Q&A with Max Tuchman, Co-Founder of Caribu
Max Tuchman is the co-founder of Caribu, an educational family entertainment platform for kids ages 0-13 to have a virtual playdate with family and friends. In this Q&A with Launch with GS, Max shares how she managed the growth of Caribu following the outbreak of COVID-19, the importance of the Latinx community, and leadership advice for fellow founders.
What has been the most exciting moment of building your business? The most challenging?
I can answer these both with the same story! Following the outbreak of COVID-19, we took down our paywall to ensure that kids across the globe, no matter their situation, could enjoy Magical Caribu Calls with their family and friends while sheltering in place
In only 24 hours, we saw downloads, users and engagements grow 10x in over 200 countries across the globe. We were truly the definition of luck, which is when preparation meets opportunity. From there, the most challenging work has been managing that growth as a small team!
Over the last few months, my team and I went on a hiring spree, started raising a round to take advantage of our first-mover advantage, and built partnerships with inbound opportunities. Highlights include our recent AT&T sponsorship, bringing on Kevin Jonas as an investor, and adding DC Comics and America’s Test Kitchen Kids to our library. It feels like the last time I slept was in mid-March!
What are you most excited about over the next 6-12 months?
Priority #1 during the pandemic is to stay safe and priority #2 is to stay sane. We’re grateful that we fit squarely in bucket #2 and that we see Caribu continuing to help families over the next 6-12 months in three core ways.
- For parents, working from home with kids has been challenging. If you have to take an important video-call, the kids either pop into a Zoom call unexpectedly or bang on your home office door incessantly. Parents write in often to tell us their “virtual babysitting” stories and how life-saving Caribu has been to keep their kids entertained and engaged in an educational way while they take meetings.
- COVID-19 has also been really tough on young kids who don’t understand why they haven’t been able to play with their friends for months. A seven-year-old isn’t going to get on Zoom with their friends to “chat” but they will get on Caribu to do a word search, play tic-tac-toe, or read a book together.
- Caribu has always had a lot of brand love from “Glammas” (Glamorous Grandmas), as they tried to build a relationship with their grandkids through a video-call even before the pandemic. Now more than ever, with a lot of “Glammas” having not been able to visit or travel, we feel good knowing that they can still make wonderful memories and have a virtual playdate with their grandkids no matter how far apart they are.
What has the Launch with GS Entrepreneur Cohort experience been like for you?
As Hamilton says, you need to be “in the room where it happens” and one of the best parts of the Cohort experience has been the access to the right rooms and meeting the right people which Goldman Sachs has been amazing at facilitating. As a growing startup, GS has given us access to employees, clients, and their network to build partnerships and continue to grow our business to meet the needs of parents. One example of that is partnering with GS to offer Caribu as a resource to employees.
Building a successful company does not happen overnight. Walk us through your journey.
At Harvard Business School, the case method taught me to be really comfortable with the uncomfortable, with the ambiguous, with not knowing how I was going to keep going with only $700 in my bank account. I have to wake up each day thinking I can take on the world, and see each daily challenge I face as a solvable problem. EVERY challenge. I have to have a healthy sense of fear to stay competitive, but I cannot let it guide me. No matter your education, I’ve realized how much privilege you have to have to launch a startup full-time. This is why statistically most founders are white men who come from higher income backgrounds. It takes a lot of love and money from your family and your network to support you while you bootstrap your business.
It takes a village: Who are the people in your life who have helped you build your company into what it is today?
Growing up in Miami, Latinx leadership was everywhere. I was really fortunate to grow up in a community that embraced the Latinx culture and had a ton of representation. When I left Miami for college is when I realized I was “different.” I originally saw my differences as something that would hold me back or as I was told bluntly, the only qualification that let me through the door. Now I see that it is my differences that have made me successful. I think a lot of us that have felt “different” in our lives have so many more role models now that being different just doesn’t feel so different anymore.
I’ve taken that same approach to my business. My differences are what will allow me to solve problems that no one else can. I see it as a strength and competitive advantage. I would also say that an endless supply of Cafe Con Leche has also helped me build my company into what it is today.
What’s the advice you’d give to your younger self that you wish you knew then?
Founding a startup is really hard and there are so many people that will underestimate you because of the color of your skin, your accent, or your name. Don’t ever add yourself to the list of people that doubt you.
Don’t listen to the ridiculous notion that to unlock funding you have to move your company to the Bay Area. As Stephanie Conduff from Leche Lounge says, “don’t take me out of my place of power.” Building and growing my company in Miami is my place of power. It’s my hometown, where my network is, where my family is willing to babysit my dog, Lunita La Cubanita, when I travel, where my friends have my back and cheer me on, where the fellow female founders are collaborative and support each other, where I know most of the players in the tech ecosystem, where I intentionally raise the tide in the Miami ecosystem so my boat also rises, and where it costs a lot less to live and run my business. We’re the first Florida investment for Rise of The Rest and AT&T - the fact that we are outside of the tech bubble is one of the reasons we are an attractive investment. Build in your place of power.
We Latinas grow up making noise, dancing to loud music, spending time with big families, shouting over big meals, and wearing lots of color. Yet we’re asked to tone that down when we get to the business world and to assimilate. We think we have to whitewash who we are to get the funding and be inauthentic to who we are. Launching a startup is only defensible because of who you are as the founder. Everyone has ideas but few can execute, and no one can execute your idea like you can.
No matter what others say, if your customers love what you make, keep going. Take that side hustle that people love, jump in chancletas-first, and launch that idea you’ve always had to make the world a better place.
What’s your leadership philosophy?
Hire the best people and get out of their way.
You were the first Latinx founder to raise $1M in equity crowdfunding and have raised $3M+ for Caribu now. How has your background prepared you to get creative and find alternative sources of funding?
Less than 2% of Venture Capital goes to companies based in Miami, less than 2% goes to female-founded companies, and less than 1% goes to companies founded by women of color, so all the odds were against me. But I’m Cuban, which means I come from a scrappy group of creative and ingenious thinkers that can keep 1952 Chevy’s still running, so I gathered my airline miles and started throwing my hat into the ring for any pitch competition I could find across North America (yes, I even took a bus to Canada to pitch!). I knew the traditional ways of getting capital were biased and we had an amazing consumer product so this alternate path paid off.
Every time I pitched we got downloads from the audience, tons of free marketing from the organizers of the competition, and in some cases non-dilutive cash! In our first year we won over $100K in cash and prizes to keep the company afloat. I then raised $1.3M, making me the 59th Latina to raise over $1M in funding, and closed out our $3M seed round by raising $1.7M in equity crowdfunding, making me the first Latinx founder, male or female, to raise at least $1M in Reg CF.