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March 15, 2022

Accelerate Your Startup, with Ana and Maria of Theneo

In our fourth episode of Tevent Talks, we welcomed Ana and Maria of Theneo to the Stage. Joined by our hosts Tengo and Sonja, we endeavoured to uncover the secret behind their success.⁠

Finding your co-founder

Episode four of Tevent Talks ushered in not one, but two esteemed entrepreneurs — co-founders of Theneo, the API documentation tool designed for your whole team — Ana and Maria. Their mission is to make easy-to-use next-generation API documentation accessible for everyone, not just tech giants.

With a background in engineering, Ana has a passion for API documentation, as peculiar as that may sound. Maria’s background leans heavily towards Machine Learning — with a whole host of big names under her professional belt (Google, DeepMind, and Microsoft to name just a few).

After meeting at Google I/O, the pair hit it off immediately. Despite their great connection, Ana was unconvinced that Maria (or anyone else, really) would find API documentation interesting. What’s more, Maria was incredibly busy at the time, working as a machine learning engineer at Microsoft.

But Maria, it seemed, had caught the API bug. She, too, was excited by the potential of the project and had already been thinking up ideas for improvement. Ana popped the all-important question: will you be my co-founder? Maria accepted gleefully, and neither has looked back since — you could say that Ana co-found her perfect match.

Check out the full episode below, or read on for our highlights.

What’s the big idea?

Theneo was born out of necessity. Ana spent much of her time writing her own API documentation, reluctant to use the clunky frameworks already in place. At Google, she encountered myriad businesses all working with inefficient API documentation and became obsessed with streamlined frameworks boasted by the likes of Stripe.

“I realised how much documentation impacted my entire experience as an engineer. And I started to realise that I judged companies by their API documentation, and I have seen.. so many.. great big companies having this really bad API documentation.”

Ana began to see that even big companies were impeding her workflow with “really bad API documentation.” So she set out to build “Stripe-like documentation” where through just a few scrolls, you could find all the information you needed.

Convincing Maria to join the fold was the next step — bringing with her a wealth of machine learning knowledge to improve user experience. By automating systems and giving user suggestions, Theneo transformed into an elegant and user-friendly solution, accessible to even those without the robust technical background of its builders.

The problem with a lot of open-source API documentation is that “the companies are always dependent on developers”, adding unnecessary extra steps where changes are required. Streamlined API documentation should not be simply for big businesses — and now, it would seem it doesn’t have to be.

A different kind of entrepreneur

It can be difficult to stand out in a market saturated with startups, headed by myriad entrepreneurs, eager to secure themselves a slice of the pie. Ana and Maria, however, are no strangers to going against the grain — both electing to experience life as a student in a foreign country.

Ana had been coding since 13, but studying abroad in the US helped her to get out of her own bubble. Hungry for success as an immigrant in the US, Ana applied to countless internships before landing one at Google in her second year.

Though she initially felt like an outsider, Maria stayed in the US throughout her PhD and beyond — excelling in every way possible. Despite the burden of standing out, both Ana and Maria took it in their stride — using it to propel them forward.

Having “to explain where Georgia is” can be not only arduous but occasionally saw them labelled, and their cultural heritage homogenised as “Russian-ish”. However, this unfamiliarity with Georgia sometimes worked in their favour as an “attention grabber” that sparked discussion amongst prospective customers.

Not only are they connected by their roots, but being female founders in tech, the pair have an unshakable bond, and understanding of one another. This familiarity not only helps to engender a cohesive work culture but also helps them to stand out from the crowd of emerging startups.

Theneo’s inclusivity doesn’t just stop there — Ana and Maria have hired women throughout their ranks, particularly in “leadership positions”. Their focus on equal opportunities is invaluable — in 2019, just 19% of workers in tech were female. Though the figures are slowly shifting, moving the needle can be tough, and having women at the top to guide this development is paramount to success.

