Business Journeys: Justin Nihiser – Code Ninjas
Justin Nihiser’s passion for music brought him to School of Rock, a musical education company for children in the US, where he climbed the ranks before realising he had an even greater passion – for franchising.
During his time as Vice President of Franchise Operations at School of Rock, Justin oversaw the development of over 180 franchised units before moving on to Brain Balance Achievement Center where he implemented a hugely successful turnaround strategy, resulting in increased franchisee satisfaction.
Fast forward to 2020, Justin took on the role of CEO at Code Ninjas, the world’s largest children’s coding franchise. Since then he has been working to support the continued growth of Code Ninjas while guiding the company, and its many franchisees, through the turbulence and uncertainty created by COVID-19. Here, Justin shares more about his journey
Tell us about the business, what does it do and who does it help?
Code Ninjas is the world’s largest and fastest-growing kids coding franchise, with more than 300 locations across the United States, Canada and the UK. At Code Ninjas, kids learn to code while building their own video games – our mantra is, ‘Kids have fun, parents see results’. We develop problem-solving skills with the innovators of tomorrow through our coding education platform.
Franchisees operate out of coding schools, called Dojos. A team of savvy Code Senseis are employed to deliver the game-based curriculum, meaning prospects don’t need to come from a technology background to invest in a franchise. Franchisees have unlimited access to a dedicated team of UK and US franchising experts. This, along with access to Code Ninjas University, new franchisee training, an annual franchise conference and continued marketing and PR support, provides franchisees with the tools needed to make a success of their franchise.
90% of parents have expressed an interest in wanting their kids to learn to code. Code Ninjas offers investors an opportunity to get ahead of the curve by providing a crucial service that has largely been overlooked.
You took on the role of CEO at Code Ninjas at the height of the pandemic. What challenges did that present?
When I joined as CEO in August last year, the world was in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic and our team was already working hard to best serve our franchisees as they address the challenges it brought. School closures in the UK have resulted in a real emphasis on helping children catch up with their studies, via any means. Our programme is a fantastic supplementary activity that children can undertake alongside their school lessons, while still having fun and making friends. Our UK locations are temporarily closed, under current government guidelines, but plan to reopen from 12 April. In the meantime, the majority of our franchisees have taken sessions online, ensuring learning can continue. It is because of this unquestionable demand that our network is thriving.
What attracted you to Code Ninjas?
After starting at School of Rock and moving on to Brain Balance Achievement Centers, I learned that franchises that cater to kids’ passions is where I wanted to be. When I was approached by Code Ninjas, I did my research and what I found was that this franchise concept not only worked to provide STEM skills to our kids, but also things like problem-solving and critical thinking. We’re not your typical provider of vocational services for kids. We are a system where kids are encouraged to be themselves and grow into the leaders of tomorrow.
Tell us a little more about your career path.
My journey in franchising began over a decade ago as a general manager of an individual School of Rock location, the children’s music education franchise. I held a variety of positions there, moving into operations and development roles before becoming vice president of franchise operations. I was responsible for supporting the opening and operations of domestic and international locations. In 2018, I joined the Brain Balance Achievement Centers team. In my role as COO, I developed a company-wide turnaround strategy that increased franchisee satisfaction. This involved a restructuring of the headquarter team to improve training and operations support, as well implementing new initiatives to expand programme offerings.
At School of Rock, what was it like overseeing such a large franchise network, and how did it prepare you for Code Ninjas?
The opportunity to oversee the operational needs of our franchise network was daunting. I was tasked with rebuilding our field support staff team, building trust with our deeply passionate franchisees, and dramatically improving our new location opening process. The success of our system required us to make material improvement at the unit level and I had a team that was up to the task!
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I get the most pride from seeing how the franchises I’ve worked with have positively impacted thousands of children. Many franchisees have shared stories with me about kids who, after coming to one of our Code Ninjas facilities, have made incredible improvements in problem-solving skills and school work. We are doing our part to support the innovators of tomorrow.
What are the short-term and long-term plans for Code Ninjas?
We must continue to lead our franchisees through the choppy waters of the pandemic. We are focused on providing programme and marketing-related support to build a robust recovery for all franchisees. Our long-term focus is to continue to solidify our stake as the world’s most popular and fastest-growing kids coding franchise. We are doing this by providing robust investment in the curriculum we produce, the operational support we provide, and the brand awareness we push.
What has been the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received?
"They might be right”. I heard this advice from a fellow CEO at a franchise company, and it rings true on a daily basis. It is essential that employees of a franchisor listen carefully and with full acknowledgement of the concerns and requests brought to us by franchisees. We grow as a company when we listen more and speak less.
What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
Taking over a company in the middle of a pandemic. Not only was I coming in to help the company realign and focus on continued growth ahead, but we also needed immediate plans to move forward on issues that were affecting everyone during the pandemic. As fast as I was learning about the company, our culture and our team – I was also learning about the problems that could not be overlooked in our system. But I am confident that our team is on the right path to continued success now. I have been able to assemble a team that I have the utmost faith in and they are working with me to continue to improve Code Ninjas on every level, every day.
Why do you do what you do?
I do it for the kids and the passionate franchisees in our system. Our franchisees have invested substantially to open their individual Code Ninjas locations. I want to be part of the team that helps them run their business sustainably and create something they can be proud of. This drives me to find ways to inspire them to hit their highest aspirations and through this they are able to positively impact their communities and the families around them. I work hard to ensure that the kids of today have the resources to truly become the leaders of tomorrow.