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I'm Avi Flombaum and I’m the founder of Flatiron School, a coding bootcamp with online and in-person (NYC) courses designed to deliver outcomes based coding education.  Some things that I care about (a lot) are: programming in general, entrepreneurship, and lifelong learning.  In this AMA, ask me about things like: why you should learn to code and how it can help your career, founding and funding 3 companies, creating sustainable growth strategies, building a product that people are obsessed with, how to start learning code (this free Intro To programming course from Flatiron School is a good place to start), and disrupting higher education.

And, here’s a bit more about me and how I got to where I am:  I started learning to code when I was 11. Fast forward a few years and I was studying Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin when a hedge fund recruited me to be the CTO,  so I dropped out because my education was getting in the way of my education. After 4 years writing predictive investment software,  I started DesignerPages.com, an application that helps tens of thousands of interior designers and architects find and manage over 250,000 design products, which I grew to over a million dollars in revenue over 3 years then left to start teaching programming.  Over the course of a year, I taught a dozen students how to code and got them jobs, which deeply inspired me about code’s ability to change a person’s life and provide them with a profitable creative expression. So, I started Flatiron School. To date, we’ve helped thousands of people learn to code and find employment as programmers. With an average placement rate of 99% and starting salaries of $74,000, Flatiron School is committed to actually delivering you an ROI on your education (we publish a verified Jobs Report every year to prove it.)

You can connect with me on Twitter at @AviFlombaum and learn more about Flatiron School at FlatironSchool.com. 

I’ll be live on July 7th starting 930 AM PT for one and a half hours and will answer as many questions as possible!  

  • RB

    Ry B

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    Thank you for doing this AMA.

    1) Can you talk about how you look at retention and ways to retain customers? What do you think about the concept of delighting users? How do you figure out where delighting the user is possible?

    2)What is your process for creating sustainable growth strategies? Do you have a framework that you use?

    3)What factors go into creating a product that people are obsessed with? How do you figure about the things that make your users fans of the product?

    Thanks again,
    Ry

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer: 2)What is your process for creating sustainable growth strategies? Do you have a framework that you use?

      I think true growth comes from a inch-by-inch progress. Growth and marketing is a war of attrition.

      My framework revolves around many small channels at first and not trying to do big things. I try to develop 10-20 channels that bring in 10-20 customers and then I try to automate those channels and then I try to make them more efficient and then sometimes they blow up or there's a timely event that will make one channel perform better. You keep on creating more opportunities.

      I do have a framework for evaluating these channels. We often have brainstorming sessions about growth ideas and every pitch must fit into the following framework:

      1. Describe the idea - What are we doing?
      2. Define the why - Why are we doing that?
      3. Set a goal - What does success look like?
      4. Outline the execution - How will this get done?
      5. Estimate the cost - How much will it cost in terms of people, focus, and money.
      6. Extend the strategy - If it works, what else can we do in the future to grow it.
      7. Measure the performance - How will we measure if it's working?
      8. Automate the work - How can we eventually entirely automate this if it works?
      9. Appoint an owner - Who is owning this channel?
      10. Give it a deadline - When does it launch.

      I also think all marketing / growth ideas should:

      4 Share
      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        To answer: "In your experience, does every channel/win can be automated? Can you give a few examples people can learn from?"

        Everything can be automated.

        Say you have a monthly contest that's a free trip to NYC or something. You do it manually, making a landing page every month, promoting it, picking a winner, booking a flight and hotel and the emails you collect from this contest convert so you want to continue having a monthly contest.

        1. The landing pages can be dynamically generated based on dates in the URL /contests/07/2016 would automatically generate a page with copy for the July 2016 contest.

        2. The winner can be automatically drawn and notified.

        3. The flights/hotel can be automatically purchased through a travel agent or virtual assistant.

        I guess that's an important point: automation can also mean tremendously cost-effective and consistent delegation.

      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        Whoops, forgot to finish my thought.

        My goal with developing a marketing/growth channel is to create something that is:

        1. Owned - Not relying on someone else's network / content / pricing (like Google Ads is a poor growth strategy, you don't own anything).
        2. Repeatable
        3. Measureable
        4. Predictable
        5. Consistent
        6. Iterative

      • HQ

        Hila Qu

        about 3 years ago #

        This is so cool!
        "Automate the work - How can we eventually entirely automate this if it works? "

        In your experience, does every channel/win can be automated? Can you give a few examples people can learn from?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      No problem!

