Elnaz Sarraf is the CEO and founder of the award-winning ROYBI Robot – the world’s first AI-powered smart toy to teach children language and STEM skills. ROYBI has been named one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions in Education. Elnaz is also a Board Member at the Consumer Technology Association, Small Business Council, and a member of Forbes Technology Council. Growing up as a woman in Iran, Elnaz witnessed 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. 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.
Tell us about your childhood and where you grew up?
I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. From early childhood, I was introduced to computers and technology. When I was only 5 years old, I started working on computer programs. When I became a teenager, my most exciting adventure was to program websites and even assemble computers. I remember when my dad bought me a very early computer, there were less than 10 computers in the country. I was so lucky to have access to technology at such a young age. My parents had a significant role in my interest in entrepreneurship. My father was a small business owner in Iran. Even though everyone thought he was 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 drastically, and more women are participating in running businesses in Iran. 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.
How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I moved to the US about 15 years ago from Iran. Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to have my own business and make an impact. As you can imagine, as a woman in Iran, I had very limited opportunities in terms of being an entrepreneur and running a business. I tried actually but didn’t go anywhere. So when I moved to the US, I put every possible effort to grasp the opportunities to build my dreams and do something to make a difference. My background is in Art and I also went to the top 3rd universities in Iran and studied computer science. These really helped me to be both creative and also have enough knowledge in technology to build products. I started my career in the US as a sales associate at Macy’s. While I was working there, I was also going to West Valley College and got a job as an ESL tutor in the college’s English department. That really helped me to learn about the job environment and culture in the US. When I continued my studies at California State University, East Bay, I decided to start my own creative agency. For that, for many months, I went door to door to businesses and distributed my company’s flyers to bring business. In 2013, the first company I co-founded and served as the president, we sold smart baby monitors. Our products have been sold in all Apple stores, all Target and Walmart stores, and over 5k storefronts internationally. Some of our products became the most wanted baby monitors on the market. But I always felt that’s not enough. I wanted to make a bigger impact and education has always been so close to my heart. Finally, in 2019, I decided to start focusing on ROYBI to use technology and specifically AI to help children learn based on their interests and abilities. I believe an incredible future starts with our children getting the best education possible.
What is one business lesson you would tell a startup founder?
- Be persistent.
- Have the ability to listen.
- Be adaptable to change.