In Person: Jim Cassidy, CEO of Code Institute
If ever there was an ideal time to be running an online learning business, during a pandemic must surely be it.
With populations across the world sequestered at home and so many losing their jobs, the Dublin-based Code Institute that Jim Cassidy heads offers people a chance for a new career, or indeed a leg up where they already work.
Founded by 2015 by Anthony Quigley and Brendan Nevin, the Code Institute has carved out a business by teaching coding skills. It draws its client base – about 2,000 at the moment - from across 40 countries in Europe, Asia and in the United States. Western Europe is the core market.
Earlier this year, Code Institute raised €1.2m from backers including Kernel Capital and Cyril McGuire’s Infinity Capital. McGuire, a veteran of Ireland’s tech scene, also joined the Code Institute board.
The money will allow Code Institute to expand its reach to other markets.
“We raised what we believed we needed,” says Cassidy over a Zoom call from the company’s now virtually deserted office in south Dublin.
“We’re cash generative. We have quite aggressive expansion plans, but it would never be our intention to raise more than we need,” he says. “You raise the capital you need and you out it to work. We don’t have any intention at the moment to raise additional funds.”
The business has been growing at quite a clip, lifting revenues by about 50pc to 60pc every year. Next year, Cassidy expects the figure to be in the region of €9m.
Students pay €5,900 for a course that lasts about 600 hours and is typically undertaken over about 12 months. For that fee, they get 24-hour mentoring support, while the syllabus is updated about three times a year to make sure it keeps up with changing industry demands and trends.
“At the moment, everything is going back into investing in growth, products and technology,” he says. “That would be the same for 2021 as well. The goal is that we continue to grow our product suite and to grow our footprint and then we then we look to start to scale the business.”
Cassidy says that much of the heavy lifting has now been done.
“We have the business to a point where the investments at the moment are going into new markets and new product,” he adds. “Once we can start to take advantage of the work done this year, next year and into 2022, we should see some significant profits.”
The average age of the Code Institute’s students is 24 to 35 and 80pc of them already have a primary degree, Cassidy points out. But they come from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines.
“Our goal was always to look at how traditional education worked and to try to do it better,” says Cassidy. “We wanted to use the human side and the technology side to do something not just different, but tangibly better.”
But Covid has brought both positives and negatives for the company, whose clients also include corporations training staff. It counts companies such as BT and Facebook among its customers.
“The one area where we saw a decline was in enterprises,” Cassidy (48) says. “Corporations investing in training just stopped when Covid hit. What we’ve seen is people who might have been in industries that were impacted by Covid and who might have been thinking about changing career, were sort of pressed to do it. They took that opportunity to, say, look, I have to find a more sustainable, long-term career.”
He said traditional colleges and universities, which might not have previously seen online educational delivery as something that was part of their matrix, have been forced to shift their thinking.
“We’re exactly where we thought we would be with regards to growth, and further down the road now in terms of opening up new markets in that further education space,” according to Cassidy. “The hard work of changing minds and changing opinions was essentially forced upon institutions. They had to deal with it.”
He says that next year, the company’s “significant growth ambitions” are focused on the Nordics and the UK. Code Institute is recognised by the Swedish government for the purposes of student finance availability.
“We’re working with a qualification provider in the UK so that we’re a technology and content provider to 120 further education colleges there,” adds Cassidy. “If there’s such a thing as a positive from Covid, it has dramatically shifted people’s perception of education and what can be done.”
Before the pandemic, Ireland was edging towards full employment. Demand for workers in the IT sector was strong and coupled with a housing shortage had helped to fuel wage inflation in the industry.
Despite the pandemic, demand for IT workers has remained strong. A number of tech companies have announced new jobs for their Irish operations during the year.
That is likely to continue underpinning demand, at least in Ireland, for Code Institute’s services.
“We hope to launch our new products next year, which we think will have a significant impact on how people approach coding and education,” says Cassidy. “It’s an exciting time.”
He declines to say what those new products might be, but he says the company will try to give people “more choice in how they approach their learning” and also that the business is “better aligned” with its employer partners.
“The goal for us is that through technology and our analytics platform, that we can help our graduates best understand what job they’re going to be successful in and then work with our employer partners to help place them in that job.”
That analytics platform was developed in-house by the Code Institute in order to proactively monitor students’ progress, pre-empting issues they may be having and ensuring their weaknesses are addressed.
It’s been highly effective, says Cassidy, and sounds like a platform that could have applications beyond the Code Institute. Will it become a standalone product?
Cassidy nods but is coy on what the plans are.
“We developed our own learning and analytical platform that essentially helps us to identify much quicker where a student might be having difficulties,” he says. “It allows us to proactively intervene. The analytics and learning part of our business is a key component.”
“This is what makes it attractive when we’re dealing with further education colleges, because one of the things they were concerned about is how well do you know how your students are progressing?” he says.
“There are opportunities to do new and exciting things with that analytics platform. We’re looking at whether it could be used in other areas of learning as well, not just coding. That’s part of the 2021 plan.”
Despite hanging out in the office Cassidy has become an advocate of home working.
“We moved into a nice new office in November last year,” he says. “We got a gold solid three-and-a-half months out of it. There’s myself and one other person here right now.”
Just before the pandemic struck, there was about 37 people working there. There would be 65 now including people the company has hired this year.
“Hands up, I would have been an absolute sceptic around the work from home ideology and how effective it can be,” he says. “But all of a sudden the world changed. It’s worked brilliantly. It’s been seamless. We’ll never go back.”