David Graham

Fail often but never the same way twice. Use every mistake and failure as a learning experience to continue evolving as a professional.


David Graham has been a software developer for more than 20 years and has a track record of building successful software and businesses. In his years of experience, he noticed a reoccurring theme among adults, who wished to learn how to code and how to become successful software developers. As a result, he founded Coder Camps, a concept that teaches adults how to write software. While Coder Camps experienced great success with 94 percent of graduates pursuing successful roles in the coding industry, Graham constantly found the same conversation occurring among parents – why isn’t this concept being extended to children?

As a father of two boys who love computers, Graham did his research and found there were no quality programs for kids out there. Graham then sold Coder Camps and sought out to build Code Ninjas to fill the unmet demand. At Code Ninjas, kids learn coding by building (and playing!) video games as they progress through levels by earning various belts, from white to black, similar to Karate. Students learn more advanced programming languages as they go and even work with robotics. Since its inception in 2016, and beginning to franchise in 2017, Code Ninjas has taken the franchise space by storm and has quickly become the largest and fastest-growing kids coding franchise in the United States with 25 locations open and more than 225 in development. David’s vision to create the problem solvers of tomorrow drives Code Ninjas forward.

Where did the idea for Code Ninjas come from?

The idea for Code Ninjas came about after I founded and launched a concept that teaches adults how to write software. While this adult-focused coding workshop concept was greatly successful, I kept getting feedback from parents asking why this same concept wasn’t available for kids yet. Being a father myself, I took it upon myself to do a great deal of research to try and find a similar program for my own computer-loving kids to take part in, but I came up empty handed. The STEM and tech fields are on fire right now and all signs point to automation in the future so I thought, what better time than now to develop a concept specifically designed to prepare today’s youth for tomorrow’s tech jobs?

Rather than lecturing on algorithms and programming language though, I wanted kids to be able to learn how to code in a way that they didn’t even realize that they were learning. So, we Jedi mind trick them into learning tangible skills by allowing them to build and play the video games that they play on a daily basis. This way kids have fun in a social environment, while parents can see results as their child progresses and earns different colored ‘belts’ just like they would in a Karate class, which is a core theme found within the Code Ninjas concept. Today, Code Ninjas has evolved to meet that untapped demand for kids coding concepts and it is a place where kids ages 7-14 can come in and have fun with video games, technology and robots in a social environment while learning valuable skills and concepts.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day for me begins by waking up to breakfast with my wife and kids before heading to work. Once at work, I start off with quick “stand up” meetings with department heads to get a pulse of what’s going on that day. From there, I work on different ideas to help take our company to the next level. Of course, there is always mix of meetings with vendors and potential partners, lawyers, and international expansion efforts in any given day. Once all is said and done at the office, I head home to spend time with the family.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When I hear a new idea, it must be self-evidently a good one for it to take root. If it’s too complicated to explain, I pass. After we’ve determined that it’s got legs, we flesh out the idea in brainstorming sessions with the leadership team. I take it back to my office and fine tune it to make sure it fits our model and brand. Then, if it makes sense for our franchisees and ourselves, we plan a rollout.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The stigma of nerds being uncool is now a thing of the past. Today, nerds are cool and Code Ninjas creates an environment that celebrates those so-called ‘nerds’. We wanted to build a brand where kids could come together to share their passion for technology and video games in a social environment that cultivates those skills.

Technology has really become an integral part of our culture and paves the way for what lies ahead in the future, so those ‘nerds’ are the ones that got tech where it is and continue driving tech forward.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Before giving my opinion on a topic I will always ask for my employee’s opinion. I don’t want to influence what they say before hearing them out and if we agree, it’s good that they get credit for the idea. This way, I am able give my employees the opportunity to step up and help drive the brand forward with their ideas.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Fail often but never the same way twice. Use every mistake and failure as a learning experience to continue evolving as a professional.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Most people don’t want to hear hard truths, but it’s almost always in their best interests to tell them anyway. Most will look for ways to dance around these truths, but in all reality, people appreciate honesty. The best method to keep moving forward is to be honest with yourself and with your team.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Celebrate small victories. Live in the moment and take time to celebrate your hard work. One day when you feel as if you’ve ‘made it,’ you will look back and be able cherish the memories of the small victories that led you to where you are.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Sell the experience, not the features. At Code Ninjas, we want our ‘ninjas’ to learn tangible skills that will help them later in life, but we also want them to enjoy their time doing it. Our concept could easily be a row of computers in a cold, grey computer lab. By enhancing the concept with colorful, fun ‘karate’-themed experience, we have created a concept that kids love and parents can see tangible results as they see their children progress through the different belt levels.

Hire smart people and let them do their jobs. Forgive honest errors. Fire consistent excuse makers. This should always be a rule of thumb when building your team.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I fail every single day. When I was doing software consulting in the early 2000s, I once told a potential client that their idea for a website that would bring all the world’s wholesalers together in one place wouldn’t work because of logistical, data, and performance issues. They ended up passing on the idea. Amazon proved me wrong. Epic fail.

From this experience, I’ve learned to always hear out what people have to say, who knows – maybe they could be the next Amazon!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Colored smoke in vaping pens. How cool would that be?
• Alabama red.
• Patriots blue.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

A decent set of Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones. They sync with my TV, phone, and computer!

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

We’ve built a custom executive portal and dashboard so that I can take a pulse of the franchisees at any time. This dashboard is the cornerstone of franchisee communication and makes it easy to keep track of the latest and greatest among the franchisees.

We also use Microsoft Teams throughout our entire organization and it’s a game changer for collaboration and integrates with all of our websites using B2C and Office 365 authentication.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Anthem” (Ayn Rand) – In a world that constantly tries to define and divide us by forcing us into groups along racial, sexual, or religious lines, the individual is constantly under attack. Unique and world changing ideas do not grow from group think. They grow from an inspired individual that convinces other individuals of their idea’s merit. This is an excellent read that will definitely get you thinking about individualism.

What is your favorite quote?

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Key learnings:

  • Start and end your day spending time with the ones you love. Spending time with your family and loved ones will ultimately set your day up for success.
  • Communicating with your employees and hearing out their ideas will ultimately drive your business forward. Not all ideas come from C-Suite execs.
  • Use each failure as an opportunity to learn and become an even greater professional.
  • Being honest with your team, even in tough situations, will ultimately build a team built on a foundation of trust and support.
  • Read Anthem by Ayn Rand for a refreshed perspective on individualism.


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