Career Story: Startup CEO

Jon is CEO and co-founder of a startup. He talks about prioritizing business by taking a smaller salary at his own company.

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My name's Jon Mattingly.
JON MATTINGLY, 26
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KODABLE

I'm CEO and Co-Founder of Kodable.

I am 26 years old
and I make $75,000 a year.

So Kodable is a startup.

We're located in Sunnyvale, California

in the middle of Silicon Valley.

We have a programming
curriculum for elementary schools.

We start kids in kindergarten.

We teach them basic programming logic

and by the time they're
done with fifth grade

they can learn JavaScript.

So our mission at Kodable is to teach

every student in the world
about computer science,

not just in the United States
but all over the world.

We've been used by a little over half

of the elementary schools
in the US already.

We're used in over 180 countries
around the world.

So I'm the CEO and Co-Founder.

That means that one, I was crazy
enough to start my own company,

and two, I run the day-to-day aspects
of the company as well.

So I'm a Technical CEO,

meaning that I can program
as well as run the company.

A lot of what I do
is work on our product.

I built the first version
of everything that we have now.

I don't work as much on it anymore

but I work on our website,
our backend servers,

I might work on our game
or our teacher dashboard

programming-wise.

I also run our HR,
do some of our marketing,

our support, I answer support
questions from teachers daily,

email, a lot of different things.

The CEO's biggest job at any stage

is to make sure the company
is moving in the right direction.

When you're a smaller
company like we are

you do a lot more of the grunt work,
you do a little bit of everything,

but as you get bigger it's
your job to really understand

the big picture, so understand
where the company is moving

and then you've got
all of these different

pieces that you need to make sure
are all working in harmony

to push in that direction.

The time I actively spend

focusing on my startup,
probably about 12 hours a day.

So right now I make $75,000 a year.

For the first few years at Kodable
I actually didn't take a salary.

That's pretty common.

The time length that it takes

to not take a salary is different
depending on the company,

but I didn't take
a salary for a while.

When we were able to raise
some money from investors

I was able to take enough.

I pretty much decide
what my salary is,

and my theory behind this is that
I need to pay myself enough

so that I can pay all my bills,
pay my expenses,

not worry about money,

not be worrying about how
I'm gonna make rent next month,

but other than that anything over that
needs to go back to the company.

I actually started programming
when I was six years old.
JON MATTINGLY, 26
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KODABLE

I was actually
grounded a lot as a kid,

and my parents wouldn't let me go
outside or play with video games,

but they had this really old
Windows 3.1 computer

that I could play around with.

I found the old BASIC
interpreter in MSDOS,

and I started playing around
with programs in that,

made my first program ever,
I was about six and a half.

It was password program that if you,

if the computer started it would
ask you for your password

and if you got it right,
it'd let you in

and if you got it wrong, it'd call you
an idiot and tell you to try again.

And then I was able to go
a little further with it,

but I hit a wall pretty quickly

because there weren't a ton
of resources that were around

for computer science
learning that young,

when I was six in 1996,

so I kinda dropped off
after a couple of years.

And then, in college,
I wanted to start my own company

and I knew I didn't want
to be relying on someone else

to build my dream for me.
I wanted to do it.

I talked to my academic advisor

about switching my major,
at the time I was a business major,

and I wanted to switch over
to computer science,

and she said it would take
two more years of school.

And I hated school,
I couldn't wait to get out

and get into the real world
and do something.

So, I was like,
"Nope, I'm not gonna do this.

"I'm just gonna teach myself."

And I was able to learn really quickly

because I had learned to think like
a programmer when I was so young.

So, irony of ironies,

my first job out of school

was in computer science,
I was a programmer.

I had just started teaching myself

maybe a year earlier.

I really wasn't as qualified for
that job as I should have been,

but I was lucky in that they hired me
and were willing to teach me.

So I was learning
IOS development at the time,

I graduated from college on a Friday,

I started my job on a Monday,
so it was really easy.

A lot of the people
I went to school with in marketing,

in marketing degrees
or business degrees

spent a lot of time looking for a job,

but it was real easy
for me to find one.

And that gave me the added bonus

of having a lot of time
in front of a computer

to be learning about computer science

and learning to become
a better programmer,

and as I did that,

when I got the new idea for Kodable

I was easy to build it pretty easily
because I knew what I was doing.

Funding Kodable in the early days
was a challenge.

