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Stick to the Plan

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.

Sameer Shariff got his first funding round for Cambly through the Y Combinator. He had some obstacles before the success. Sameer mentioned that he had attempted to fundraise about 5 times in the history. 3 of those trials went smoothly while the other two did not. Prior to Y Combinator, the team tried to put out a Seed round after putting out the product and going to market. But, they did not get the reaction they expected.

This small failure served as a wakeup call to the team. After this, they decided to apply to the Y Combinator. With some coaching and advise on how to tell the story of Cambly and the problem they are trying to solve, the team were able to succeed with the Y Combinator application. This then led to the team’s success with the next funding round.

On growing globally as a young startup. Sameer mentioned a few key points to not be ignored. Starting from Focus, when you’re early, there’s a lot of temptations to change the way you are doing things as a startup. It’s important to focus on identifying your initial problem and then really focusing on solving it. This is one thing Sameer believes has served Cambly quite well.

Sameer says Cambly went global almost from day 1. They did this because they built a unique business in San Francisco that was specifically designed for everyone, except for people in San Francisco or the US. Very early on, they had to get the app in 10 different local languages because most of the customers are people who do not speak English.

Sameer mentioned that it’s important for you to focus to your demographic, which could be your local town or targeted age range. Investors like to see a story where you succeeded in one market, and now you are trying to raise money to expand your reach to others. Also, you have the playbook on how you are going to execute that plan for other markets.

Cambly took the long route by growing all over the world without actually owning any market in particular earlier on. This created a lot of scepticism in the minds of the minds of the investors who wondered if the business was really going to grow or just fall out at a certain point. The advantage or being able to succeed in one market is that it shows that you can replicate the same thing in a bunch of other markets also. It makes it easy to see how your business would get big in future.

Sticking to the earliest script is not always easy as a startup especially in the face of so many uncertainties, but it is also very much key to your success in the future.

─ June 18, 2020