Neil Patel

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Sameer Shariff launched a startup to make a big impact in the lives of 1.5B people that are trying to learn to speak English. On this journey they’ve already raised $60M, and built an international presence.

On the Dealmakers Show Shariff shared lessons from working at Google, as well as bootstrapping, startup accelerators, and raising money. Plus, balancing building a cash flow positive business with scaling, building a global, yet localized and decentralized business, and the value of learning English.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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    A Love For Learning

    If there is one theme that seems to have been consistent throughout Sameer Shariff’s life and career, it seems to be his constant love of learning. 

    He was born into a family of five, who were interestingly all born in different countries. Sameer himself was born in Canada. Though he relocated to New Jersey with his family when he was just a year old. 

    Both of his parents were software engineers. He was the youngest of three siblings. That meant a lot of knowledge was poured into him during his childhood. Including some pretty complex computer science concepts from his mother. 

    He says that he always remembers being fascinated by being a student. Something he has been able to blend with his passion for technology. 

    For college and graduate school, Shariff attended Princeton and then Stanford. It was during this time that he began flexing his entrepreneurial muscles and became fascinated with building businesses.

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    Halfway through college Google Maps came out, and it was a big deal for technology. So, when a job opportunity to work at Google just after they went public came up, he jumped on it. 

    He wanted to be a part of the great advancements being made in technology. It provided him a lot of insight and learning in both building software at scale, and how a big company is run. 

    Joining as a 22-year-old electrical engineer, Sameer found himself surrounded by computer scientists with PhDs, and software engineers that really understood how to think about building with architecture and scale in mind. 

    He got to see how leadership worked in the organization, and how decisions were made. 

    The team he was on was all about data, metrics, and analytics. He learned about leveraging data, and A/B testing as you scale a business.

    Making The Leap

    After five years at Google, Sameer decided to make the big leap into the startup world, and embraced some of his most significant learning experiences in his life. 

    While it is a tough decision to leave a good, stable job that he loved love, looking back now, he says that we sometimes make choices out to be “much bigger” than they actually are.

    Being surrounded by startups in Silicon Valley it was hard to ignore. When his former colleague and mentor started a company, it became a tangible opportunity, and not just a dream. 

    Looking at the length of his career and working life in front of him, he says it was still early.  He recognized that you could always go back to your old job, or get another one if you didn’t like it. Trying a startup is not an irreversible choice. 

    So, he made the leap, and found he absolutely loved it. It was far better than a job. He discovered he enjoyed wearing many hats and learned about many new things that he was good at. Like sales and building consumer products.

    Cambly

    Sameer and his co-founder Kevin Law both shared similar experiences learning languages. They had both spent time studying foreign languages in school for several years, without ever getting to fluency. 

    When they actually traveled to other countries they found they loved being challenged by learning a new language. Even more so by engaging with real people. They learned so much faster. 

    Together they thought about how they could recreate that with technology and give it to other people. Which has become their startup Cambly. 

    It turns out that needing to learn English is a huge, worldwide problem. There are about 6 billion people in the world who don’t speak English, and 1.5 billion are actively trying to learn it right now. 

    Being able to speak English is incredibly pivotal for creating opportunities. Both to do business, and to simply access information, including the internet which is mostly in English.

    Sameer says learning English can be life-changing, and have a huge, real impact on people’s lives. 

    Cambly is an app that allows English learners to instantly connect with native English speakers over video chat. 

    Today Cambly has a team a couple hundred people strong. While they are headquartered in San Francisco, the company was designed to be global out of the gate. They have teams in the MIddle East, East Asia, and South America. 

    Their app is localized in many languages. With local market managers and experts who know the culture and marketing, Cambly has been able to balance building a decentralized international business that feels local.

    After bootstrapping with their own funds at the beginning, they went through Y Combinator, before going on to raise around $60M so far from some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent and well known investors, Benchmark and Bessemer Venture Partners. 

    Storytelling is everything which is something that Sameer Shariff was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.

    Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

    Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:

    • Balancing a cash flow positive business with the scale VCs want
    • Startup accelerators
    • Sameer Shariff’s advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs
    • Picking the right investors for your startup

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    Neil Patel

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