iD Tech is based in Silicon Valley. We’re a privately held, family-run company. We’ve never gone public, nor do we plan to.
Instead, we focus on a long-term outlook, constantly perfecting our product.
Today, we’re known as the world leader in summer STEM education for kids and teens. And we’re on a tear. We do things differently than any other EdTech company—and that has resulted in massive, unprecedented success.
In this article, I’ll share with you some of the secrets of our company (my Board of Directors has NOT authorized this content!), and what it takes to flourish with perpetuity over a span of 20 years.
(Hint: It’s not easy.)
But first, let’s take a look at some of our winning stats, in no particular order...
1. By the end of 2019, iD Tech will have trained nearly 500,000 students in STEM.
2. We’ve built long-term relationships with 150 of the top universities on the planet, including Stanford, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon University, NYU, UCLA, Cambridge, and Columbia. See U.S. News & World Report's Top Global Universities ranking. You’ll find iD Tech at a majority of them.
3. We’ve developed a lineup of 50 proprietary STEM courses, partnering with the world's most iconic companies like Epic Games, Adobe, Microsoft, and Google. We have the exclusive Fortnite Camp license from Epic Games, we’re the official educational partner of Ninja, we co-develop curriculum with universities, and even have curriculum endorsed by SWE (Society of Women engineers).
4. We now operate globally in six countries, adding more markets each year. Students five or 10,000 miles away can now get our Silicon Valley, California camp experience close to home.
5. We’ve launched an online tutoring service to create a year-round STEM learning ecosystem. This year, over 10,000 kids will use that service. STEM learning should not start and stop in summer.
6. We hire elite staff from the same universities where we host our camps. This year, that means close to 2,000 elite staff recruited, trained, hired, and constantly evaluated. More staffing secrets a bit later....
7. Our website receives over 5,500,000 visits per year.
8. Our company awards over $1,000,000 in scholarships each year to underserved students.
9. To run the whole operation, our company has spent the past 20 years investing millions of dollars developing our own technology stack and curriculum, providing a customized, differentiated service. It’s hard to compete.
10. The average employee tenure at the company is over 10 years, and the same CEO (that’s me!) is still here, 20 years later. Consistency. We’re also quite proud that we’ve been voted a Top Workplace year after year by the Bay Area News Group.
11. At camp, we guarantee our student to staff ratios; never more than 10 kids in a class. This ensures personalized learning. If we need to fly a staff member from one end of the country to the other on two hour's notice, we do it. We've done it. Whatever it takes. We put the experience of our students first. There is a commitment to excellence you just won’t find anywhere else.
12. iD Tech has a unique company culture, unique DNA, and incredibly differentiated talent, which has propelled us to growth every single year since 1999. It is a track record that no camp, and few businesses, can claim.
So, what is it exactly that our camp does to set us apart? How do we do things differently? What are some of the secrets to our ongoing success?
Are you willing to risk everything to see your vision come to life?
We’re a purpose-driven company. We got our start in 1999 because we loved kids, technology, and education.
Over 20 years later, that story has not changed. Our mission is the same: to create life changing tech experiences to embolden students to shape the future.
Here’s the secret: We are 100% passionate about educating kids in technology. We live and breathe it every single day. There are hundreds of different types of summer camps out there. We don’t do horseback riding camps or surf camps or Spanish camps. We are pure tech. If we'd have started a company based on something we were not passionate about, we would have never made it this far.
As I said earlier, by the end of this summer, over 500,000 kids will have graduated from our programs. Nine out of 10 go on to study a STEM field in college. 97% of iD Alumni say iD Tech influenced their career choice.
We are very blessed to be in a business where we can help shape the future. We now have alumni that work for Apple, Google, EA, Amazon, Tesla. We have alumni who have launched their own gaming studios and non-profits. We have alumni who come back to teach for us every summer, paying it forward.
We serve another purpose—we’re passionate about gender parity in technology. We’re working hard to get more and more girls in STEM in order to develop deep technical skills with us.
The good news? It’s working. Last year alone over 12,000 girls attended our summer programs. You may not know this, but Alexa and Kathryn (my sister and mom) started iD Tech in 1999. We were a female-founded, Silicon Valley-based EdTech company, well ahead of its time.
Today, we’re marching toward gender parity out at camp.
