Running a company while juggling your degree is tough – but it’s actually the best time to start your first company. Three years ago while at LSE, we started Code At Uni (www.codeatuni.com) to change the way university students learn programming. We started with no money, very little technical knowledge and certainly no connections to the world of tech education. In three years we’ve taught 2,000 students at universities across the UK.
The story began in our second year at LSE when we were running the Entrepreneurs Society and from speaking with our members we learned that many students wanted to get into the tech world but didn’t know any programming and felt it was a huge obstacle.
We knew technology was changing the world beyond recognition and that learning to code, even a little bit, was going to supercharge your career and grow your ability to build great companies. We felt therefore that everyone should have the opportunity to learn but it didn’t seem like there were enough options for LSE students; online courses were difficult to stick with and physical courses were too theoretical and/or extremely expensive!
So one day we decided to create an event aimed at helping people learn how to code. We initially booked a classroom but within hours hundreds of people had clicked attending and we had to rearrange it to take place in the largest venue on campus! The event was a greater success than we could have imagined which taught us the value of moving fast and testing our ideas. University is a great time to test your ideas with a shoe-string budget and nothing to lose but your free time.
Here’s the first flyer we ever made:
Another bonus of testing many ideas is that working on an idea can often be a great way to acquire your most powerful resource: an excellent co-founder. Starting a business is hard, but it’s much easier if you have a partner. Searching for the right co-founder isn’t like searching for a tinder match – unfortunately you need to spend a long time working, not hanging out, with someone to understand if they are a good business partner. The best time in your life to do this is at university – no doubt. So it’s often best to start working on an idea, even if you’re not sure that idea will work out, just as an excuse to work alongside your co-founder. If you’re a good team then you will have solved one of the hardest problems in business: finding the right people. No matter how great your idea, your co-founder is always more important. Because we’d spent three years working together at university, we had a chance to refine our working relationship by the time we graduated.
Because of the success of the first event, we decided to launch a 10 week course for 10 LSE students. We found a teacher on Reddit who just happened to be an extremely senior developer. We cut our teeth on this first course, learning a huge amount about technology and education over the 10 weeks.
The freedom to make mistakes has actually been one of the best things about starting a business at university; any successful person will tell you that life is about learning from your mistakes. When you’re inexperienced and running a business you’ll make tons of mistakes and we’ve made our fair share. But when you’re running a part time business at university, you have even more time to reflect on those mistakes and make sure you learn from them. Some of our best reflection was done whilst procrastinating during exam periods when we’d had to tone down the business. By the time we graduated we felt confident we wouldn’t be repeating the mistakes of the past and we were ready to deliver world class programming education around the country.
We also incorporate this approach into our courses; encouraging students to start coding from the beginning, making mistakes and learning from them. So far it’s been really successful, many of the students who took our early courses have gone on to become professional developers, build their own mobile apps or launch their own tech businesses.
Elliot and Jack will be running a coding workshop for beginners at the Student Enterprise Conference on March 12.
Follow their story and learn to code on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CodeatUni1/