      1) Can you talk about how you look at retention and ways to retain customers? What do you think about the concept of delighting users? How do you figure out where delighting the user is possible?

      I think if your product is actually creating value for people and they are using it, retaining customers isn't a problem. As in, if you have a problem retaining customers I don't think that's marketing/growth, that's just a poor product. At some point in the customer lifecycle they become product's responsibility and not marketing/growth.

      In terms of delighting users, yes, you should totally try to do that. Try a bunch of things, just weird, friendly, surprising stuff, things customers wouldn't expect. Then ask them how they felt, if they responded delighted, you're good.

      3 Share
  • NK

    Nicole Kroese

    about 3 years ago #

    How can growth marketers benefit from learning to code?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      With code you can automate everything. You can also track data better and aggregate data from other sources. Code is king.

  • SA

    Shaker A

    about 3 years ago #

    Hey Avi,

    Great to have you here at GH!

    1)Can you talk about the top skills that you think a founder needs to have to succeed?

    2)How do you go about empowering employees? What does empowerment look like a Flatiron.And how do you allow them take on that ownership mentality (with/without having an equity distribution plan)?

    3) What do you think are the top skills/traits that a manager needs to have to bring out the best in their employees?

    4) Can you please talk a little about how you look at competition, specifically when your going up against bigger, and better funded competitors? How does that affect your strategic plan, if it does at all?

    Thanks

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer: 1) Can you talk about the top skills that you think a founder needs to have to succeed?

      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.

      http://john.do/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/dilbert-startup.gif

      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        "But how do you differentiate between persevering because there's a light at the end of the tunnel vs. failing to read the writing on the wall?"

        I know when thinking of quitting stops feeling like giving up and starts feeling like moving on.

      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        It's so hard. It's just so tremendously difficult. It never gets easier, you just get better at it.

      • AA

        Aldin A

        about 3 years ago #

        Totally agree. But how do you differentiate between persevering because there's a light at the end of the tunnel vs. failing to read the writing on the wall? When your that deep in the trenches how do you stay objective on whether continuing is the best option of not?

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        Totally on board with grit.
        I've seen it time and again now that the level of resilience you need to make things happen is otherworldly.

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer: 4) Can you please talk a little about how you look at competition, specifically when your going up against bigger, and better funded competitors? How does that affect your strategic plan, if it does at all?

      I think Sam Altman's Startup Playbook is awesome in general - http://playbook.samaltman.com/ but I loved this line:

      "A quick word about competitors: competitors are a startup ghost story. First-time founders think they are what kill 99% of startups. But 99% of startups die from suicide, not murder. Worry instead about all of your internal problems. If you fail, it will very likely be because you failed to make a great product and/or failed to make a great company."

      http://playbook.samaltman.com/#competition

      3 Share
  • AP

    Adam Paciorek

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi, thanks for doing this AMA and sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Couple of questions from me:

    1. What are the most controversial or unorthodox growth hacks you have seen working well for startups?

    2. Has anyone trained you in digital marketing? Who would you say is your biggest influence?

    3. What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in digital marketing? What are the biggest wastes of time?

    4. What are your favourite books or resources on growth marketing and startups? If people had to teach themselves (quickly), what
    would you suggest they use?

    5. If you were to launch a startup and aim to get first 1000 paying subscribers, what would your plan be? What if you had 8 weeks to achieve that?

    Thanks!

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer 5. If you were to launch a startup and aim to get first 1000 paying subscribers, what would your plan be? What if you had 8 weeks to achieve that?

      That's tuff as I don't know the product, price, or market, but 8 weeks is a short amount of time and 1000 subscribers isn't "small" depending on market/price, so if I had that constraint, 1000 subscribers in 8 weeks for a new product launch, my strategy would be to buy the customers. I'd expect to see a high CAC here and would hope that some sort of referral or network effect would justify the spend over time.

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer 3: What are the biggest mistakes and myths you see in digital marketing? What are the biggest wastes of time?

