The Karlsruhe computer scientist Elias Groll had an impressive career in his younger years. IT studies while graduating, two years at Google, then my own startup.
The majority of German founders studied at a business school or worked for many years in management consultancies. Not so Elijah’s grudge. “I started programming when I was ten and hacked our school server when I was 15,” says the 24-year-old in an interview with Gründerszene. Even as a teenager, the man from Karlsruhe laid the foundation for his later career without knowing it.
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), known for its computer science courses, found out about Groll’s coding knowledge from the local news and invited the student to a taster course, he says. With success: the teenager started his bachelor’s degree while he was still in high school. High school during the day, university in the late afternoon. According to the founder, in agreement with the school administration, he no longer had to attend certain subjects. In between, Groll worked as a student trainee at SAP and earned money with smaller programming projects.
For Google to the Valley
Groll finished his high school diploma, but not his bachelor’s degree. “After I turned 18, I quit my studies, gave up my job at SAP and went to Google.” During his school days, he applied to Google a total of seven times before being invited to an interview in 2018, he says.
Google first brought the young developer to Zurich as an intern, then Groll got a permanent position. According to his own statements, he was already earning a five-digit monthly amount there at the age of 18. In the YouTube development team, he was to work on a program that would make work easier for other programmers. A few months at the headquarters in Silicon Valley followed, then Munich.
35,000 users, but only 10,000 euros in sales
When Groll was 22, he resigned from the tech company and went into business for himself. From his time at Google, he knew what problems programmers are dealing with and what tools are specially made for them. He tackled one of them himself. This resulted in his startup Codesphere, whose tool is intended to replace so-called devops. These are people who are at the interface between software development and operations, who take care of the cloud and the server, for example, and who are responsible for ensuring that the code written by the developers can be implemented. “Users still need to be able to program, but they no longer need to worry about how the lines of code go live,” says Groll, explaining the concept.
The Karlsruhe native founded the startup with Jonas Zipprick, with whom he took part in programming competitions when he was still at school. According to their own statements, 35,000 developers are currently using the tool to implement private projects such as online games with Codesphere. A fraction of this pays for the premium functions, so Codesphere turns over 10,000 euros a month, says Groll.
The young company is currently financed primarily through venture capital. At the start in August 2020, various business angels and the Berlin VC 468 Capital invested around 500,000 euros in Codesphere. Two more rounds followed, so that according to their own statements, a total of almost seven million euros flowed into the startup. The company valuation was at 20 million euros in the last round in November last year.
“In between, we almost ran out of money because we had stress in the founding team,” says Groll in retrospect. At the start, a third person was involved in the company, but the trio had disagreed. Groll quickly took over the fundraising and, according to their own statements, obtained new follow-up financing within a few days to ensure their continued existence. In his opinion, it was easier because Codesphere is registered as Delaware Inc in the USA – this legal form is more popular with US investors because there is far less bureaucracy and financing rounds can be completed more quickly.
In order to generate more sales and appeal to more investors, the coding startup wants to change its business model in the coming months. Instead of targeting developers, companies should pay for the Codesphere service. The 24-year-old has already assembled a suitable team for the step: one of the startup’s chief developers was his former manager at Google.