How 2 highschool teenagers raised a $500K seed spherical for his or her API startup (sure, it’s AI)

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Only a few weeks in the past, 18-year-old greatest associates Christopher Fitzgerald and Nicholas Van Landschoot graduated from highschool. 

Whereas most teenagers their age can be residing it up of their final summer season earlier than school or the grownup jobs that await them, Fitzgerald and Van Landschoot are hunkered down in a VC workplace in Boulder, Colorado.

They’re spending the summer season engaged on their startup APIGen after they raised a $500,000 pre-seed funding from Varana Capital. Fitzgerald will head off to Penn State within the fall and Van Landschoot will transfer close to the college however is placing his school plans on maintain to be a full-time startup founder.

The cash was raised whereas they had been nonetheless in highschool after a prototype for his or her thought garnered a whole lot of curiosity among the many massive Boulder group of AI lovers. 

APIGen is engaged on a platform that can construct customized APIs from pure language prompts. It is going to be capable of, as an example, enable an e-commerce enterprise to easily ask for an API that connects its net entrance finish to its database, and the platform will ship it. 

By API, the founders don’t simply imply an ordinary “utility programming interface” that permits purposes to trade knowledge or carry out another easy workflow perform. They need APIGen to create complicated customized APIs that may do a number of or serial duties.

“We’re truly producing the code for the APIs as a way to have enterprise logic, precise customized functionalities inside these APIs as properly,” Van Landschoot instructed TechCrunch.

Along with net apps and databases, Fitzgerald says IoT gadgets are considered one of his startup’s goal areas. He presents the instance of a buyer asking for an API that instructs a drone to fly across the perimeter of an space, seize photos and permit one other utility to interface with the outcome. One other instance is an API that makes use of face recognition for constructing safety. As soon as a database of images of verified worker faces is created, the consumer might ask APIGen for an API that lets a smartlock’s door digital camera verify the face of everybody who arrives in opposition to that database earlier than unlocking the door.

“APIs on the finish of the day, could be as easy or as complicated as you make them to be,” Fitzgerald stated. “They will vary from simply new connectors that take one entry of information, one row of information from a desk of a database, to whole again ends. And that’s actually what we’re making an attempt to focus on there, for whole net apps for whole IoT purposes.”

The teenagers met on their college’s debate group and bonded over their love of coding. Their first venture collectively was a chatbot that may enable individuals to talk with knowledge. They quickly realized that it wasn’t an authentic thought. Nonetheless, whereas constructing that app, they realized that their tech relied on APIs and that “making APIs was type of a ache,” Fitzgerald stated. “They had been laborious to design.” 

So that they centered on that. As soon as they crafted an alpha model of their thought, a demo-level software, they started to indicate it round to the programmers of their circle to get suggestions. They knew individuals of their native tech business. Van Landschoot’s dad works in cybersecurity IT, and Fitzgerald landed a summer season internship as a programmer at SoftBank by a reference to a pal’s dad.

After which they began sending chilly messages to VCs on LinkedIn and to anybody else they thought may reply.

“We requested individuals to destroy this pitch deck,” Fitzgerald stated.

Phil Broenniman, Ankur Ahuja, Varana Capital
Phil Broenniman (left), Ankur Ahuja (proper), Varana Capital
Picture Credit: Varana Capital

A VC is so impressed, he presents to take a position

One of many individuals who received the message — and had heard in regards to the founders by different connections in Denver/Boulder’s tight-knit startup group — was Philip Broenniman, founding father of Denver’s Varana Capital. Varana started as a household workplace for Broenniman and an “extremely rich” pal, and in its 13 years since, it has expanded right into a agency with institutional LP cash and $400 million in AUM, he instructed TechCrunch

Broenniman and Varana COO Ankur Ahuja agreed to satisfy with the teenagers. “We went into the assembly pondering we had been going to offer some fatherly, avuncular recommendation; present some phrases of knowledge,” Broenniman instructed TechCrunch. “We walked out after two hours of their presentation pondering that this was the very best presentation we had heard within the final 5 years. We had been blown away by the cogent insights these two 18-year-olds gave.”

With Fitzgerald wearing his greatest sweater and Van Landschoot in a debate-team-style collared shirt, they leaned into their debate coaching and pitched their firm, their imaginative and prescient, the potential market and themselves. 

Moderately than suggestions on the pitch, “On the finish of the assembly, they talked about that they had been truly ,” Fitzgerald stated of the Varana companions. Broenniman requested the teenagers how a lot cash they had been in search of.

Varana did its diligence trying into the potential of the API market, which has created multibillion {dollars}’ value of successes (MuleSoft purchased by Salesforce, Apigee purchased by Google, to call simply two). And it regarded on the founders’ backgrounds: Fitzgerald graduated as valedictorian of a top-ranked highschool in Boulder, which has a extremely ranked public schooling system; Van Landschoot was such a gifted programmer that he had been tutoring school laptop science college students since he was 14.

The Varana companions scheduled a second assembly for the founders to demo their tech to verify the teenagers weren’t simply “good at speaking however not delivering and doing stuff,” as Van Landschoot described.

The teenagers had been nervous, they confessed, however the demo went properly and the VC provided a time period sheet: $250,000 of pre-seed cash with one other $250,000 in a SAFE, which is a word that converts to fairness if the startup raises later. The VC additionally supplied workplace area.

Whereas they had been pitching to the VCs, Fitzgerald realized about Boulder’s energetic AI Meetup that has 1,400 members, organized by a dad of considered one of Fitzgerald’s tennis group teammates. Boulder has a famously shut and comfy startup group and, together with close by Denver, hosts workplace outposts for Amazon, IBM, Google, Microsoft and plenty of others.

The teenagers joined the group and demoed their product, and the native AI lovers rallied behind them and their thought.

APIGen is clearly very early. And it isn’t the one one engaged on automating APIs. Large tech corporations like Salesforce’s MuleSoft and established startups like RapidAPI are already engaged on this market, as are a lot of the cloud giants.

APIGen additionally doesn’t but have its minimal viable product constructed, although it’s getting nearer with a beta model that might be launched this month. “We’ve already had some curiosity from companies, however clearly we’re nonetheless pre-MVP at this stage, and simply cranking, making an attempt to get it out as quickly as doable,” Fitzgerald stated.

Nonetheless, Broenniman, who takes board seats with investments, is in for the trip. He factors to how the younger founders have already constructed a group of keen supporters. 

“APIGen stands out as the automobile into which we’re investing, however we’re creating partnership with Christopher and Nicholas,” he stated. “It is a $7 billion-plus market. They’re getting into with some parts of competitors there however are carving out their very own area. The chance for return from our standpoint is insane.”