried to learn Spanish themselves on the app.

In 2015, Cambly joined the Y Combinator accelerator for 3 months, after which they raised a seed round. Prior to that, they were spending money off their revenue. After the seed round, they started growing the team further, which included hiring a Country Manager in Korea, as well as in other countries like Turkey.

The continuous practice of improving the service is one that played a major role in the growth of the business. Sameer and the team constantly looked out to make the experience better for customers. This has greatly paid of.

─ June 13, 2020