The Zigantic team, from left to right: Vignav Ramesh, Rishab Mohan, Arav Manchanda and Sahil Kancherla. Not pictured: New York-based Vihaan Dheer. (Zigantic Photo) The co-founders of the startup looked at the U.S. labor pool and saw an opportunity in high school students — and specifically those who play video games. They’ve launched a business that harnesses teens’ passion for gaming with video game developers who need to test and validate their games. It’s a niche that the Zigantic crew is uniquely suited to plug into, given they’re all teens themselves. “The high school market is an untapped market that most developers can’t tap,” said Vignav Ramesh, the company’s 14-year-old CEO. Zigantic’s other four founders range from 13-to-15 years old and include Rishab Mohan, Vihaan Dheer, Sahil Kancharla and Arav Manchanda. The business and most of the team are based in the Bellevue, Wash. area, while Dheer is from New York. The company got its start in August 2017, and officially incorporated a little more than a year ago. Image of games for testing. (Zigantic Image) They estimate that game validation is a $33 billion sector. For now, they’re offering their product for free in order to build credibility (their first customer was so pleased with the service that he paid them $100 anyhow). The team is cold-calling developers and going to meetups to find customers, and would like to connect with game makers at universities. Once they gain traction, they plan to offer testing packages from $9.99 up to $21.99, depending on the range of services and level of feedback provided. “We’re trying to make it a lot easier for [developers] and cut down the cost,” said Mohan, chief product officer. The Zigantic founders have been recruiting students at their own schools to do the testing, and spreading the word that they’re hiring to other schools and districts through friends. Zigantic is in its second round of incubation with Young Entrepreneur program. Last year, they won the regional competition. The program provides mentorship and guidance, helping the startup develop and prove its business model and launch the company. The teens said they each work about 4-to-5 hours a week on the business. They’ve already done their first pitch to investors, raising $18,000 through friends and family. “The funds have been raised to accelerate the release of our next-gen play-testing application, to aid with go-to-market activities and to broaden our reach to mobile and PC game-developers, said Ramesh. The team is working with its second and third customers, and set a goal of reaching 30 customers this year. We caught up with Ramesh and Mohan for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for their answers to our questionnaire. Members of team Zigantic working on their product. (Zigantic Photo) Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Zigantic’s platform is designed to create a new generation mobile validation platform to help mobile and PC game developers solve the burden of game validation. Inspiration hit us when: We were working on a coding project as friends when we came up with the idea to create a company. Our mentor was excited to hear of it and encouraged us to further deliberate and even “sleep over it.” Having recently won the “Best Product Design” award at Washington State Middle School Computer Science Competition Computing for All, we were buoyed by the possibilities that lay ahead. We began brainstorming ideas (teaching investment to teens, developing a game-changing algorithm to predict losers and winners of American football games, cricket, drone championships, etc.). Ultimately, we picked the idea of game validation for mobile and PCs. Each of us were passionate about it and furthermore the idea was one that every student in middle and high school — regardless of gender, race and ethnicity — would relate to. And everyone gets to play. VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We incorporated in Delaware in March 2018, and bootstrapped for the first year until we built the first version of our product and acquired our initial customers. We have recently raised a small round of pre-seed investment from friends and family and plan to use it toward expansion. Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We have access to an untapped audience of high school students. These generation-Zs have used the internet from a young age and are comfortable with mobile and PC technology. We know gaming. Our users are excited to try new games, provide their first opinions in addition to describing the experience of a moderate to advanced user. We involve students of all gender identities and backgrounds and reward them for providing their perspective on a wide range of features with respect to game. The smartest move we’ve made so far: We bonded with believers and ignored the naysayers. So many people told us that they don’t believe high school students could build a startup and predicted our demise; they also felt that game developers would not trust companies that are run by young adults. Game developers were skeptical about the quality of feedback they would receive and sometimes stated their preference for certified testers. We believed in the idea and in our ability to execute, and we evolved and started to receive vigorous nods from developers as they reviewed our work (they generally don’t like to test, so the value we bring to them is significant). I’d recommend to all founders that you do your research, be willing to change and don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: So many to pick from. First, we have realized that creating a strong culture is incredibly important. We made mistakes early on by not focusing on creating the right work environment, mission and values. