In this episode I am joined by not one, but two amazing guests in Liane Katz and Rumbi Pfende of MAMA.Codes, a coding school for toddlers and children in the UK. Their business was born out of frustration – children were not getting the digital education they needed to survive in tomorrow's world. That frustration aligned with passions and interests in STEM subjects to create the perfect storm, and MAMA.Codes was born. Having had the foresight to take things online just before the pandemic hit, business boomed as parents were stuck at home with their children and now they've got their sights set on the next chapter of their story.
[Ann 00:00:00] Welcome to this week's episode of the Bet on Yourself podcast, where we speak to some of the world's most inspirational people who have all, at some point in their careers, taken a huge bet on themselves, transforming them personally and professionally. Today I am joined by Liane Katz and Ruby Fendi, who are leading Mama Codes, an award winning coatings School, which is redefining tech education for children between the ages of three and 11. Central to their mission is their passion to empower the next generation with the digital literacy and wellness skills they need to thrive in a world ruled by technology. This business was born out of frustration. Frustration at the huge tech skills gap between the UK's children and their peers in other countries. The fact that boys and girls still aren't given equal opportunities and that there still isn't enough digital support for the people who raise our next generation. So they took matters into their own hands. Liane's roots lie in digital with 20 years experience in product management and digital media for major retail brands and 12 years at The Guardian, spanning editorial and digital teams, and most recently as editorial lead for mobile and apps. She joined forces with Rumbi, a business builder, speaker, diversity and inclusion activator, fundraiser and social impact advocate with a passion for big, meaningful changes. I am so excited to share Liane and Rumbi's story with you today, and if you enjoy it as much as I think you will, then please be sure to let me know in all the usual places such as a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, or anywhere else you happen to be listening right now.
[Ann 00:01:37] So Liane and Rumbi, welcome to the Bet on Yourself podcast. Thank you both so much for joining me today. This is going to be a very fun conversation.
[Liane 00:01:46] Thank you so much for inviting me here.
[Rumbi 00:01:49] Very, very excited.
[Ann 00:01:51] So as we do here on the Bet on Yourself podcast, I am interested in your long journey, not just where you're at now and the amazing projects you're working on and this beautiful coding education that you're putting into the world. But I want to start at the very beginning before we get to where you are now. I want to get to know Liane and Rumbi kind of at the very beginning. What did you want to be when you were a little girls? What was that original dream? And then we'll get into your education and early parts of your career. But I'm curious about those first sparks of creativity and dreaming that you had. Liane, maybe we'll start with you.
[Liane 00:02:29] Sure. So I guess when I was little, my family had moved to London in the late seventies. I was actually born in South Africa and they were incredible at sort of exploring the city as newcomers and anything was possible, huge can do mindset. And so I spent a lot of time exploring and traveling just within my neighborhood and then beyond that, which became a real passion for me through life and just being creative. I was allowed to be creative. I went to a very, almost hippie school which had a creative curriculum, so I was a very creative kid. I guess I wanted to be an artist, an illustrator, a journalist, a writer. I was a big talker, as you can tell. A snapshot of me as a kid, I guess.
[Ann 00:03:14] I love that. And Rumbi, you became a multi-hyphenate where you that way as a child also with so many interests and talents and showing up in the world in lots of big ways or what were you like?
[Rumbi 00:03:24] I think I was always a talker as well. And maybe in my family, lots of boys, even to my extended family. And to give a context there, the eight siblings on my dad's side, seven of my mother all had children. The big, big family certified to be had. So I'm always a communicator, always very vocal. But I you know, apart from wanting to be Janet Jackson, when I was in my teens, I was an athlete and that was a love of my time. So competing.
[Ann 00:04:00] Which sports did you enjoy most?
[Rumbi 00:04:01] For me, as I was, as I got old, kind of settling on the way. Sprinters both relay and 104 by 100, and that consumed all of my time until I was 16 and my dad had got in contact because he was in a tourism business, had a contact at Gray Advertising Agency, and I did placement there because as you talk about it, it would be like amazing creative and you know, you get to cop new ideas and convince people of things, which is a persuasive side of my personality and and I did placement there as well. And that's how kind of developing that interest. But when I was younger, yeah, it was outdoors, it was running, it was talking a lot.
[Ann 00:04:56] I to come from a really big family. My dad is the youngest of four brothers and my mom is the middle of six kids and I am the oldest of seven. So I definitely understand how that can lead to your leadership skills at a very young age, because you need to get people on your side to get anything done but I was stuck. I was very shy, so I used my persuasive skills very differently.
[Liane 00:05:20] I was just going to add, I was the I was the kid sister. I was just two of us in my family and I'm nine years younger. So, um, I was always standing up for myself because otherwise that would be nothing. I would get to decide nothing.
[Ann 00:05:35] I think it's so interesting how family dynamics and those early childhood passions end up shaping us later in our adulthood in maybe ways that we under appreciate, you know, a background in athletics and having that natural that competitive drive not with necessarily especially imagine and running it's not necessarily only about others but like really competing with yourself, getting that PR, getting you know, having those internal markers and having Something in here and just yeah,
[Rumbi 00:05:58] Constantly going and I can win that, that balance of maintaining focus because I didn't always record. So it's kind of keeping yourself going, keeping a focus. And also you know, being in a family of boys, that energy trying to come to the world with that kind of competitive slightly alpha kind of way to kind of get things done and to be heard. There were no wallflowers. Little women.
[Ann 00:06:27] No wallflowers. Yeah, I see that. Yeah. Well, remember you mentioned that your dad was the original inspiration for whatended up being your studies because you went to the University of Arts in London and you have a B.A. in marketing and advertising, which I imagine comes in very handy in your work now. But I'm curious about your studies in the early part of your career. How did you start out? What was your first job and how did that progress before you entered your current contract?
