Most high school kids don’t spend time thinking about enterprise software or sales lead generation.
But if you’re Stefan Stokic, a 15-year old high school sophomore from Jackson, Mississippi, that’s part of your every day language — and perhaps, the idea for a future rocketship startup.
In fact, Stokic already has a startup called Slik, cofounded by fellow 14-year old student Soroush Ghondsi, and is connected with a bunch of high-profile Silicon Valley investors who are closely following their budding careers.
“I think most kids have this assumption that anything has to start when you’re 18,” Stokic told Business Insider. “They block the idea that this is actually possible.”
Cold messaging Chris Sacca
Stokic learned how to code when he was 10 and started following the tech scene from about two years ago.
But it was only in January when he really got involved with VCs, after cold messaging Lowercase Capital’s billionaire founder Chris Sacca on Twitter.
— Stefan Stokic (@StefanStok) January 19, 2016
His tweet included a link to a website he made that listed all the job openings at Lowercase’s portfolio companies. The idea came while watching Sacca and his fellow VC Matt Mazzeo on Periscope talking about the need for their firm’s jobs page. Without asking, Stokic just fired up the page overnight. And moments after sending the tweet, he received a response from both Sacca and Mazzeo.
“It was surreal at first, and then you’re like, ‘oh, wow, this actually means something now,” Stokic says.
Stokic was soon hired as an intern at Lowercase, and worked on a number of different projects so far. Through his work at Lowercase, he says he also got to know other VCs like Homebrew’s Hunter Walk and Haystack’s Semil Shah.
Sacca was so impressed by Stokic that he even mentioned his story in a recent interview, while giving advice for young adults. He said:
“The most successful and ambitious people out there know to create value before asking for anything in return. You want to get my attention? Start doing some of my work…Two months ago, a 15-year-old in Mississippi overheard me say on Periscope that I wished our firm’s web site had a Jobs page. So, without reaching out to us at all, he just went ahead and built one.
…Well, guess which venture capital firm that gets thousands of resumes a year now has a 15-year-old intern routinely helping us with projects? Distinguish yourself through your hustle and your initiative.”
It was at Lowercase where Stokic got to meet his cofounder Ghondsi (who lives in Waterloo, Canada, by the way.) Ghondsi started coding at 9, and already had experience building his own stock trading app and a startup that collected and analysed company data.
They soon realised they shared a common interest in data analytics and artificial intelligence, so they decided to launch Slik, an automatic email prospecting app.
“We do a bunch of scraping to find emails publicly used. Since we have hundreds of thousands of confirmed emails, we can find patterns in that data to know what the most common email patterns are for specific roles or company types, through our algorithm. We also have third party resources that help with our verification,” Ghondsi tells us about Slik.
Slik officially launched only about a month ago. But Stokic claims it’s already generating about $4,000 in revenue and has over 1,500 users. The startup is bootstrapped at this point but they plan to raise money and hire soon.
Perhaps what’s more impressive is their understanding of the cloud business and knowledge of the tech industry. They casually use language like “annual recurring revenue” and “artificial intelligence in the B2B space,” while calling out Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison as their favourite leader.
“I think in the B2B space, Ellison really manoeuvred it well and outplayed his competitors, which is something I really do respect,” Stokic says.
Both Stokic and Ghondsi are running Slik while going to school. They say they each work almost 130 hours a week, including school time. But it’s not hurting their grades, as they claim to be getting straight-A’s and passing advance maths classes with ease.
“It’s not the complexity of school, it’s more about the time. We need a lot of coffee,” Ghondsi says.
What keeps them going is the potential they see in artificial intelligence and how it could improve enterprise software.
“In the sales space, there’s so much menial tasks that could be automated and improved that are still done by humans today. It’s just a huge space we want to tackle,” Ghondsi says.
When you’re as talented as Stokic or Ghondsi, skipping college would be an option. But Ghondsi says they don’t agree with “the whole Peter Thiel rhetoric that college is bad for everyone,” and that it’s a choice they will make when the time comes.
Still, both founders said they’d like to see more high school kids take initiative and reach out to famous people if they want to get in the field early on.
“If you don’t reach out, you’re never going to have the opportunity,” Stokic says. “You don’t have much to lose, especially when you’re just starting out. Just go out and try to get something done.”