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I co-founded Le Wagon in 2014, graduated 12k alumni, hundreds of them created startups and raised $300M+, AMA!

Dear Indie Hackers,

I've been a silent but long-time follower of the podcast and this forum, tonight I'm delighted to share my experience of CTO and co-founder of Le Wagon.

I am a self-taught programmer who then learnt Computer Science in engineering school. I started my career at Google in 2008 and worked for two startups after that. In 2014, I joined Boris & Romain in the infancy of what would become Le Wagon.

Le Wagon is an international coding school specialised in immersive bootcamps (Web Development and Data Science). Le Wagon teaches people the skills they need to change their lives, kick-start their tech career or launch their own startup.

Since 2014, we've grown from Paris, France to more than 45 cities around the world and we have graduated more than 12,000 alumni. This is what we are most proud of, our community is just amazing.

Le Wagon attracted early on strong entrepreneurs who struggled getting their idea into the world because of miscommunication between them and technical third-parties (agencies, freelancers, etc.). Learning to code allowed them to better shape and deliver their idea. So far, at least 170 startups have been created by Le Wagon alumni, half of them managed to raise a total north of 300M$ and some of them already exited! Here's the list if you are interested, we try to keep it as updated as possible!

I'd be happy to share insights from our entrepreneur journey, our community or discuss about Tech, Coding, Education, etc.

AMA!

  1. 3

    Hey Sebastien,

    So did the 3 of you bootstrapp Le Wagon in the beginning or did you go the funding route? How much capitol is necessary to start a coding bootcamp?

    1. 3

      Hi Seth,

      Thanks for asking the first question!

      The company was created in the Summer 2013 and the first batch happened in Paris in Q1 2014, so it took ~6 months to find the first sixteen students to start the adventure. We bootstrapped (I think we started with 1000€ of capital, that's it) the company for more than 6 years, using a dual model of franchising and subsidiaries.

      More recently, we raised in Q1 2020, just before the pandemic lockdowns hit, to accelerate our growth and tackle new opportunities (B2B for instance)

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    No ideas atleast none that would be convincing.
    Ideas that I am confident enough to generate profits.
    What would you advise a software developer looking for a ideas to work on? How to find them?

    1. 2

      I think the key is not to look for an idea but for a problem. The best is when you scratch your own itch, making something useful for you or for a close friend.

      Being a Software Engineer, the biggest trap is to rush to build something and then realise no one cares! That's the whole point of the Lean Startup methodology. My advice would be to pair with someone who does not know how to code but has identified such a problem worth working on.

      That's how I see my role at Le Wagon. I was not the one who came up with the idea of the bootcamp, the school etc. in the first place. That was my co-founders, Romain & Boris. What I brought to the table was my developer expertise and used it to draw a path of scaling my co-foudners vision, using tools & processes. When I was younger, I used to play the bass guitar in a cover rock band. Apart from Flea and RHCP, when you listen to a rock band, you cab clearly hear the lead singer, the guitar and even the drums but you don't really pay attention to the bass. But if the bass stops, then you notice it! That's why I loved that instrument and that's how I see my role as a CTO.

      1. 1

        Thanks for the insights. Will think about it.

  3. 2

    Hey Sebastien, awesome AMA!

    I have been considering creating a bootcamp geared towards students in low income countries, but I have been struggling to come up with a viable financial model - either price is too high for the students, or the bootcamp is not making any money. Onsite bootcamps are staff-intensive.

    Could you talk a bit about the financial side of the business?

    • What is your ratio of students per staff member
    • Your cost to educate one student if you can share it
    • Profitability of the bootcamp depending on number of students (min required to be profitable)
    • Have you experimented with the pricing / loan agreements, etc.
    • What is the best way to go in a low-income country?

    Thank you!

    1. 1

      Funding is definitely a hard topic with education. There's a vicious circle to break:

      • X is stuck in a job they don't like / that does not pay enough
      • X would like to transition to a new career
      • X finds a training which is Y €
      • X does not have Y €
      • Back to square 1

      If you look at our field, they are many players doing different things here. Some would rely on making the education free and taking a cut on the future salary X is going to make (traditional bank loan, ISA, etc.), which is what I can see happenning in the US.

      In Europe, where we started, the context is different. In France or Germany, a lot of our students get money from organisation like Pole Emploi or Bildungsgutschein.