[Rumbi 00:06:54] You know actually it's interesting because it ties into one of the reasons I'm passionate about the community is I started it was great, amazing experience and I wanted to go into acting school actually my degree so to one catch catching my degree, I'm really excited and of course a lot of graduate programs at the time. Right. So and at the time when I started was almost the first of its kind to be specifically focused on marketing and advertising. And I went to like an open core and keep the story fairly short. But I walked in and there was a girl before me who was very animated, just wanted to be in TV and talking a lot about that and maybe was it was like, Oh, you know, there's definitely going to be a place for you. You know, we've got space for you. Fantastic. I'm thinking I've studied this so I'm human because no one else. And she took one look at me and said, I'm sorry, we don't have any more places. You'd be surprised how often that happens. And literally that quickly I'm stepping up in line. So me said I'm sorry I have any more cases and there's no loud message and this is based on how I look. She saw me and said, No, you're part of it. And I had a few experiences like that. And to be fair to the, you know, media advertising has changed a lot since 20 years ago and is much more diverse and inclusive. But then in those days was very either you were from the Cambridge and there was a very, very wide space, hardly any people of any color. So I couldn't do that because I couldn't get in. So I actually went into sales, use my communication skills to do that. And because I, you know, desperate and with family that lived away from me sending money home to go to work. And I did that for a while until my best friend said to me, you know, if you look at this Internet thing, it's really like, you know what? Absolutely. And I stumbled long story short, the times up at eBay, because they bought one of the companies I was working for and let everyone else go, which is amazing. And that was about to get into it because they were like this potential and said, You know, come in and run this category for us. And it's collectible, which is kind of one of the big ones that as well is huge. And that's probably what ignited my love of small businesses, particularly startups full of, you know, having conversations with someone dressed in Darth Vader, big Star Wars pride, but they make a million a year and that's what they do. And they're so passionate and they knew the platform inside out, of course, because they lived on it. So just being in that kind of space, that definitely ignited that going to be a sense of, you know, the desire to want to be in, to build new things and to work with people who are in that kind of mindset of innovation and building something new from scratch. So yeah, that's a component of that.
[Ann 00:10:09] What year was that? The you started at eBay at the beginning of your career?
[Rumbi 00:10:16] It was probably early 2000.
[Ann 00:10:23] Yeah. Okay. Because so much of your story resonates with me. I also stumbled backwards into tech. That was not my original plan at all. And I joined Amazon in 2002. So right around that same period of time. And I'm wondering, because I was on the other side of it, because Amazon and eBay were very much well, probably more on the Amazon side. Our sights were set on you guys. You were the gold standard we were trying to be. So you and I were on other sides of the pond.
[Rumbi 00:10:48] I really like going at it. Yeah, it really was that. It was also new, wasn't it. Yeah, I remember they were thinking about integrating PayPal, which is now. Yeah, it was also new and that's where I got my experience pitching Meg Whitman, who of course, ran for president. She's intense pitching to her. That was my that was my first experience at To Bring Your Business Unit every quarter she flew in and get to stand in front of it. I'm like in my early twenties kind of having to go through, you know, really convince her. And the job I've done and the plan that I had for the future, definitely a baptism of fire.
[Ann 00:11:26] Okay. We could spend the next hour just talking about that. I have so many questions because I was on the other side doing that with Jeff Bezos. How did we do that? In the early twenties, I was like, You just figure it out. That's amazing. Listen, I am curious about so your studies where at Oxford and you have also a non-technical degree, much like I do. So your degree was in modern history and French and I studied international studies and Scandinavian languages and then ended up in tech. So tell me about your early studies and how that led into your early career decisions.
[Liane 00:11:59] Sure. So absolutely it was not a linear evolution. So I guess going back to my childhood, my teens, I was was quite academic. I was always quite bookish. I worked hard and I liked doing well. And so I went to quite an academic high school and I remember it's quite topical actually at the moment with the conversations that are going on around girls and STEM at the moment in Britain, I was told I was a natural physicist by my physics teacher and people might think this is a great thing. But to a girl in the 1980s, in that particular all girls school, this is like the kiss of death. This is the coolest thing anyone could ever say to me. And so I was like, Oh, what do I do with that? And I actually didn't like physics all that much. I liked chemistry more. And as I went into my last two years, I guess in the UK teaching A-levels and you're narrowing your subjects, you have to choose, which I don't agree with by the way, but that was the system to the list. I had to choose basically three, maybe four subjects, and I wanted to mix it up. I wanted to do chemistry languages, went to history at my school, which is not supportive. They did not want me to mix it up. They said, You got to choose one or the other. You kind of got to do all the sciences and humanities and maybe mix that with languages. So I was kind of consciously steered away from some sort of stem path system study path by just the social constructs at the time, the peer pressure, the perception that that just wasn't a girl's subject, that wasn't fun, it wasn't creative, it was dry and boring and geeky. And I ended up studying art history and French at university, and I did a number of languages through school as well. And I then went off into that classic kind of graduate humanities graduate path of kind of journalism and content creation and creative industries. And it took me until my mid-thirties to circle back and have an opportunity to, to really interface with the sort of nitty gritty of the tech world and get super excited by it. So a bit like Rumbi was describing when I graduated with the same age, it makes sense. It was the dotcom boom. And so having been interested in journalism and writing pretty much my whole childhood and teenage years and having really tried to get work experience and having got work experience at the BBC World Service and The Guardian and actually the Times as well, through my university years, I had my eye caught by a shiny new thing, which is a bit of a theme in my life. And a startup wanted to hire little me with no experience to be the fifth person in as a marketing executive who was quite interested in marketing as well. And I think there's a bit more crossover between marketing and journalism then a lot of people would say that whole. So there I was and it was an interesting idea. It was a kind of Internet loyalty points model, but we were trying to bring retailers on board. It's a bit like nectar, I guess now, and it didn't last all that long, although it was acquired. I certainly didn't last that long in it because I realized it just didn't reflect my bed, didn't light my fire. I wasn't excited about it, but I had some incredible formative experiences there. And I'm a big believer in taking what you can from every experience and every job is probably a bit less wrong then the first one you draw. So I learned how to talk to agencies. I was I was taking on marketing agencies. I was like a 21, 22 year old who were telling me, it's great we don't give you grubs. We don't stuff your product with grubs. Oh, great. I won't tell you where I've just come from. And I gained amazing experience. It was actually founded by Mark Reid, who now runs WPP, an amazing management team, and I learned a huge amount. But after six, nine months, I was realizing it was a bit of a detour. So I moved back home, save on rent, and I started again and I reached out to all the journalistic contacts I'd made painstakingly over the last three or four or five years. And I got an opening, I got an entry level job at the Guardian, incredible news organization that was really expanding