We cut it really close.

So actually, I worked
at this job for about six months

and it became very apparent
that I didn't like the job

and I needed to focus on Kodable,
I needed to make this work.

So I ended up quitting my job.

I had no backup job,
I had nothing else going on.

I was lucky in that my co-founder's
a designer and I'm a programmer.

So we were able
to freelance on the side,

do some contracting work
to basically pay the bills

and we lived in Louisville, Kentucky,
which is a lot cheaper

than the Bay Area,
so we didn't have a ton of expenses

and we had never really upgraded
our lifestyle from college.

So, we were able
to really keep working on this

for a long time on a cheap level.

And then we were
accepted into Imagine K12,
STARTUP ACCELERATORS
PROVIDE SELECT STARTUPS
WITH FUNDING AND
MENTORSHIP FOR A FIXED
PERIOD OF TIME.

we ended up getting actual investment,

which gave us a lot more freedom
to come out here and start.

So, right now Kodable is used by a
little over half the elementary schools

in the United States and we want
to reach every elementary school

in the United States
in the next couple of years.

More than that, we want
to reach every child in the world.

We want to give
every student in the world

the opportunity
to learn computer science.

I am a very firm believer,

and one of the reasons that gets me up
every morning, is that computer science

is incredibly transformative
for the whole world.

You can essentially
create value from nothing.

Nothing has ever
existed like that before.

You know, you could make
the first version of Facebook

on a $30 laptop.
You don't need much.

You really don't.

Like, most other things,
you needed a ton of time,

you needed a ton of resources,
you needed things to do it,

but in computer science
you don't have to have that

and it has immense
possibilities to help

underserved communities,
poor countries.

Technology doesn't know
any of that stuff.

It's really a powerful thing,

and I think you can do a lot
to really change the world.

And the other big thing,
and that is that

I think in the next 15-20 years

there's gonna be a lot of jobs

growing in technology
and computer science

and outside of that, a lot of jobs
are gonna start to go away.

Automation is gonna
really start eating away

at the workforce
and away at the world,

and there's gonna be a problem there.

The students that we're educating now

are gonna inherit that world,

and if we can even just teach them
how to think like a programmer now,

we're giving them a chance to succeed.

That's all we can ask.

Personally,
I want to build a successful company.

Ideally, I'd love Kodable to be
the biggest, greatest company ever.

There's a lot
of great companies out there

and I want it to be a success.

I want to impact students everywhere.

And that's not just a company goal,
that's my own personal goal.

If I can look back
in ten years and say

that I built something
that touched every kid in the world

that's impressive,
that's something big.

You know, personally, longer term

after Kodable, I probably
want to take some time

to just explore various hobbies.

I know I need a break.

I'd love to do some more,

I'd love to learn
how to draw and paint.

Spend more time

with hobbies and do different things.

And then I'll probably start
working with startups again.

Whether I was on the investment side

or whether I was in just starting
another company, I'd definitely...

I've accepted the fact I'm never
gonna be able to escape

start-up-ville. It's not gonna happen.

I'm Jon Mattingly.
JON MATTINGLY, 26
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KODABLE

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Kodable.

I make $75,000 a year.

Money for me is a means to an end.

Because I am so focused
on building a company right now,

I really just want enough
money to pay my expenses,

be comfortable,

not be in need, and other than that,
I don't really need a ton of it.

So, I make $75,000 a year.
JON’S BUDGET:

If you think about that
on a monthly basis,

that's about $6,250 a month.
MONTHLY SALARY $6,250

Roughly $2,000 or $1,900
of that goes towards taxes,
TAXES AND OTHER DEDUCTIONS $1,900

health insurance,
various things like that.

So after expenses, you know,
things you can't get away from,

you've got roughly $4,300
a month in income.
NET TAKE HOME INCOME ̴ $4,300

My rent right now is $1,500 a month.
RENT $1,500

I live with two people two blocks
down the street, which is great,

but I live with other people
to kind of decrease my expenses.

If I lived alone,
it would be considerably more.

It'd probably be closer to $3,000.

You know, the gas bill,
the electric bills

comes out to about 60 bucks a month,
UTILITIES $60

internet's about 30, and then I've got
a phone bill of about $40 a month.
INTERNET $30
PHONE $40

My various car expenses

comes to about $500 a month.
CAR EXPENSES $500

That's including, you know, the car
payment, insurance, gas, maintenance.

