You have an industry-changing idea for a technology company. In your mind, the organization solves a major problem, secures $50 million in seed funding and breaks beta testing records. You’d launch this company tomorrow if it wasn’t for one big problem...You don’t know how to code.
Up until August 2011, this was a major roadblock, usually resulting in entrepreneurs scrapping ideas altogether or hiring expensive programming partners. Thankfully, two former Columbia University students have come to the rescue.
Last year, Ryan Bubinski, 22, and Zach Sims, 21, founded Codecademy, a New York City-based startup that provides online learning opportunities in the programming space. The company offers classes and videos on how to code, and this month launched Code Year, a free and interactive yearlong coding class. The company sends out weekly e-mails with homework assignments and class notes and since it’s launch, more than 300,000 people have signed up, according to the company. Participants are not just wannabe tech entrepreneurs; they are every day code knowledge-aspiring residents, including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
I sat down with Sims to hear about his background and to see how things are going at Codecademy.
Could you tell me a little about your and Ryan’s backgrounds?
We met at Columbia. Ryan was a computer science, biophysics major and I was a political science major. I’ve been interested in startups for a while and have worked on a couple as a product and businessperson, but never on the programming side. Ryan is so good at programming that he started teaching me and would teach some of our friends, too, on the weekends.
It was really frustrating for me not to know how to code, so Ryan and I came up with an idea to build something I would have wanted to learn from and Ryan would have wanted to teach. Ryan graduated in May 2011 and I dropped out at the same time [with one year left until graduation] to start Codecademy.
Were you worried about dropping out?
No. This is what I want to do. With my political science degree, I would have wanted to work at startups anyway. I think compared to what I would have been doing post-graduation, this is pretty intense. I’m really thankful that I was given this opportunity.
How many people do you have on staff?
We have five people in our Soho office, including Ryan and me.
Are you sleeping much?
Not really. We are working seven days a week and about 18 hours a day. But it is such a passion for us and we love to help people learn a skill that can help them get employed. It isn’t really work to me.
Code Year sounds like a great idea, but how are you able to offer a year’s worth of coding classes for free?
We’ve been really lucky; we raised $2.5 million in October, so we have a good cushion.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Hiring. The reason we are doing this is because there aren’t enough qualified software engineers out there that aren’t already employed. There are tons of jobs for those people, so the trick is convincing them to join our team. The average starting salary out of college for a software engineer is somewhere around $90,000 to $100,000, so that has been a challenge.
What’s been the best part of your first six months in the startup world?
The best thing is learning things really, really fast. Every day is pretty awesome. It’s been a crash course in how to run a business.
How can Codecademy help aspiring technology entrepreneurs?
I think our classes can help entrepreneurs know how to speak the programming language. I still think you always need a very good engineer or team if you are building a technology company, but it is difficult to find a good technical co-founder if you don’t know what to look for. Our classes really give you the tools to interface with engineers, and soon I hope we can help people create their own startups as well.
Can your product help entrepreneurs not in the technology space?
Absolutely. By learning how to code, you can automate processes in any type of business. Lawyers can automate files, retailers can automate inventory tracking, for example.
What does the future hold for Codecademy?
We also want to ramp up our hiring efforts. I think we will have about 15 employees by yearend.
How long will you stay at Codecademy?
I want to do this forever. We are building this company for the long-term.
What advice can you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Do your research and start something that you really care about.