into digital at the time. So I was a young thing. I could talk tech. They thought so even though I didn't actually have to do programing, I kind of got put on the digital side, only ever worked on the digital products, the website and later the apps. But in quite a cross disciplinary team. So I was working with marketing, I was working at Tech, was working with the commercial teams, and I was working with the editorial teams and in the end I got seconded to what was quite a pivotal project for me in a basement with 65 developers, which was to actually re-imagine and rebuild the website. And it's been the first ever responsive website. So we're going back some years and 64 of those 65 developers, women. So it was quite an interesting environment to be thrust into. It felt like I was completely a fish out of water. It was a different it was a different tribe. It wasn't my tribe. The other building was full of women flamboyantly dressed in creative, creative women, flamboyantly dressed in outfits, colorful outfits, swearing a lot and being very extrovert. And this building was full of guys and death metal T-shirts in quite a dank basement, it must be said. And I just was so struck by this imbalance. And just why is this the case? This is a really forward thinking employer who I'm sure would be looking for the female developers that are out there that just not out there, are they? And why is that? And why have I been unable to interface with this and engage with these amazing work opportunities? And those developers taught me to code because I was in charge of the multi-million pound budget. I wasn't in charge. It was helping to to brief them in order to create this incredible, very business critical project. And I didn't really know which way was up when it came to coding. And I said, listen, we're just going to take some time and a lunch hour to teach you. It'll be better for you. It'll be better for me. And it was just this epiphany. It was a win win. It was an epiphany. I realized coding makes the world go round, coders make the world go round, even in journalism. But you might not think that that was a cool skill. And I really got excited and I and I sort of traced it back to I reflected why I was not in that room before, you know, why had I been excluded in this whole, all these pressures that I'd had to steer away from STEM? And I have this really strong feeling. I didn't want my daughter to have to miss out. She was six at the time. My son was a bit younger. He was already all about numbers in math and would clearly be self-selecting to go to coding club if one was available. But she wouldn't. And I was thinking about how I as a parent wanted to encourage had to do that. And that's really when I started discovering coding and got really passionate about opening up access for children full of backgrounds.
[Ann 00:19:05] There's so much to unpack from both of your stories, and this is why I love starting at the beginning, because I don't know if this is true for you, but for me, early in my career, I didn't fully appreciate how much I was absorbing and how much of those early struggles informed the way you lead later, having stumbled into tech very, very early. Also, I didn't come from a technical background. I was very interested in the sciences. In fact, my favorite undergraduate course was one called Whether we were just studying atmospheric sciences. Absolutely woke something up in my brain I hadn't known was dormant and I'm still very, very passionate about atmospheric sciences. But it's so interesting these these sorting mechanisms that move us away from potential passions like Rumbi.Your experience at the university and Lianne, your desire to get into sciences and then self-selecting out a little bit and then having the system select you out and then I love that we all came there anyway though, because I think we're all I think there's a common denominator here of like we do like to set our own paths and we like to have very challenging environments. I'm curious, I really am trying to control myself because I want to know so much more about those early experiences. But I do want to highlight what you're working on right now because that's so important. But I'm also I want to come back to this. I want to plant the seed of a theme that I am curious if it will come out in our further conversation, which is how do those early experiences in working with other leaders, those that did bet on you and those didn't like, for example, presenting to Meg Whitman, which I imagine is a very intense experience or having engineers mentor and sponsor you into, okay, let's get this education up to where it needs to be so you can advocate for us and it makes our job easier. I'm curious how that shapes the way that you are sculpting your teams right now, the types of leaders you are, the way you show up as mentors and sponsors as well with that in mind, because I have a feeling there's a lot to unpack here, I'm curious how he two of you met because you're two of the three co-founders for MAMA.Codes. Yes. So I'm curious and I'm curious how you met and the original instigation of this idea.
[Liane 00:21:20] Great. Well, it's it's a love story. We always we always describe ourselves as business wives and sort of talk about our first day. So, yeah, you're right. There were three original co-founders of MAMA.Codes and myself and then two other moms who'd been working in digital industries in London. We did the very first research and development and testing out of the idea. One was a software engineer turned parent blogger, and she had been experimenting with teaching her four year old to code. And she lives near me and we have a friend in common. And we sat down. She sat me down in a cafe and was like, I've been watching what you guys what you've been doing. I've been watching what you've been doing with your contract. And you you know, I've left The Guardian recently, and I've been I've been setting up my own digital consultancy, and I'd been working with different brands as to how to optimize this, a mobile which was new then. People weren't convinced that things had to be mobile friendly. I said, I think you've come to the end of your contract and I'd love you to help me with an idea. I've been mulling around how we can teach tiny kids to code like literacy using early literacy techniques. It dumbfounded us like, I know it's on the curriculum, but how do you teach a four year old? I mean, seriously, what does that look like? And she told we talked it through and she mentioned some really inspirational figures, including Dave and Stephanie Shirley, Steve Shani, who had set up a homeworking team of mum programmers in the 1960s and had really kind of turned on its head the way we think about startups, you know. And she was very much proposing that, you know, we try this out on a kind of start up on the school run model way. We would, you know, she didn't have any childcare. She was a single parent. She went to see if we could do it. And she had lots of experience before.And the third mum was a digital mark, the self-taught coder she'd been working with on the on the parenting blog. We did some initial tests and actually e-learning tests and parent hacks where we had parents around into our living rooms and get them hooked up to the TV with that iPads and coding. And it was all pretty exciting. We could see there was a gap in the market. The two of them then decided it wasn't actually the right moment for them to be running and launching a startup. So actually they stepped away and I took the business forward and incorporated Mum Office Ltd at just five years ago last week. So I was then left sitting on my summer holiday. I remember sitting on a sun lounger thinking, How am I going to grow this business? That wasn't it's you know, it's not turning out the way we initially thought with the initial vision and initial founding team. What I do with it now, I'm not a teacher and I'm not a coder, but I can see that this is her idea and everyone needs it, so need it. How am I going to grow it? So I decided to put a little, you know, put my hand in my pocket and put a bit of my own money behind the business to try and grow the team and to find somebody who could help me scale. And I actually advertised in Nairobi for like a sales and marketing manager on working startups dot com and thinking that, you know, I need someone who's going to get this into schools and families around the UK initially and then and then we'll see. I don't want to be running around. I can I can do the product side, I can do that the growth and the vision. But I need somebody to help me and be applied. Thank goodness even that was completely the wrong kind of role for you, wasn't it? Rumbi, do you want to maybe take up. The story from here?