As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook said, "I've seen first-hand how iD Tech programs are getting people started in tech, especially girls who deserve the support they need to succeed in STEM. Thank you for all you're doing to inspire the next generation of leaders."
In Silicon Valley, failing is celebrated. The enduring startup.
Yes, we started in a studio above a garage in Silicon Valley. Yes, the startup days were as brutal as you read about. And how many mistakes have I made over the past 20 years? Thousands. Millions? Maybe.
But one mistake I have not made is to fall into the trap that says you should quit after a failure or setback.
Simply put, when you try, you learn. When you fail, you learn.
Here’s the secret: Attitude.
Try and try again. If you can bring your whole team along for the ride, and embrace the art of “action steps” as opposed to a binary focus on “winning,” then your team will be more creative, more resilient, and more prone to try new things.
As a matter of fact, we recently launched two new products based on some recent failures. Both are thriving. AcademyNEXT was spawned by something we shuttered called iD Tech Mini, and we also shut down something called TechRocket (an online learning platform) which recently evolved into Online Private Lessons. We’ll deliver over 10,000 Online Private Lessons this year alone.
Our job? Make our staff better. Every single day.
If you are a sports fan and watch elite soccer players, wrestlers, football players, or even professional gamers (there are multiple reasons why gaming is a sport), you know the best athletes go back and “watch film.” They study it. They study themselves. They study the competition. It gives them a competitive advantage.
At iD Tech, we have 40 Regional Managers who do the same thing. We record interviews (this summer we’ll hire 2,000 educators) and provide positive and constructive feedback, making every interview better. We actually study the “film” to make every interview better.
This is just one example of our commitment to making sure that every staff member we hire is worthy of the iD Tech brand. We also work off a management philosophy of "R+" (positive reinforcement), based on behavioral science. We shape behaviors and outcomes. Our entire organization speaks the same language. It’s a strategic advantage.
Here's the secret: Create a positive work environment and provide ongoing, direct feedback, constantly challenging your staff to get better. If ongoing staff development is not ingrained in your culture, your days are numbered.
Create a culture of collaboration
I’ve worked with thousands of people, some good, some not so good. The people who are successful at iD Tech care very much about our culture and our purpose. They care about education and kids.
Here, a good idea is a good idea, and it doesn’t matter where it came from. If it makes us better or helps us succeed, let’s do it. We work hard to foster a culture of openness.
Some simple things we do:
- We cc: key stakeholders on projects, not just managers.
- We invite all levels of employees to kick-off meetings.
- We meet every two weeks as a company (everybody!) so nobody is “last to know.”
- We celebrate wins together with monthly meetups and give on the spot “shout outs” when we see behaviors that impact our business in a positive way.
Here's the secret: Build a culture that reflects your values. We lean toward openness, collaboration, and being direct (through positive and constructive feedback). All of these same values are coached up at all our camps, and at Regional Staff Trainings, so our values permeate all levels of our organization.
Build relationships to last
Early on, the CEO of NIKE Sports Camps told me something I’ve never forgotten.
“Pete,” he said, “You own nothing but your relationships.”
I am so thankful for that advice. I have never forgotten it, and I coach my team on it all the time.
We treat people well. We do what we say we are going to do. We take an interest in our students and their parents. We listen to our corporate partners. We work closely with our university partners. And, we build an ever-lasting bond with our summer educators.
And when we make mistakes, we put them right. We own up to them.
Here's the secret: Ultimately, by doing the right thing, day in and day out, and treating our stakeholders with honesty and compassion, we build a company that thrives and endures.
Know when to get out of the way
So many of the best ideas have been cross-pollinated from camp to camp because we invite our team to try, fail, try, learn, try, create.
As an example, in 2002, I visited a camp and saw something that a Camp Director was doing with all the staff and students... it was called “shout outs.” I observed the smiling kids, the energy in the camp. I observed the look on Mom and Dad’s faces when they saw their own kid getting a “shout out.” It was positive reinforcement at its best, packaged in a really creative, rewarding way.
From there, “shout outs” spread across the country. We implemented them in staff training. We practiced them at the main office. “Shout outs” are now performed at our camps at Princeton, Miami, London, Singapore... you name it. Across all of our 150 locations.
Here's the secret: Create an environment where people feel encouraged to try new things, then let them run with it. Get out of the way. And of course, give them tons of positive reinforcement and give them the credit.
I hope you enjoyed this read. We look forward to seeing you out at camp this summer!