Yesterday, Flatiron School’s co-founder and Dean Avi Flombaum participated in an AMA session on GrowthHackers, an online community that promotes learning around techniques that drive business growth. The curious online audience asked questions on coding, entrepreneurship, and where the two fields intersect; Avi generously shared stories and lessons he’s learned as a lifelong programmer and entrepreneur. Below, we share five highlight answers—though the whole AMA is well-worth checking out.
Q: I've tried to get started on coding several times. Each time I walk away and come back, I feel I've got a better grasp but am so far behind. Other than just coding more, how do you overcome struggling over this step? Will some people always struggle with it?
A: Stop walking away. “If you're tired of starting over, stop giving up.” - Shia LaBeouf. Another thing: stop thinking about other people. You say, “I feel I've got a better grasp but am so far behind.” Behind what? There's only you and code on this journey, everything else doesn't matter. You can't be behind. There's just more to do ahead and there always will be. I'm behind right now because I don't really understand quantum computing or machine learning/artificial intelligence and other people do. But I don't actually think that way; I just have more to learn.I run. I love running races in NYC with the New York Road Runners. The problem with running races in NYC is that NYC is filled with a bunch of Type A people that run very fast. So my experience running a race in NYC is basically watching 15,000 people run faster than me. I never see the people behind me so it doesn't matter that I'm ahead of 5,000 (okay, more likely like 5 people). If I let the 15,000 people ahead of me control my pace, I won't finish the race. Finishing is what matters, not winning. So, in the NYRR community, there's a saying: My Race, My Pace.
Q: What lessons did you learn from growing DesignerPages that you've been able to apply toward Flatiron School?
A: I love that question!
Make money as fast as possible. We waited like two years at DesignerPages and it turns out making money is harder than I thought. Flatiron School was generating six figures almost immediately and millions within the first year. I have a maniacal focus on generating revenue now.
Just because you built it doesn't mean they will come. I spent six months building designerpages.com in my mom's basement and then we launched it and 11 people came to the site the first day. Never again. Before starting Flatiron School, I was teaching everywhere I could for a year building an initial student/alumni list, a brand around myself as a teacher, and an actual curriculum. When we launched Flatiron School, we got 150 applicants in the first 2 weeks because we weren't starting from scratch.
Q: Hey Avi - thanks for your time today! What would be your advice for kids in high school and/or college who are interested in starting their own company? What's one thing they can do to jumpstart their ideas?
A: I think at a young age, you are sort of just practicing. I must have tried to launch 30 companies, maybe 20 made it past the brainstorming phase. Of those, maybe ten actually launched; of those, maybe five actually got any traction, and one actually started working. I spent six years trying to get my first company off the ground. I was in high school, I was in college, and I worked at a hedge fund while trying to start an actual company. It takes time and you want to get good at it. No one's first attempt is a success, it just doesn't happen. I think Hemingway once said, “The difference between a good poet and a bad poet is that a good poet knows how to hide their bad poetry.” There is no first time entrepreneur; there's just a person who has hidden their previous failures.
Q: Can you talk about the top skills that you think a founder needs to have to succeed?
A: Grit.It also helps to have a skill like code, or sales, or design, or marketing. Don't just be “the idea person.” That's not a thing. Idea people generally can execute, too.
It's so hard. It's just so tremendously difficult. It never gets easier, you just get better at it.
Q: From your experiences, you are definitely very good at coding, you have diverse interests, and you seem to be a very creative person in general. How do you grow to be like that?
A: I guess, first, I love things. I love learning and being more aware of the world around me. I love being able to make things and do what others can't. I accept no excuses from myself. Nothing is ever good enough. I can always be better. I believe everything is possible, it's just hard work. I am willing to work harder than other people. I am not looking for a work/life balance, I'm looking to be alive at work. This is just it for me.
Be sure to check out the full AMA over at GrowthHackers for even more of Avi’s answers!