[Rumbi 00:24:43] I, I saw that you for that role and I was like, I love it. I have learned to trust my instincts, know the ins and outs, but I can feel this in my body. But not that's not the role I'm going to be doing. Absolutely need to be a part of this and need to speak and and just find out what else we can do. But as a bit of background tying that up to that is I had been out of corporate for years, you know, up and I kind of hold my skills i building out nascent classroom activities, what I did kind of thing at the new and it's a window into a corporate where they usually were more analog and digital and didn't know how to commercialize the platform to build it out. Staff it, of course all about revenues. £10 million in revenue that I had to generate for the business at my job until I had my I had a moment and it was an epiphany or I just there's a seed was planted someone must have said something to and I kind of thought, I can't do this anymore. Like I can't I, you know, the money, it was amazing. My trajectory was heading towards kind of global senior level that I was when I had this moment. I was working round the clock HQ in Seattle. My boss was in Amsterdam, I was in London. I was coming off the training meeting getting slotted in to my phone, 9 p.m., 10 p.m. because of the tone differences. And I was just thinking, you know, it's kind of do you kind of think, what is that the value of it? What am I do I want to keep doing this? What am I chasing? And of course, financial reward is always important because I have a family to look after in the literal sense of my parents. And I said, I can't I can't spend the rest of my life doing that. I have to take the lead because I don't have a family. So it was easier for me in that sense. Like I can take my skills, I'm going to go to the startup world, don't know anything about it, but I knew exactly what to do and off I went and did that for about six or so years, working kind of early stage founders and businesses, which is a great experience all around for me. But I brought the same kind of principles of, you know, execution. You have an amazing idea. How do you turn that into money and how quickly can you do that essentially also, you know, recruitment and things like that, because I've been managing with the team for that stage and then I just I thought, you know, I'd like to start my own startup. So before I'm a code, I set up another startup with another co-founder. And it was it's just documents protecting a Australia. But I learned so much, so much I can see now a lot of the value of that kind of experience because it does. Hundred percent. Without a lot. And I did that for about two and a half years. And when I had decided, you know, everything happens for a reason, we parted ways, certainly everything. And I was like, Right, I'm going to go back to construction. So I'm going to start looking. And that's where I saw B&B AG Ltd and put up and I kind of thought this is what I would do. Impact on change world change my country. I to that's what I want to do. I could really, really make some tangible change in the world to change that I wish I could have seen when I was young and that I just had to get in touch with the and and that's how we got together.
[Ann 00:28:35] I love that. So I'm curious, this is a very hot conversation at the moment because we've had the great resignation, which is great led to the great realization globally. And I think that's what you're just describing as you you were realizing how you wanted to repackage your skills. You you now knew how to turn ideas into money. I love how you phrased that. But you and you wanted to carry that forward, but it sounds like you wanted to be very purpose and impact driven in what you did next rather than just letting like the dollar potential. Well, which is very important. I mean, you know, when you're a caregiver, when you're a provider for your family, that's an important element. Was it super clear to you already before that moment of lightning inspiration when you saw that posting and knew it was for you? Was it already really clear what you were looking for or did you just recognize it once you found it?
[Rumbi 00:29:28] I think I knew the kind, yeah, that I wanted to be in the impact space. It just didn't know how it was going to look. The start up I had worked on very poorly. This was completely novel and yeah, but the basic premise was really exciting. It's a way of kind of connecting people with different experiences and ideas on a platform. They can actually build things together so this that I won't go into too much, but the drive for me behind that was if I can have somebody who, let's say, you know, I was a full time carer, I'm working full time carer and I could be one in the UK, someone could be one in Africa, someone else could be one in Sweden and we would be able to connect because we had that life experience and either inform companies or build something for them and that's where that kind of impact. I say that's what drove me in that startup. The idea that I could actually help create revenue business opportunities for people who wouldn't have them but connecting them. So I was in that headspace anyway, but I didn't know where I was going to land. They just knew what they had. The taste of that, that that's what I wanted to do until I saw the draft. And I think this is this.
[Ann 00:30:49] Yeah, I'm glad to hear you describe it that way because I think only in retrospect did my pivot out of corporate and into a smaller startup world make sense. Because at the time, I. I knew I wanted to do something of my own. You know, working under the brands of Amazon and Google for 15 years is the greatest business education the universe could have ever given me. I'm so grateful, but I just felt that it's to do something. And I knew I wanted it to be impactful, but I didn't have this clear, you know, checklist of things that I had to fulfill. And I'm kind of glad because I've allowed it to evolve over time. And I think you all must have met right around the same time I left Google in 2018, I think. Did the two of you start working together around the same time? 17 late 2017? Yeah. So there's this little magic in the air looking back on it where I feel like some of us were picking our heads up. You've both had incredible journeys working for amazing brands and learning a lot. I also have had some spectacular failures and when you have that in your tool belt, I feel like it gives you that capability to really, truly bet on yourself and say, What's the worst that could happen? I really believe in this cause and putting this out into the world. So let's let's give it a go. Now, you all, even though this was just 2017, you have had spectacular growth and I want to remind everyone, most of that was during the pandemic. So walk me through the two of you start working together. You're combining these incredible experiences, skills, growing a really young, small team. And I really want to hear about how you scaled it, how you built the right team and the right players, because I believe in people are a bigger indicator of long term success than the idea personally. And so how are you collecting these teams? And then we can get into how you're funding it, because I actually think your approach is really interesting and could inspire a lot of entrepreneurs. You don't have to be this, quote unquote entrepreneur in the garage going to a VC firm asking for $100 Million. There's lots of ways of growing really important ideas, and I love your approach. So walk me back to 2017 before we knew this crazy pandemic was coming, and then how you've had this incredible impact and success. And I think a lot of it is because you're so passion driven. You really both of you are so committed to the cause of educating these kids. I have honestly, I have a million questions. It's hard for me to say just I'm sorry, that was like 12 in what was. I was thinking about growing. The team. Yeah I get so if I could simplify what I just as early growth stages 2017 growing the right team that had the right chops and collaboration to survive and thrive in the coming pandemic. I'm curious how that happened.
