Starting afresh in Queensland: Nikki Durkin’s next adventure

Nikki Durkin captured Australia’s attention with the initial success of her startup, 99dresses. The fashion app, that she started at the age of 18, allowed people to easily swap clothes with each other. When it all came crashing down a few years later in 2014 Nikki shared her experience and learnings with the world. She’s since changed direction and founded CodeMakers, which teaches kids to code by teaching them Minecraft mods. Nikki has recently made the move to Queensland, with the help of Hot DesQ, so we caught up with her to ask a few questions.

How did CodeMakers begin?
I was a bit of a geek when I was a kid and I would scrounge around on the internet looking for tutorials on photoshop, HTML or whatever digital skill I decided to learn at the time. I mainly used technology as a form of creative expression, I loved making webpages in HTML, flash animations and other fun things. I would have loved to take a coding class, (just like I took ceramics classes and tennis lessons), but there were none available.

With CodeMakers, I’m basically building an online coding school for curious kids who want to create technology and not just consume it. It’s exactly what I would have loved when I was growing up.

Was it always your goal to be an entrepreneur/startup founder?
I started my first online business when I was 15 and I fell in love with entrepreneurship as a form of creative expression. I would always channel my creativity into art and craft projects as a kid, but as a teenager I realised I could creatively combine different kinds of people and resources to bring a business idea to life. I love that creative process, and have been going down this entrepreneurial path since my high school days.

Did you know how to code before you founded Code Makers/99dresses?
I dabbled with HTML and CSS before I started CodeMakers, but that was about the extent of my coding knowledge. After 99dresses failed I taught myself to code in order to plug that massive hole in my skillset. I ended up enjoying it much more than I anticipated, so by the time I started CodeMakers I was able to actively contribute to the codebase instead of constantly relying on other people to build the technology.

What did you learn from the failure of 99dresses?
I learned A LOT. But if I was to distill it down into a few key points:

1. If you choose the wrong market, or choose the right market and enter it at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter how good an entrepreneur you are. A good entrepreneur in a bad market will lose. An okay entrepreneur in a great market will probably win and will have a lot more fun riding the wave of momentum.

2. The emotional ups and downs of the entrepreneurial journey are entirely self-inflicted. If you learn how to shift your perspective and stop judging events as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ then you can enjoy a much smoother, more fun ride.

3. Life moves on after failure. It really does. It sucks at the time but it’s not the end of the world.

Why do you think that Australia should be talking more openly about failure?
Most people view failure as a fault, or as an imperfection. In a society that worships the illusion of perfection (have you seen instagram lately?) it’s pretty obvious why we aren’t more open about failure. If you replace the world ‘failure’ with ‘unwanted outcome’ you can start to view the demise of a business for what it actually is: the physical consequence of millions and millions of tiny choices (by the founder, the team, the customers) compounding over time. Some of it is luck, but most of it is choice. You can then logically look at the choices you made in your sphere of control and change them. Failure followed by reflection is actually incredibly empowering.

You speak about the importance of looking after your wellbeing as a founder, what does that mean to you?
Be nice to yourself. I think a lot of the time we focus so much on the outcome we want that we forget that so much of the fun is in the journey: the late nights spent with the team eating pizza and brainstorming new ideas, the feeling of growth and momentum as you hit your sales target, the satisfaction of overcoming a major setback.

I’ve stopped being so critical of myself and focus much more on improving my self-awareness rather than holding myself to an impossible standard of perfection.

What are you aiming to get out of moving to Queensland with Hot DesQ?
I really want to get connected with the Queensland startup community and grow our customer base here. Most of our customers are currently in Queensland so it made a lot of sense to come here to be closer to them and understand them a bit better. I also just love the energy of the Queensland startup ecosystem. It’s buzzing!

What benefits are you bringing to Queensland?
I’ve been involved in the global startup ecosystem since I was 18, and have gathered a lot of connections on the way. I also have lots of experience that I love to share with others when and where I can.

Favourite Minecraft mod so far?
We throw a snowball on a tree, and this big smoke effect happens before the tree turns rainbow!

What is your vision for the future of CodeMakers?
Millions of kids around the world will log into CodeMakers each week and learn all kinds of digital skills: game-making, website design, 3D printing and app-making. We help kids discover their passion for technology, and nurture that passion as they grow.

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