Success starts with two words: thank you.

by saad-el-yamani

As the close of Q1 approaches, ambi just completed our first Executive Quarterly Planning Off-Site. I’m thrilled and humbled by what we’ve done to transform the student learning experience in such a short time.

For our first Executive Off-Site we went back to where it all began: Babson College, the San Francisco campus, where Soham and I were college students trying to make a difference. Here, we experienced firsthand how difficult it is to be a college student. We knew that something had to change. But very few believed our “crazy” idea at the time.

We were tired of the ways that educational technology companies ignored students. So, we set about changing it. Ambi is creating a new category in education software--built by students, for students--and transforming the student experience for good.

For three years, we have been moving at such a fast pace that I have not properly taken the time to thank those who helped us get this far. The loss of my grandmother sparked the idea to reach out and thank everyone who has helped in this incredible journey.

First, I’d like to thank the ambi family for your passion and hard work. Many of you are industry veterans who took a risk on us, leaving comfortable jobs at the top billion-dollar education companies (Instructure/Canvas and Blackboard) to join me and my humble startup on a mission to transform student lives, removing barriers to learning and work across the globe.

Thank you Q. Wade Billings, Mark Blosil, Spencer Lawson, and David Monson, who are all part of our newly-formed executive team. We are so inspired by you!

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Our newest executive team member, our SVP of Technology, summed up our off-site perfectly. This is exactly why I love what I'm doing and I encourage everyone to work on solving problems that matter with people who care.

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Thank you to our design and product team in Boston, as well as Chris Cohoat, Victor Zhu, Sharon Zachariah, Phanindra Veera, Ghali El Mouhandiz, and Allison Winston for working all those hard and late hours, making sure we hit our deadlines. You took huge risks to support the company in our earliest days and continue to stay with us. We are forever grateful.

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Thank you to every current and past employee and contractor for being part of the ambi dream, even when it sometimes seemed more like a nightmare.

A special thank you to the person who has been with me since the beginning: Soham Khaitan, my college friend, co-founder, and COO. You have been able to sustain my intensity, craziness, wild dreams, and personality throughout this journey. You are definitely the hardest worker I have ever met, and without you, we would have never executed like this.

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Thank you to thousands of students for sharing your insights during our focus groups and beta tests. You have helped us understand what matters, and kept us from getting distracted with what doesn’t. Ambi is for you.

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Thank you Bruce Cleveland and Wildcat Venture Partners for all of your insight at our offsite last week. (In fact, our idea for the quarterly planning offsite actually came from Bruce’s book, The Traction Gap). My whole staff has been blessed to read it, and are now using it as a benchmark. A true work of art, I advise anyone who is remotely interested in starting a business to read this book and leverage it as a manual throughout the different stages of company-building. (The book is so good, that I want to keep all of Bruce’s secrets to myself, but the world truly has to hear what he has to say).

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Thank you Christopher Lochhead for your great lecture. You are truly a marketing genius, and every word that came out of your mouth (except for “f**k”) was truly gold. You are right: we are essentially trying to take 18-year old “shitheads,” and turn them into “legends” by improving their learning experience. (Chris’ book is also an exceptional read that I highly recommend to every ambitious entrepreneur looking to become a Category King.)

Thank you Julian Hoenig, for your extremely valuable insight on leading a design-forward organization. We will continue to learn from transformative companies like Apple and be inspired by your rule-breaking innovation. (On a visit to the Apple campus, we broke the rules ourselves by taking this “forbidden” photo).  

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Thank you MetaLab, for helping design education’s first world-class platform. You have been extremely patient with us, gracefully tolerating our obsessive (and annoying!) attention to detail.

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Thank you Bill Burnett for sitting with me at Stanford many times over, even though I wasn’t a Stanford student, helping me think about design differently, and guiding me to focus my product on its core value.

Thank you Randall Ussery, for always believing in me, and having done everything possible to help our company move forward. You are always available for a late evening chat, and you’re ready to pick up the phone first thing in the morning!

Thank you Richard Moran for helping me get through all those difficult times in our early days when we had zero system or processes in place. And thank you for reminding me to implement a great company culture.

Thank you NXT Ventures for believing in us when he had prototypes and napkin sketches. Babson Professor Raymond Chang saw our opportunity right away. We thank you for sharing our vision of the future. Thank you to all our investors for believing in my vision of changing the student learning experience.

Thank you Jared Stein, Marc Maloy, and Matt Kennedy for jumping onboard without hesitation, and always being there to help and support us as Instructure leaders and education industry veterans.

Thank you to everyone at Columbia University, Babson College and GreenFig for being forward-thinking visionaries who helped us develop a platform that achieves the ultimate learning experience. Thank you to our other college partners for pushing the boundaries and championing what we are trying to achieve. Together, we are moving education software from record-keeping to systems of engagement. We couldn’t have made this leap without your partnership.

Thank you Debi Kleiman, for always supporting me and keeping me from getting kicked out of the United States. Thank you to my immigration lawyer, Dennis Ready, for having figured out a legal, yet unconventional, way for me to stay in the country for three additional years to operate this business!

Thank you Mom and Dad for your eternal support and for allowing me to stay in a foreign country and pursue a wild and ambitious dream at such a young age.

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Thank you to all my friends and family who have been extremely supportive and patient while I disappeared for the past three years, trusting me to pursue my dream so far away from home.

The first years of a startup are harder than one can possibly imagine. I’ve had to pour all of my sweat, blood, and breath into this, and we are just getting started. Our company's efforts are still a small drop in the vast sea of change needed to make education an accessible and transformative experience throughout the world. And there is still so much more to do!

Thank you to all the naysayers who challenged me along the way. Your role was crucial, too, as it allowed me to think through the hardest hurdles while fueling my ambition, grit, and sense of urgency to solve the problem and prove you wrong. Thank you to every single person who believed in me throughout this journey. I realize that I have missed a lot of names, but you are not forgotten! I am grateful to everyone who has helped and encouraged me.

Thank you, America, for giving me the opportunity to change the world for the better. Thank you Morocco, for giving me a chance to help with the digital transformation of learning nationwide.

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Thank you God for helping us throughout and guiding me through the hardest moments. All those moments we called “luck,” we knew the universe was smiling at us. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by such talented, experienced, and loving people who all want to change the world for the better.

Lastly, I would like to thank someone who I will never again get the chance to thank in person: my grandmother. As a young man, she gave me the courage and confidence to follow my dreams. She is the very reason that my ambition exists. I credit her for the person I am today, yet I never took the time to tell her in recent years. I spent my senior year of high school living with her before going to college and it truly inspired me to redefine myself and leverage my college experience to transform from a "shithead" to a decent human being with a bigger vision.

She taught me to align my ambition and vision with a positive mission--like education. Thank you for all your wisdom, courage, and support, grandma.

Her death is a big loss to our family. She was the matriarch, making sure that everyone was happy. I prioritized work over going to see her, and I deeply regret it.

No matter how busy you are, find the time to thank and be grateful for the people who support and help you. This is a lesson I will never forget. I hope she’s proud of me up there.

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I am posting this as I fly back to Morocco to spend some time with my family. I will be offline for the next few days but back next week to continue the long and exciting journey ahead.

To all the busy entrepreneurs out there, please take some time out for family. Stop what you are doing and say thank you to those you love.