BOULDER — A former software engineer at Google, Scott Lininger was naturally excited when his young daughter showed an interest in coding. But perhaps unsurprisingly for a kid with a Google parent, she quickly outgrew the products on the market at the time that were geared toward teaching kids to code. That conundrum, at least in part, was what led Lininger and cofounder Aidan Chopra to start Bitsbox in 2014.
Just more than 2½ years later, the company is on pace to finish 2016 with more than $1 million in revenue, and is wrapping up a round of funding from angel investors that is aimed at fueling even more growth in 2017.
Boulder-based Bitsbox, officially Codepops Inc., provides a monthly subscription service that equips kids ages 6 to 14 with increasingly advanced projects that teach them to code.
“She’s been doing Bitsbox the whole time,” Lininger said of his daughter, who is 10 now, in a recent interview. “So she’s quite the little coder now.”
Bitsbox is one of six companies that recently completed AT&T’s six-month Aspire Accelerator, through which the startup received a $100,000 investment from AT&T in the form of a convertible debt note. Bitsbox has since raised $735,000 from investors under similar terms, with another $165,000 on the way. Rockies Venture Club in Denver and Milwaukee-based Golden Angels are among the investors participating.
Bitsbox plans to use the money to beef up marketing and growth. Lininger, the company’s CEO, said the focus right now is to continue to perfect Bitsbox’s home product. But the company also has kits aimed at schools, libraries and maker spaces, and will look at getting into more schools in 2017. Bitsbox has sent free coding kits to more than 6,000 classrooms and is conducting a number of pilot programs with schools in the United States and Canada. Locally, the St. Vrain Valley School District was one of Bitsbox’s early adopters.
Bitsbox’s home subscriptions range from $20 to $45 per month. They include code printed on a variety of materials that kids can type into free online accounts and then manipulate to see their own customized apps come to life. The apps can then be run and shared on any computer or mobile device.
Just before Thanksgiving, Bitsbox launched a $23 sampler box that gives kids a taste of the service without subscribing.
“We’re on track,” Lininger said of Bitsbox’s trajectory as a company. “We’re really happy about the holiday season so far. As a consumer product, you sort of wait until Q4.”
This year marks the first full year of sales for Bitsbox.
Lininger and Chopra, who met while they both worked at Google, started Bitsbox on April 1, 2014. But it wasn’t until after going through the Boomtown Accelerator in Boulder that fall that they launched the first kits through a Kickstarter campaign in January 2015 that wound up raising $250,000. The company began fulfilling those Kickstarter orders in April of last year, and then began selling on its own website.
Bitsbox has raised about $1.5 million to date, and has seven employees at its office at 3080 Valmont Road. Bitsbox designs the kits and writes the code in Boulder, and Lininger said most of the materials are sourced, produced and shipped by partners in Colorado.
Lininger said the recently completed Aspire Accelerator — the curriculum of which is tailored specifically to the needs of each company — proved invaluable in making industry connections as the company gets set for its next phase of growth.
“We just got really excellent mentorship and introductions to all sorts of people in the tech space,” Lininger said.