We all want to hit a jackpot in our lives, and though some of us do, many of us don’t. Fortunately in my life I have hit the jackpot a few times, and the most recent was with Code School.
Back to the story :P
Back in early 2012 at Barcamp I met this nerd (I say it in a good way, I am a nerd too) named Gregg Pollack. He is the founder of Envy Labs, a software development company, and also the founder of Code School. Over the next few months, I bugged him about doing work for Code School and by May I was consulting for the company.
That consulting later turned into a full-time gig with Code School. Funny enough, I was the first hire at Code School. This is partially true since the company was spun off of the Envy Labs brand, and I was the first employee of the company. It is somewhat untrue because there were 4 – 6 people who were working full time on the business, but they technically worked for Envy Labs. Either way, I will keep saying I was the first employee, and I was the first business and marketing hire.
During my nearly two years at Code School, we had some incredible growth. Not only revenue-wise, but also as a team we learned and grew together. When I started at the company, we had about $80k in monthly recurring revenue (MRR). By the time I left, we had nearly $400k in MRR. So pretty friggin impressive growth in just less than two years.
With all of this growth and additional work, the leadership team had decided they wanted to make some sort of financial event, either get VC money or sell the company. The leadership team succeeded at this in January when they sold the company for $36 million to Pluralsight.
Now you may think that I hit the jackpot because of this financial exit. I mean come on; I was the first hire, stayed at the company for more than a year and a half and was a vital part of the company’s growth. Not to brag, but I created most of the marketing campaigns and marketing strategies the company still uses today. I also created all that growth with an ad budget of only $5k a month.
If you think my jackpot was from the acquisition, you are just wrong. I never got equity in the company; I was the only person who worked at the company for more than a year who did not get equity. Gregg did not appreciate the fact I owned Fuelzee (my other startup), and he didn’t want to give me equity. Despite many other people on the team, even leadership, having side projects (startups) that were revenue generating. Either way, I never got equity in Code School. It was part of the reason I left and the reason I didn’t get anything when the company was acquired.
At the end of the day, I may sound bitter about this, but I am not. I totally hit the jackpot with Code School.
Like literally, I fucking totally hit the jackpot.
When I started at Code School, no one in the tech community knew who I was.
Even though, I had been on the news 15 or so times for being a tech and social media expert. No one who worked in the tech or startup community was aware of my existence, nor did they watch the local news. Once I joined Code School, I got massive exposure to Gregg’s network and the tech community. It was tremendous and has helped me lots over the past 4 or so years.
What Code School also did was teach me how to work with developers. Before Code School, I did not have the chance to work closely with developers. I worked with a lot of freelancers, but not a professional team. At Code School, I learned Agile, Scrum, project management, better communication skills and all the terminology and tools developers use. This has made it possible for me to run my development team at Fuelzee and other companies. I know how to speak to developers and what makes them tick. Shit, I know what Ruby on Rails is; do you know what Ruby on Rails is compared to Node.js?
Probably not, but because of Code School I picked up this education.
Code School taught me so much, and not only about technology, marketing, and business. It also taught me analytics, which is what I am known for today. Code School also gave me many freedoms; I was able to do all sorts of crazy campaigns. Which of course helped drive the company’s growth. Because of these opportunities, I was able to build an extensive portfolio of successful marketing strategies and campaigns that got noticed by other bigger companies.
Now for the shitty part.
About 1.5 years in, I was a little fed up with how I was not allowed to have equity and how the CFO was limiting my capabilities. The CFO and I did not get along; I thought he was an idiot (which he is) and he thought I was an asshole (which I am).
His way of punishing me was by scrutinizing my marketing and ROI numbers into oblivion (which he knew nothing about) and by limiting my marketing spend. His actions hurt the company and my relationship with the company.
Funny enough, the moment I left, the advertising spend had nearly a 10x lift within 90 days. I was super stoked for my replacement and the company because it was a long time coming.
During this same time, there was a bunch of companies trying recruit me, which was incredibly awkward. Many of them offered me substantial raises and significant benefits over Code School.