[Liane 00:33:35] It's kind of just you and me for a long time, wasn't it, Rumbi? And we and we were focusing on growing and testing out drop off coding classes for kids, really young kids, like 3 to 7 year olds in various locations in London. So the very first kind of trial class was actually me delivering a class in a local gym space, very open, flexible, space padded so the kids could stay safe and not bounce literally. They could bounce off the world if they wanted to. And I remember saying that very early on in my coaching it, I'm really not sure I want to be like on any teaching kind of. I had two tiny kids, I didn't want to be busy after school. You set up your own business sometimes thinking you're going to have flexible, wonderful control of your time and actually know all of your time goes into the business at least six days a week. But I did it and I absolutely loved it and the kids absolutely loved it and the parents absolutely loved it. I did it in a brilliant local gym space called Fighting Fitness, run by an awesome woman who loved fitness and started her own gym very early twenties, and she had a mailing list of all the mums in the area, took it all the classes, the so we email them together. Bang, they were interested in this cool new thing. They dropped the kids off. But then Rumbi and I was thinking, Well, how do we scale that? We need to test it in different locations of London, because London is a huge megacity with lots of different microclimates. In a sense. Different communities have different views. And we did that. We had three test sites and we started advertising for a very low cost model of a kind of micro franchisee empowerment with a really important value we both shared, and not just for the children we were teaching, but for the team we were going to build and we wanted to attract initially actually mums true to the name, the brand name was going to buy mums for mums. In a sense we wanted to attract people who didn't necessarily have any tech skills of background. We thought we could teach them all of that. If they're teaching kids at such a young age, we had a proprietary curriculum, teach them how to teach it, and we would allow them to work two, three days a week to promote and deliver classes in that area. And thanks to Ruby's incredible ops experience, we were able to scale that to 30 classes a week and 17 months from that initial of and we learned a lot, though, didn't we remember, about what kind of person we were looking for, the right profile, somebody who could teach and sell. That's not always compatible and obviously then the the pandemic hit one really interesting hire we made. Who is our other kind of core management team member. Was your Chandni. And maybe remember you want us to tell the story of how she joined us at the customer first.
[Rumbi 00:36:25] I think, and we actually have a fair number of those experiences where people find us because they use that to come across and love what we do. And that's one thing I will actually say about me and how we complement each other, because she's people are drawn to the business and it's definitely her name is definitely her that's kind of is I don't know. And again, I think it's. [All of us and you in particular.]
[Ann 00:36:53] I do think there's something to having a dynamic founder. I think there's a special energy that cannot be replicated later, even in the Google model, when our founders then brought in, quote unquote, you know, parental supervision with Eric Schmidt, who is a professional, multi, you know, career CEO. There's something really special and a founder. I think that's true. I definitely want to get into this story, but I think I would be remiss if I didn't help our listeners understand what that magic is that makes all of you and these incredible people you're recruiting into your into your curriculum. I wonder if you can you walk us through what your mission statement, because I found it very inspiring on the website. You go through three points of what you're really trying to accomplish here. And I think this explains why people are so dynamically drawn into what you're trying to put out into the world. So maybe because I'm sure that's part of this story, right, when you're finding the right fit, it's because you have that passion element.
[Liane 00:37:49] Sure. I mean, our our mission is to empower the next generation with the digital literacy and wellness skills they need to thrive in a world filled by technology. So it's about attracting a wider range of children from a wide range of backgrounds, all genders, uh, making it seem like somewhere that everyone wants to play, as well as looking at tech holistically. Because a lot of parents actually one of the biggest challenges we face as a business is parents to have their children on a screen for more time. But there's a real kneejerk reaction and negative feeling around screen time. So digital wellness is actually something that's a real kind of USP for mum codes. We teach families how to feel more confident about how they are using technology and where they're putting the boundaries around it. So at the end of our coding classes, we do mindfulness so that we all end our tech sessions happily with a smile and with that attention. We also have webinars for parents, the Facebook community around raising digital kids in its widest sense. What digital skills do kids need to have for the future? But also, how can everybody feel happy about the techniques that we have? So that threat of empowerment, as I said, it really runs through everything we do, whether that's the children that we teach, the skills we give them, how we want them to feel about the mastery that they create around the coding and the digital skills, but also bringing the parents and teachers along on that journey. And then within our team, we, for any sort of pioneered flexible working in remote working before the pandemic, most of our team is part time. It works asynchronously. They can do their jobs to if for all. Okay. So we attracted, I guess, kind of impact minded people, many of whom have teaching or volunteering experience, for example, as a kind of scout leader, we didn't ask a formal teaching experience, but community and child experience, people who wanted to give their time to something which benefited them financially but also had a strong purpose. I think that unites the team. I've never seen the team more excited than the day we told them we were doing some outreach free session for an amazing charity, which would be and I partnered with quite early called Novo New Opportunities and they work in the community in the West London that was hit by the terrible Grenfell fire tragedy also in 2017. And the thought that we were going to be able to be including these marginalized kids who had been through so much in a fun in a fun experience, giving our time and giving giving them that experience. Really excited the team, in a way that really surprised us. So yeah, with that we're definitely an impact centered bunch of people.
[Ann 00:40:32] So powerful Liane. I want to go back to the story that I interrupted of one of those early hires, understanding the magic. And and I think it's so smart the way you designed it so early to be able to include these passion driven people, especially those who need asynchronous work cycles working remotely because of other commitments, responsibilities that they have in their life. I think that's beautiful at Rambam. So curious to hear about this this early hire in and how you created this magic that sustained it propelled you through the challenges we didn't yet know we're coming at that.
