How this husband-wife duo launched a startup while battling cancer and homeschooling their kids

Amy Lahkani (left) and Samir Lahkani with their children. The husband-wife duo helped launch Magicall during the pandemic, while facing other challenges at home. (Magicall Photo)

Samir and Amy Lakhani have had quite the year — one that involved quitting full-time jobs, working on their first startup, homeschooling kids, and a cancer diagnosis, all during a global pandemic.

Last summer, Samir, who previously worked for Facebook and Seattle startup Convoy, decided he wanted to take a break from corporate life and start his own company with Joanne Zhu, a former coworker at Convoy.

They launched Magicall, a video calling app that allows children to play games and read books remotely with family and friends. The app is meant to hold children’s attention while allowing for quality time with relatives.

But in the background, the Lakhanis were facing other challenges.

Amy, a former marketer for Microsoft and Intel, quit her job in March 2020 to homeschool their children and help build Magicall.

Then, a few months after Magicall’s launch, Amy was diagnosed with cancer and had a double mastectomy.

It was community that helped the family through each challenge. They moved back to Minnesota to be with Amy’s family during the post-surgery recovery. Friends helped with homeschooling, and former colleagues provided advice and feedback for Magicall.

Amy and Samir emphasized the importance of seeking support, inspiration and perspective when creating a business while also struggling with personal challenges.

“When you put all your emotional energy into something you care about, every bump in the road can feel like a disaster,” Samir said. “By regularly writing down the many things I’m grateful for, I don’t overreact emotionally or dwell on every setback.”

Magicall is an app that allows for video calls and interactive gaming. (Magicall Photo)

The husband-wife founding duo saw the need for an app like Magicall when they observed their own young children on video calls with grandparents.

“The kids would sit there and have one word answers, and their attention spans just couldn’t handle it,” Amy said. “…We thought there had to be a better way to engage them.”

The COVID-19 pandemic kept many children from seeing their grandparents due to health reasons, which created demand for something such as Magicall, Samir said.

“The kids have never been more excited about a product their parents had worked on,” Amy noted.

Magicall will offer a free version of the service and a $5/month subscription plan. Investors include Thomas Layton, former CEO of OpenTable, and Marc Mezvinsky, director of TPG Capital.

The company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding from angel investors.

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