      I think a mistake people make is looking at too much data or variables at once. You have to distill your data to one key metric you track and obsess over that drives all other metrics. You have to isolate your experiments so you can monitor them individually.

      Biggest waste of time is trying to make “viral” content. It’s difficult and generally inorganic in the sense that many seemingly “viral” phenomenons actually paid for the first giant chunk of impressions, activity, views in order to create the perception that this content is already viral which increases the likelihood if it actually going viral (people are more likely to share a video that already has a million views). Almost nothing organically goes viral.

      2 Share
    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer: 1. What are the most controversial or unorthodox growth hacks you have seen working well for startups?

      Scrapping emails and spamming people (everyone has done this) or getting users to accidentally import their contacts so you can spam on their behalf.

      Scrapping content to fill a new network (AirBnb and Reddit did this and probably lots more including Genius) and cross-publishing your content to an external network (like taking an Airbnb listing and automatically posting to craigslist to move the craigslist user to airbnb).

      Blackhat SEO - anything that manufacturers links and rankings (everyone does this).

      Phishing - setting up signup traps on different landing pages or networks to get their users to your service.

      2 Share
      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        To answer: "Would you consider seeding a community with fake users at the start (a la reddit) to fall into this category as well? Why or why not"

        To be honest, I would consider everything at the start. Even if I decide it's unethical or too shady, I should at least consider every option.

        And yes, I would totally consider fake users. Naked networks are ruff, you got to preseed the network somehow.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        Would you consider seeding a community with fake users at the start (a la reddit) to fall into this category as well? Why or why not

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer 2: Has anyone trained you in digital marketing? Who would you say is your biggest influence?

      No one has trained me, I guess it’s a combination of observing companies that grow, reading growth and marketing content, and just understanding marketing and people through books like “Influence” by Robert Cialdini.

  • AA

    Aldin A

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    Thanks for doing this!

    1) What's the best advice you've ever received? What was one thing you learned the hard way?

    2) What are some things that startups should do/focus on to increase their survival rates? What are startups screwing up, that they really can't afford to screw up and how they fix them?

    3)How do you think of differentiation in a crowded marketplace where there are A LOT of coding bootcamps? How does Flatiron standout above the rest?

    4)Can you talk about some of the challenges of scaling a company and how you've over come them?

    Thanks

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      To answer: 3)How do you think of differentiation in a crowded marketplace where there are A LOT of coding bootcamps? How does Flatiron standout above the rest?

      Flatiron School offers immersive courses in software engineering, on campus in NYC and online at Learn - A platform for education.
      .
      The "Bootcamp" industry is new and, for better or worse, largely fractured and unregulated. While this allows schools to innovate quickly, it means that unfortunately, it's difficult to compare programs very easily. So, if you're a prospective student you really need to dig into any school you're interested in and how it can help you reach your goals.

      From a business model perspective, it seems clear that most schools are looking to expand geographically. Almost every school that's had any success has either tried to do so or has already done that. While that's a fine strategy (as long as they maintain quality), that's clearly not the approach we've taken. Even though we've been around since 2012 and have raised a bunch of Venture Capital, we haven't opened a single additional location. We've instead invested all of our energy in understanding how to deliver quality while making this type of education as accessible as possible. While that implies a lot of small differences (admissions, instructor quality, etc...) there are three things in particular that are unique about Flatiron School that I'm most proud of.

      Verified Outcomes- We've chosen to engage 3rd party auditors to create an independently validated jobs report. We've done this for every student we've ever enrolled and, despite many promises, are still the only school in the country to have done that. While there are a lot of amazing programs out there, there are also, unfortunately, a lot of pretty terrible ones. I hope that by doing this we can move our industry towards more transparency and accountability for students.

