Case Study

Code School

We bootstrapped Code School and grew it into a leading learn-to-code platform.

Code School course design compilation


The programming language and framework pair of Ruby and Ruby on Rails brought our founders together. As big fans of the technology and active participants in the community behind it, Envy Labs was always keen on giving back. That initially took shape in the form of training videos and conference workshops.

Setting up attendees’ machines proved harder than actually teaching the material, and removing that bit of friction became an internal mission. In late 2010, we released our first web-based, zero-setup course. We called it Rails for Zombies before zombies were cool (it was a different time back then, okay?). Its success at conferences, local meetups, and across the ’net begged the question: what if we keep building these?


  • The Business


  • Branding
  • UI Design
  • Zombies


  • Ruby on Rails
  • Angular


Beyond Theory

Contrived examples and building another to-do app can help with learning the basics of a new language, but that knowledge falls short when building production-ready Rails applications. We aimed to share our stories as daily practitioners to save others time and frustration.

Avoid Investment

Favoring the iterative, sustainable approach we evangelized as consultants, we chose to decline venture capital along the way.

Theme and Gamify

We’re fans, but coding can be a bit dry. Dressing up the content with over-the-top themes and adding points and achievements were the perfect way to trick users into the treat of learning programming and computer science.

The Envy Labs team puts on a workshop with Code School
A listing of Code School's available courses


Free Samples

Being our own target personas provided a nice head start, but delivering interactive, error-checked coding lessons was relatively unbroken ground. Mixing in free courses offered some room to experiment, engage with new audiences, and push the platform forward.


Orlando’s tech and creative scene was growing by leaps and bounds, and assisted as an impartial proving ground. Each month, we’d trade tacos and queso for feedback on beta versions of new courses.

Monetization Models

Free courses remained a mainstay as Code School found its footing, but monetizing was a struggle in the beginning. After launching with a pay-per-course model, we took a leap with a subscription plan and pledged to release a new course each month.

Progression of the Rails for Zombies interface
Course interface badges
A Code School course detail page


Over-the-Top Fun

Honestly, we’ll never be sure if the course themes were enjoyed more by our customers or staff. From the interface all the way down to the video jingle, each lesson was paired with its own unique design take.

Welcome to Code School …

… where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. Despite not being able to redeem points or badges for anything, users still sought to earn each and every one.

Code School homepage
Assorted course themes
The Envy Labs development team attending RailsConf in Code School shirts
Course designs in partnership with GitHub, Google, and O'Reilly


Interface Iterations

The early ’10s marked the Wild, Wild West of in-browser coding, and our platform represented the first-to-market experience for these sorts of tasks. As such, we approached every course with fresh ideas to further iterate on the best way to deliver content.

Back to Front End

Mirroring the path of Envy Labs, Code School kicked things off with Ruby on Rails. As other solutions matured (and new features were dreamt up), the platform eventually migrated over to JavaScript frameworks.

The Language and Framework Spectrum

Keeping up with the technologies of the day offered opportunities to partner with a number of industry leaders. We were honored to pair with companies like O’Reilly (Try R), GitHub (Try Git), and Google (Discover DevTools, Discover Drive).

TechCrunch reports on the sale of Code School to Pluralsight


Pluralsight Sale

In the spring of 2015, Code School sold to Pluralsight for $36 million. No outside investment was taken prior to the purchase.

0 to 400,000

Despite its beginnings as a side project, the product had outgrown the consultancy. By the time Code School spun out from Envy Labs to start 2014, it boasted more than 15,000 subscribers and 400,000 users.


Nearly every applicant we interview credits Code School for part of their education. Inadvertently, we helped train our own future employees.

“Code School is seriously bad-ass, next-generation learning…kudos to the whole Code School team.”

David Heinemeier Hansson
Partner // Basecamp