Why I’m donating $150k to freeCodeCamp to help fund their advanced math & machine learning curriculum
freeCodeCamp is a non-profit unicorn: It delivered 1.3 billion minutes of free coding education last year, grows 60% every year, and is sustainably run by just 12 full time staff and hundreds of volunteers. That’s a smaller team than when Facebook acquired Instagram for $1b.
A few weeks ago I saw a tweet offering a way to support them for just $5 / month. I wondered if there was a way to help accelerate them toward the second.
I wrote Quincy, the founder. “If you could raise tens of thousands all at once, what would you do with it?”
Math. You can get a developer job without a strong background in math. But you’ll need to learn statistics and linear algebra before you can do a lot of software engineering and data science tasks. Traditionally developers have learned these by going back to school to get a graduate degree. But what if developers had a linear curriculum to learn math, data science, and machine learning at their own pace, for free?
The more I learned the more I fell in love.
First, non-profit giving is super expensive. For every dollar you give most well respected non-profits spend 20 cents on raising more dollars (and best practice allow up to 35 cents!). By comparison, freeCodeCamp spends $0.00 on fundraising. Instead, it maintains a SaaS-like donation system. This means for every dollar donated to freeCodeCamp, one hundred pennies go toward providing more minutes of learning to people around the world.
Second, large-dollar donors make non-profits’ budgets unpredictable, making attracting top talent very difficult. But freeCodeCamp is funded almost entirely by a broad coalition of $5 / month supporters. So its future cash flows are far more predictable — similar to the most robust B2C businesses. This stability means Quincy attracts the best talent, which creates — you guessed it — even more minutes of (free!) learning.
Third, after 5 years of running their YouTube ad-free, freeCodeCamp just turned on YouTube ads. But instead of going on a big spending spree they’re saving all that ad revenue for a rainy day, giving them even more long-term stability. Again, while most non-profits spend money on ads for fundraising, freeCodeCamp earns money from ads, instead growing through reputation and SEO.
Put it all together and freeCodeCamp represents the rarest of rare opportunities: self-sustaining non-profit unicorn. The staff, the tools, the servers, the community … it’s already self-sustaining because monthly donations grow in tandem with usage. So, when we expand curriculum in math and machine learning it’ll increase use, which will increase the donor base. This one-time donation will sustainably increase both baseline usage and monthly donations.
That’s where you and I come in. I’m 100% matching all donations to freeCodeCamp, up to a total raised of $300k. If you’ve ever considered giving $50 to the the most efficient education non-profit on the web, now’s your chance to make it double: Your $50 automatically becomes $100.
And after eight years in online coding education I’ve come to greatly respect what Quincy is building and how he’s building it. Education and entrepreneurship take passion and patience. For most of us it takes money, too. Quincy has shown how to build a unicorn.