Diversity in Franchising January/February 2022 Leadership Profile Women in Franchising Women in Franchising Article

Leadership Profile: The Code to Success

Code Wiz founder and CEO Ruth Agbaji shares her vision of reaching one billion children worldwide

By Stefanie Ucci

When most franchisors establish their franchise system, they may go into their new business endeavour with an audacious business goal in mind.

For Code Wiz CEO, founder, and “nerd-in-chief” Ruth Agbaji, her big vision for the educational coding franchise is a magic number: to reach one billion children across the world.

“I believe that every child has an inner genius in them that’s waiting to be unlocked … everybody has some sort of genius in them,” explains Agbaji. “I’m trying to empower as many kids as I can to unlock that inner genius through coding and robotics.”

Code Wiz is an educational franchise where students can develop coding and programming skills—as well as critical thinking and problem-solving abilities—regardless of age, tech proficiency, or personal interests. Agbaji founded the brand in 2017 and began franchising in 2019 with the goal of reaching more children across the U.S. and beyond.

Making the move

Agbaji grew up in Nigeria, and even as a young child she had a passion and drive to do and be more in life. As a college student in her fourth year of an electrical engineering degree, she says she felt like she wasn’t learning much because of a lot of the knowledge she was being taught was theoretical rather than practical. Tack on the challenges of being a young woman in the male-dominated engineering field and the fact that the program had only one piece of equipment to be shared by 50 students, and Agbaji realized that her potential wasn’t being fulfilled as much as she’d hoped.

These academic challenges coupled with her drive to express her full skillsets led to creating a “big project” for her college, using code to solve the problem of collecting assessments for large classes.

“I very quickly ran into errors and mistakes—if you’ve ever tried to code then you know what that looks like,” explains Agbaji. “But I didn’t want to give up. I felt like I always wanted to get out and this might be my ticket out [of Nigeria]. I had to keep going and be resourceful and find a way to fix the problem.”

After “randomly Googling the problem, as all awesome software engineers do,” Agbaji says she was mentored over email to help her add the finishing touches to her big project. Then, she decided to apply to colleges outside of Nigeria to see if she could get a scholarship. That eventually led her to Tufts University, which ended up being her ticket to the U.S. and to bringing the Code Wiz brand to life in her new town in Massachusetts.

“Originally when I started Code Wiz, my goal at that time was having five locations in Massachusetts. Then I would feel accomplished and fulfilled,” she notes. “Life happened and I wasn’t able to open more corporate centres, but I could see the demand of what our competitors were doing.”

Today, she has the drive to make the brand a household name and reach as many children as possible. “When I sat down and looked at it, I knew that I could be hyper focused on my goal, and I can keep knocking things out of the way until I get there. I knew I could do this on my own if I wanted to, but this might be a whole lot faster and easier if I partner with the right people.”

Acquiring a helping hand

As a wife and mom of two children, aged five and eight, Agbaji decided that she wanted to spend more time with her family and steer away from working the dawn-to-dusk, 14-hour days that were required of her as the brand’s leader.  

In order to let Code Wiz grow and flourish as a franchise system, she recognized that she needed to bring in an outside party to add a helping hand. That led to the brand’s acquisition by parent company, Clear Summit Group. Agbaji says she loved their values as a purpose-driven company with businesspeople who aren’t all about the money, but much more than that. “One of the things that I really love about them is that they’re betting on you, the founder.”

Before the acquisition, Agbaji was only taking on as many franchisees as she could support. Now, she has the support of Clear Summit Group to grow more quickly, since it has a team that’s dedicated to assisting franchisees in their business journeys.

It was after this grand business move that Agbaji’s daughter helped spark her big goal. “After we got the acquisition, my eight-year-old daughter made me a card and wrote, ‘Congratulations mom. I can’t wait for Code Wiz to reach one billion kids.’ I said, ‘Boom! That’s it. That’s our vision statement. That’s the number that we’re going to reach.’ It seems insurmountable—I think that’s like half the population of kids in the world. But anything and everything is possible so I’m running with that.”

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Crushing the obstacles

As most franchisors and business owners will know, the trek to get the Code Wiz business up and running had its own set of unique challenges that Agbaji faced head on and knocked down as they came.

“Life throws different challenges at us, and things that we have to deal with, and that’s just the first thing to get over,” notes Agbaji. “Some people have more challenges than others, but life in general just has obstacles, and that’s not going to stop you from doing what it is that you feel you were made to do.”

She explains that being an entrepreneur can get lonely because not everyone understands the long hours and hard work it takes to be a business owner or a franchisor getting their organization up and running. “You often have people around you who absolutely love you and want the best for you, but they’re like, ‘Can’t you just stop working? Shouldn’t you go to bed?’ I say, ‘I’d love to go to bed but … this has to happen, this needs to get done!’ Sometimes that can be isolating, when your family and loved ones don’t quite get the drive and the need to really keep pushing and not give up.”

But Agbaji says she powers through by trying not to overthink things, while hyper focusing on the end goal. Plus, it helps to surround yourself with people who are battling the same obstacles as you are. “Understand that the best laid plans always have challenges—things go wrong, and things change,” she adds. “The joy at the end of the goal is going to be permanent so I’m going to be focused on the joy that I’m getting when I hit the goal.”

As Code Wiz begins to grow into the franchising sphere, Agbaji notes that it’s important to work closely with her franchisees to move the brand forward, together. The culture is one of collaboration, where everyone works in the business with the mindset of, “If you’re successful, we’re all successful.” She says she’s looking for franchisees who thrive in a collaborative culture, are happy to work with other people, are entrepreneurial, and see making an impact on the next generation of children as part of their ROI and reason for starting a business in the education industry.

“One of the things that I have learned through my franchising journey is that we’re better together and we are stronger together,” says Agbaji. “Fix your mindset, surround yourself with people that care and believe in you more than you believe in yourself. Just get going, take one step at a time.”