Maxeme Tuchman drew from her “past lives” to create Caribu
One of Maxeme Tuchman’s first sentences was “Daddy, that’s a good worker.” As the child of small business owners, she had spent so much time at her parents’ clothing store that she knew to note excellent customer service at her local pizza place. Her business savvy only grew from there; these days, she’s the cofounder of Caribu, an interactive video-calling platform that lets kids have virtual playdates with family and friends where they can read and play games together.
Google recently sponsored a collection of stories by Pop-Up Magazine to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. Maxeme shared a story about her “Jewban” heritage; her grandparents were Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Cuba, and her parents fled Cuba for the United States. “My family is the personification of the American Dream,” she says, “and I feel an incredible burden to pay it forward to them and to this country that has given us so much.” Here’s what she shared with us about fundraising as a Latina, and what she learned from her previous jobs, which ranged from education to politics.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed Caribu’s business?
We grew by ten times over 24 hours in March. For families during the pandemic, their number-one priority was to stay safe, but their number-two priority has been to stay sane. Caribu, fortunately, fits squarely in that second priority and I am truly grateful that we’ve been able to help kids and their families stay connected in a more fun, engaging, and educational way.
We’re not only helping children have educational playdates with family and friends during the pandemic but also keeping seniors active to avoid loneliness and isolation. So while there's plenty of evidence that excessive use of connected tech can be harmful, it's worth remembering that the same technologies can also improve people's quality of life.
How have Google products helped your app grow?
Today, 30 percent of Caribu's sales come from outside of the U.S.—and that’s in a huge part because of Google Play and Google Ads. Google Ads allow us to pinpoint and expand into new markets and have allowed us to export our product and grow our U.S.-based business. Google Analytics has also been particularly helpful to us, allowing us to optimize our ad performance, observe traffic trends and discover new ways to improve our website. And all our books are stored on Google Cloud, which has allowed us to offer our books for download in a “lite” mode when bandwidth is an issue, which is something that many of our customers struggle with. I also just completed the month-long Google for Startups Sales Academy for Latino founders to learn storytelling techniques and hone our pitch.
You’ve worked across politics, education and business. How have your "past lives" informed your entrepreneurship?
All the skills I picked up in my past jobs have helped me be an entrepreneur. Every day I have to create something out of nothing, wear multiple hats (and pretend I’m an expert in all of them), manage and recruit teams and then make and raise money. You don’t pick up all of those skills at one company or by staying in one industry.
My commitment to educational equity began very early on in life, but it really amplified as a Teach For America corps member, teaching 480 high school students in inner-city Miami. That experience led me to work on educational innovation projects with organizations such as the Harlem Children’s Zone, DC Public Schools and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Before co-founding Caribu, I was appointed by President Obama to serve as a senior policy advisor and White House Fellow at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Prior to that, I served as the Executive Director of Teach For America Miami-Dade and was responsible for cultivating over $15 million of private and public support in service of over 500 teachers and alumni. Earlier in my career, I co-created the NYC Civic Corps and managed The NYC Waterfalls art installation, bringing in $69 million of economic impact to the city.
There is no greater fuel for a Latina than to have someone underestimate her.
You’re the first entrepreneur of Latin American heritage—of any gender—to land $1 million in regulation crowdfunding. This is an impressive figure. What were some of your biggest challenges along the way?
Raising funds as a Latina is challenging. The odds were not in my favor, and they still aren’t. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of investors advise me to just give up. It was never because they thought it was a bad idea, they just weren't willing to take a risk on someone who didn’t fit their preconceived mold of a successful entrepreneur. But, I never let that stop me. As a Latina, it’s in my DNA to keep fighting for what I believe in.
There is no greater fuel for a Latina than to have someone underestimate her. Today, my company is thriving. Since inception, we’ve raised over $3 million in funding and have been the winner or finalist in over 30 international and national pitch competitions. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve had a blast and learned some valuable lessons along the way.
On that topic, why do you think diversity is so important in the business world?
Studies have shown that most Latinos in the U.S. do not feel that they can bring their whole selves to the office. I wasn’t surprised when I heard this. I’ve been told countless times to change my look, fix my body language and adjust my communication style. But I’m a firm believer that when you distance yourself from your culture, you deny your company and clients of your authentic self. And when pitching investors, you want them to buy into who you are and what your vision is.