      Fellowship programs- One of our core missions at Flatiron School is to make outcome-oriented education more accessible to diverse and disadvantaged populations. Our on-campus program has a 6% acceptance rate, and is fairly expensive, leaving out maby people who could benefit most from this type of education. To that end, we’ve partnered with the City of New York on the NYC Web Development Fellowship which gave free tuition to people from low income backgrounds, most recently running classes exclusively for students without college degrees. Those classes tend to be made up of students over 90% whom are underrepresented groups in tech. Most recently, given the success of those programs, we also launched Mobile Dev Corps, also in partnership with NYC, to train low-income New Yorkers for jobs in Mobile Development (applications are currently open for both :)

      Learn.co- While most bootcamps have been focusing on expanding and enrolling more students, we’ve invested a tremendous amount of time in understanding how people learn effectively, again with the goal of making this type of education more accessible to more people. Learn, our proprietary platform, is the earliest manifestation of that.Today, Learn serves our online immersive students, as well as our external partners, ranging from universities to corporations like Google, to non-profits like KodeWithKlossy. If you want to learn more about what makes learn different, check out our blog post announcing it or just try the free course on Learn.

      If you have any other specific questions about Flatiron School, tweet at me @aviflombaum

      2 Share
  • DD

    Dan DiGangi

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    I'm an engineer myself so no questions from me for this AMA but just wanted to say I love what FlatIron is doing for the community and how many successes you've helped develop.

    Keep on keeping on!

    Best,
    Dan DiGangi
    Get20 Co-founder

  • TG

    TJ Gray

    about 3 years ago #

    Do you think learning how to code or having a baseline understanding will be important for all future careers not just ones that work directly with technology?

    P.S. I used to live on 26th Street by Hill Country in the Flatiron district, are you guys located close to there?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      Hey TJ,

      Yes. Well more to the point, I can't think of a career that does not directly interact with technology or software.

      We used to be on 33 West 26th st but are now at 11 Broadway. I love Hill Country, that's some good BBQ.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    about 3 years ago #

    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?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      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, maybe of those, 10 actually launched, of those maybe 5 actually got any traction, and 1 actually started working. I spent 6 years trying to get my first company off the ground. I was in HS, I was in college, and I worked at a hedgefund 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.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        "There is no first time entrepreneur, there's just a person who has hidden their previous failures." - love that!

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    Thank you for doing this AMA. Here is a quick question for you.

    What do great poetry and great coding have in common?

    Merci!

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 3 years ago #

    Hey Avi - great to have you on!

    There's clearly been no shortage of coding schools/programs/courses/bootcamps online and offline for the last few years.
    What gap is it that you saw that told you there was space for Flatiron School to fill?

    Is there a specific framework of thinking that we can all take away as well in evaluating whether there might be a similar gap in other verticals?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      "What gap is it that you saw that told you there was space for Flatiron School to fill?"

      We were the 2nd programming school so the gap wasn't about the programming school industry but rather than absolute massive shortage in developers and the diminishing rate of return on traditional education.

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi! Great to have you here!

    Can you talk about an experiment (win or loss) at FlatIron School or earlier that provided you with some great insight or learning?

    Thanks!

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      We tried testing some price elasticity on one of our products and it created lots of problems.

      1. We lowered the price thinking it would increase our market size but found that the market isn't as elastic as we expected or we just didn't go lower. But ultimately, we lost money because we had the same amount of signups that month as we did with a price that was almost 2x. We needed to get way more signups to justify that loss in LTV.

      2. We now have to support two kinds of customers.

      3. The entire customer base found out and lots of people wanted to move to the lower price we were testing and we didn't really expect that and couldn't allow customers to do that...

      It turns out that our product is more of a brand purchase than a straight feature-price comparison. Sort of like buying a Macbook - they aren't competing on features against PCs, you're buying a brandh.

      2 Share
  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    Your experience and story are very cool and inspiring:)

    1) I wonder in the companies you founded, do you hire a marketing person or find a business co-founder? If not, how do you approach marketing and growth with your engineering background? I think this can be very powerful, so definitely wanted to learn more.

    2) From your experiences, you are definitely very good at coding, you have a diverse interest, and you seem to be a very creative person in general. How do you grow to be like that? :)

    3) You've started companies in different industries without necessarily having worked in these areas, how do you come out with those ideas and how do you make sure that is something people want? Once you started working on an idea, how do you make any adjustment to make sure you are creating value to users?

    Hila (Go BADGERS!)

