Five years of code, mentorship, and education: a conversation with Jeremy Shaki of Lighthouse Labs

Stories

February 20, 2018

We caught up with Jeremy Shaki (Co-Founder and Chief Talking Officer of Lighthouse Labs) and Marcus Daniels (Co-Founder and CEO of HIGHLINE vc and Founding Partner of Highline BETA), to learn more about what happened after four friends quit their jobs, packed their bags, and moved to Vancouver to start a bootcamp.

“Put it in the market, and learn from what you’re doing.”

“My parents are entrepreneurs – my mother is an artist and my father had a chain of clothing stores in Montreal. Very personal, one-to-one, traditional business. Until we started Lighthouse Labs, the startup world was foreign to me.”, says Jeremy.

“But from the beginning, one thing rang true with us: Don’t spend massive amounts of money trying to make it perfect. Put it in the market– and then learn from what you’re doing.”

Taking this to heart, the four founders of Lighthouse Labs launched their first bootcamp out of the Launch Academy space in Gastown. Their first big learning? They were on to something. In the next two years, over 380 students graduated from the 8-week intensive bootcamp.

That early growth was almost effortless. As Marcus remembers, “when we met the team, Lighthouse was growing almost organically because of the sheer demand.”

Vancouver’s tech industry has exploded over the past decade – today more Vancouverites work in tech than in forestry, oil and gas, and mining combined.  This demand for top talent set Lighthouse grads up for success: when the first cohort of students graduated in 2014, every student found employment within 90 days.

Balancing the excitement of rapid growth, the team recommitted to the pursuit of excellence. Jeremy remembers,

“We knew that business expansion and quality education don’t always go hand in hand. There’s an email somewhere in all our inboxes, where we agreed we were building the Harvard of bootcamps.

To accomplish that, we needed admissions – which sometimes meant turning away potential revenue, even when we really needed it. Everyone had to be on board.”

The admissions process they settled on helped maintain quality as Lighthouse grew – even today, 96% of grads land jobs within 120 days.

Keeping community at the core

Working out of the Launch Academy coworking space, Lighthouse team and students shared space with a wide variety of companies, founders, and early employees.

This not only kept them striving for excellence – it also provided many unexpected connections that impacted the business as Lighthouse grew. Students were exposed to all sorts of companies, and forged connections with the developers working there. It became obvious that these connections provided a different kind of support than they received from their full-time instructors. Lighthouse decided to add part-time mentors to the program, connecting students with even more experienced developers with diverse skill sets, interests, and backgrounds.

Sharing space with other companies had another side effect: it helped students connect with employers. As students graduated, some started taking co-ops with or joining the startups that had been their neighbours and mentors during the program.

The team had always known that building a strong community was the right thing for their students – now they knew it was the right thing for the business, too.

Lecture at Lighthouse Labs

When Marcus first met Jeremy, Lighthouse was already on HIGHLINE’s radar – a number of HIGHLINE vc and GrowLab portfolio companies had hired Lighthouse graduates. Given this, and both companies’ community focus, collaboration between Lighthouse and HIGHLINE was a natural fit.

But what neither expected was that Marcus and HIGHLINE would become trusted advisors and Lighthouse’s only investor.

When Lighthouse Labs came to Toronto in 2015, they found their first home in the HIGHLINE space at the Burroughes building. Like in Vancouver, the Lighthouse students and team in Toronto were surrounded by like-minded companies and peers.

Today, Lighthouse has paid it forward by launching Toronto’s first co-working space for developers. Devhub has been home to countless companies and developers – including, for a time, Highline BETA.

From 380 to more than 1,100 graduates

Today, Lighthouse’s staff of more than 30 and dozens of instructors have graduated over 1,100 developers from coast to coast – including from satellite locations in the Yukon, Calgary, Montreal, Victoria & Halifax.

Lighthouse has done a lot of growing up in the last two years. We’ve moved beyond “We found a product market fit – let’s build a product!”, and are now focused on delivering on our mandate as a business.

Even as they’ve grown, the mission has stayed the same: to continuously find the best ways to train the next generation of developers and to transform the way tech education is delivered.

Beyond their core programs, the team has released 4 free online courses and provided a free one­ day crash course for 2,000 people from coast to coast (including the author!).  They have hosted events to help teachers bring computation thinking into the classroom, and hackathons to tackle everything from transportation emissions to barriers to female entrepreneurship.

The world is changing at an exponential pace, and the next few years will be vital in determining the future of how we train talent. And as the world changes, so will Lighthouse:

Our model is to continue evolving. We are focused on building bridges into the industry, into companies, to make sure we are staying relevant.  At its core, that’s what a bootcamp is all about: relevant training.

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