Her Miami-based company “10x’d overnight,” the New College alumna said, and she had no idea she would end up having to triple her team over the next four months to meet the demand.
Half of her employees now live in Florida. And, since Apple named Caribu a “Best of 2020” app (one of multiple recent accolades for the family-centric video-calling platform), Tuchman has been further boosting Miami’s place on the map as a global tech hub.
“Tim Cook [CEO of Apple] tweeted about us creating jobs during a pandemic. Most people were letting people go and we were on a hiring spree, so we were very fortunate,” Tuchman said. “Even though I was on a hiring spree and trying to hire people so fast, the Caribu team is now made up of 67 percent people of color and 50 percent women. So, to everyone who says, ‘I can’t find people of color and women to hire,’ I found them.”
And, in some ways, it was at New College—Florida’s honors college in Sarasota—that the Cuban-American Miami native found herself.
Building an Innovative Mindset
Tuchman was born with the entrepreneurial drive. New College was just one of her vehicles.
After graduating from Design and Architecture Senior High School in Miami, Tuchman set out to be the first in her family to attend college. For her undergraduate education, she wanted an intellectual challenge. She wanted to stay in Florida to maximize her scholarship potential and be close to home. She wanted to experience a small college that prioritized fierce learning.
“I thought, ‘Do I want to be one of 40,000 students and get taught by a teaching assistant, or do I want to be one of 11 students and get taught by a Ph.D. professor?,’” Tuchman said about weighing her college options. She chose the latter alternative, of course, and worked toward a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies.
Tuchman always knew she would find a way to incorporate her passion for educating young people into her post-graduate work. Today, her Caribu app—often described as “FaceTime meets Kindle,” which helps kids have virtual playdates with family members when they can’t be physically together—is a massive hit (especially during the pandemic). So how did Tuchman have the foresight to help create such a valuable tool and catapult it to success?
It is not a stretch to say that her New College thesis research laid some of the groundwork for her current venture. The topic, after all, was “education as a tool for social justice.”
“For my thesis, I looked at three different case studies that showed that, if you could just give people access to a quality education, you could eliminate most social ills like poverty and incarceration,” Tuchman said. “If you could just give people a quality education and a fighting chance to be a productive citizen in the world, you could probably fix the world in a lot of ways. That’s why I’m involved in early childhood education. I’ve been thinking like this since I was 18.”
It wasn’t just research and writing at New College that gave Tuchman insight into how to lead and inspire. She served as president of the New College Student Alliance (student government); and was a co-founder of La Esquina Latina (“The Latin Corner”), a student-designed living arrangement in the Dort and Goldstein Residence Halls. La Esquina Latina allowed female Spanish-speaking students to room together and immerse themselves in their culture while attending college. Through many extracurricular methods, Tuchman found a way to make sure her classmates always had a voice.
She was also learning “autonomy and independence” at New College, she said, through the unique contract system (evaluations rather than traditional grades) and Independent Study Projects (ISPs).
“The thing that New College teaches you is to really advocate for yourself, to think about your college career with a holistic approach, and to take risks,” Tuchman said. “I wouldn’t have had that agency elsewhere. I wouldn’t have taken as much ownership of my education elsewhere.”
For one of her ISPs, for example, Tuchman worked in Utah during the 2002 Winter Olympics, and wrote about it.
“I did a research paper about the economics of building huge-scale events and what it does to cities: What jobs does it create? What economic development does it create?,” Tuchman said, adding that the experience turned her mental wheels about running a future company. “New College gives you so much freedom. But you have to inherently have that agency, [that entrepreneurial mindset]. If you don’t enjoy that, New College won’t work for you. If you just want to let things happen to you (you’re never going to be an entrepreneur, by the way, you’re going to be a great nine-to-fiver), go somewhere else.”
Emerging as an Entrepreneur
Where Tuchman would go after New College—before ultimately returning to Miami to headquarter her company—was all over the map.
Since graduating from New College in 2004, Tuchman has worked in nearly every level of education—as a public school teacher, a consultant at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an executive director of Teach For America, and a manager of education projects under former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee.
