Free Code Camp Doesn’t Make Money, and That’s OK
When people hear that Free Code Camp is completely free, their reflexive question is: “then how does Free Code Camp make money?” If you’ve watched the popular investment-themed reality TV show “Shark Tank”, profit is usually the first thing its investors ask about. And that totally makes sense for the capital intensive businesses they tend to feature on that show. There are really only two ways to fund your business: 1) take venture/angel capital, or 2) bootstrap your business with early sales. But what if you don’t need to fund your business?
Free Code Camp isn’t a capital-intensive business. Let’s compare Free Code Camp to traditional coding bootcamps, which use traditional private school business models. A traditional coding bootcamp’s overhead:
- A campus. Usually an office space with desks and monitors. In San Francisco, renting one floor of an office building costs about a million dollars per year.
- Teachers. If they’re good enough to be working as software engineers, you have to pay them like software engineers to attract them, which means at least $50 per teacher per hour of instruction.
- Marketing. If you’re paying a millions per year for office space and payroll, you need hundreds of students to pay your $15,000 tuition in order to break even. To do so, you’ll need to spend money on marketing professionals and advertisements.
- Administrators. You have to manage the HR, leases, taxes, scheduling, counseling, and everything else necessitated by the first three.
Free Code Camp’s overhead:
- No campus. Your kitchen table is our campus. If you want to meet another student to pair program in person, your tax dollars have already paid for nice public spaces like your local library.
- No advertising. We market ourselves through our product: people who can code. We also blog, tweet relevant links, and live stream pair programming sessions. We’re not paying money to expose people to annoying ads.
- No administrators. Once you’ve removed all these above things, there’s not much left to administer.
I make enough money consulting that I can afford to hang out in co-working spaces, eat subway, and work on Free Code Camp, indefinitely. I don’t need to please investors or figure out some short term path to profitability.
Free Code Camp isn’t a startup. The most popular definition of a startup comes from Y-combinator founder Paul Graham: “A startup is a company designed to grow fast”. Free Code Camp meets neither of these criteria. It’s more of a community than a company. It’s not designed to grow fast, it’s designed to help people break into coding. When Free Code Camp needs to ‘monetize’, it will get money from employers, not users. And seeing that many companies have scaled infrastructure similar to ours into the hundreds of thousands of users without growing pains, I don’t think we’ll even need to charge employers any time soon.