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Alumnus Derrick Cai ventures into entrepreneurship

Alumnus+Derrick+Cais+projects+have+started+to+take+flight%2C+under+collaborative+organization+Slam+Ventures.+Their+recent+creation%2C+Jotbot+Ai%2C+can+be+seen+trending+through+Instagram+Reels.+Photos+used+with+permission+by+Derrick+Cai.
Meadow Shen and Deeksha Raj
Alumnus Derrick Cai’s projects have started to take flight, under collaborative organization Slam Ventures. Their recent creation, Jotbot Ai, can be seen trending through Instagram Reels. Photos used with permission by Derrick Cai.

From selling candy in elementary school to renting out basketball courts as a high school senior to creating an internet-viral artificial intelligence note-taking tool at UC Berkeley, Class of 2022 alumnus Derrick Cai has been an entrepreneur for, presumably, his entire life. 

Cai’s entrepreneurship journey began in elementary school after reading “Lawn Boy” by Gary Paulsen. From mowing lawns to making half a million dollars through running his business, the 12-year-old protagonist inspired a lasting entrepreneurial spirit in Cai. 

“I thought his corporation was the coolest thing in the world,” Cai said. “That was what motivated me at first — my passion evolved into building well-developed products that people want and love.”

In high school, Cai began side hustles, building websites for many local businesses — mainly basketball trainers and clinics. His clientele evolved to include a consistent pool of paying clients and Cai’s services expanded to offer web development, social media management and media production. 

The summer before he entered college, Cai hosted a local basketball tournament where he learned about the power social media holds in generating interest and building up businesses. After the promotional TikTok videos he posted went viral, the small tournament turned into a huge event, with participants from as far as Los Angeles making the eight-hour drive to attend.

“It was crazy,” Cai said. “At that point, I was hooked. I decided I really wanted to do something like this in college.”

The virality of the basketball tournament was a precursor to the later successes Cai would experience on social media. Henceforth, TikTok and Instagram Reels have been the largest channels of growth for Cai’s projects. 

Through Y-Combinator Co-Founder Matching Platform, Cai met a fellow Berkeley student, Declan Gerssel. Since then, the two have joined forces to create products, including YouUp, a personalized alarm clock, and JotBot.ai, an AI-powered document and voice editor, to make essay-writing and note-taking easier. Because of their growing number of startups, Cai and Gerssel founded SLAM, a limited liability corporation, to manage all their apps and websites. SLAM stands for “spring like a marathon,” which Cai says is their internal motto; they have eight different social media accounts for promotional purposes, with @slam.ventures as their main account. 

JotBot has been their most popular app thus far. The original idea for JotBot was to create a version of ChatGPT that focused on writing assistance while avoiding cheating and plagiarism. It now serves as a document editor and helps users write notes and ideas. Cai and Gerssel’s initial strategy for marketing this app was to repeatedly post promotional videos with the same script. Their most popular video garnered 46.1 million views, 1.3 million likes and 556,000 shares as of early February. Across their eight accounts, their videos for JotBot have garnered more than 100 million views.

Another app they founded called Avo Alarm is an AI-powered alarm that clones celebrity voices to wake you up. This app reached Sam’s Tailor, a popular TikToker known for his humorous methods to promote his tailoring business, when Cai cloned his voice in an Instagram Reel. Sam’s Tailor then contacted the founders and helped promote the app, causing his large following to follow suit. 

This semester, Cai and Gessel are both taking a gap semester to focus on creating new products at Buildspace, a program for entrepreneurs to work on their ideas. 

“Last semester, I was taking classes while working on a lot of side projects at the same time, which was very stressful,” Cai said. “Now we’re a lot more focused.”

They are currently working full-time on optimizing JotBot to its fullest potential due to its popularity. At the beginning of their entrepreneurship journey, Cai and Declan were mainly focusing on making money to be able to support their businesses and personal lives.

“Now that we’re making good money, we’re really taking our time and developing good products and strategies,” Cai said. “It feels like we’ve reached the next level in that there’s a whole new world of challenges that we have to face. I’m very excited to tackle these challenges.”

Looking back, Cai reflects on his journey from doubt to approaching success. They acknowledged the risks that came with startups but nevertheless worked hard to overcome the inevitable challenges and mistakes they faced.

“I don’t think I’ve succeeded yet,” Cai said. “But the difference between now and when I started is so large. I have a long way to go, but looking back is just so awesome.”

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Sarah Zhang, Staffer
(she/her) Sarah is a senior and second-year staffer. She spends her time exploring the poetry of life, through music, writing, and design. She enjoys dreaming, being on the internet, watching Asian films, blogging, appreciating whimsical design, reading biology papers, joking with her friends, (list non-exhaustive)...

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