I'm lucky I don't have any student
loans so that doesn't come into it.

My food comes to about $300 a month.
GROCERIES $300

Something I do to save money,
I actually do meal prep.

The bigger reason was to lose weight,
but I cook all my meals for the week

before I start,
so that comes to about 35, $40

for a full week of meals,
which is pretty good.

Saves a ton of money

so I don't have to eat at restaurants
or other things like that,

and it's a lot more convenient.

So, other than that,
I have about $1,000 for various,

you know, things
that I might do for fun,
ENTERTAINMENT $1,000

you know, maybe go out with
my friends for a drink after work,

or, you know, go up to Tahoe
to snow board for a weekend,

things like that.

It gives me about $1,000 to,
you know, invest in myself

and really put myself at a level
where I feel comfortable

coming into the office and
I'm not feeling too tired and too down.

So after all of those expenses,

you end up with about $875 leftover.

I try to save about $500 a month.
SAVINGS $500

This leaves you with

around 300 to 400,
$375 in incidentals.
REMAINING $370

You have various things come up.

Maybe you need to go
to the doctor, you get hurt,

or you've got a bill or if get in
an accident or something like that.

And the other thing that I do
is I spend for a gym membership

that's about $44 a month.

A lot of my finances
I am kind of playing it by ear.

I would be lying if
I wasn't hoping that I'd get

some kind of financial windfall
from Kodable, which would be great.

Ideally before I start a family,

I'd like to have
all my finances in order.

Whether or not that happens
remains to be seen.

Kind of just playing it
by ear right now.

I'm very fortunate in that
I am a programmer

and in the Bay Area,

it's relatively easy
to get a job as a programmer,

and that does give me some security,

because you know, the starting
salary for a programmer

with five years
of experience that I have

is around $150,000 a year,

which is a lot more than I make now

and if things were ever
to not work out with Kodable,

I could move into
that career profession

very quickly and easily

and have a lot more money
and be better taken care of.

I think one thing I wish
I'd known about money

before I really, you know,
went into a career,

is that it's a tool,

I think that

I do not agree with people
that pinch every penny and they don't,

they're 24 and they have, you know,

50 grand saved up
for retirement and everything else.

I mean, and you're young especially,
like you want to enjoy life.

You want, like, you get one.

You get one life, and money,

like it or not, is one of the biggest
enablers to having an enjoyable life.

It gives you a lot of freedom
to enjoy things.

The biggest freedom
you get from being rich

isn't having the money, it's
being able to do whatever you want,

and I think that
you shouldn't sacrifice

your quality of life

to save more than you need to do.

That's the caveat.

You wanna save what you need to save,

but at the same time,

it's like a hammer, you know.

You buy a hammer and

the day you get it, it's gonna be
shiny, it's gonna be pretty,

you're gonna like it, and if you
hang it up on the wall in the closet

and you never use it,
it's pretty much worthless,

and the same thing with money.
Money's a tool

to help you enjoy
and succeed at your life.

The best reason I've ever had
for starting a start-up
JON MATTINGLY
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KODABLE

is that you can't not do it.

You have to see a need.
You have to have something.

You have to have some itch,

that you know,
this needs to exist in the world

and if you don't build it,
no one's gonna build it.

And, you can't go into it
for the money,

you can't go into it 'cause
you wanna work for yourself,

'cause you end up working
for everyone else.

You just need to go
into it with that goal.

So I think the most important skills
a start-up founder can have

is really, you have to be formidable.

And, the way you think about that is,

there's gonna be days that you feel
like you're on top of the world,

and there's gonna be days where every
ounce of your being wants to just quit,

and go get a nice cushy job,
get your catered lunches,

and your nice desks
and everything else,

and just stop this whole
dumb start-up thing.

And, you have to be able
to fight through that.

You're gonna screw up.

There's gonna be times where
you have a lot of problems.

You're gonna have a lot of
things happen that go wrong.

Whether it's your fault,
or whether it's someone else's fault,

things are gonna go wrong.

And, you have to get through that.

You have to be able to handle that,
and a lot of people can.

You will make all of the mistakes.

You won't make mistakes,
you will make all of the mistakes

as a start-up founder.

Especially as a first-time
start-up founder,

which most people are.

Most people don't have the resiliency
to do this two or three times.

So, you're gonna mess things up.

