Codeacademy has already outlived many rivals is that enough?

Codeacademy, the New York-based online interactive platform that offers coding classes in a wide variety of programming languages, is a little like background noise; its been operating reliably since founder Zach Sims created the company while still a Columbia University student in 2011. Its a brand that people know and that millions have used, but because it has grown steadily, without headline-making funding rounds or, conversely, newsworthy layoffs the 90-person company doesnt routinely attract a lot of press attention.
Thats fine with Sims, who we spoke with last week following the most recent bout of bad publicity for Lambda School, a younger rival that has raised $48 million from investors, compared with the $42.5 million that Codecademy has raised over time. Sims says his company is continuing to chug along nicely.
The question, increasingly, is whether thats nice enough for VCs. Indeed, Codecademy like a lot of startups right now is in the awkward position of being a smart, solid, steadily but not massively growing business which raises questions about its next steps.
The last time wed spoken with Sims, roughly two years ago, Codecademy which struggled for years with how to produce meaningful revenue had recently launched two premium products. One of these, Codecademy Pro, helps users who are willing to spend $40 per month (or $240 per year) on the service to learn the fundamentals of coding, as well as develop a deeper knowledge in up to 10 areas, including machine learning and data analysis. Sims says this has taken off, though he declined to share specifics.
A second offering, Codecademy Pro Intensive, that was designed to immerse learners from six to 10 weeks in either website development, programming or data science, has since been dropped.
Sims says the companys international have meanwhile been growing, with 60 percent of its paying users based in the U.S. and the rest elsewhere, including in India and Brazil. (The need for coding skills isnt a U.S.-only phenomenon, Sims notes.)
Who are these users? He says they tend to fall into one of two buckets: those who are learning a discrete skill set, perhaps to build a website in a pinch, and those who are gainfully employed but looking to climb the ladder or switch jobs and who see Codeacademy as a way to spend a couple of hours a week to develop the skills to get there.
Sims says the payback is typically quick and that its customers easily rationalize the cost of the courses, which are exceedingly affordable as these things go. By way of comparison, some on-premise coding schools charge upwards of $20,000 a year a big enough expense that in order to make themselves more accessible, they invite students to pay nothing upfront and instead collect a percentage of their salary once they find a job.
Naturally, because Codecademy largely lives online, so, too, do criticisms sometimes about its perceived shortcomings. One customer a self-described computer science major authored a thoughtful review in December, writing that being a programmer is more than simply being able to memorize syntax, While Codecademy has introduced thousands to the fundamentals of computer science, through addictive bite-sized pieces that are easy to accomplish, it falls short in helping cultivate a coders mindset, he wrote.
Either way, enough people are finding value in Codecademys vast number of offerings that it recently reached an important milestone its now cash-flow positive having doubled it revenue last year. Sims is understandably proud of this accomplishment, noting that there are few [coding platforms] that are growing sustainably and profitably and generating cash that can be invested back into the business.
Codecademy is enjoying the same tailwinds it has from the start, too. While skepticism has grown around coding schools more broadly, the ability to design, shape, correct, and secure software will only grow more valuable. Receiving a related education that comes affordably and doesnt require an income-share agreement remains an appealing proposition, too.
In fact, the company is continuing to paint that picture for consumers and, we gather, its talking more to enterprises that are starting to offer Codecademy type classes to employees. Though Codecademy already sells classes in volume packs, Sims suggests that a big push in 2020 will involve tie-ups with companies that want to provide what it teaches as a perk.
Whether it intends to paint a picture for investors, too, is another question, one that Sims declined to answer when we asked about fundraising more broadly.
Certainly, follow-on rounds are growing harder to land, as described in our piece last week about portfolio bloat. The reason: VCs have raised so much money in recent years that theyre funneling it into new startups faster than ever, too (They need to find the Next Big Thing to return all that capital.)
Thats leaving a lot of solidly run companies to fend for themselves for now.
Given Codecademys cash-flow positive status, at least, it can afford to wait.
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