‘Coffee with Sequoia?’: The email that led this teen to a $3.2m investment

16 Jan 2020

Shane Curran, founder, Evervault. Image: Fennell Photography

At a Future Human pop-up event, Ann O’Dea sat down with Shane Curran to get the story of Evervault, a serendipitous email and an ambitious young entrepreneur.

Shane Curran was one of the first people I interviewed when I started working at Silicon Republic and the first 12-year-old programmer to ever approach me with a story. Since then, Curran has stormed the Dublin Beta start-up challenge and taken home the top prize at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition (BTYSTE).

He then took this winning Young Scientist project – a quantum-secure, encrypted, data storage solution with multi-jurisdictional quorum sharing – and turned it into Evervault, a company that is now backed by Sequoia Capital with Kleiner Perkins, Frontline Ventures and a number of other tech investors. And he’s still only 19.

“Data privacy, as you all know, is a really, really big problem,” he confidently told the audience gathered at BTYSTE 2020 for the Future Human Leaders’ Lunch. “Everyone who is building applications these days – whether it’s software or any other piece of technology – is thinking about it, but the toolkit for baking it into your product from day one is just, frankly, pretty crap.”

In conversation with Future Human founder and curator Ann O’Dea, Curran went on to explain how Evervault is creating developer tools to make it easier for software engineers to build privacy into their product from day one, “all in a couple lines of code”.

‘Given the size of the problem of data privacy, we want to build one of the biggest companies in the world’

He compared this ease of use to the way in which Stripe allows for easy online payments, and that’s not the only comparison we can make between these two companies. Like Curran, Stripe co-founder Patrick Collison is a BTYSTE alumnus, and the young entrepreneur made advantage of these links by connecting with Collison and the Irish business contingent in Silicon Valley.

“I spent a couple of years being kind of a normal enough teenager, but in my spare time over the Easter holidays I’d be going to spend more and more time over in San Francisco. During the Easter break before the Leaving Cert, I hopped on a plane over to San Francisco and just decided to meet with the ‘Irish mafia’ over there, who were all extremely helpful,” said Curran.

Curran’s BTYSTE win came when he was in fifth year at school and, while he did then do what teenage boys do and follow the herd down to Magaluf on holiday, he was simultaneously striking out as a young entrepreneur. “I was on a conference call with a professional services firm, and it was a video call so I put on a shirt and I probably had shorts and like sandals on underneath or something,” he recalled.

‘I spent a couple of years being kind of a normal enough teenager, but in my spare time over the Easter holidays I’d be going to spend more and more time over in San Francisco’

While he was trying to “thread that needle between the Leaving Cert and growing a large company”, he went on a camping trip to Napa Valley with some other young founders. Being within striking distance of San Francisco, he took the opportunity to meet with Andreessen Horowitz.

“I just met them for 20 minutes, genuinely just looking for advice because I’d secured offers from European funds. And the following day I woke up with an email that just basically said in the subject line: ‘Coffee with Sequoia?’” Curran recounted.

“So I met [Sequoia Capital] and they had heard about this meeting [with Andreessen Horowitz] and within about a week had turned around an offer and we closed about a week later.”

The deal was $3.2m in seed funding for Evervault.

For the future of Evervault, Curran is looking to the US first and foremost but has long-term global ambitions. Ultimately, he wants to see Evervault become the next $100bn-plus company.

“Given the size of the problem of data privacy, we want to build one of the biggest companies in the world. And given the backing that we’ve taken on, it’s hard to kind of escape that ambition and that desire,” he said.

While Evervault is an Irish company and all the product work is done in Dublin, Curran is not confident that the European VC sector suits his ambition.

“I’d spent a year going around Europe trying to raise venture capital from the firms around here, and I pulled together a few offers but decided I just wasn’t really happy,” he said. “Venture capital in Europe … can often hinder the companies that they invest in and sort of stop them from going on to be $10bn companies just based on the structure and the way that they invest.”

Overall, he believes Evervault has a different approach to business than companies in Europe, which he said will observe the companies in a sector, identify problems and build solutions around them. “For us, we’re basically defining the rules of how we think data privacy as a problem should be solved,” he said.

“We even wrote a manifesto called the Pragmatic Privacy Manifesto which, although we execute it on our products and keep that in mind, regardless of what we do, we hope other people and other companies take it into account when they’re building things and try and solve the problem.”

‘Venture capital in Europe can often hinder the companies that they invest in and stop them from going on to be $10bn companies’

In May, Curran will join former astronaut Joan Higginbotham and Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser on the Future Human stage. Newly announced speakers also include Edward Fotheringham from Cathay Pacific and Prof Andrew Burke, dean of Trinity Business School.

The event itself takes place in Trinity Business School on 21 and 22 May 2020. The flagship building on Pearse Street in Dublin was constructed with state-of-the-art sustainability in mind, featuring solar panels, ‘green’ walls, recycled water and fresh airflow.

Organisers say the event – a reimagining of the previously popular Inspirefest – will showcase the people and projects shaping the next phase of human existence, and Curran is certainly one of them.

Future Human is Silicon Republic’s international technology, science and business event celebrating meaning, values and purpose with collaborative, interactive and hands-on experiences. Early Bird tickets for Future Human 2020 are available now.

Editor’s note: Please note that Future Human 2020 has been rescheduled to take place on 29 and 30 October 2020. Speaker line-up subject to change. More details can be found here.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.