Modern Labor (YC W19) – Paying People to Learn to Code

Hi HN,

We are Modern Labor ( We pay you to learn to code. We take people with little or no software skills and pay them a livable wage[1] for 5 months while they learn to code, using our content, most of which is open source. In return graduates pay us 15% of their income for 2 years if they are earning over $40,000.

The company is born out of a phenomenon I’ve been fascinated with for a long time: many people wake up every day at 7am to work at a low-paying job but they often have difficulty completing a class that might help their future. For some people, it might just come down to money. A job pays now, a class pays off in the future and only maybe. For many reasons--time, energy, motivation, financial pressures--many choose or are forced to choose the job that pays now and their long-term income sometimes suffers as a result. So we had an idea: Why don’t we just pay people to learn? So that’s what we do: we pay people, now, to learn an in-demand skill.

I remember back when we were building Leif, a startup we sold last year. I told Dickie, one of our co-founders, if I only had an extra $10,000 I could build out the product to an acceptable quality for a couple months. Otherwise I had to work. He ended up giving the money. We sold the company the next year for a good outcome. That couple months of being able to focus made a big difference in the quality of the product and I think ultimately on how successful we were with customers. We think Modern Labor can give people enough time to make a real change in their lives.

Our program isn’t for everyone. It’s full time. We pay $2000 for 5 months. Sometimes that’s more than enough to live on, sometimes it’s not, especially in the Bay Area. Nearly impossible with a family. You need the right to work in the US. The program is mostly self-directed and online. We guide students with a learning pathway and code reviews, but it’s ultimately up to them. If they don’t do their lessons, we don’t pay. It’s far too short for some people. Right now the curriculum is JavaScript (React, Redux) and Python and focuses on the web, which is only one sliver of the software universe. Most of the content is open source. Some of it’s from places like Freecodecamp, which is available for free. If you have money, you don’t need us.

15% of gross income is a lot. Why so much? It comes down to simple risk/return: returns must be adequate given the risk. If it sounds a lot like Lambda School (YC S17), you’re right. Our former company Leif arranged financing for them. We discovered Austen (CEO) here on HN. It’s a big space, though, and our program is different from theirs. We have fewer mentors and our focus is on giving money to students.

How many people will do our program? About 50,000 people pay to attend coding bootcamps in the US each year. We believe, and may be wrong, that a lot more people will choose learning when we pay them to do it.

Thank you HN -- HN was the first thing people told me to read when I was learning to code and it’s been a big part of my life ever since. Happy to answer any questions and looking forward to hearing your ideas and feedback!

[1] Right now it’s $2000/month

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andrey azimov by Andrey Azimov