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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 Zigantic 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 TiE Seattle’s Young Entrepreneur program. Last year, they won the TYE (TiE Young Entrepreneur) 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? Phil Spencer, 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.

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