Get Started — The 1 Thing You Need To Make Your Startup Happen
This startup was probably going to be an unmitigated disaster, but it taught me once again one of the most important secrets to building a successful new company.
I was really pissed and annoyed. I wanted to send my son Zachary to a Miami, FL area summer coding camp, but the only game in town was an overpriced piss poor excuse of a camp that parents and kids alike roundly criticized for its lack of fun and education. It wasn’t an option for us and I decided to bitch and moan about it to one of my peers. 8 weeks later, I was a founder in a brand new coding camp for kids.
I’ve done a lot of crazy and brazen things to start businesses over the years, but last year, I did something so ridiculous, that even I was shocked by my actions. With only 8 weeks to go before summer camp season, I decided with 2 partners to create a coding summer day camp for kids (CodeKids Camp). None of us had any experience building and managing a camp and we had absolutely nothing ready, planned, or thought out about how we were going to succeed. Then, because that wasn’t quite crazy enough, we decided to expand the number of camps from 1 to 3. It was an insane thing to do, but it set a lesson in my mind about what it really takes to get a startup off the ground.
In 25 years of working for myself and others, I have never had more fun than I did last summer living the chaos of trying to create an amazing educational experience for kids that they would love, while enduring stress at a level I haven’t experienced since my dotcom days. One of the most valuable things about that summer though was being reminded about one of the keys to startup success.
We did it! Kids and parents raved about the experience and they stayed for week after week and advanced their skills in amazing ways. They brought their friends and their cousins and filled our camps to capacity. Kids that came in with no interest in coding stayed with us for multiple sessions and learned and grew as people. They had a great time teaming up with each other and they learned and understood what coding could mean in their lives.
And it almost didn’t happen… There were numerous times that the entire business nearly crashed and burned and that would have left us with tremendous debt and massive community embarrassment, so we didn’t have any choice but to succeed and one key thing made it possible.
How did we do it? How could it be possible to pull off the logistical nightmare of setting up 3 educational institutions and provide a high quality product in just 8 weeks and actually get enough customers to make it work? Are we super entrepreneurs? Nope, we just had the one secret ingredient to startup launching that will guarantee you will get done what needs to get done in order to get your business off the ground.
For years, I’ve been advising startups on how to get to market and pushing them to “just do it”, but I’ve found myself planning and waiting to throw the “launch switch” for my own businesses. We would plan for this and plan for that and test this and test that and then never actually launch.
With CodeKids Camps, I rediscovered the incredible power of a deadline. If we didn’t have the camps ready in time, then we were going to fail and we had a hard and fast deadline that we couldn’t circumvent.
Had we taken the time to plan this business, we would never have gotten the job done. We just had to do it.
It is amazing what you can accomplish in just a few weeks if you have to. We prepped, pitched, and raised a $50,000 round, we tested over 25 different curriculum options and negotiated licensing deals, we hired a team of 20 background checked and qualified instructors and admin staff, got licensed by the state, trained our counselors, located and negotiated retail spaces (and then lost them), we wrote, planned, and filmed a television commercial (in one weekend), we had people on the street handing out flyers, we were on drive-time radio every morning, we ordered furniture, computers, banners, mouse pads, t-shirts, and much much more and it seemed like everything we did hit a wall at one time or another.
If you really want a motivator to make your business happen now instead of later, take money from investors and customers and let your peers, friends, family, and neighbors know when you will deliver on your grand plan. Set a very public and brutally short deadline for delivery and make the consequences of not delivering gloriously painful. You WILL make it happen, because you have no choice.
There will be crises after crises, but when you have a deadline, you don’t have time to wallow in your stress and sorrow over the bad things that happen to you and sometimes the bad things turn into the best thing possible.
One of our biggest hurdles and expenses was finding our locations and getting regulatory approval to house children. We negotiated with 3 strip malls for space, but with only a few weeks before launch, we lost 2 of those locations to long-term leases. We were pissed, depressed, and stressed and thought it was all over. There wasn’t time to find a decently priced retail location, that could get regulatory approval. Then one of our partners had an idea; private schools sit empty every summer, have met all regulatory compliance issues, and they have a base of customers for our camps. Maybe they would be interested in hosting CodeKids Camp. Sure enough, not only were they willing, they were eager to do it for a 5th of the cost of the retail spaces we lost. We started calling private schools and had 3 signed up and ready by the end of the week.
When it came to huge hurdles and screwing up, we didn’t stop there. We spent big money on marketing that bombed in an amazing way and found that much of our greatest success came from the cheapest tactics. We would never have understood that if we weren’t experimenting and trying everything possible at the same time because we had to make our deadline. The data pointed us in the right direction and we pulled it off.
The deadlines didn’t end at launch. We had to keep the cash flowing and we were really concerned about our booking levels for the second half of the summer, because if we didn’t generate enough cash, then we weren’t going to be able to keep the doors open and pay our bills and then we would have hundreds of pissed off parents with no place to put their kids. So we experimented again and came up with an amazing way to bring in even more campers than we expected. We also didn’t realize, that the kids loved our camp so much, that they would stay until the end of the season, so our success almost bit us in the butt when we were over capacity in our camps and had to double our capacity and scramble to get more computers, furniture, and permission from our landlords to expand. We did it though, because we had no choice.
That really is the secret to the launch. If you have no choice, then you will make it happen. You will make it work. It doesn’t matter if your are building a mobile app, opening a store, or selling products online, when you have no choice, you will make it happen. Sheer force of will takes over and drives you to make things happen you never dreamed possible.
If you truly want to realize your vision, accomplish your goals, and see what you really have deep inside, then set a hard and fast deadline that equates to failure and embarrassment if you don’t make it.
The magical and mysterious power of a deadline and impending doom can make anything possible and turn you into a superhuman capable of doing things you’ve never done before. You will be blown away by the things you can learn and do with a brutal deadline. If you truly want to realize your vision, accomplish your goals, and see what you really have deep inside, then set a hard and fast deadline that equates to failure and embarrassment if you don’t make it. Tell everyone and set expectations and have serious repercussions for missing the date.
We are applying the same lessons we learned last year to this year. We’ve decided that we want CodeKids to be the number one company in the world for training kids to code and so this year, we are expanding to 20 plus locations. After the summer we are expanding to more camps, moving into after-school programs, CodeKids Clubs, and providing curriculum, teachers, and training for schools to fulfill the requests and demands we’ve had since last year’s success. We have our deadline and we have to make it, because we’ve already had thousands in booking revenue come in. We are doing it all over again, because we love it and because we learned last year, that we can expand beyond our perceived limitations and succeed if we have a deadline for success.
Set the deadline and make it real and public. You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish through the mystical super power of deadlines.
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Brad Nickel is a founder of CodeKids Camp and he advises startups in Miami, FL. He and his partners love the thrill of empowering children, building a successful business, and teaching others how to succeed. We are building the best coding education system in the world for children and if you would like to get involved with CodeKids as an investor, partner, or as a member of the team, you can reach Brad at AngelList or firstname.lastname@example.org.