Thunderbird ’06 Classmates Find Success As Partners in Business and Life
Lauren Nguyen and David Dodge: Founders of CodaKid
David Dodge and Lauren Nguyen met at Thunderbird, each one developing their business skills and plotting how they would pivot their careers.
David had spent his 20s in Silicon Valley making award-winning video games for the Sony PlayStation, PC, and several Sega platforms. Lauren had been an attorney in Houston for 6 years before recognizing her interest in global entrepreneurship and finance was stronger than her love of the law. Each enrolled in Thunderbird’s global MBA program in 2004 looking for new opportunities.
Just before graduating in 2006, the two classmates started their first business, SurePrep Learning, an academic tutoring company. They grew SurePrep from a two-person operation to one that employed 1,000 tutors in 19 global markets, earning about $4.5 million in annual revenue.
The SurePrep business model drastically changed when federal tutoring programs were eliminated. So in 2014, Lauren and David decided they were ready for a new adventure and decided to launch a company they had dreamed about for years. CodaKid was born.
Coding and Game Design for Kids
CodaKid is an online coding academy and technology camp that teaches kids from 7-15 to create games, apps, and Minecraft mods using real programming languages and professional tools. They are based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their mission: to train the next generation of engineers, innovators and digital entrepreneurs, all in the hopes of making the world a better place.
“With our savings and overly optimistic break-even projections, we decided to bootstrap it,” David said. For the full story on surviving in the educational technology sector, take a look at David’s popular post on EdSurge: Edtech Bootstrapping 101: A Survival Story
“Meet a pair of T-birds whose business mission is to train the next generation of engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs … and make the world a better place.” – Click to tweet
In December 2020, they launched their 50th online course and now have students in more than 90 countries. They began donating coding programs and professional development seminars to schools in Nigeria and they’re in talks with new schools in rural Tanzania. In this story for Inc., David writes about how he and his team have made CodaKid a “highly focused machine”: Struggling to Grow Your Business? Keep It Simple With This 1 Powerful Strategy.
Building a business, or several, from the ground up requires focus and dedication, hard work and flexibility. CodaKid’s husband and wife leadership team makes it work. David Dodge is CEO. Lauren Dodge is the company’s Director of Operations. And they make sure to spend time playing with their young daughter.
We talked with David about how the couple’s time at Thunderbird has helped drive their success.
Thunderbird’s Knowledge Network: How did you and your wife, Lauren, meet?
David Dodge: We met at Thunderbird in fall of 2004 when we were in the same global MBA cohort. We both graduated with global MBAs in 2006.
KN: Lauren was an attorney before heading to Thunderbird. What drove her to a global MBA? Where did she grow up?
David Dodge: Lauren was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and she and her mother fled the country a few days before Saigon fell in 1975. They landed in Houston Texas, where Lauren grew up, attended K-12 schools, and eventually law school at Houston College of Law. Lauren practiced law for 6 years, and realized that she had a passion for business. Her multicultural background led to an interest in global entrepreneurship and finance, and Thunderbird seemed like the perfect fit.
KN: How about you, David? What were you doing before Thunderbird?
David Dodge: I was born in Ohio and moved to Phoenix with my family in 1981. Right after college, I moved to San Francisco and developed games for the Sony Playstation and PC. After nearly a decade working in video game development in Silicon Valley, I got a bit burned out by the grueling hours and decided to make a change. Thunderbird gave me time to develop my skills and plot my next move.
KN: Besides finding romance and a business partner, what lasting legacy do you carry from your time at Thunderbird?
David Dodge: Thunderbird gave me the skills and confidence to become an entrepreneur. In addition to meeting Lauren, Thunderbird was actually the site where we launched our first business together. During our last semester at Thunderbird, Lauren and I started SurePrep Learning, an academic tutoring company. From our humble beginnings in the Thunderbird B Dorm, SurePrep moved to Scottsdale, became an Inc. 500/5000 company, and at our largest we employed over 1,000 tutors in 17 markets.
KN: What did you learn or experience at Thunderbird that most helps you in business today?
David Dodge: Thunderbird gave both Lauren and me a strong foundation in entrepreneurship, finance, and marketing. The finance and data analysis skills that Lauren gained at Thunderbird have helped our companies make data-driven decisions that, during some of the tougher times, actually saved us from going under. The international focus has also helped us tremendously and has impacted our decision to make CodaKid a global education company.
KN: Any lasting memories from your time at Thunderbird?
David Dodge: It was so great studying with students from all over the world. We learned a lot about the business climate in many different countries.
KN: Is there anything new happening with CodaKid? Anything you’d like to share with the Thunderbird community?
David Dodge: CodaKid now has customers in 90 countries and is growing rapidly. CodaKid will be localizing our content and translating our courses to several different languages in 2020, which will help us gain traction in new markets.
We have also begun giving back to the global community, and are helping administrators in Nigeria and in rural Tanzania with professional development and curriculum for their computer science programs. Giving back is an important part of CodaKid's DNA - and we are always looking for new opportunities.
KN: What are your goals for the company?
David Dodge: CodaKid’s mission is to be the best in the world at teaching real software development to kids ages 8 and up. We have a unique approach that allows kids to start with visual block interfaces and then ramp up to professional languages and tools. We make it insanely fun by using things that kids love like video games, apps, and drones.
KN: The two of you have distinct roles – CEO and Director of Operations. Do the lines blur since you are also co-founders and a couple?
David Dodge: Lauren and I have complementary skill sets, and we’ve gotten good at steering away from one another’s lanes. Raising a 6-year-old daughter together forces us to turn things off at home. Still, sometimes it can be hard, especially when things aren't going well. We've had to overcome some really difficult challenges along the way.
KN: Your stated goal is to create a generation of young programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs who can build amazing games, apps, and who will use their skills and knowledge to make the world a better place. What examples of success have you seen so far?
David Dodge: We are finally starting to see our students graduate from high school and attend engineering programs at top universities. We have students who have won national competitions, and we expect to see more of this as we get involved in several events this coming year. As our students graduate from college and join companies or launch startups, we hope they'll point to us as an important part of their development.
KN: Have you started teaching your daughter to code yet? How’s she doing?
David Dodge: Our daughter attends CodaKid two days a week and is advancing rapidly through our beginner track. She loves creating her own games and enjoys our community.
KN: You are both serial entrepreneurs. How many of your businesses are still running?
David Dodge: We are solely focused on CodaKid right now. We decided to wind SurePrep down after a federal program we participated in was shut down.
KN: Where did that entrepreneurial spirit come from? What’s next?
David Dodge: I was one of those kids who always had lemonade stands, trash collection services, and lawn moving gigs. It took me until my 30’s to finally take the plunge and start out on my own, and honestly, without Lauren's skillset I probably wouldn't have lasted very long. Lauren and I will continue to build CodaKid and will likely also launch a B2B SaaS company we've been talking about for quite some time.
KN: Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like to say about your company, your business style, your time at Thunderbird, or connection you still have with Thunderbird alumni?
David Dodge: I still stay in touch with my Thunderbird entrepreneurship professor Steven Stralser. He has been a great mentor to me, and has made some intros that have been enormously helpful. As we expand into Latin America, Europe, and Asia, I plan on connecting with as many T-birds as possible. Can't wait!