The stand-out startup

Standing out from the crowd really paid off for Ana and Maria — they soon caught the attention of startup accelerator Y Combinator. Having such a notable institution backing them has bolstered the credibility of Theneo, and afforded them a wealth of knowledge from others in their position.

We delved into Theneo’s journey through the process to see just how they pulled it off, despite being a fairly new startup on the scene. Though they say there’s no formula for a successful company — there are a few things to bear in mind when applying.

According to Ana and Maria, Y Combinator looks closely into the team itself to see whether they’re a good fit. The co-founders and their backgrounds are a big focus, so Ana and Maria were already in good stead with their impressive resumes.

Cohesivity is also a good marker for success. Though this isn’t the only ingredient necessary, it can certainly help — so try to ensure a “50/50 conversation when you're with your co-founder.” Though it’s helpful to challenge each other to be better, make sure you and your co-founder are compatible, working toward the same ultimate goal.

One wonderful benefit of Y Combinator sponsorship is the connectivity. From success stories like Reddit, Twitch, Airbnb, and Dropbox — to exciting emerging talent across many sectors. Theneo joins the ranks of many successful startups, giving them fresh insights and wisdom from a plethora of candidates past and present.

Top 5 tips for startups and entrepreneurs:

We’ve consolidated a few helpful tips for those of you endeavouring to start your own business from Ana and Maria, and we hope you find them as helpful as we did:

  1. Find something that excites you: Ana and Maria clearly have a passion for API documentation — they’ve found their niche, but work is no longer a laborious chore. Running a business is far more “complicated” and “time-consuming” than any regular 9 to 50, so you have to “do something you love, otherwise, it’s gonna be really difficult.” In the words of our host Tengo, finding the intersection between doing something you love, something you’re good at, something the world needs, and something that you can earn money doing is the “golden sweet spot” called "Ikigai" that we should all aspire to achieve.
  2. Be ready to put the business first: We’ve heard this time and time again from entrepreneurs — and Ana and Maria are no exception. It makes it a lot easier if you do in fact love what you do, but regardless, be prepared for some sleepless nights. Both Ana and Maria have goals to achieve within Theneo, and sometimes those goals require a work-life imbalance. However, as Maria puts it, she’s happy going the extra mile at Theneo because she’s “so excited about seeing the result of that drive.”
  3. Build on past experiences: Every professional experience, positive and negative, can be used as a boon to your success. Ana first experienced startup life in a less successful venture during her time at University, but the learnings through this were paramount to her success at Theneo. There are few easy routes to success, and failure is almost a certainty. But failure does not preclude victory — it merely signposts a new route to take. By using every experience as a learning curve, you can turn the tides, and remap your trajectory.
  4. Work culture is everything: Startup culture is what you make of it — you’ve got the opportunity to set the tone for your own workplace, so why not use it to change things up. Ana and Maria put the health and well-being of their employees above their own — working long hours to alleviate stress. Theneo has seven employees across five time zones, yet still finds the time for daily standups. First, find a team of talented employees that you can trust, and then listen to what they need in order to succeed. And, if you’re in the market, check out our partner Flexa for a new pool of employees across the globe to hit the ground running.
  5. Don’t try to be perfect: This one is tough for us all to hear — but the more data you receive, the quicker you’ll be able to straighten out the kinks. Launching your product is a big hurdle, but trying to be perfect before finding your users can be somewhat paradoxical. Find out what they have, what they need, and what they want — adjust accordingly, and feel your route forward.
“You can launch as soon as possible. Get those first users and talk to them, interview them. Even if you don't have the product yet, the MVP, still talk to potential users.”

Head over to Theneo’s website to find out more about this amazing new product and what they can do to streamline your workload. Thanks again to Ana and Maria for freeing up your busy schedules to talk with us — the future looks bright for Theneo, and we wish you only success.

If you missed the last episode of Tevent Talks, you can check out the highlights here, or head straight to the Space to see what’s coming up next.

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