People often ask me what I'm most proud of at Flatiron School (even more often than usual given we just celebrated Flatiron’s fifth anniversary this month). That's a really hard question and I don't have a definitive answer. I often talk about our incredible student stories, our impact on the industry, and, of course, our amazing team. But this week I thought of another one worth sharing.During last week’s anniversary party/panel, our COO Kristi Riordan answered a question about how we think about diversity at Flatiron School. I spent a lot of time reflecting on that after the event.
Flatiron School's leadership team reflects on a whirlwind five years.
Our First Class
Flatiron School's first-ever class had 159 applicants, of whom we ultimately selected 19 students. The tuition was $5,500 at the time – that's $104K for the whole class. As you can imagine, given NYC rent, campus construction, Ikea bills, Avi's notorious “prize budget,” and other general expenses, it didn't leave much in the way of salaries. $0, actually. And even then, we gave over 20% of the tuition away in scholarships. And we only admitted the 19 students we hoped would come together in the right way rather than the 32 we had room for (or so we thought – that third class was a little tight). Those kinds of decisions are not easy in the early days of starting a company. And it certainly would not have been unreasonable to go the other way – after all, we were just starting. We weren't paying ourselves and we had put most of our savings into a shared bank account that was quickly dwindling, with no promise of success or return. But from day one, we knew what kind of company we wanted to build; what kind of people we wanted to recruit; what kind of values we wanted to espouse. So we we didn't think twice.
That point is worth repeating. The thing we did because we wanted to do good had a bigger impact on our business than almost anything we did because we wanted to grow.
And those values have clearly stayed with us.
Sticking to Our Values
People love Flatiron School because of who we are and what we value. And that comes through in everything we do, from donating our time and resources to work with Syrian Refugees to running Fellowship programs for underserved communities; from hosting political fundraising events after work to working with students for far longer than can be reasonably expected so they get great jobs; from staying late for women’s-only study sessions to coming in on weekends for community-wide events.When we focus on things like gender balance, we actually move the needle – and not by a little. Our Women Take Tech scholarship took our online student gender ratio from 35% to nearly 50%. And it was one of the best things we've done as a business.That point is worth repeating. The thing we did because we wanted to do good had a bigger impact on our business than almost anything we did because we wanted to grow.
Changing Tech Culture
There have been a lot of stories in the news lately about successful tech companies run by assholes, and, unfortunately, I think they almost all miss the point. I guess I'm not as surprised that there are assholes out there. What's more disappointing to me is that we've been complacent about being part of a culture in which that behavior is not only tolerated, but can actually drive success. Changing that culture will require a lot more than one CEO taking a leave of absence. I think a pretty good starting point is building a company that does well by doing good. And that's certainly something we should all be proud of.Here's to the next five years.