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” rings true. Today we spend just as much time on creating the right culture as much as strategizing our next expansion goal or tactic. Second, we underestimated the value of a strong execution of our go-to-market strategy and roadmap. The initial customer traction we received was encouraging but somewhat misleading; we had to tap into our networks for early success. Since then we have worked hard to develop a consistent, continuous and responsive outbound marketing engagement model with our prospects. A sample of reviewer feedback. (Zigantic Image) Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? , executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. He’s leading Microsoft’s gaming business across all devices and services, and is himself a passionate gamer. It would be cool to meet with Phil and share our ideas. We’ve been following the future plans for Xbox and the ability to play games with mobile devices and feel that is a game changing idea. Our favorite team-building activity is: As you may expect, we bond over playing mobile and PC games, and it’s a special experience to be playing with friends after we’ve completed our school and Zigantic work. But it’s not online games at all times. We also enjoy playing physical and team-based sports like cricket, baseball and American football, and believe in the power of teamwork. The adrenaline rush experienced when we win together is truly special. The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Passion for playing games, to understand the inner workings of how games are developed, and the desire to make them better. We don’t look for experience in game-testing as much as we do for someone who has a fresh, unique and authentic point-of-view and is unafraid to express her or his opinions. We look for gaming mavericks and strong communicators. In addition, in order to evolve our application into game-changing software, we look for top talent in software development among high school students. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: It’s never too early to start. The journey of building a company is both challenging and rewarding, but don’t let the barriers block you from moving forward. When we started, we pivoted on the idea several times, and have had growth challenges in people management and customer acquisition. We’re determined to win and, more importantly, we’re obsessed with delivering value to our customers. We are overwhelmed and grateful for the trust game developers have shown in Zigantic.
The Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalists, clockwise from left to right: Rad Power Bikes co-founders Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh; Loftium co-founder Yifan Zhang; Slope co-founder Brian Bosché; Buttermilk founder Mitra Raman; and Possible Finance co-founder Tony Huang. (Photos via the companies and GeekWire) The six nominees for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at this year’s prove that you can accomplish a lot by the time you’re 30 if you catch the startup bug. As part of our annual GeekWire Awards event, we recognize rising stars under the age of 30 who are building startups in the Pacific Northwest. We’re soliciting votes for seven promising young entrepreneurs to choose a winner, with input from more than 30 judges in the tech community. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19. The 2019 nominees are Slope co-founder ; Rad Power Bikes co-founders and ; Loftium co-founder ; Buttermilk founder ; and Possible Finance co-founder . Last year, the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award , co-founder of the peer-to-peer petsitting startup Rover. This year, we wanted to learn more about our nominees so we went straight to the source. GeekWire contacted their close family members to get the inside scoop on what makes them tick as entrepreneurs. Learn more about each nominee below, cast your vote, , and we’ll see you at the GeekWire Awards! Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh, Rad Power Bikes Ty Collins, left, and Mike Radenbaugh, founders of Rad Power Bikes. (Rad Power Bikes Photo) Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh are childhood friends turned startup co-founders. Together they launched , a direct-to-consumer electric bicycle company that from e-commerce heavy-hitters Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon. Mike started building e-bikes when he was in high school, taking over his parents’ woodshop. “I think If we let him, he would have stayed home from high school every day putting e-bikes together and filling orders,” said his father, John Radenbaugh. “Big boxes of parts started showing up every day until our garage was overrun and it looked like a mad scientist’s lab for the remainder of his high school years,” added his mother, Patty Radenbaugh. In college, Ty teamed up with Mike, focusing on marketing and events for their fledgling e-bike business. His father, Bruce Collins, said that his son has always had the kind of unshakable optimism that entrepreneurs need to get through startup life. “When he was a small boy, he developed the idea that all possibilities are 50/50 in likelihood of happening, something would either happen or it wouldn’t,” Bruce said. “So, even in the face of long odds, Ty is able to make things happen because he feels it’s just as likely to happen as not.” Mitra Raman, Buttermilk Mitra Rasan, founder of Seattle-based Buttermilk Co. (The Buttermilk Co. Photo) After three years at Amazon, Mitra Raman caught the entrepreneur bug. Inspiration struck when her mother bagged up all of