      Regarding the business model, well since day 1 (as we've been bootstraped) we tried to earn more money than we spend! That means adjusting the tuition fees in regard of our costs: teachers, TAs, rent, Marketing, Events, G&A, etc. The number of students to be break even depends from each city (rent in London is three times the rent in Berlin for instance...) so some cities are not as profitable as others.

      1. 1

        Thank you! I was looking at bank loans and ISAs but unfortunately they require strong financial or legal systems which low-income countries don't have. Looks like sponsorship model is the one that may work or programs similar to Bildungsgutschein which is a pretty awesome deal. Good luck!

        BTW I recommended one of my friends to do Le Wagon bootcamp and he graduated literally a few weeks ago. He loved the online experience. Great job!

        1. 1

          Wow, amazing! Thank you so much for recommending us, glad your friend had a blast 🙌

  4. 1

    Hey Seb! Awesome surprise to scroll through the latest IH content and see your AMA.

    What resources or experiences would you recommend to mid-level developers who have come out of bootcamp and have been working in the "real world" for a few years? In particular, how can we "bridge the gap" between us and senior-level colleagues who have been to engineering/computer science school?

  5. 1

    Hey Seb!
    Congratulations!

    What is the biggest challenge your staff had to face and how did you solve it?

    1. 2

      Thanks David!

      Tough question, we've been grinding so hard for years now that it's hard to remember a specific big challenge. I think Le Wagon is more about solving thousands of tiny challenges, with the student experience always in mind. It's all about trying to maximise the outcome of each task, automated the boring and repetitive ones and freeing time for students. At least that would be my answer for Engineering.

      Something else which comes to mind is the challenge of growing from a one-city operating ~80 students per year in 2014 (Paris) to what we have now, thousands of alumni graduating from 45+ cities around the world (2021), while maintaining the quality, satisfaction and outcome. That's though, we can always do better, Covid-19 challenged us, but we're keeping a close eye on this since day one.

      Cheers!

    2. 1

      This comment was deleted 2 months ago.

  6. 1

    Hey Sebasien,

    Awesome journey! How much do bootcamp graduates earn on average after let's say 3 years of completing the bootcamp?

    1. 2

      Sorry I can't answer quantitatively to that question as I don't have the data, but I can tell you that we have many 3y alumni in senior positions in their companies, lead dev, or even CTO of startups with a first seed of funding. The median gross salary in Europe for a first full-time position after the bootcamp (all jobs included) is 40k€ annually, which above the average

      1. 1

        Awesome thanks a lot for the info!

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    huge fan of the bootcamp. Watch a lot of the videos on youtube. Sadly we do not have it here where I live.

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Hi Michael, thank you so much for the kind words, and glad you like our Youtube channel!

      Where are you located? We will be running our first Online Batches ever next month so that might be the chance for you to join :)

  8. 1

    Hey Sebastien,

    Inspiring story :)

    How do you decide to make a real life bootcamp instead of online courses? Or did you start as online course and pivoted along the way?

    In a sense how did you find your PMF?

    1. 2

      We started directly with the on-campus, "real life", bootcamp. The way we evaluated PMF in 2013 in Paris was to organize paying evening training sessions on beginner subjects (like "Code your Landing page", "First steps with git and GitHub", "API for Beginners", etc.). I think it was around ~49€ / night, that way we validated the niche market in the city for paying courses. We attended countless community events on Meetup to pitch Le Wagon to find our first cohort of students, one by one ! The first cohort had already multiple profiles : entrepreneurs who wanted to build a MVP themselves, people aspiring to a freelancer / digital nomad lifestyle and people who wanted to change career and enter tech (as Developer, Product Manager, Customer Success, etc.)

      One year after launch, we tried to go online with shorter courses, and we did with a new platform, ondemand.lewagon.com - It had some relative success but we realized that building (and maintaining!) online course content was a completely different story than doing so for in-person bootcamps, and we were not willing to go down that route. This experiment is now closed and we focus on the Bootcamp experience as much as possible.

      Talking about online vs on campus, 2020 was a tough year for everyone in the world, so we had to quickly adapt to the lockdown situations. We managed to continue operating thanks to the pedagogical platform we've been building since Day 1 and some quick implementation of Zoom Meetings. This experience revealed to us the added value of the in-person experience and although students of the remote (still synchronous) version of the bootcamp learnt as much and were happy, they missed the community aspect, the thrill of learning with others, etc.

      I hope this answers your question!

      1. 1

        Yes it does! Awesome story :)

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