My first introduction to computers at the age of 13 was so painfully boring I stayed away from them until I was 30. And yet, last April, I co-founded a learning game company called CodeSpark, an app that teaches kids ages 5-8 about fundamental computer science concepts.
As a teenager, I was offered the chance to take a computer programming class. I imagined that I would create incredible video games and be the envy of my friends. However, for 8 long weeks I took a bus 45 minutes each way while only learning enough to write the traditional “hello world” program and make my name move across the screen. Yawn. Computers were NOT for me, I thought.
A traditional career
And I kept thinking that way for almost 20 years. I begrudgingly learned to create spreadsheets and presentations but I stuck to the things that that were required for school and work–nothing more. While I was ignoring the personal computer revolution, I was working hard to build a very traditional career. For my family of educators, success meant becoming a teacher or a “professional.” So, first I became an accountant and then an investment banker doing mergers & acquisitions in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Things were going according to plan! There was just one problem, I was not nearly as happy and satisfied with my life as I expected to be. After months of soul searching I decided I needed to map a new path for myself.
I had a vague notion that I liked smaller companies more than big ones and that I was happiest when my job included a combination of structured problem solving and creativity. eCommerce and online marketing looked like a place where these things met, so I left investment banking behind, moved to Seattle and joined a start-up interactive agency as the CFO. Within two years I moved away from finance and toward product and marketing. I also sought out opportunities to build new things. Over the next twelve years I worked at 3 independent start-ups and helped launch 3 new business units for entrepreneurial companies.
However, by the time I began to think of myself as someone who could start his own business, I had become a father of three with a hefty mortgage so my kids could be in a good school district. Suddenly the risk/reward of being an entrepreneur seemed particularly daunting.
Then, last June, I had an epiphany while working with Bill Gross at IdeaLab. He asked me to research a new idea he had for a tablet app that would let kids create their own games. While a great idea, it turned out there were several solid options for this already. However, what shocked and then excited me, was the fact that computer science education had changed very little in the 30 years since my painful brush with BASIC. Worse still was that computer science teachers are in incredibly short supply since good ones are snapped up by Google and the like for twice what a teacher gets paid.
Within two months I had become convinced that teaching kids computer science could change the world. I learned that kids as young as 5 can understand sophisticated concepts if you get the mouse, keyboard and syntax out of the way. I learned that studying computer science has obvious benefits like improving logic and math skills but also non-obvious ones like improving reading comprehension. I learned that 9 out of 10 schools in the US don’t teach computer science and that it is very rare for elementary schools to teach it. I learned that the new generation of computer science tools and games were surprisingly similar to boring tools used decades ago. Everyone wanted kids to “move a robot” but no one was asking kids if they thought that was fun or interesting.
I was hooked. I knew I had a better idea for making computer science interesting. I knew my own painful experience with computer science would help me innovate and think beyond familiar approaches. I knew I had unlimited access to kid insights via my own kids and their friends. Most importantly, I knew I needed to start a company around solving this problem!
The risks that had seemed so daunting before paled in comparison to the global opportunity before me. I realized timing will never be perfect and it didn’t matter if I didn’t come from a “family of entrepreneurs.” Passion burns in the heart of every good entrepreneur and I had unexpectedly found mine – it was finally time to take the leap.
Want to hear more from advisors like Grant? Join FounderDating to connect with amazing entrepreneurs and advisors.