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Selling Ice To Eskimos: How Two Young College Kids Made A Sitcom Premise Into Multi-Million Dollar Web Development Software

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The creation and evolution of Codecademy reads like a sitcom. Two guys, smart, young, and in their final years of college at an Ivy League school become close friends. One, Zach Sims, is a people-person, gregarious, friendly, confident and smart. The other, Ryan Bubinski, is a life-long computer geek, adept at coding and web development whose father was a computer salesman.


Zach asks Ryan to teach him the ways of computer development and through their struggles they both realize that there should be an easier platform from which people can teach themselves how to code. I’m sure there were many opportunities for a laugh track with Zach playing the part of a newborn babe to Ryan’s frustrated parent.



It was this focus on the human side of web development which allowed this sitcom duo to take a start-up to a multi-million dollar business in a few short years, one that is available in over 200 countries worldwide and has famous users such as Michael Bloomberg.


Zach is a self-professed life-long learner and firmly believes that learning is its own reward. Ryan, who had ideas of going to graduate school, became disillusioned with the theory of web development and remembered fondly how his father used to make sales by connecting with the person, regardless of the product.


It does help that their product is worthwhile, but Codecademy’s greatest strength is the manner in which it addresses the human side of web development, making a subject that is viewed as dry and dull by the majority of us (web development) a lively and competitive course.



Why Codecademy Is Awesome

Codecademy provides lessons for web development online. There are similar services such as, ShowMe, which offer the same product, but Codecademy takes advantages of the social side of web development. It encourages its users to post their latest success on Twitter and provides lessons that are fun to learn. For example, the first lesson is how to write your name in JavaScript, and a new lesson they just launched called CodeYear helps users commit to and keep their New Year’s resolutions.


The Key To Codecademy’s Success

This is the key to Zach and Ryan’s success – They took an idea from the technical realm and humanized it. They created a friendly, yet competitive network that explains the dry technical jargon in an easy to grasp manner. Using Twitter was a stroke of genius and getting a few big names to tweet on their progress in Codecademy personalized their software while creating interest in the followers of said Twitter celebs.


Two unlikely friends with a shared interest came together a few years ago at Columbia. They invested the only thing they had of worth, their time, towards creating a software platform that would allow others to experience the pleasure of creating something that actually works on the interwebs.



Zach and Ryan both understand that the true key to success is connecting with people. Zach gained that insight from his experience with GroupMe, a start-up that he had worked with in his early college years that ended up selling for millions of dollars and Ryan through watching his father sell computers to computer geeks, or ice to Eskimos as it were. The lesson they taught us is that every great sitcom is based in reality, and that it doesn’t matter how great your idea is if you don’t connect with the people who would benefit from it.


For my money, it’d be Neil Patrick Harris as Zach and Jim Parsons as Ryan with the writers from Frasier for the sitcom.


Photo and Video Credits

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