To start a company, you need a big vision, or at least that's what they say.
Which is why people are usually surprised when they hear that, up until October 2018, I didn't have one. When I started Ladies Learning Code I was 23, and it was one of those "scratch your own itch" ideas. I had been teaching myself to code for a while, but it was tough, so I created exactly the organization that I would have wanted when I first started learning. Six months later, when I started HackerYou, I was 24. Our first course sold out, and then our next one sold out, and then we created an Immersive program and it also sold out, and then people got great jobs, so we just kept doing more. We didn't run a single ad until 2016, and even today, our marketing budget is tiny compared to other companies our size. We grew quickly between 2012 and today because people told their friends about us, and that's still our best source of students.
Over the years I've gotten calls from venture capitalists and private equity guys (I say guys because they've all been guys), and they'd always ask about my vision. They wanted to know if I saw a big B2B corporate training play like General Assembly, or if we were going to expand into 10 cities in the next year, or when we would get into online training ("when you have an online offering, valuations are just better"). I'd always tell them that we're intensely focused on the quality of our programs and our students' experience and we don't have plans to expand quicker than felt natural. The call would always end shortly after that.
As I've written about before, when I returned to work full-time after taking my second part-time parental leave, I was a different entrepreneur. I was more ambitious, but I was also more confident, based on HackerYou's results, that what we are doing is really special and should be shared more broadly. On October 6, 2018, it finally came to me.
I remember what I was doing, exactly where I was sitting, the moment I realized. If I wanted HackerYou to grow, then we have to train more students at once.
And rather than opening locations in 10 different cities, I thought, "Why not buy a campus, and train hundreds or even thousands of students at a time?" It would be an opportunity to craft a life-changing experience for our students on an even bigger scale, which has always been my passion. Creating life changing experiences also happens to be HackerYou's superpower.
Once I realized where we were headed, I knew we had to change our name. My issues? I find the "Hacker" part needlessly aggressive, a holdover from a time when we as the tech community were trying to "reclaim" the word "hacker". (Spoiler alert: it didn't work.) We get emails and messages all the time from people who want help hacking their friend's Facebook account, and whenever I share my email at the bank or over the phone, I often hear "Oh, hmm. That's an interesting email." The "You" part of HackerYou also stopped working for me a while ago. When we launched in 2012, it was a bit cheeky. We we're a university or college, so the "You" was there to tell people that we're in the same category, but we're different. Today, we're a registered Private Career College and we have ambitions of being a force for change in today's higher education system. The "You" just feels childish to me now.
Over the years, HackerYou has come to mean a lot. Despite its shortcomings as a name, it is a well-loved brand.
Our alumni are so passionate about what we do and the community that we serve every day that I was nervous to share that we're going through a re-brand. However, everyone we've told our new name to so far has responded super positively. I am confident that we're going to be able to bring meaning to our new name even more easily, and soon it will feel like it's always been who we are.
So, what is it? It's Juno. Juno, Juno College or Juno College of Technology. Those all work. It's easy to say and easy to spell, and it's meaningful to me. Juno's role in Roman mythology was the protector of the entire community, but especially the women. At HackerYou, we've always been passionate about supporting those who identify as women or non-binary as well as other minority groups, so the name just feels right. Juno was also obsessed with her community's wealth and financial well-being, which resonates deeply. We've been helping unemployed or underemployed young people move into exciting, creative, well-paying roles in tech for half a decade now. And we're just getting started.
A re-brand is tough. Even though I know it's the right thing for the company and our community, I'm still nervous about it.
You can help us by talking about it. If you'd like to go one step further, we're offering Limited Edition Juno t-shirts and crewnecks, on sale now until midnight on June 30th. They're Limited Edition because these colours and styles won't be offered again - they're special, just for launch. And all of the proceeds will go towards upgrading the HackerYou Alumni Slack community, so that our 700+ weekly active users can have access to more than 10,000 messages at a time. If you decide to buy a t-shirt or crewneck to support us, our entire community thanks you. Did we mention that they're ethically sourced and printed in Toronto?
We'll be officially launching the Juno brand and new website in August 2019, so until then, we're still HackerYou. As for my vision? It's never been clearer.