How a career “failure” motivated Tina May to build a start-up business in a month.

This morning I was sitting in a little café on the coast of Mexico, sipping a Café Frio, when a friend I hadn’t spoken to since high school called.

We chatted about old times and she asked about what I was up to in this little town of Sayulita. When I told her that in just a few days I would be meeting a group of entrepreneurs, marketers, creative and aspiring digital nomads from all of the world to teach them how to code in a luxury pool villa, her response was as many have been:

“Wait — you’re doing what? What does that even mean?”

When you’re so caught up in the life you’re living all seems pretty normal, but this impromptu phone call gave me a chance to pause and reflect on how much has changed in the past 12 months.

"We chatted about old times and she asked about what I was up to in this little town of Sayulita." Image via The Institute of Code.

Around this time last year I was sitting on the couch of my best friend (and love of my life) Emilio, sobbing my heart out – overnight and unceremoniously I had just been kicked out of the business I had co-founded and built over the eight months, with a variety of excuses that ultimately boiled down the fact that I wasn’t vegan (even as the instigator highlighted, after running a vegan start-up for eight months).

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We talked a lot about failure in the start-up world. While pretty new Instagram quotes glamourise failure, most of them skim past the reality that when you are in the midst of failure it feels like a punch in the guts, again and again. You question whether you are good enough, whether you’ll make it, and how you’re going to tell everyone in your life who is excitedly waiting for your product to launch.

That day I had a choice – I could throw in the towel or I could get back on the horse. I decided that I wouldn’t let my worth be determined by a guy who failed to see my value. I would prove to him, to myself, and to the world that I did have what it takes. I’m not someone to do things in half measures, so I decided that day that I would build a new start-up… I’d launch in exactly one month. (Talk about a glutton for punishment!)

"Emilio and I explored about a dozen ideas." Image via The Institute of Code.

Over the course of a few days Emilio and I sat together and explored maybe a dozen different ideas. Of all the potential businesses, only one really resonated with me. A friend had asked where the best place to learn to code was and I started researching different options available, but just couldn’t find any that I was happy to recommend. I knew first-hand how many opportunities opened up to you when you learned to code (I had been able to run a successful creative agency when I was only 20 years old, and travel the world bartering with hotels for web development), but also how challenging many people found it to learn on their own through programs like Codecademy or in a typical classroom.

I tried to forget everything I knew about what a school was, and reimagine what a school could be if we put the student at the heart of every decision, asking questions like: how do people learn best? How can I create an environment where every student will thrive? How can I equip people with not just textbook knowledge but the practical skills that you need in the ‘real world’? I looked into educational psychology, how mindset and mood shapes learning, and the factors that combine to help people enter into that flow state of peak performance.

And from that, Emilio and I came up with an idea. A new model of tech education, where we would run immersive tech bootcamps but in a way that created an accelerated learning environment; we would remove our students from the stress of everyday life, put them up in private pool villas in beautiful locations around the world; we would nourish our students with meals prepared by an in-house chef and daily yoga and meditation; we would get their blood pumping and cultivate their self-efficacy with activities like surfing and paddle-boarding; we would hire only experienced developers actively working in the industry as our mentors, and we’d bring four mentors for only 15 students; and we would design our curriculum from the ground up by thinking about the skills that our students actually need and the most effective ways to teach to them.

"We devised a new model of tech education." Image via The Institute of Code.

It combined everything I was passionate about and everything I was good at. I had always loved to travel, I used to tutor all of my friends in high school and university, I was never happy with the status quo and always wanted to look for ways that things could be done better.

But most of all, I look at the hundred or so years we might be lucky enough to get on this earth and I look at all the amazing things that you can you do, see and experience, and I know that there is barely enough time for it all – and certainly not enough time to waste in a career or a job that you aren’t passionate about.

What got me through the late nights and the early mornings — hustling to pull together a reasonably complex international business model in what is never enough time was this idea that not only could I create a life that I’m passionate about but I could also empower more people from all over the world to see that a successful life and a joyful one weren’t mutually exclusive. I also wanted to equip them with a sought-after skillset to create new opportunities for themselves.

"...I could also empower more people from all over the world to see that a successful life and a joyful one weren’t mutually exclusive..." Image via The Institute of Code.

That was the 4th of June, and exactly one month later on the 4th July at my Grandad’s 80th Birthday party we launched The Institute of Code.

Now, as I set here sipping my ice coffee and reflecting on the year that’s been, I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s been one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve ever done. We’ve had to scramble last minute as villas have cancelled on us, volcanic eruptions have threatened to close airports and we’ve even had a student whose passport was eaten by her puppy two days before the retreat (seriously!).

But we’ve also had students come up to us on day 10 and tell us that our program has given them skills and confidence in tech that they never thought they would have, that it’s given them a new aspiration for the life they want to live. Or they call us weeks after the program has ended to tell us that they quit their dead-end job and just landed an awesome new role or launched their own business.

"It’s been one of the hardest and scariest things I’ve ever done." Image via The Institute of Code.

In the past 12 months we’ve run seven sessions, taught almost 80 students from all over the world how to build responsive websites from scratch, expanded internationally from our initial location in Bali to our second campus in Mexico and announced our second course offering (app development).

We’ve laughed, cried and made an incredible network of new friends.

It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t change one minute of it.

All images supplied.

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