By David Graham, founder and CEO of Code Ninjas
Starting a business isn’t something to be taken lightly. Whether the venture goes well, or you fail at the first hurdle, the experience can change your life forever. And I can wholeheartedly say that going into business for myself certainly changed my life, for the better. I’m not going to put that down to luck, because I worked very hard to get to where I am today, but I am proud to share with you one of the biggest secrets of my success.
To be successful in business, you need to show some passion. You need to have a keen interest or a solid appreciation for your chosen sector in the first place. I’m sorry to say that, in most cases, knowledge or skill just isn’t enough. The two come hand in hand - passion and knowledge - because a business owner faces multiple scenarios through the course of their business where one, the other, or both are required to come up with a long-term and actionable solution.
As a self-confessed nerd – a badge I’ve worn proudly for 20+ years! – I’ve capitalised on my love of technology by launching numerous coding start-ups. In 2012, I launched Coder Camps, a specialist programme that taught adults how to code. We had multiple centres across the US where people would come for nine weeks at a time, work through the programme and then hopefully get a job in the sector by the end of it. Our success rate was unquestionable – 94% of candidates got hired on completion of the course. The business soon caught the eye of a pretty big investor; Apple founder, Steve Wozniak. Another guy who has taken full advantage of his love of tech!
Coder Camps was a product of years of commitment and hard graft – not only from me, but all associates, suppliers and even our customers. We all committed to investing our blood, sweat and tears into the brand, building it to become the successful commodity it was when I sold to the investment company that was partnered with Steve Wozniak, who turned it into “Woz-U” in 2016. Blood, sweat and tears aren’t things that can be easily faked. To make the necessary commitment to the inception and ongoing success of any enterprise, passion is the one thing that will constantly remind you of why you started it all in the first place.
When the going gets tough - and trust me, that happens to the best of them - the important thing to remember is that you most probably started the business to offer a solution to a problem or fulfil a demand. Never lose sight of the commitment you made and focus on the positive change you’re making to a community.
Before the ink had even dried on the Coder Camps agreement, I was ready for my next business adventure - this time, a coding programme for kids. After taking my son to Taekwondo, I’d thought how cool it would be to start a kid’s coding business based on the fundamentals of martial arts – modelling the locations after a Dojo and allocating a different belt for each stage of the curriculum. From that idea, Code Ninjas was born! Code Ninjas combined my background in tech start-ups with, as a parent, knowledge of what kid’s love – gaming and building robots. My experience of both, mixed with a previous venture of owning a gym franchise, stood me in good stead when it came to franchising the business as a means of expansion later down the line. That knowledge was invaluable to me and something I’d really encourage prospective entrepreneurs to consider before attempting to start a business – assess your skillset beforehand.
There were 672,890 new companies registered in the UK in 2018 and 2019* - how do you make yours stand out from the crowd? Utilising your skillset - the more niche, the better - will support you in establishing a credible and trustworthy business, built from the fundamental knowledge of your customer and their needs.
Four years on, there are almost 200 Code Ninjas centres in the US and Canada alone, with the first UK centre opening next month. The success of the brand isn’t a coincidence. Yet again, that’s come about through the combined effort of my specialist team of professional and proactive co-workers. Each and every one brings their personal skillset to my business, making it a bigger, better brand, every single day. Combining your passion with the passions of others is an entrepreneurially strategic way to take a business from good, to great. Essentially, no man is an island – don’t assume your knowledge alone is enough to take your enterprise to lofty heights.
Another top tip for successfully running a business in a sector you’re already passionate about is to constantly nurture that passion – and know when to leave it in the office too! To this day, I still find so much personal satisfaction in discovering the latest digital projects or coding developments and I invest my own downtime in keeping up-to-date with those developments. But I also know that, to be a successful entrepreneur, life is about balance. Therefore, I make sure I allocate a reasonable amount of my time to switching off, spending time with my family and catching up with friends.
There’s no magic formula to starting a business but I can certainly vouch for the advantage that starting up in a sector you’re passionate offers when the time comes to take the leap. Whether you’re ready to tackle the challenge right now, or dreams of business ownership are more of a slow-burn, I wholeheartedly encourage you to continue to nurture the love you have for your chosen field. That will offer the best start in business you could ever imagine.