A Slice on Aidan Chopra, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Bitsbox
Would you leave a comfortable job to start your own business at 38? Well, that’s exactly what Aidan Chopra did in 2014 when his Google co-worker, Scott Lininger, asked him to come work on a project that would later be known as Bitsbox. Entrepreneurship wasn’t really on Chopra’s radar before then, as he was following the path of an artist, photoshopping trees back into aerial photos of mine sites to designing 3D modeling for Google Earth. Rather than passing up on this opportunity, Chopra took the leap into entrepreneurship with no business background. With help along the way, Chopra and Lininger have built a profitable company now in its growth stage, having raised $3.6 million across multiple funding rounds along with a successful Kickstarter campaign, and even made an appearance on Shark Tank.
Bitsbox is a subscription box for kids, teaching them how to code using simple commands. They receive a monthly box with coding projects and learn to program by copying apps and then putting their own customizations in. The idea for Bitsbox came when Lininger’s daughter wanted to learn about his coding work at Google, and he couldn’t find an easy way to teach her. Lininger worked on building the idea for about a year before calling upon Chopra to help him out. “We worked up the courage to leave our jobs after about two months, and then we spent the summer just kind of sitting in my house drawing, writing and having a ball actually.”
The two quickly realized they needed help on the business side of the project, and joined the Boomtown accelerator as part of the second cohort back in 2015. “We were two product people who really understood what we wanted to make and who it was for. We were really good at drawing, making and coding things, even public speaking. Well, we had absolutely no business experience. We didn’t understand how to conceive a business model, how to think about making a product that people would want to buy, or anything about fundraising.” Prior to Boomtown, Chopra and Lininger saw Bitsbox as a book or magazine, but through the program, they were able to come up with the subscription box idea that has been highly successful for the company. Chopra even credits this experience as the reason they’re where they are today, and doesn’t believe they would have made it otherwise.
Accelerators like Boomtown are just one of the amazing resources the Boulder startup ecosystem has to offer. Throughout his experience building Bitsbox, Chopra was able to easily connect with other founders and major ecosystem contributors, like Brad Feld, for advice. It seemed everyone who moved to Boulder was looking for that small-town feel and the close-knit community that comes with it. It’s not as “dog-eat-dog” as New York City or Silicon Valley, where there’s much more competition.
To take the product further, Chopra and Lininger decided to take a huge risk: audition for Shark Tank. Leaving their reputation in the hands of reality show producers was scary because they could portray Chopra and Lininger however they wanted to. Luckily, even though they didn’t make a deal on the show, Chopra was very pleased when the producers portrayed them exactly as they were: “a couple of really well-meaning, relatively intelligent, naive dads who wanted to make a product and make the world a better place.” While that was the riskiest thing they’ve done with Bitsbox, Chopra classifies himself and Lininger as actually very risk-averse. When just starting out, though they both quit comfortable jobs, they had plenty of experience and savings to fall back on. The risks they tend to take are smaller, so the size of the obstacles (or “potholes” as Chopra referred to them), also tend to be smaller.
One of the most important pieces of advice Chopra has for aspiring entrepreneurs is to not do it alone.
If you’re at the top of the pyramid, it can be hard to step away and take a break when needed. Additionally, splitting equity fairly played a huge role in the success of Bitsbox, because they are equally invested in the business. Chopra and Lininger, coming from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, found that the risks they take are “fundamentally the same”, with similar stakes. Chopra also recommends that entrepreneurs “fight, fight, fight, the temptation to tell investors all about their product,” which may seem weird coming from a former Google Product Evangelist. After firsthand experience fundraising, even on Shark Tank, Chopra noticed that investors will most likely trust that the product works. So, even though it’s an entrepreneur’s baby and they want to rave all about it, the investors care way more about business metrics and how they’ll get their money back.
The next step for Bitsbox is a second product line, a social coding experience for kids. He envisions a game, similar to Minecraft, but kids will code objects along the way and can share a link with friends to have them join in on the fun. Currently, the product is in alpha testing, with hopes of a late 2021 launch. Once this is established, Chopra sees a merger or acquisition happening, followed by retirement. Chopra’s retirement plan consists of helping friends with their own projects, getting back into art and architecture (the main focus of his education), writing children’s books that have been taking up space in his head and spending more time with his kids.
Aidan Chopra is Co-Founder, Chief Creative Officer and Explainer in Chief of Bitsbox. Bitsbox teaches kids to code through fun app-building projects that come in the mail every month. It empowers kids to “make stuff” from examples encouraging quick progress. Prior to founding Bitsbox Aidan was a product evangelist at Google working on Sketch Up. Connect with Chopra on LinkedIn.