the ingredients needed to cook rasam, one of her favorite dishes growing up. All she had to do was add hot water. “An idea was born,” last year. She quit her gig at Amazon and struck out on her own, launching ., a meal delivery kit startup that charges $6 for meals such as the vegetable wheat porridge dish Khichdi and the lentil dish daal. Mitra’s husband, Amar Rao, said her entrepreneurial plunge was in-character. “She is always working hard and never settles or gets complacent,” he said. “Whenever she finds herself getting comfortable, she starts looking for the next and biggest challenge and, for the most part, succeeds in all her undertakings,” he added. Tony Huang, Possible Finance Possible Finance CEO Tony Huang. (Photo by Sam Cook) After his first startup exactly one year ago, Tony Huang has helped micro-lending startup originate 24,000 small loans and grown revenue by 50 percent month-over-month. Possible Finance offers a service similar to payday loans but the company allows borrowers to pay back the funds in smaller installments over time. The company a $30 million credit facility earlier this month. Tony has always had a streak of entrepreneurial creativity, according to his father, JK Huang. As a child, Tony came up with a unique solution to a pesky problem for kids of his generation. He didn’t have any Pokémon cards to show his friends because they were the “least priority in our spending budget,” JK said. “He put on a big smile claiming he had the most popular Pokémon cards,” JK said. “He then took out his collection. They were the most popular ones, but they were printouts on a regular piece of paper from our home printer trimmed to the standard size!” Brian Bosché, Slope Brian Bosche and Dan Bloom of Slope win GeekWire Startup Day 2016. (GeekWire Photo) Brian Bosché co-founded Slope five years ago as a creative agency in Detroit. He and his co-founder Dan Bloom quickly became frustrated by inefficiencies in creative marketing collaboration. That gave them the idea for Slope, a software service that helps companies manage the creative project production process. Brian moved Slope to Seattle to join the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in 2016 after a frantic application process, according to his wife, Marissa Smith. “Moments before the deadline, they submitted their application to take part in the program,” she said. “They were accepted and everything starting happening fast — Brian had to move to Seattle from Detroit with two weeks notice. It takes someone who’s willing to risk it all to pack up their life on a notice and move across the country, with the hope and dream of making their vision a reality.” It paid off. Three years later, Seattle-based to grow the public company’s work collaboration software suite. Yifan Zhang, Loftium Loftium CEO Yifan Zhang. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg) In 2017, Yifan Zhang to shake up home-buying by leveraging Airbnb. promised to help house hunters with their down payments if they agreed to Airbnb a portion of their home and share the profits with the startup. The novel approach to real estate isn’t the only thing to catch people off guard. “I surprise a lot of people,” Zhang last year. “Most people expect me to be a 40-year-old male — my name is androgynous. Expectations and reality. There is always that gap, and you’re compensating for that and it’s tiring after a while.” Startup life can be fatiguing, even when entrepreneurs aren’t battling stereotypes. But Zhang is keeping her head down and growing her company. In 2018, Loftium and the startup is hiring for a variety of engineering and operational roles. Zhang and her relatives could not be reached to comment. Join us at the 2019 GeekWire Awards on May 2!
Founders’ Co-op Managing Partners Chris DeVore and Aviel Ginzburg. (Founders’ Co-op Photo) More investment dollars are flowing into the Pacific Northwest startup ecosystem thanks to a new fund from . The Seattle-based early-stage venture capital firm just closed a $25 million fund, its fourth and largest ever since launching in 2008. Founders’ Co-op will follow the same playbook it has used in years past: being the first institutional check and anchor tenant in the seed round for companies it bankrolls. The firm focuses on writing checks in the $250,000-to-$750,000 range for budding startups across the Pacific Northwest. It has backed more than 90 startups, including companies such as Remitly, Outreach, Auth0, Crowd Cow, Apptentive, and others. Those companies have collectively gone on to raise more than $1.5 billion in follow-on capital. “We aren’t thematic investors but are focused on technical founding teams solving hard problems into which they have unique insights, which tends to lead us to enterprise software, from developer tools up through workflow automation and systems of intelligence,” DeVore told GeekWire last week. GeekWire previously reported on this fund , when Founders’ Co-op raised the initial dollars. The last clocked in at $20 million four years ago, which followed a $7.7 million fund in 2012 and a $2.7 million original fund. DeVore and Andy Sack started the firm in 2008, along with partner Rudy Gadre, a former Facebook and Amazon.com executive. Sack stepped away from day-to-day duties several years ago, leaving the Seattle firm in the hands of DeVore, who recruited Seattle entrepreneur , co-founder of Simply Measured, to the team as a venture partner. Ginzburg was promoted to general partner last year. Sack and Gadre are still involved as venture partners. Many in the Seattle tech economy have the lack of homegrown capital available in the Pacific Northwest over the years. DeVore is one of the biggest advocates looking to