Kai Frazier, Founder and CEO of Kai XR, is passionate about giving students a head start on their futures.
At 17 years old, Kai abruptly became homeless, causing a domino effect of hardships that would forever alter the course of her life. It was during this time that the teachers around her influenced her in the best way possible. They took Kai under their wing to ensure she was taken care of. These acts of kindness led Kai down the path of becoming an educator herself. Yet the impact she desired was soon stifled due to a lack of resources. Kai began to recognize that technology was the key to ensuring that all children had access to experiences that would be crucial to their development as students. She ultimately took matters into her own hands by creating a virtual field trip featuring the monuments and historical sites of Washington, D.C. Today, Kai XR leverages interactive 360° technology to take children anywhere they want to go.
We asked Kai about the founding story of Kai XR, how her definition of success has evolved, and her reflections throughout her journey as a founder.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on Kai XR?
A: By about 11th grade, I found myself suddenly homeless. I didn’t have books because I was really transient. Getting lunch was hard. Everything became a lot more challenging. My teachers played a really big role in making sure that I had what I needed. So I became a teacher myself, not surprisingly working with the same at-risk students. I would love to have taken my students to museums, but we couldn't afford the charter buses to transport them.
I wanted to bring a tool to market that would actually close the digital divide, not further it. It was very important to me to be mobile first—kids can use a smartphone to pick their field trip or pick their experience they want to build, and they are instantly immersed in whatever reality they'd like to see. By making these very thoughtful tech choices, we're able to make our platform extremely accessible and bring a lot of kids off the sidelines so they can actually use Kai XR. With 5G, we're able to fill in that big gap of connectivity and a wide area of different communities, especially the ones who are under-resourced and fall behind the fastest. It's been exciting to see their excitement, to incorporate that feedback, and to hear the validation that this is a tool that actually works for the students in their classrooms.
Q: What makes Kai XR different from other, similar companies?
A: Our products prioritize technical accessibility. You can use anything we build on a smartphone, which is important because many students are stuck in the digital divide as they lack technology and/or Wi-Fi. Edtech products overlooking this reality caused my own classroom to struggle.
Q: Have you ever felt like you’re “different”? If yes, in what ways has this contributed to your journey as an entrepreneur?
A: Less than 1 percent of Black women raise venture capital. I’ve never felt different—I am different and I set out to do the impossible. Although Black women are a fast-growing group of business owners, we get the least amount of resources by far. I am also a history teacher with no business background. The odds have been stacked against me at every turn. I entered this field knowing that I am different and I would have to turn my differences into strengths.
Q: Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
A: No. I never had any interest in entrepreneurship. I created Kai XR to solve a real-life problem in my classroom when I realized no help was coming.
Q: What’s one thing you wish you had known before starting Kai XR?
A: I didn’t know what venture capital was before starting my company. I didn't know how much money it would take to start a company. I couldn't even repeat the word “billions.” Someone would say “billions” and I would subconsciously repeat it back as “millions” because I had no experience speaking in numbers that large.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: I’ve never felt like giving up, but I did feel like my company might die when my youngest and only sibling passed away in 2020 at age 22. The trauma triggered extreme memory loss and it was beyond difficult to run the company. With runway getting low, my company died twice, but an unexpected investment by Freada Kapor helped us live another day. We went from $65,000 to $500,000 in one year. Freada Kapor has been our biggest champion.
Q: Has your definition of success evolved throughout your journey as a founder?
A: When I first started out, I thought my idea would change education. As I grow deeper in the journey, I see my idea is stimulating ecosystems as I hire diverse employees who are bringing their paychecks directly into their communities. I’m also bringing more diverse voices into tech. I’m very proud of the team we’ve built and our culture.
Q: Have you discovered any underappreciated leadership traits?
A: Being a teacher is very similar to running a startup. You never know what’s going to get thrown at you each day. But you do know it’s going to be crazy and exhausting, and challenging yet rewarding.
Q: How would you describe the journey you’ve had in a few sentences? Would you do it all over again?
Entrepreneurship, like ancestor Langston Hughes said in Mother to Son,
“Ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And [entrepreneurship] for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
I would do it all over again. Each of us is just one part of a timeline. My contribution will send ripples for our students so they know they can do whatever they put their minds to. I feel like I’ve already won.
Kai is a member of Dreamers & Doers, an award-winning community that amplifies extraordinary women entrepreneurs and leaders by securing PR, forging authentic connections, and curating high-impact resources. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and get involved here.