Every year seems to flash by quicker and quicker. Hard to believe we’re now heading into our sixth autumn of classes - feels like only yesterday we had a single class of a dozen students to look after. How things have changed!
With our newest full time hire this summer (Academy of Code veteran Daire, who has been working with us part-time since 2014) we now have five full time tutors including our MD, Diarmuid. On top of that we have Margaret, our office manager, and Tom, our Director of Business Development. When we moved into our first “real” office (in the Digital Hub, Thomas St) in November 2017 its 290 sq ft seemed way too big for us. Since then we’ve filled that, moved to a slightly bigger office (just over 350 sq ft), and now we’re almost literally bursting at the seams of this one and starting to eye up our next potential move.
August is notionally our “quiet” month, where there’s very little teaching. While you might like to think this means we enjoy a month off, this is actually the month where most of the really important “behind the scenes” stuff happens.
Aside from the much needed spring (/summer) clean, where we find storage space for the all the stuff we didn’t realise we had acquired for summer camps, this is also the time of year when we get to really sink some time into building up our curriculum, upgrading various bits of our tech stack, and just generally levelling up for the coming 12 months.
First order of business in August: let’s find some students for September! There’s a team effort involved in getting everything online, and of course we try and make things a bit easier and a bit neater every year. Our website is built on Squarespace, which we’ve been within a gnat’s whisker of replacing almost since day one. What’s holding us back? Squarespace is pretty simple to use (albeit sometimes frustratingly restrictive) and anything that’s much better will take quite a bit of work to get spun up. Squarespace has also been getting slightly better year-on-year. Not as much better as you might expect for a company that spends millions on Superbowl ads every year, but a bit better nonetheless.
This year they’ve added subscription payment plans to their e-commerce platform, which allow us to offer parents the option of splitting their annual registration over multiple payments (in this case 10 equal, monthly payments). This is something we’ve wanted to do for a while, but the up-front cost of building a custom solution (of time or money or both) never quite made sense. Now it’s sufficiently easy that we can trial it, and we’ll know by this time next month if anyone really wanted it in the first place.
Of course there are trade-offs here too. It’s not possible to simply have a subscription option as part of another product (which is why there are two separate “product” blocks on our course registration pages, one for single payments and one for subscriptions). It’s also not possible to add a “quantity” box to subscriptions for some reason, so if you have two kids and want to pay in instalments for both you’ll just have to do two transactions. So it’s better, we think, but still a bit messy. Sorry!
We’ve also now added customer logins to the site. For subscription orders you can see how many payments are remaining and when the next payment will be processed. For other customers it will save some details, and hopefully save a little time during the registration process. Like all Squarespace upgrades, however, it is still a bit half baked, so don’t expect miraculous improvements in usability just yet.
(Another Squarespace improvement: for years it hasn’t been possible to change the default country at checkout to anything other than “United States”. Some of you may have noticed this, and thought it a bit strange that an Irish company would have “United States” as the default country when entering your address. This year, in what may yet turn out to be the technical innovation of the century, we have been afforded the luxury of choosing our own default country for the checkout page! With apologies to the 0.3% of customers who do have billing addresses in the US, we went with Ireland).
Registrations are also driven by a mix of Facebook ads, Google adwords promotions, email newsletters (powered by MailChimp) and a variety of other tools. As parents enter back-to-school mode in the coming weeks we will be ramping up our promotions, and making sure that as many people as possible know about what we’re up to.
New Venues, Calendars and Timetables
This is also the time of year when we’re trying our hardest to get as many new venues as possible over the line for the new term. Schools tend to go into “stealth mode” over the summer, and even when principals or other staff are on-site they’re almost impossible to actually get on the phone. Some time around the middle of the month everything will suddenly spring into life, and Tom will all of a sudden be run off his feet finalising room availability, promotions and school calendars for every school in our line-up, not to mention transition year timetables, one-off workshops, staff training and everything else that is suddenly back on the agenda.
Some venues have already been finalised and had registrations open, others will be a bit closer to the wire. However it goes, we’re gearing up for our biggest term yet (and yes, we know we say that every time, but it’s true - we’re expecting to grow our student numbers by between 15 and 30% this autumn compared to autumn 2018).
We’re also looking forward to sharing a lot more of what’s going on inside the company and inside our classrooms this term. One of the pieces of feedback which came through repeatedly over the past 12 months was that parents in particular would like to know more about what’s being taught in our classes and why. We’re really proud of the work we do both in preparing for our classes and delivering them, and we look forward to bringing you all along for the ride over the coming weeks and months.