How we entered a new market in less than a month
This is our story on how we managed to expand our coding school to a new market in less than a month. We had to change our strategy and so far it is working out great. This is how we did it…
The start of our journey
In 2015 my cofounder (Matej Ramuta) and I decided to start a place where we could teach people one of the most important skills of the 21st century: coding. We named it SmartNinja and we started offering coding courses in a small European city of Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Even though Ljubljana has less than 300 thousand inhabitants, we managed to have more than 300 students in our first year alone while being profitable from day one.
First step abroad
From the very beginning we were thinking of SmartNinja as an international coding school, so in the beginning of 2016 we decided to enter the first foreign market: Vienna, Austria.
Why Vienna? It is pretty close to Ljubljana (4-hour drive) and it has almost two million inhabitants — way more than Ljubljana.
Matej and I both moved there for 5 months in order to set up everything needed: register a company, hire a local team, set up marketing campaigns etc. Even though we successfully managed to set things up, it was quite a hurdle doing everything from the ground up. So we started thinking about how we can speed things up and make our growth more efficient.
New strategy — old business model
No one knows a market better than a company that already operates there. So instead of doing everything on our own in each new market, we decided to go forward with an old, but effective business model: licensing.
How does it work? In each new market we partner with an existing local company. We provide the know-how, curriculums and tech for running a coding school. And the partner takes care of sales.
Since we have our processes quite optimized and a lot of tasks automated, running a local coding school isn’t a full time job. This is perfect for our local partners whom we help generate an additional revenue stream without a cost of hiring new employees.
Testing the new concept
No hypothesis is valid until it’s tested and proved. First we had to decide which market to go to next and try out the new concept. The best choice was Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, due to the proximity of the market (2-hour drive from Ljubljana) and size of the population.
The next step was finding the right local partner. We figured our business (coding school) would be the best fit with young IT companies and coworking spaces. So we reached out to some potential partners and narrowed it down to three.
It is all about the team
We visited Zagreb to talk to all three potential partners in person. They were all very interested in working with us and each of them had some interesting advantages over the others.
Unfortunately, we could offer the licensing partnership to only one of them. We did interviews, asked a lot of questions and finally settled with the one: Netokracija.
Netokracija is a regional media company that covers the topics of tech and startups. Basically a TechCrunch of south-east Europe. What tipped the scale in their favour was the team. They had an experienced team which was well-equipped to run a local coding school as a side business.
The birth of SmartNinja Croatia
After signing the agreement, we started preparing everything for the launch of SmartNinja Croatia. In a couple of weeks we set them up a website, helped them get local instructors, set up the sales and marketing plan and provided trainings.
The launch was very successful and they sold out the first course in less than a week and a couple more in the following two weeks. Our partner made more than 10k EUR of revenue at the very beginning of our partnership. Amazing results for both our partner and us!
10 new locations in 2017
We are now even more confident about our new growth strategy and we are talking with many interested partners from different potential new markets. Coworking spaces, accelerators, IT companies, language schools… you name it! Anybody with a strong team and the right culture fit can become our partner and run a SmartNinja Coding School in their city.