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Young Ones to Watch: Ruth Agbaji, CEO of Code Wiz Franchising

This enterprising computer programmer is encouraging kids to excel at coding by offering the same kind of encouragement she received as a child.

Ruth Agbaji, the founder and CEO of afterschool computer education franchise Code Wiz, calls herself the company’s Nerd-in-Chief.

But, truthfully, she’s also the living embodiment of its mission.

Born and raised in Nigeria, the 35-year-old Boston-based Agbaji taught herself to code and had dreams of studying in the U.S. “Coding was my ticket out,” she said. 

Along the way, she happened to find an email mentor based in India, who helped her improve her coding skills with encouragement, guidance and debugging her programs when needed.

Eventually, she earned a master’s degree in computer science in the U.S., but after stints at big companies, she decided she wanted to pay the kindness she received forward. In 2017, she started Code Wiz to do just that. 

“I want to make sure that they have somebody that they can talk to, to help them with their code, and not get discouraged,” she said. “Because little things like that could dramatically change the whole trajectory of their life.”

Today, there are five Code Wiz locations, three of which are franchised. So 1851 asked the busy entrepreneur about her journey to Code Wiz and her plans for its future.

1851 Franchise: Tell me about Code Wiz. Who is the target audience?

Code Wiz is an after school program for kids, ages seven through 17. We help them unlock their inner genius. That’s basically how we describe it. We help them to learn to express themselves creatively through coding and robotics.

1851: How did you get started in this area? Were you were an educator

Ruth Agbaji: I grew up in Nigeria and I taught myself how to code. After I got my master’s degree in computer science, I worked as a software engineer from Microsoft and Kronos. But as my family grew, a regular 9 to 5 job became difficult. I really needed flexibility to take charge of my own schedule.

It is so much easier when you don't have to explain to a boss, “I'm sorry, my child is sick again. I have to take this time off to go to the doctor.” My son has special needs, so from the beginning, it was like just in and out of doctors’ offices. I just couldn't do it with a regular job.

1851 Franchise: What made you think that Code Wiz would be a good concept to franchise? 

Agbaji: Initially, I wasn't thinking about the franchise route. But a lot of people would ask if it was a franchise business because they felt like only a franchise business would have this type of brand. So that was one indication. People were also calling us to ask us to come run classes for them two hours away three hours away, which we started to accommodate, but then it became too much. The whole reason I started the business was today to have flexibility and time with my family. So I started to think about how I could expand without overextending myself. Franchising just seemed to fit the bill. 

1851 Franchise: Tell me a little bit more about how COVID-19 impacted your business.

Agbaji: We did not offer online classes before COVID-19. We had our brick and mortar locations. But when COVID-19 hit,I wasn't sure what we should do next. But then it just made sense that we should go virtual. And luckily for us, all of our curriculum lives in the cloud already. We were shut down March 13. I believe by the next Monday we were up and running with online classes. And it actually really worked out well because now we could really reach a bigger number of kids than we could before. 

1851 Franchise: What do you love about the franchising industry?

Agbaji: I came to appreciate the franchise industry in this whole COVID era because everybody came together, and everybody pretty much had each other's backs, I would not have wanted to be an independent business during the whole COVID situation. So I love the community. 

1851 Franchise: Do you have advice for people who want to franchise their business?

Agbaji: For emerging franchise owners, I would find it hard to be with a group of other franchisors and they’re all saying, “Oh, I sold 20 units yesterday:” or “I sold 100 units.” Emerging franchisors should not feel pressured to outgrow the support system that they have built. If your first few franchisees don't feel like they're supported, then it's not gonna go well for you.