This week’s Small Business Star is tech start-up entrepreneur Evgeny Shadchev. As founder and CEO of Makers Academy, an intensive course that helps beginners to land their first job as junior software developers, Evgeny puts emphasis on fostering talent at the earliest opportunity.
Originally from Russia, Evgeny moved to London in 2006 to obtain his post-graduate degree. With London’s tech scene burgeoning, Evgeny found himself at home. Successfully building a career over the years as a software developer, Evgeny worked on consumer products, such as price comparison service InvisibleHand, before founding a start-up incubator Forward Labs (now part of Forward Partners VC fund).
1. Makers Academy was a response to a problem with my own team
Whilst working as a software developer, I was receiving lots of attention from recruiters but at the same time I struggled to hire developers for my own team. I saw an opportunity to find a solution to this reoccurring problem, which led me to starting Makers Academy.
Universities, including the very best ones, struggle to prepare their graduates to work as software developers because it’s really hard to keep up with the constantly evolving tech industry. Technologies, programming languages and methodologies change: it’s really hard for a three-year degree to keep up with it.
Therefore, we started a short, vocational course aimed to get a complete beginner into a job as a software developer at a fraction of a cost and time compared to a university.
2. It took four months from concept to classroom
My co-founder Rob and I didn’t plan it for too long. We had the first conversation in mid-November 2012 when traveling in a taxi to Silicon Milkroundabout, a tech job fair in Tech City. After two weeks of basic research, we began building a landing page in December, signed-up our first class in January, found an office, prepared the curriculum and started teaching in mid-February.
In the beginning, the industry was very sceptical of what we’re doing. Everyone was telling us teaching complete beginners in a matter of months was impossible. It took us a few months to graduate our first cohort and place them into jobs to start turning sceptics into fans.
3. We used our contacts to put out graduates in front of the right people
Most software developers are either self-taught or have a computer science degree. The former requires a lot of tenacity and grit because it’s a difficult skill to learn. The latter takes years, doesn’t guarantee a job and leaves the graduate with a large debt. We’re right in the middle of these two extremes: learning at Makers Academy is more efficient than on your own but it’s faster and cheaper than a university.
In the early days, we kept coming up against the same problem. Graduates unable to get interviews because employers didn’t want to see candidates without relevant qualifications or work experience. We asked a few tech companies to do us a favour and hold mock interviews with our grads to help them get feedback.
Then we received a phone call: “I know it was supposed to be a mock interview but we’d like to make an offer”. Now we have a track record of dozens of amazing companies who hired our grads and many more who’d like to do it.
4. People choose us based on our track record
We set ourselves apart by doing a great job teaching beginners and getting them into jobs. I’m really proud that Pivotal Labs, 8th Light, Thoughtworks, Springer, BSkyB, the Ministry of Justice, New Bamboo, Deloitte Digital, Techstars, CompareTheMarket and many other world-class companies chose to hire our graduates.
We don’t have a formal accreditation and we don’t award any diplomas or certificates, but our students choose us on the strength of our track record.
Our ambition is to help everyone who’d like to become a software developer to get their first job in the industry. I’d like to make our services accessible in many more locations, not just London. We’re working hard on making the course more scalable and more affordable in the future.
5. It’s vital we keep on top of new technologies
It’s very important to keep up with the latest developments because the technology changes so quickly. For example, we’ll visit one of our hiring partners to talk to their developers in detail about what they’d like our graduates to know: specific technologies, languages, methodologies that they’re already using today. Then we’ll incorporate it in the curriculum in a matter of weeks to make sure our graduates have relevant skills when they graduate.
6. It took us nine months to break even
It was fairly challenging to raise seed money to kick-start the business. However, once we raised a small amount to get us started, we worked really hard to break even, which we did nine months after we started.
Our success is the proof that what we’re doing is really in demand and that the business is sustainable. Our alumni often drop by our office or send emails to tell us how learning to code has changed their lives for the better. When someone tells me that Makers Academy was the best investment they’ve ever made, I know we’re on the right track.
7. Passion and determination go hand-in-hand
Don’t do it unless you can’t imagine doing anything else. Starting Makers Academy turned out to be harder than anything else that I ever tried to do and I thought I was used to hard work. However, if you’re hell-bent on being successful in business and willing to work really hard for it, then just go and do start your own business.
Find out more about Evgeny and Makers Academy.
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