Niniane Wang has always loved the movies.
As an exceptionally gifted child of Chinese immigrants in the public school systems of New Mexico and Nevada, she felt like "a fish out of water," she recalls.
Movies offered her an escape—if temporarily—until she left for real, at the age of 15, to attend Caltech.
"I finally found a community of people similar to me.... I didn't even know what was possible until I went to college," she says. She had the same feeling when she joined Google's engineering team in 2003.
While she ultimately found her tribe, her love for all visual storytelling—both real and animated—never went away. So, after five years at Google (goog) and four years as the CTO of online design marketplace Minted, she decided to found Evertoon, an app that lets users direct and produce their own animated movies on their mobile devices for free.
The app, which will be available on iTunes on Wednesday, has been in beta testing for the past few months, and Wang says it already hosts about 2,000 videos. Most of these videos offer commentary on current events, such as the Oscars or the Super Bowl, but they also include fan fiction using characters from popular films or series like Harry Potter or Twilight.
"The intent is to get people to make movies with stories" that they wouldn't otherwise be able to develop, says Wang. Most homemade videos, whether on the six-second moviemaking app Vine or YouTube, usually involve a single person talking to a camera—and that person is usually an aspiring celebrity.
"The Vine star that’s attractive and willing to sing is rare," says Wang. "But there are other people, regular people, that have stories to tell." To be told well, these stories need actors, costumes, locations; in other words, they need a budget, which most people don't have. That's the need Wang is solving for: "I want to give everyone the power to be a movie director," Wang says. "Regardless of what their day job is."
So far, Wang has raised $1.7 million in seed funding from VC firms Greylock Discovery Fund, Arena VC, Amino Capital, and ChinaRock, and Evertoon counts among its strategic angel investors former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao, Wealthfront VP Ali Rosenthal, and Quora co-founder Charlie Cheever.
"Around 80% of the angels and a third of the VCs [I pitched] said yes," says Wang. While she admits that those numbers sound great from the outside, to her, the fundraising process felt like "daily rejection."
Still, Wang was determined to launch this company, "come hell or high water," she says. "I messaged every person that I knew. I took lots of introductions. I used every part of my network."
Now that she has crossed the $1 million fundraising threshold, she says she expects the next round of funding to be easier—and she has big plans for that capital.
"Within the next two years, I want to be a new way of movie making. I want people around the world to be making movies with Evertoon."
Watch an example video made by an Evertoon user: