Anjali Dighe brings strategic focus, vision and leadership skills gained from a successful career guiding the creation and implementation of business processes in order to generate sustained positive results. Leveraging experience in strategic business optimization, business development, finance, marketing, and human resources to a variety of entrepreneurial firms, Ms. Dighe’s 20+ years of progressive experience has enabled her to significantly impact profitability and growth objectives for organizations of which she has served as a strategic partner.
Ms. Dighe is the Area Developer for Code Ninjas Charlotte comprised of Code Ninjas Concord, Code Ninjas Ballantyne, and soon to come Code Ninjas Myers Park. Code Ninjas provides our students a unique resource to enhance problem solving, critical thinking, mathematical, and logic skills, while having fun creating and building games and learning how to code. In addition, she is Managing Partner of Relentless Group, a consulting firm focused on strategic growth and leadership development.
She currently volunteers her time as Co-Director of the Women in Homeland Security STEM Committee, Board of Advisor to the 2019 Fleurix Conference, Non-Trustee Board Member at Cannon School, and is a member of Charlotte InfraGard. In addition, she has served as a President of the Code Ninjas Franchise Advisory Council, Board Member for the Center for Improving Women’s Lives serving as Secretary, Board of Directors for Leadership Fairfax serving as Chair of two committees, Vice-Chair of the Fellows Forum through ACT-IAC, and was a founding member of Communities in Schools of Northern Virginia. Anjali lives in Concord, NC with her husband of twenty years, Vivek and her sixteen-year old son, Deven.
Where did the idea for Code Ninjas come from?
After moving to Charlotte from Washington, DC, my husband and I wanted to fulfill our itch to become entrepreneurs and also give back to the community we grew up in. We wanted to fulfill a gap, a need, and become a disrupter in a field that would make a difference. We quickly realized that there were a lot of kids like our son who love STEM but really wanted to learn how to code but didn’t have the resources within a community environment to push out on their passion together.
We came across a little known franchise (at the time) called Code Ninjas, founded by entrepreneur and software developer, David Graham in 2016. We did our research and created business plans and financial models around this business as well as a few companies out there that were franchises and decided to focus on the Code Ninjas Brand. Little did we know at the time, as the first franchisees, how quickly this concept would take off and the movement we were about to embark on.
With the increasing impact of technology in nearly every sector of the global business environment, coding has become a necessary language and skillset in the digital age. It is important for kids – both boys and girls – to start learning the language of code at an early-age so they begin thinking about problem solving in a more fluid manner that empowers them to work in team environments that encourages community learning and collaboration. When I found the Code Ninjas franchise opportunity in 2017, it seemed like a natural fit to fulfill this passion.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
No two days are ever typical – and that is what makes my job so fun. I try to start each day off with some “me time.” Our centers are open Monday through Saturday; so, it is important for me to get some time in prior to the start of the work day to focus on family, friends and myself.
It is amazing how many ideas from that free time! From there, the day begins with a unique focus; whether it be marketing, public relations, meetings, finances, operations, community relations, or human resources. I run two Code Ninjas franchises that are about 45 minutes apart from one another. It is important to stay in touch with the Directors and working through ideas that they have; thereby, creating a conducive environment by which we work together as a horizontal leadership team.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ideas come to me all the time (mostly in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning) – the trick is to identify the good ones from the bad; running them by staff empowering them to bring their own ideas ideas to the table. We quickly whiteboard the ideas, create a game plan, and then execute. Sometimes it’s about throwing it out there, trying it out, failing, and then trying another one to see what sticks – especially with a new business.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Upward mobility and closing the gender wage gap are two trends we at Code Ninjas Charlotte are intently focused on addressing. Our program gives an opportunity for students to get a headstart on a useful foundation for the rest of their lives regardless of whether they go to college or not. The Charlotte market is noted to be 50th out of 50 major metropolitan cities with regard to the economic mobility trends in our community. We have successfully partnered with companies to address these trends to reverse them in a positive notion.
Learning to code is a skillset that every child is going to have to have as they push into the workforce. As of today, US Universities are expected to produce only 29 percent of the required number of grads according the the US Department of Labor; and, college costs have gone up 129 percent in the last 30 years, while the average household income has only risen by 16 percent. Young adults can no longer afford to go to college. Being able to be a part of this movement that gives the next generation a skill they can use once they leave high school is pretty cool to be a part of.
We have been fortunate to work with companies in Year 2020, in the Charlotte-metro area that are supporting students based on this upward mobility and gender gaps. We have 3 companies that have committed one year sponsorships for 6 students collectively to come through our program. At the end of Year 1, we will be able to showcase the knowledge they have gained and the work they have accomplished.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Listening. Listening to our community, our parents, our students, and our staff. The biggest way I can make a difference within our Code Ninjas Community as well as the Charlotte Community is to listen to what the issues are and work towards providing solutions.
Our community includes schools, colleges, universities, and businesses and the challenges we face as a professional community in finding enough people with the skills needed to fulfill roles in an ever changing environment. Our parents provide insights as to how our students are doing and how they feel about the work they are completing within our centers. Our students are our heartbeat. They tell us about what is going on at school, what is happening within the classroom, how the knowledge they are gaining is helping them, and how we can continue to get better at what we are doing. Our staff are the ones that have ownership to “making or breaking” our business. What ideas work, what doesn’t, how can we better our environment, how can we better our curriculum.
Listening to the 360 of our world allows us to be flexible, change our message, and become the best customer service oriented business we envision ourselves to be.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I grew up as a serious introvert. It took a long time within my professional career to get in touch with my “inner crazy.” It is the one piece of advice I give to all of my staff – you can’t really make a mistake on young kids – practice, learn how to talk to people, learn how to connect with them, and learn how to engage. It is still hard for me to walk into a room of people I don’t know and put myself out there, but it is the nature of the beast of being in a profession that forces one to continuously connect.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
We have a tendency to put ourselves into boxes; based on things like age, race, color, gender, religion, political preferences, etc. It is easy to say that we cannot do something because of these boxes. As much as there are challenges based on these boxes, if we allow for ourselves to recognize and give it voice, it will become a hindrance. Yes, there are negatives to everything, but if we allow ourselves to accept those boxes, we will not accomplish what it is we set out to do.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Force some downtime for yourself. It is so important to take at least an hour out of each day to find some peace; whether it is reading a book, cooking, watching television, hanging out with your child, playing with your dog, taking a walk, or just having a glass of wine, find a way to clear your mind and unplug every day. It is actually harder than one thinks!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Partnership. No business can go it alone. Business in and of itself is a competitive world. While competition is healthy and creates a drive to “be the best” we also have to remember why we are in business and what kinds of change we are looking to affect.
For Code Ninjas Charlotte, partnership means providing opportunities for those kids that cannot afford our program but have a true desire to learn how to code. Partnership also is to encourage more young girls to learn how to code. We already see the trends at a young age of less girls joining our program than boys. We need to change that vision. Encourage girls to learn to code; if we do not, the gender wage gap will continue to be a conversation for the next generation.
We need to make a difference as an entire community and that means partnering with other companies that provide STEM opportunities, partnering with non-profits to support them, and partnering with companies to provide sponsorship to encourage, inspire, and motivate the next generation of leaders.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Thinking that the business of teaching kids how to code would be an “easy sell” and that parents would come flocking. I have conversations quite often with parents who are afraid of the internet and do not allow their children access to technology. The amount of educating the community on the “why” of the importance of learning to code is an uphill battle.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Starting up a school that is a true STEM school. One that focuses on project based curriculum where students are not learning just the “how” but also the “why”. We need to revolutionize the way our children are taught based on the real world today and that comes from dynamic individuals that are passionate, organized, and committed to making a difference in our young children’s minds.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Groceries! We had a staff lunch at our home and made burgers and veggies on the grill. Our staff are primarily made up of high school and college students and the conversations we had sitting around our table on the patio on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon was enlightening. The professional development of our staff and for them to know that I am always there as a mentor, guide, or just ear is the best feeling ever!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We have implemented Zoho, a CRM tool that incorporates our customer information, email campaigns, social media, and surveys into one easy to use platform. Productivity has gone up and time management has become a lot easier.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The book that gives me the most strength is Personal History by Katherine Graham, owner of the Washington Post. Her insights into her role as a woman in a primarily male dominated profession at the time, coupled with her honest conversation about her personal life including her husband’s mental illness, showcase an individual who fought hard for her business, overcame obstacles and personal tragedy.
What is your favorite quote?
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou
• Breathe: It’s ok to take a breath and take time out for yourself.
• Listen: Allow yourself to be vulnerable to ideas and to listen to challenges to be more flexible.
• Get in touch with your “inner crazy”: it’s hard to make a mistake if you stay true to your passion.
• Relationships: Community is everything. Bring community – personal, business, non-profit, government – into your world as partners and give back to the community you live in through partnerships.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.