At this point, Gregg (founder of Code School) and I had started another venture together called Starter Studio, which made it even harder for me to leave Code School. Even with this new venture and Gregg’s friendship, I could not get over how I was not allowed to have equity.
Every other recruiting company was offering the standard equity with four year vesting, where I got to keep some of my equity after one year. Code School wouldn’t give me any, even though I had been there longer than a year.
One day I got an email from Nemo Chu of KISSmetrics asking me if I knew any good marketers he could hire. I kind of chuckled and thought well I am available. I mean, I wasn’t happy at Code School anymore, and KISSmetrics is the leader in digital marketing. Nemo is a legend in my eyes, and I was stoked to be even talking to him. Nemo proposed I do some interviews, which I obliged, and later decided to turn down a job offer to join his customer success team.
I knew the role was a step back from what I was doing at Code School, so it just wasn’t a good fit.
Bummed and with my head down, I stayed at Code School for another two months, when out of nowhere Nemo called me back up with a new exciting opportunity. He explained they were looking for a new Director of Marketing. I was floored that he thought I could fill this position at KISSmetrics. I mean c’mon, it is KISSmetrics.
He later set me up an interview with Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, who is one of the gods in digital marketing. Neil liked my performance at Code School and we got along. He introduced me to Hiten Shah, co-founder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics, also a legend in digital marketing. Crazy enough, Hiten interviewed me with Lars Lofgren, and they both gave me the thumbs up to interview with the CEO, Will Hodgman.
After a call with Will, I was soon sent an offer letter to join the KISSmetrics team as their new Director of Marketing. The deal was so sweet! I could stay in Orlando and run the remote marketing team at KISSmetrics. I would then fly to San Francisco once a month for a week to do our board meetings. Seriously the sweetest deal ever, not to mention a big salary bump and I got equity!
I turned in my notice at Code School, and it shook the earth. Gregg was extremely disappointed, but this was an opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn’t say no to this offer, my wife made this very clear.
Thank you, Meredith :*)
While at KISSmetrics I learned so much more than I knew was possible. During my visits to SF, I met some of the smartest developers, marketers, VCs and entrepreneurs. I got the chance to work directly with Nemo Chu, Neil Patel, and Hiten Shah, who are my idols.
My jackpot was the education I took away from Code School, and the opportunity it gave me to land a job at KISSmetrics. If it were not for Code School, I probably never would’ve worked at KISSmetrics.
Shit, I wouldn’t know half the awesome things I know today. I can proudly say I am one of the best marketers in the country and have proven it by creating massive growth at Code School, KISSmetrics, Fuelzee and multiple other companies.
During my time at Code School and KISSmetrics, I was able to build a solid education that has prepared me to create my ventures.
When I think about it now, even if I owned 1% of Code School when it sold, I may have received a check for like $200k. Then a bunch of shares in Pluralsight (they acquired Code School) and with their 2016 IPO I would get another $200K – $500K. This would give me a payday of maybe $750k.
I know this seems like a lot of money, but in the world of tech this is just chump change.
Even if I had 5% in Code School, I could have collected about $5m.
Now I am not saying that is not a lot of money; for most people that is a fuck ton of money.
I know how the big deals work, I know how dilution works, I get it. For me it isn’t about the quick payout, it is about sticking to what you believe in and doing what is best for you and your family.
Simply put, $5m is just not a lot of money to me. My goal in life is to be a billionaire, not a $5 millionaire. You picking up what I am laying down?
The jackpot I got is the opportunity to take all those lessons and connections and apply them to my businesses where I can reap the rewards.
When one of my companies grows up, I would like to think it will be acquired for a lot of money ($1b+), and I will have kept much of my equity. I have goals to build a billion-dollar enterprise and many of the things I will do to get there I learned while at Code School and KISSmetrics.
My personal goals make the $750k – $5m payday look tiny.
I will always be grateful to Gregg and the team at Code School for giving me this jackpot. I don’t have any bitterness towards them; in fact I am super stoked for all of them. I am even more thrilled that they reached their goal, and all got the payday; it was what they wanted.
Thank you, Code School, Gregg, the team, and even the CFO, who made my life miserable.
You all helped make me who I am today and for that I will always be grateful.