[Rumbi 00:41:01] I think there is so much to be said. Probably one of the biggest things have been quite a moment because you can't fake it when you speak authentically and people can hear it no matter who they are or where they are. And and you click at the hands, people being drawn to the business, because if we're very clear on our beliefs and the values and then we kind of put the structure and the process around them, and that's how we, the people find us a lot of the time. So with Shani, who is my head of product and as it happened in other cases as well as he came across us and has and love what we're doing, I think he had chosen cutting as well.
[Liane 00:41:51] Yeah, she wanted to. Yeah, she wanted to get her Degree and she taught me the case.
[Rumbi 00:41:56] I'm normally trying a class of. Four or five though. It had just been. But you kind of school and she'd been in kind of a pull probe as well. And it's similar to me in the sense that you kind of see something meaningful, which in corporate, it's something that just resonates. You're like, you know, I have to be a part of this. So she approached us. They only had actually they connect with it just like I did. I love what you're doing. I can what can we do? And actually, because, you know, back and forth, kind of to find out what this was going to be at the time, she actually said it's got second. She got a in the time we were talking, but she wanted so badly to work with us that we she worked for us as well because she's working two jobs. The three months, the two kids and six months. It's not going to help us so much be part of the business and obviously not not let down the company. She's working for me ability to job for three months so she could hand that over and join us full time. And if that's not a sign of just pure commitment, pure passion in that kind of stuff you can't bottle.
[Liane 00:43:07] No, I know. And and it came didn't it from her trying an online class which is something we were testing out pre-pandemic. We wanted to move to a digital first delivery model and we were convinced that online classes is the future. So thankfully we tested it, but very few parents were forward thinking enough to look beyond the friction of I don't know what Zoom is or I don't want my child to do it online less and less of a face to face. One of the thing is, it's good enough. But she did. She was futuristic enough to do that.
[Ann 00:43:35] Yeah. In the pandemic. So this was a big question I had is how did you in just ten days pivot your entire business model to continue to serve these kids, continue to inspire those kids who are involved in it, and especially address your mission, which is to stop this stem cliff push for girls. I learned on your website is around age nine that that cliff is very abrupt because it was so passion driven and you were so creative. You are able to do that. But tell me that story of this ten day pivot of getting everything rounded up. So it sounds like you had some early testers, you were figuring out the model, but I'm sure it wasn't yet perfect. And how did you make it?
[Liane 00:44:16] I mean, with retentions, very limited testing. We had, you know, four or five people had to have had online classes just because they knew about us or they had been in London, then moved away and they were in an area where they couldn't access face to face classes, that they were passionate. They either worked in I.T. or really, really prioritized coding for their children, one of whom was one of them was Roshni, who died and joined us as head of Ops and product. But very few others. We were very few others joined us at that stage. We were ahead of customer demand, but we have, thankfully, through the steps required to deliver an online class, had some tutors trained to deliver them. We had the tech tech checked out and we could see what was coming. I think early planning was a really key part of our success at that period because we actually, in that pivot, didn't lose a penny of revenue, booked revenue. So a lot of customers and school partners had booked us to deliver that term. The lockdown came I think in the penultimate week in March and luckily we were heading towards the Easter break. So we only had one or two weeks to kind of substitute with online classes. But we I mean, you trained you gathered the team and trained we trained them in the online delivery methods, pitfalls, security, safeguarding all those things. The customer service team, the booking platform.
[Rumbi 00:45:47] They had a very different you know, when you online speaking in person.
[Ann 00:45:51] Especially with such little students I mean their attention spans are so small I have lots of nieces and nephews and I half of them I cannot imagine like doing online school. So it's really incredible. And I think it must have come through in the dedication of these people that you had brought on board to do something that I imagine was, I mean, never easy, but especially when you're first pivoting to to adjust that curriculum to keep these littles tuned in and engaged.
[Liane 00:46:20] And it was a very, very difficult time for many of the team. And not everybody moved over. Not everybody was able to pivot to to teach online. But the vast majority, where I think we only lost about three or four teachers from my team at that time. If you went on on a pause and many of the team actually picked up a huge amount more teaching than they had had previously face to face and were able to relocate to less expensive parts of the country outside London and continue. So out of our team. It was really, really tough on on women, actually. It was really tough on some parents. It was tough on anyone with bad Wi-Fi or any children who couldn't reliably not interrupt you doing an online quote. But actually for many, it was brilliant. For those who had kids over about seven who could reliably be kept busy for 45 minutes to be delivered to class, you could stack your classes you didn't have to travel time or costs. And I remember you remember we told the team maybe a year before, this is going to be the future. We're going to do it this way and you're going to be able to stack all these classes. And they kind of looked at us like, really? They didn't really believe us. And then thank goodness, in a way, the one silver lining is that, you know, the pandemic just accelerated that that sea change in lifestyle and that education delivery, that 800 million children and students around the world were homeschooling suddenly. And that was a huge pain point for the parents, particularly those who are trying to hold down what around that dynamic. And I know myself, it was an absolute nightmare, but that was the same for our whole team. So we had kids or other ankles and we were still powering through this massive challenge, determined that it wasn't going to sink us. And actually, I do remember listening to various podcasts and reading various articles which made me quite mindful of like, this is an opportunity to actually be defined by how you how you react to this massive challenge is going to be a really, really key point in your life and your business. Is life to think really carefully. How you looking after your team? How are you making everything as flexible as you can? And actually, really, luckily for us, it's a thread that runs right through our journey so far and I hope it stays that way, is that we're so relatable to our audience. We are audience. We live the same lives as them in the same timetables and the same pressures and then have the same hopes and fears for our children. So we could really relate to them in a number of different huge Facebook communities that sprung up for parents at that time and offer them support and offer them a freebie. And we actually do that for anyone with Kickstarter, that explosive growth part two, which was them, we raised 184% from the August 2020 to February 21.
[Ann 00:49:10] Incredible. Most business models crumble under that kind of growth. I think we've all seen that and experienced it. I'm curious if do you think some of that success is because of your core philosophy that this isn't just a singular experience for the kids that you're serving in this new generation of digitally savvy, tech minded, new generation, but you take a very holistic approach in bringing in kind of their entire tribe of supporters. You bring in the families, parents, community, etc.. Do you feel like that's what was able to shore up this growth that you had and make it so successful in this bizarre environment? Because it isn't you don't just like it's not just the kids are there and then the parents have no idea what's going on. But you really involve everyone. Is that right?