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      1. I have always had a co-founder. They have always found me. I'm a cheap date, if I'm not working on anything I'll start a company with you after 2-3 coffees. If it's not working out we'll quit in 3 months. I'd rather try a lot of people and ideas fast than try the crystal ball approach (ie, let me try to look into the future and think about what it might be like working with this person and how the company might play out). The best way to know what it's going to be like starting company X with person Y isn't to think about it for a long time with no more information, it's to just start company X with person Y and then get more information and then make the decision.

      2. 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.

      3) I actually love getting to know an industry and reading everything about it and thinking about how I can leverage myself or technology to improve that industry. Just a curious person. If I can get people to invest in my idea or product, that's the first step to know it's working, if I can get people to use the product, that's the second, and finally and most importantly, if I can get someone to pay me, I'm sure it's working. Then it becomes a question of how big can I make the working thing.

      Go badgers. O sucks.

      3 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        "I am not looking for a work/life balance, I'm looking to be alive at work" - that deserves a t-shirt! :clap:

  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi,

    Thanks for doing today's AMA!

    What lessons did you learn from growing DesignPages that you've been able to apply towards Flatiron School's?

    Jason

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      Jason I love that question!

      1. Make money as fast as possible. We waited like 2 years at DesignerPages and it turns out making money is harder than I thought. Flatiron School was generating 6 figures almost immediately and millions within the first year. I have a maniacal focus on generating revenue now.

      2. Just because you built it doesn't mean they will come. I spent 6 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 on Skillshare and General Assembly and everywhere I could for a year building an initial student / alumni list, a brand around myself as a teacher, and actual curriculum. When we launched Flatiron School we got 150 applicants in the first 2 weeks because we weren't starting from scratch.

      2 Share
      • AF

        Avi Flombaum

        about 3 years ago #

        "Regarding this strategy of teaching everywhere - do you think this is something all founders (who are good at something) should do as a way of building their brand, irrespective of what their product/service might actually be?"

        ABSOLUTELY. I regret not making this investment earlier in my career. The bigger and better your personal brand is the better anything you do will be as you'll have that to leverage. You'll also know how to build brands.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        about 3 years ago #

        Killer stuff!

        Regarding this strategy of teaching everywhere - do you think this is something all founders (who are good at something) should do as a way of building their brand, irrespective of what their product/service might actually be?

  • BW

    Brand Winnie

    about 3 years ago #

    Hi Avi!

    Love that you do a verified jobs report every year. Why do you do it annually vs say, monthly or quarterly? Also, given that this is probably the best social proof there is for the efficacy of Flatiron School, why do you require an email address to access it vs making it freely, easily viewable by all?

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      1. We do it yearly as it makes the data easier to collect - as in - its a 3 month program and it takes 1-6 months to find a job so there's like a built in 6 month time till we have the complete data for a student so a year gives us time to collect complete data from a bunch of classes. Maybe we'll move to quarterly as we continue to grow but I can't imagine monthly ever happening.

      We require an email address so we can email you.

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    about 3 years ago #

    Stoked to have you on Avi.

    A couple of questions from me:

    1) 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 code how do you overcome people struggling over this step and will sum people always struggle with it? (I find being dyslexic can interfere sometimes)

    2) What applications of coding in the future excite you? Also do you have any unfinished business with some of your predictive models?

    3) How long do you think education as it currently stands can continue? It seems like organisations such as your own offer far stronger solutions to highly expensive higher education.

    • AF

      Avi Flombaum

      about 3 years ago #

      Great questions thanks!

      1. Stop walking away. "If you're tired of starting over, stop giving up." Shia LaBeouf. Another thing, stop thinking about other people. In fact, 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, int he NYRR community, there's a saying: My Race, My Pace.

      2) Synthetic biology is very exciting. I have lots of unfinished business. So much to build. So excited.

      3) I don't know. On the one hand I don't think education is going to be entirely replaced all at once, it's going to be slow and I think there will be a long time of overlap between traditional models and new ones. So over the next 25 years we'll see more and more non-traditional modes of education prove successful for their students and then over the next 50-75 years we'll see traditional education adopt those modes or the new modes replace traditional education.

      2 Share
  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    about 3 years ago #

    Couple more:
    What have you learned about funding (seed and/or later rounds) now that you've been through that process a few times?
    What do you think are the signals a founder should look out for that tells them that they should start to think about getting funded?

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