change that imbalance. “Somehow, all of a sudden, it’s ten years later,” DeVore wrote in a blog post. “We’re still doing the same thing we’ve always done, but the world has changed around us.” In his blog post, DeVore noted the growth of Seattle as a tech hub, with Amazon, Microsoft, and a flurry of remote engineering outposts helping increase the talent pool exponentially: “We’ve spent the last ten years honing our craft and building a community of founders, investors and mentors dedicated to our shared mission of making the Pacific Northwest the best place in the world to start a software company. Over the same period, our regional startup ecosystem has grown and changed in ways we never imagined, offering a more diverse and talented pool of potential founders than we’ve ever seen. As with our first fund back in 2008, it looks like we’re heading into another cycle of uncertainty in the global economy. We expect markets to slow, or even contract, over the next few years. We expect the last several years’ run of easy money for startups to end along with it. Putting that all together, we know for sure that the founders we back in this next cycle will be some of the best we’ve ever seen.” in Founders’ Co-op mostly come from the Pacific Northwest and are a mix of founders and tech executives, plus family offices and foundations. The State of Oregon, via its Oregon Growth Board, invested again in the fourth fund. DeVore also runs Techstars Seattle, which its 10th class in February. Ginzburg, meanwhile, leads the Alexa Accelerator, another Techstars program that Amazon helps operate in Seattle. Founders’ Co-op, Techstars Seattle, and the Alexa Accelerator are all run out of the University of Washington’s Startup Hall.
(Techstars Seattle Photo) Validate the market. Sell before you build. Seek failure. And go all in. Those are some of the tips shared by founders participating in the latest class. GeekWire caught up with the entrepreneurs who are apart of the tenth Techstars Seattle cohort, a milestone for the 3-month accelerator that has graduated 100 companies to date over the past decade. Alumni of the organization — companies such as Remitly, Outreach, Skilljar, Bizible, Leanplum and Zipline — have collectively raised more than $700 million in investment capital. Most have built their startups in the Pacific Northwest, helping expand the entrepreneurial clout in the region. Here are the ten startups in the newest class (Demo Day is set for May 7 in Seattle), with descriptions from Techstars, which provides $120,000 in funding in exchange for 6 percent common stock as part of the three-month accelerator. , who reflected on the longevity of Techstars Seattle and dishes on how the Seattle tech scene has changed. AdaptiLab founders James Wu and Allen Lu. Founders: James Wu and Allen Lu Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: AdaptiLab helps companies build machine learning teams with our automated and robust technical screening platform for candidates’ coding and analytics skills. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? AdaptiLab has built the first-ever coding platform for assessing data analysis, feature engineering, and model training tasks. We automatically grade candidates’ code and models for quality and performance and provide in-depth technical scoring to the hiring managers distributing the interviews. We also handle question generation and anti-cheating measures. Overall, we add robustness to the recruiting process and drastically reduce the amount of time hiring managers and engineers spend interviewing candidates. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Conduct significant customer discovery before building a product. Automaton founders MH Lines and Julia Funderburk. Founders: MH Lines, Julia Funderburk, and Andrew Graves Headquarters: Kirkland, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We provide quality and test automation for the millions of business users managing SaaS technology stacks, to keep lead flow and configurations working as expected. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our competitors are built for SDETs or require software development skills. We provide a simplified UI so that marketers and sales ops pros can do recurring testing, regression testing or smoke testing at the click of a button. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Know your stuff — your TAM, your moat, your customer — and then go with it. The high-growth approach doesn’t make sense for every business, but if it does, find a tribe and some leaders — we chose Techstars — and just go with it. DataChain founders Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan. Founders: Arjun Pillai and Prasanna Venkatesan Headquarters: Denver, Colo. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: DataChain is a B2B sales and marketing insights platform — an artificial intelligence platform that proactively keeps track of companies and lets salespeople know the right time and context to sell. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? The way we unify the first party (company-owned) data with the publicly-available data about a company is pretty unique. We bring in huge amounts of public data about the company from more than 200 sources and tie it intelligently with the company-owned data. This enables us to do effective intelligence that will help the companies to better market and sell to their customers. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Before writing a single line of code, go out and talk to your potential customers and ask them how much they’d pay for it (don’t ask if they need it). Don’t build because you feel that the world needs it; make sure it really does. Kristalic founders Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen. Founders: Filip Kozera and Jos van der Westhuizen Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We crystallise your memories by extracting information from what you hear and say and make that content rapidly searchable. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve finished a masters and PhD in machine learning at Cambridge University. We leverage powerful deep learning models, developed during our research, in order to extract rich latent representations from spoken dialogues. These representations constitute our secret sauce for information extraction and rapid search. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Actively push yourself to have the widest possible perspective on everything. Whether it be through reading books and articles, or speaking to the wisest people you know, try to develop a habit that makes you take a step back. With our heads in developer mode, we thought we could simply publish a different app each week to test customer interest. After two brutal weeks and two mediocre apps, a meeting with one experienced mentor shed light upon the much better technique of landing pages. Now we know of even better techniques, and we could have saved a lot of work by forcing ourselves to take a step back from the start. Level founder David Edelstein. Founder: David Edelstein Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Level delivers affordable and appropriate credit and savings through employers to enable hard-working Americans to break out of the payday-to-payday cycle. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Inspired by innovations in the design and delivery of financial services in “developing” countries, Level employs strategies which are proven outside of the U.S. but are considered novel here. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Identify a problem you are passionate about solving and make the leap! Logixboard founders Julian Alvarez (left) and Juan Alvarez (center), with Daniel O., head o operations. Founders: Julian Alvarez and Juan Alvarez Headquarters: Miami, Fla. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Our software is built to help companies all over the world better manage and control their freight operations in an easy and intuitive way. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? From first-hand industry experience, we understand that the freight industry has low quality and decentralized data. Our solutions are built to tackle this data problem head-on, as opposed to shying away from it. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Start selling before you start building. We pivoted three times before we wrote a line of code. Grind your way to customer meetings, pitch your idea, iterate, validate, validate again, and then build. Nodesmith founders Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee. Founders: Samm Desmond and Brendan Lee Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We manage complicated and unreliable blockchain infrastructure so that you can focus solely on your blockchain based application. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We focus on the holistic experience of building a blockchain based application. Not only do we provide basic access to blockchain networks, but we provide a suite of services that allow developers to easily build user friendly applications that don’t feel limited by the underlying blockchain infrastructure. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? There is no substitute for getting connected with folks in your local startup scene. In our experience, there is a ton of variance in how startups are built in the various tech hubs across the world — what you read on popular startup blogs is not necessarily reflective of the ecosystem where you’re trying to start a company. Rammer.ai founders Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale. Founders: Surbhi Rathore and Toshish Jawale Headquarters: San Jose, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Rammer.ai automates notetaking in meetings. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? Our APIs enable communication platforms to add actionable insights on their platforms without any human intervention. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Validate the market but trust your instinct. Tribl founders Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling. Founders: Ikechi Nwabuisi and Jordan Sterling Headquarters: Austin, Tex./Oakland, Calif. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Tribl is a P2P platform connecting immigrants to the cultural conversations, communities and experiences happening. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We leverage people’s cultural identity/affiliations to connect multinational people no matter where they are instantly. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Seek failure! Toggl founders Amr Adawi and Siamak Freydoonnejad. Founders: Siamak Freydoonnejad and Amr Adawi Headquarters: Seattle, Wash. Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Toggl is a mobile app that lets users browse interactive, entertaining AR experiences. It’s YouTube for AR content. What makes you different from the competition? What’s your secret sauce? We’ve figured out what users actually like to do in AR, and what they find engaging. Also, no one else is doing aggregation of AR content as a platform. What’s one piece of advice you’d give other entrepreneurs who are just starting out? Go all-in, full-time as fast as you can! Then, quickly build a team of advisors from your network to keep you accountable and give you ongoing feedback.