[Liane 00:49:55] Yeah, we try to we try to provide information that's very digestible for very busy parents and we don't require them to be on the lesson live call with their child. That is very much hands free time. We look after them for you, but we provide information. I think I think what really helps us now is just the tone of voice we were able to have. You know, we were able to get out there and say, we we feel your pain. We really do all day, slotted it for to fit it in before the homeschooling started. And here's to something. A worksheet about coding that is an on screen is off screen and will keep the child busy for 20 minutes. You're welcome. And that is exactly what parents were just desperate for. And I guess another kind of interesting kind of customer insight that we've we've picked up over the years has been that we don't want to seem too clever to our customers. We need to be authoritative and expert. But if it's beyond the reach to gen up on this stuff, they feel like, I don't know, I need to take some tim , I need to read it and I'm not ready to take that leap. I don't want to book this for my child, and then they'll overtake me. And they might I mean, parents have told me, you know, I'm worried my kids are going to hack into the school computer system. It's my my book, my class with you. And so there are some really deep seated fears around this stuff. So we have to stay up to speed with our audience, constantly explaining in bite sized chunks, not in massive tomes to read or, you know, online courses to follow. I think it was more around the tone of voice and the release ability than necessarily how much we told the parents about the courses at the time because they justdidn't have time to take on anything. We're trying more now. Now we've all kind of...
[Rumbi 00:51:42] Yeah, and I was going to say 200% agree with me and I think there was obviously a lot going on in the background, but to remain that safe place to land like the world literally just is upside down, inside out. Who knows what's going on with home, you know, work, school, so much uncertainty. The fact we were able to maintain the only pivot so we remained present and then maintain the quality and accessibility levels. So from the parent's perspective, nothing really spoke to the fact that you were no longer face to face, but it still felt like the same place and I think that was incredibly hard for so many businesses to do. The disconnect could so easily happen, right? And we were in it way. I think if you fiercely competitive space in business in everyone is offering freebies right to try and survive to try and grab hold of parents anywhere so it was very, very competitive. And the fact that we didn't have to do that, we didn't have to change our model significantly is a testament to the fact that parents felt, I'm safe here, my child is here,I know who they are and I can trust them. And they'll look after I look after my baby. And that's really what, you know, what parents want. And that was tied in with, you know, parents homeschooling more and now gradually realizing what the education system really is with all its pros and cons, the fact that we were all in that space, you know, the messages we were sending them now really resonated. This is why this is important. This is why, you know, it's one of those factors I think came in and helped kind of maintain that consistency for parents and at the onset with the teams as well, they needed to feel they were in a safe place to land as well because, you know, COVID was rampant and the that you know, people had to move when monitor available in expenditure shielding so you know you can't leave your house and the fact that you have a patient come to work flexibly around to partner with children is invaluable in a world where so many people were losing work or at risk, just providing that safety and certainty, I think is really, really invaluable.
[Liane 00:54:01] And we carried on in a bit. Sorry, we carried on innovating as well. I mean, we didn't just stop there at moving to online classes. We were doing parties, we were doing escape rooms. We were just kept out it completely close to the ground, to our audience. And we developed some partnerships with companies and corporates and understanding that no one could meet up, whether that was for personal party or corporate party or team social. So when I look back at the things we did, you do things quickly that don't scale when you have to you right. And that was definitely the case in that. But we still get inquiries for those products and they're very easy to to fulfill. So I think it was one of those absolutely exhausting looking back at the exhausting periods of time where the ground just kept shaking and we thought we'd dealt with it and we had quite a good response to that first part of the pandemic. Then we had a lot of uncertainty about our boots on the ground division. You know what the franchise, I mean, it's really difficult to demarcate leads and marketing on the Internet by territory. How do you how do you allow somebody to market themselves and attract only the right clients for that particular postcode that they represent? It's really difficult. So it wasn't all plain sailing and there was a lot of uncertainty about when we could or couldn't open up face to face again. The parents were clamoring for it after a long while of in the online. But yeah, you know was that safe for us to send our team in? There was a huge amount of back and forth and then will the vaccines work? I remember Rumbi and I had a plan A, plan B, plan B, that's about. What if. What if this.
[Rumbi 00:55:39] Is not open? What if what if this happens? What exactly? And you have to really forecast for every eventuality. Ready? Yeah. So we were ready for anything.
[Liane 00:55:48] And I think that that sort of planning and replanning and obsessive planning and really thinking through every possible ramification of impact for us is just how we manage that time successfully.
[Ann 00:56:00] The longer we talk, the more questions I have. We need at least another hour of this. The big, respectful of your time. What I'm hearing from you is something that I feel like is really relatable no matter what. Other entrepreneurs or interpreters who are listening are coming from some, things to unpack, for our listeners to think about I love that you just called out that you tried some things that you knew wouldn't scale because that would give you the ideas and something to pivot from. I think not enough entrepreneurs do that where you're willing. I mean, Airbnb is a great example of that. They did so many things in the beginning that did not scale or make sense, but it gave them this dose of inspiration that unlocks, you know, their path to innovation within the travel space. You hired the right team, your passion driven alignment. I've heard you share best practices of you were willing to take risk before the rest of the world was really stepping into those spaces. And that's allowed you to compete in a really interesting way. And I, I wonder if, if I can only have time for one last question is what words of wisdom would you give to other entrepreneurs who are really committed to their space, to what they want to put into the world, but don't really know how to get started? As you early on, said Liane, you wanted to share with them, you wanted to get into the space even though you're not a coder or a professional educator. What about other entrepreneurs who are interested in showing up in the world in a unique way, but are maybe allowing some of those things to hold them back?