Tuchman holds a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School and a second master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School. She is a graduate of the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs and the Miami Fellows program.
Before co-founding Caribu, Tuchman was appointed by former President Barack Obama to serve as a White House Fellow at the United States Department of the Treasury. During the 2015-2016 year, she worked as a strategic policy adviser, providing guidance and planning on financial inclusion initiatives (only about 16 aspiring leaders are appointed as White House Fellows annually).
As a businessperson, Tuchman has been a winner or finalist in more than 30 pitch competitions, is the 59th Latina in the United States to raise more than $1 million in venture funding, and is the first Latinx founder (male or female) to raise $1 million in equity crowdfunding. She was even named one of Inc. Magazine’s “Top 100 Female Founders” in 2019.
Caribu made Fast Company’s list of “World-Changing Ideas” in 2019, was one of TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions 2019,” was singled out as one of the “Top 10 EdTech Companies” in Forbes in 2018, and became one of the most innovative startups in the world by winning the 1776 Global Challenge Cup in 2018.
Harnessing the Power of Miami
Being in Miami is helping Caribu continue to thrive. Tuchman has been an outspoken lifelong advocate of the city, and her desire to improve Miami was one of the strategic reasons behind her pursuit of the White House Fellowship.
“The whole purpose of [the White House Fellowship] is, ‘Go understand how government works for one year, and then go back to your community and make your community better,’” Tuchman said. “In my interview for the fellowship, I was like, ‘I plan to come here and understand the federal government so I can go back to Miami and make the community better.’”
She did. After the White House, Tuchman—bolstered by the support of her family and hometown—settled back in Miami to build Caribu.
“When you’re an entrepreneur and you’re boot strapping, you need the resources of your community. You need to be in your ‘place of power,’ as entrepreneur Stephanie Conduff [CEO of Leche Lounge] puts it,” Tuchman said. “Stephanie went back to Oklahoma to build her business, and people said she should be building her company somewhere like New York. And she said, ‘This is my place of power. This is where my parents can babysit the kids while I’m taking investor meetings. This is the place where my community knows me and believes in me and cheers me on.’”
That struck a chord with Tuchman.
“I thought, ‘That’s Miami.’ That’s why I came back here, because I know all the journalists in Miami, all my friends are running coworking spaces here so I get free coworking space, and all my friends are the judges of pitch competitions. I know Miami like the back of my hand,” Tuchman said. “And I’m Latina. I feel so at home in Miami. This is my place of power. I speak the language, literally and figuratively.”
Also, the cost of living and doing business in Miami is astronomically lower than in cities like Manhattan or San Francisco, Tuchman said.
“When you’re bootstrapped and running your company off your savings, and you have $700 in your bank account, you want to be living on your parents’ couch and not paying rent,” Tuchman said.
As for her employees, many of them currently reside in Miami, while others live throughout Gainesville, Tampa and Coral Springs. Tuchman has made a point to keep the bulk of her team in the state, and incredibly diverse.
For her—a granddaughter of immigrants and a daughter of parents who fled Cuba for America—it feels like a personal responsibility to employ people from underserved populations and give them opportunities to prosper.
“I think, when your grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and your other grandparents fled the Bolshevik Revolution and were kicked out of Cuba (just the amount of sacrifice my family made for me), it is my personal responsibility to make sure that I lift all the communities that I am a part of,” Tuchman said. “I seek power so I can redistribute it.”
Everything Tuchman does—as a recruiter of talent to a purveyor of educational tools that bring people together—speaks to this philosophy.
Change is being made daily under her watch. And when she reads the testimonials from users of Caribu—those grandparents who have spent the past pandemic year away from their grandchildren, who are finding joy in something Tuchman helped create—she knows she is in the right place doing the exact right thing.
“I’m so proud of what we’ve built from nothing. And I’m so grateful that what we’ve built is changing lives,” Tuchman said. “I’m thankful that I’m able to use my talents and skills and my resources to make other people’s lives better. That’s literally all I want to do.”
To learn more about Caribu, visit caribu.com.
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.