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How Zach Sims grew a successful business

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Zach is the co-founder and CEO of Codecademy, the leading provider of online education to close the skill gap. Since its founding in 2011, Codecademy has helped more than 45 million people around the world learn the skills they need to find jobs in the twenty-first
century through an engaging, flexible, and accessible online product. Codecademy has helped popularize the concept of literacy in Computer Science and introduced programming to tens of millions of people around the world. In addition to its work with consumers around the world, the company works with governments like the United Kingdom’s and the United States’ to roll out nationwide
Computer Science education initiatives in K-12 and targeting unemployment, as well as working with organizations like Twitter and Google to spread technical knowledge. Codecademy has raised more than $42.5m from prominent investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, Thrive Capital, Index Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Richard Branson, Yuri Milner, Naspers, Y Combinator, and more.

Zach and Codecademy were honoured by The World Economic Forum as Technology Pioneers. Zach has spoken in Davos at the WEF’s Annual Meetings and has appeared on television shows like The Colbert Report and in newspapers like The New York Times
and the Wall Street Journal. In 2013, Zach was voted to TIME Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list. Forbes Magazine and Inc. Magazine each have named Zach to their respective “30 Under 30” lists.

When not working on Codecademy, Zach is a Venture Partner at Bowery Capital, a seed-stage venture capital firm, and an advisor to Bloomberg Beta, Bloomberg LP’s venture capital fund. He is an investor in numerous startups including the apparel company
Represent (acquired by CustomInk), computer vision and self-driving company Blue Vision Labs, men’s health company Roman, and more. Prior to Codecademy, Zach worked at GroupMe (acquired by Skype) and drop.io (acquired by Facebook). He was a
student at Columbia University before dropping out to start Codecademy.


What was the inspiration behind the founding of Codecademy? What are you hoping to accomplish through it?

Codecademy was inspired by my college years when I realized there was a massive gap between what I was learning in the classroom and what I wanted to do in my career. The tech industry was rapidly taking off, yet education was hardly keeping up. After I tried and failed to teach myself technical skills, my co-founder and I teamed up to create a better way of learning — one that would help people gain in-demand skills in an accessible, engaging and flexible way. 

At Codecademy, our mission is to empower learners, helping them unlock new skills and economic opportunities through our online coding courses. We aim to not only build skills and employability for our users but fundamentally change the way people learn. 


Since the launch of Codecademy in 2011, the company has served over 45 million individuals within over 190 countries. What would you say are some of the strategies that have contributed to the success of the organization? What sets Codecademy apart from other similar companies?

At Codecademy, we put a lot of time and effort into making our learning experience the best it can be. We listen to our learners to ensure we’re delivering not only the highest quality curriculums but the most interactive and enjoyable experience on the platform. 

Codecademy has also worked with some of the world’s most influential public and private organizations, including government partnerships across Europe and the Americas, as well as collaborations with Google and Amazon on our curriculums. These partnerships have allowed us to make an even larger impact, providing critical education experiences to people across the globe. 


What are some of the initiatives that Codecademy has implemented to remain innovative in its field?

This year, we’ve been particularly focused on making online learning more accessible, especially in response to the COVID-19 crisis. In March, we moved quickly to implement two initiatives to help those affected by the pandemic. The first was our student scholarship initiative, allowing us to grant 100,000 scholarships to students affected by school closures. The second was our worker support campaign, through which we’ve provided 50,000 Pro memberships and counting to workers who have been laid off or furloughed. 

Remote learning continues to be a challenge for so many, which is why we’re expanding our work with students and teachers this fall, including a new student membership plan. As an ed-tech company that’s been working in online education for 9 years, we have a unique opportunity to help students and teachers improve their remote learning experience and navigate another complicated school year ahead. 


Both yourself and Codecademy were honoured by The World Economic Forum as Technology Pioneers. How does that make you feel? What does this recognition mean to you and how has it motivated you to remain on top?

I think it’s recognition of the huge need we’re trying to solve and hopefully shows the world that it’s possible to make a dent in a problem you care about. We used the moment to recognize and reflect on everything we’ve already accomplished while looking ahead to the future and what we still want to achieve. 


Codecademy recently announced the launch of a new interactive VR course, Learn-A- Frame. What can you tell us about this program and how do you believe it can help those who will use it?

We’re thrilled to launch the world’s first interactive VR course that’s actually taught in VR. It’s suited not only for developers and designers but for non-technical creatives as well, allowing learners to build 3D environments and preview them in real-time using a VR headset. I love the creative applications of the course, and believe this has the potential to change how we learn and build things. There really is nothing out there like it! 


COVID-19 has had a huge impact on many organizations. What’s been the biggest impact it’s had on the company?

At the onset of the pandemic, we knew we had a responsibility to make an impact and share our platform with those in need. We quickly deployed about 20% of our team to work on a COVID-19 response, which led to the student scholarship and worker support initiatives. As scary and challenging as it was to quickly navigate this new normal, working on those initiatives helped our team stay focused and motivated to help. It also underscored our company’s mission to empower people through education. 


On a final note, what advice can you give to other entrepreneurs that can help them in their success?

Perseverance is key, especially in this climate. Even during tougher times, stay focused on your customer, supportive of your team, and committed to your mission. When you’re doing those things, you’re more likely to overcome the hardships. 

 

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