I've messed up everything.

So, a long time ago

back when Kodable was just an app,

we had this game,
and we would make money

by selling in an app purchase,
which was additional levels.

And, at the time,

it was just me and my co-founder,

and we wanted to ship
an update before Christmas.

And the app store closes down
for like three weeks over Christmas,

and it's the biggest
volume sales part of the year

for a lot of apps because
everyone's getting their new iPads.

So, we shipped an update,

and in that update,
I messed up the code,

and everything
was unlocked for everybody.

So, the only source of revenue we had,
people couldn't buy.

So I tried to submit
an update to fix the problem,

and they wouldn't
expedite the request.

So the app store
ended up shutting down.

So for the most
of the month of December,

we couldn't make any money,
and that was kinda,

kinda screwed that one up pretty bad.
APPROXIMATELY HALF OF NEW
BUSINESSES IN THE US
SURVIVE THEIR FIRST 5 YEARS.
SOURCE: US BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS

But we survived, you know?

I think one of the other
biggest mistakes I've made

is not firing people quick enough.

That is hard,

very hard. I think most people
don't understand how hard it is.

They think on paper, "Oh yeah,
if they're messin' up, fire 'em."

But it's harder when you have
a small company when,

if you fire that person,

there's gonna be a big impact
on what you can produce,

what you can do.

But usually when you start
thinking that to yourself,

you need to do it pretty quickly.

I think the thing I love
most about start-up life

is I'm getting to build something.

I'm a builder,
it's who I am in my nature.

Everything I do, I wanna build.

And, I'm building a company

which is pretty close to the top
of the list of things you can build.

And, I'm impacting millions
of kids around the world.

And I'll look at, you know
I'll walk into the office

and I'll see all these people
working on something

that didn't exist a few years ago.

We get pictures
from kids all the time.

Or teachers,
pictures of kids all the time.

And, that's amazing to me.

It never gets old.

It's really awesome.

If we weren't making
such a big difference

in the world,
I do not think I could've put up

with all the garbage that
I have for the past five years.

I like to phrase it, that that's
the cost of making a difference.

It'd be a lot easier to start something
else but working in education,

you've gotta pay the price
to make a difference.

My name's Jon Mattingly.
JON MATTINGLY, 26
CEO AND CO-FOUNDER, KODABLE

I'm CEO and Co-Founder of Kodable.

I am 26 years old
and I make $75,000 a year.

So Kodable is a startup.

We're located in Sunnyvale, California

in the middle of Silicon Valley.

We have a programming
curriculum for elementary schools.

We start kids in kindergarten.

We teach them basic programming logic

and by the time they're
done with fifth grade

they can learn JavaScript.

So our mission at Kodable is to teach

every student in the world
about computer science,

not just in the United States
but all over the world.

We've been used by a little over half

of the elementary schools
in the US already.

We're used in over 180 countries
around the world.

So I'm the CEO and Co-Founder.

That means that one, I was crazy
enough to start my own company,

and two, I run the day-to-day aspects
of the company as well.

So I'm a Technical CEO,

meaning that I can program
as well as run the company.

A lot of what I do
is work on our product.

I built the first version
of everything that we have now.

I don't work as much on it anymore

but I work on our website,
our backend servers,

I might work on our game
or our teacher dashboard

programming-wise.

I also run our HR,
do some of our marketing,

our support, I answer support
questions from teachers daily,

email, a lot of different things.

The CEO's biggest job at any stage

is to make sure the company
is moving in the right direction.

When you're a smaller
company like we are

you do a lot more of the grunt work,
you do a little bit of everything,

but as you get bigger it's
your job to really understand

the big picture, so understand
where the company is moving

and then you've got
all of these different

pieces that you need to make sure
are all working in harmony

to push in that direction.

The time I actively spend

focusing on my startup,
probably about 12 hours a day.

So right now I make $75,000 a year.

For the first few years at Kodable
I actually didn't take a salary.

That's pretty common.

The time length that it takes

to not take a salary is different
depending on the company,

but I didn't take
a salary for a while.

When we were able to raise
some money from investors

I was able to take enough.

I pretty much decide
what my salary is,

and my theory behind this is that
I need to pay myself enough

so that I can pay all my bills,
pay my expenses,

not worry about money,

not be worrying about how
I'm gonna make rent next month,

but other than that anything over that
needs to go back to the company.