[Liane 00:57:36] I would say absolutely go for it. But set yourself a very some very strict goals and timelines. Allow yourself a certain amount of time you're going to give to this idea and be really lean about it, really think about how to prove the demand for it, test it out. So in the early days of macOS before we started the company, we had a whole load of parent hacks in our homes where local parents were invited to hook up the iPads to the TV and we could have a chat to them about their views on coding kids technology, what were their fears, what was stopping them getting involved in this? And that was really invaluable. I didn't cost any money at all, cost me a pack of biscuits at my time. So anything you can do kind of in terms of guerrilla research, really testing out, stand on the corner, stand at the station, chat to people. Where are the people you think are going to use this product or service? Go and talk to them yourself. And this can be a side hustle. It doesn't you don't have to give up your job to do that. It can be. I did my consulting alongside looking to monetize for a good nine nine months. Then I would say find a mentor, talk to somebody you admire in that space. Tell them you admire them. You'd like to have a coffee or a could, could they do some online mentoring or even just kind of they open to having some chat feedback on you idea because somebody who's been there and is a bit ahead of you will have succeeded and failed in a number of ways they can chat and they can be an honest friend to you and give you that feedback that will help you save time and then find your network. You know, entrepreneurship is not an easy road. I'm really struck more now that I was quite inspired by my parents, who are both self-employed and started a number of businesses. Friends of mine in corporates or in civil service often say to me, I could never do what you do. And for me it's just kind of in my blood. I don't see it as a crazy thing to do is a risky thing to do. Things haven't always gone well for so many people I know in business, but that doesn't stop me wanting to give it a go and having a belief that there's no reason that I can't make it work. So having a can do attitude is quite crucial. But a mentor in a network of others doing the same sort of thing at the same stage as you, a little bit ahead of you and a little bit behind you.
[Ann 00:59:51] Incredible nuggets of wisdom there. Gather the data, do your market research, take your time, invest in it. At this stage, don't be afraid. Use it as a side hustle until it's got that traction and transition point and find your network of supporters who have been there and understand what you're going through. I am nodding my head to every single one of those. That's thank you for me as well. Rumbi, anything you wanted to add to that? Anything that you think.
[Rumbi 01:00:17] Is pretty comprehensive, I thought overstate the state that finding a tribe, it's so hard to keep email has to do this on your own and there's no need to nowadays, which is wonderful in the sense that there are there are networks and unfortunately also that you do have to find them. So it is about being reaching out, getting out of your head a bit, getting past ego a bit, just getting out there and having those conversations. And it's okay if you don't know, you know, it's just a put yourself out there because there are a lot of well-intentioned, well-meaning people who absolutely get it, who know exactly what it was like, who wants to help. And one thing I love working with with Liane, I think I said this together, I tended to be in very kind of male dominated environments in our corporate life. And and when I was consulting with female founders stood up kind of very male world. What I love about being in EdTech is there are so many women and when I the energy, the way that we work is still so difficult. One of the things that struck me was, you know, really collaborative, really helpful. Like, it's okay, you don't know, let's get together. Let's let's pitch together. Let's tell your ideas and and it's so, so refreshing. So, so refreshing. So, you know, I that's probably the biggest thing is find your tribe to start bouncing ideas off and also to give you start on the space to start like things like addressable market, the kind of nuts and bolts is what I, what I want to do. Does it make sense? And I need people to get that audience feedback to me. And that's important I think to start, if you don't have anything but an amazing idea and you want to start that from your first instinct.
[Liane 01:02:11] And I can't believe I missed this one out. Get a co-founder. Yeah, it's like absolutely invaluable. And the number of times we've looked at each other up talk sense when the other person was floundering or worried or. When dealing with long term. We've both been dealing with a bit of long-covid since January actually, and that we thought our whole team had a huge amount of hope. It impacts. It's really impacted on some of the things we've been working on. They're just taking longer, but we're still getting them done. Just managing around real world impacts.
[Ann 01:02:44] So much wisdom in that getting having the right co-founder changes everything and that enables you. I love that you said this Rumbi about getting out of your own head. I'm guilty of that. I mean, literally last night, like woke up in that like panic moment at three in the morning about things that aren't finished that I need to be. I could talk to both of you forever and ever. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. If if I could ask one lightning round final question. It's my favorite last question. It would. What gives each of you hope for the future? What are you excited about in the coming years or maybe in this coming generation?
[Rumbi 01:03:23] I'm excited about how I can see technology in a real sense can be the great leveler. The disparities also great COVID made them even greater than the fact that there's a real opportunity to give everyone and in our case, every child, a fair shot or the same shot is what really gets me up every morning.
[Liane 01:03:49] Yeah, I think it's very similar. I think that I've always been hugely excited by technology right from the start of my career, but I feel like everything is coming together that I'm passionate about, not only in kind of my work at my macOS, but kind of in the in the wider debate and progress towards inclusion and using technology and education to drive that and not just think we're perfectly placed to be part of that. It's hugely exciting. There are obviously enormous challenges and the pandemic has widened. The digital divide, but there are so many people working together to overcome that that I am largely optimistic that it will get closed. And it's such a different skill set, a different way of learning in STEM that children we've seen children on the spectrum some children absolutely excel that have been shut out of mainstream learning. And that's just one of the ways that we're being inclusive and driving access to it even excites me.
[Ann 01:04:51] I am so inspired by your work I am so grateful that you're putting this out there. I think it's one of the most important causes that we can have is more diversity. Inclusion in technology based codes are being written for artificial intelligence that are going to be really hard to undo. And we need more diversity in every possible definition of the word word participating in that. So thank you for inspiring and building up this next generation who will be a part of building a future that we all will be proud of. And thank you for this message and inspiring our listeners. Many of them out there have other great ideas of ways that they can be influential in their community and turn their passion projects into the impact that the world really needs right now. So, Liane Katz and Rumbi Pfende, thank you so much for being on the Bet on Yourself podcast today.
[Rumbi 01:05:36] Thank you so much.
[Liane 01:05:37] Thank you so much for inviting us.
About my guest

Liane Katz and Rumbi Pfende

Liane Katz and Rumbi Pfende are founders of MAMA.Codes, an organization created to provide children with the skills they need to be successful, to make sure girls and boys both have the same opportunities, and to help create better lives for the amazing people who raise them. They have since scaled to 35 classes a week across London and, since taking things online during the pandemic, have reached a global audience of more than 1,400 children from Hawai’i to the Philippines.