Code Academy Evolves into The Starter League and Partners with 37signals

Written by Amina Elahi
Published on Sep. 04, 2012
Code Academy Evolves into The Starter League and Partners with 37signals

You might think the in-person developer school run out of Chicago called Code Academy gets confused with the web-based programming course Codecademy. You would be right.

That’s part of the reason Code Academy is rebranding today. Henceforth, the young company will be known as The Starter League.

It all started last April when co-founder Neal Sales-Griffin met Jason Fried of 37signals, a private web app development company. The two kept in touch via email, then with more in-person meetings, during which they would discuss Code Academy’s progress and future plans. Soon, Sales-Griffin introduced Fried to his co-founder, Mike McGee, and the Code Academy leaders met others from the 37signals team. “Ultimately, we decided that we had some very aligned interests and values about what we wanted to do, so we ended up deciding to partner up and work together to refine the way that we teach people how to build software,” says Sales-Griffin.

This partnership involves a small investment in the company now known as The Starter League. “So we decided to go all-in and buy a small, non-controlling, non-voting slice of The Starter League. This isn't a traditional investment. We're not looking to get out, we're looking to stay in,” Fried wrote in a blog post this morning. “We're investing because we want to help these guys build the best place to learn how to ship software and build profitable software businesses. No school like this exists, but it will. The Starter League will be this school.”

Sales-Griffin says the money is a small factor—he speculates 37signals enjoys working with them due to their profitable status, despite being bootstrapped—rather, it’s other forms of support that he values more. For example, 37signals will be hosting one of The Starter League’s classes in their Chicago office called “Rails for Designers.” Additionally, 37signals employees will serve as mentors and guest speakers in some Starter League classes, as well as contribute to evolving the League’s curriculum. Prospective developers will be interested to know that 37signals will also take on an intern from the League cohort each quarter.

For a company that graduates competent developers from a three-month crash course, partnering with an app development company makes a lot of sense. The name change, however, is a little more surprising.

“Before, Code Academy—when we were called that—was a very descriptive name for a school for teaching people how to code. But we do much more than that, and we’re planning to do even more,” says Sales-Griffin. The concept driving the company, he says, is to teach people to develop web apps that solve real problems. “The idea behind calling ourselves a ‘league’ is to be more of a collective people around a cause, which is helping people through software, as opposed to an academy that people can go to just to become alumni.”

So who exactly is a “starter”? According to these guys, it could be anyone. Whether starting a company, a career, or an idea, starters are a part of the same collective, committed to solving problems and working together. The name was inspired by a chapter in Fried and David Hansson’s book REWORK called “Be a Starter.” In this bestseller, the 37signals co-founders implied that “entrepreneur” is an out-of-date term that should be replaced by “starter.” Clearly, Sales-Griffin and McGee agree.

As they know, the words a company uses to represent itself are important. Just as a starter is different from an entrepreneur, The Starter League is different from Codecademy—but that doesn’t mean they won’t work together. Following their rebranding, the League and Codecademy will coexist differently than they did when they practically shared a name. “We’re going to be promoting and supporting their efforts,” Sales-Griffin says, “and they’re going to do the same for us.” Until they can figure out the best way to formally partner up, this mutual support is as far as the two companies’ relationship extends.

The League isn’t interested in expansion, though, at least in terms of moving beyond Chicago. With a model built entirely on in-person teaching, borne of Sales-Griffin’s frustration with online and print materials supposedly designed to teach novices to code, using the Web to reach beyond the lakeshore makes little sense.

“We’re very interested in being here [in Chicago] and being the best place to learn, not being the ubiquitous place to learn,” Sales-Griffin says.

For Sales-Griffin and McGee, the company’s roots are integral to its identity. Founded in late 2011 and profitable even before its first class graduated, Code Academy has been hailed as an exemplar of passion, drive and smarts. That’s why the co-founders are quick to explain that the name change has nothing to do with eschewing the company’s history until now. Rather, they say this rebranding is an effort to draw out the organization’s true soul, a way to refine who they are in the context of what they do. And what they do, or at least what they intend to, is high-reaching.

“Our main goal is creating an environment where people can come and change their lives,” McGee says. “That’s our metric for success—to give people the opportunity to learn something that they didn’t think possible before they came here.”


Here’s some more info about The Starter League and Built In Chicago.

In June 2012, Code Academy walked away with three Moxie Awards, the most of any company, for Best Educational or Recruitment Startup, Best Bootstrapped Startup and Best Startup Founder or Co-Founders. The duo are active on Built In Chicago, with McGee frequently posting blogs by himself and on behalf of the company.

“When we launched in August of last year, we had no money for marketing or paid advertising, AdWords or anything, so we depended on the community we had built up over the past few months, and also Twitter and Facebook. I saw Built In Chicago as an opportunity to get our brand out and make people aware of what was then Code Academy. Since August of 2011, Built In Chicago has been one of our biggest not only supporters but platforms for getting our brand out there.”


Visit The Starter League’s website and follow them on Twitter at @starterleague.


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