I’ve wanted to be an entrepreneur for a long time. Not when I was in university (back then, I wanted to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company), but sometime between graduating and landing my first real job, I realized that I just wasn’t going to be able to make a career out of working for the man. Even after that realization, it’s taken me a long time to get here. As of today, though, I’m really an entrepreneur. And I’m effing excited about it.
When I moved to Toronto in May of 2010 (you know, after living in China for 15 months and then dropping out of grad school), I wanted to join a startup. But, of course, I didn’t know a single person in Toronto’s tech or startup communities, and as a recent grad, I didn’t exactly have people clamouring to hire me…to do anything. I was lucky to land a job through Laura Plant (yes, the one from Ladies Learning Code) and I worked for a year at a big company. And that was enough of that.
Just before I left BigCorp Inc. to join a startup as employee #2, I was in LA for work. And if you’ve heard of Ladies Learning Code, you know the story. I stumbled upon an event via Women 2.0. Run by the PyLadies, it was a workshop designed for women who were beginners to Python but ready to learn, which described me perfectly. It was their first workshop ever, and it was great, and I returned to Toronto and tweeted about how we should have a similar group here. Almost immediately, I started receiving emails from people who were interested in the idea, and when I’d received about a dozen, I planned this event. 85 people registered, there was a great turnout, and as a group we decided to run our first workshop exactly a month later. About 20 people were involved in pulling that first event off – it sold out in a day, and was definitely a success! I was surprised, and really excited.
We started planning workshops every month, and they started selling out faster and faster – like, sell-out-in-five-minutes fast. By the end of 2011, my team (by now, four of us) made the decision to start offering two workshops a month. Now, almost 2000 women (and men) have participated in a Ladies Learning Code workshop. Over 400 developers and designers have signed up to volunteer their time. We run a March Break and summer camp for 9 to 13 year old girls. And just yesterday, we announced that we’re going to be offering a couple workshops in Vancouver this summer.
But although I definitely accept the compliments offered to myself and my team for the job we’ve done in starting and growing Ladies Learning Code, and although I truly appreciate being considered an entrepreneur, I haven’t felt like one. Not until today.
Maybe it’s because Ladies Learning Code is a not-for-profit. Maybe it’s because I got lucky, stumbled onto the idea, and just held on for dear life. Maybe it’s because the point of Ladies Learning Code was never to find a repeatable and scaleable business model (I mean, the thing has a business model, but it sure as hell doesn’t scale. Not easily, anyway.) Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things. It might even just be in my head. But I just haven’t felt like an entrepreneur yet.
Either way, it all changes today. Today is the day that I’m making a specific decision to bring something into this world that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I’m putting my money where my mouth is by making an investment in turning this idea into reality. In line with Steve Blank’s definition of a startup, my purpose now is to find a repeatable and scalable business model. And this time, I want to do something that will have a positive impact and make a profit, because I believe it’s possible to do both.