Author: Jessica Li
To set the context could you share more about your founding story?
My name is Amin Shaykho and I’m the co-founder and CEO of Kadama, an app breaking the stigma GEN-Z have towards learning. Together with my co-founders Marwan El-Rukby (COO) and brother Dani Shaykho (VP of Product Marketing), we’ve grown our app to over 300,000 downloads with a peak Apple App Store ranking of #2 in Education.
During high school (2012–2016) I had no idea what I wanted to do. So, I decided to join a few organizations that help the community and quickly fell in love with the idea of pursuing a career that allows me to directly make a positive impact. During my junior year of high school, I took an opportunity that allowed me to start college early. While at the college, I created my first venture called Code for Care, where we created apps that help nonprofits. Before we had time to scale it, I graduated high school in summer 2016. While Code for Care didn’t really go anywhere, it sparked my entrepreneurial drive and gave me a glimpse into that lifestyle. That same summer, I came up with the idea to create Kadama with my brother Dani and long term friend Marwan, who I used to play Xbox with as kids. Kadama actually started off as an idea to make multiple services, like housework, yard work, and tutoring affordable by having a base of college providers. They idea initially stemmed after I tried to circumvent my mom’s ask to clean the house before going out with friends, and the cheapest cleaning option I could find was $80. As a broke high school student, that was not an option. And same thing for tutoring, every time I tried to get help, I had to sell a leg and arm. We immediately went to work on this idea, spending 2016–2018 trying to figure out how to build the app. After many huge failures, nights of no sleep, skipping class to take meetings, failing again, and learning lessons, we eventually launched our first beta in June of 2018, 3 days after my graduation from the University of Washington Seattle, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science.
In 2019, we ranked the #36 startup at the University of Washington and got invited to join the University of Washington Jones Foster Accelerator, where we got appointed a panel of mentors and a $25,000 grant. This was where we made our huge leap forward to tutoring. In early 2021, we won another $10,000 grant from the Northwest Entrepreneur Competition, after ranking the #1 student led tech startup in the Northwest. Soon after, our in-person tutoring business took a major haul because of COVID-19. Frantically, we made our final pivot to an online experience, and shifted our focus to Gen-Z learning, after noticing the drastic change in learning. There is a shift — students seek educational content fast, and have personalized ways of learning. Students are motivated by gratification, want to learn with their friends, and really appreciate a community. As Gen-Z founders and having that product-market fit, we knew the opportunity to disrupt this stagnate space was huge.
At the same time we were preparing to launch our new product, and while everyone was bored at home because of the pandemic, I used my extra free time to launch my personal TikTok account, which grew to 370,000 followers. My brother (Dani) and I would spend hours crafting drama and mystery video series that would get millions of views. We even built an in house studio. That’s when we realized that TikTok was a massive opportunity, and we started our Kadama account. Finally, in October 2020, we launched our new app and TikTok marketing strategy, and ever since have grown 300,000 downloads on the app with over 1.5 million followers on our social media.
What prepared you best for the founder journey? In hindsight, what would you have done more of or done differently prior?
I believe that being well-rounded and getting comfortable with pressure and discomfort is key to being a founder’s success. When things can go wrong at any moment, you will 100% go through failures and situations that are hard to overcome. Being able to take a deep breath and navigate the situation is critical, as it’s so easy to give up in moments like those.
Diversifying my extracurriculars in late high school and college often put me in situations that made me uncomfortable. I can list many, having to present in front of large audiences, being forced to learn something for a hackathon overnight so I don’t look “dumb,” and the list goes on. It’s so important to learn how to problem solve in limited time and uncomfortable environments. In a way, building a startup is exactly that. Many deadlines and goals that build towards your vision.
What have you learned about leveraging TikTok and other social media platforms to grow your company?
OMG, the power of organic content and building a social media brand that provides value to people instead of shoving advertisements down their throat is so impactful. The days of making ads are ending. People are catching on and have a psychological resistance towards standard ads. If you sit down with your marketing team and set an objective to make an ad, you’ve made your first mistake. Viral marketing requires you to create value and content that people want to consume. This may mean creating multiple pieces of content on your channel to develop an audience that finds value from your content before you ever start selling your product.
What is the most surprising thing you have learned about product building?
It doesn’t matter how long you spend on a product; you will never perfect it without launching it. Sometimes even launching it a single time won’t be enough. We had 2 launches before our official release, in which we started to see major traction. Every launch surfaced a major flaw in our product — the first was doing too much; we had to deal with the chicken and egg problem for demand and supply across different services like tutoring, yardwork, housework and more. Each has its own industry. Then we pivoted to in-person tutoring, focusing on parents. COVID hit and we realized scaling locally with a focus on parents is extremely hard.
Finally, in October of 2020, we made a rebrand and put our entire focus on an online experience and marketing straight to GEN-Z. Each release taught us something, and without the user data we would have never anticipated most of our pivotal changes. Not going to lie, in the early days I was the type to want to perfect something before release. I quickly realized that you will never have a perfect product until you get it out to customers.
What are you most excited about with the future of Kadama?
We have generated a lot of attention this month from major EdTech firms like Learn Capital, who said they were long awaiting a disruptive GEN-Z go to market strategy through social media. In a matter of months we have built the largest educational social media presence with over 1.5 million followers, allowing us to build a “cool” “relatable”, and “fun” brand around education. Our goal is to break the stigma that GEN-Z have towards learning, and us being GEN-Z founders makes us the perfect founders to solve this problem. Current options today are so focused on parents, you’ll never hear a high school or college student show excitement about them. We will be the company that changes that.
About the Author:
Harvard Grad | Head of Content @ Elpha (YC S19) & Harvard in Tech | Marketing @ ZAGENO | https://linktr.ee/jessicali