Cxo Interview with Brendan Manley – CEO & Co-Founder of iCAMP
Recently, our Community Engagement Manager, Katie Moran, sat down with Brendan Manley, CEO & Co-Founder of iCAMP, to discuss founding a company and overcoming initial growth challenges presented by the COVID pandemic. iCAMP provides STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education to children ranging from ages 3-13. Brendan and his wife, Lulu, Co-Founded iCAMP in 2018 in Southampton, New York. Over the past 5 years, their operations have expanded to have one location in the Hamptons, five locations in New York City, and two locations in Westchester. As well as running programs (primarily afterschool classes) in about 60-70 schools in the greater New York area.
Brendan has a BA in Philosophy, Marketing and Creative Writing from University of Miami. With a background in Software Development.
What inspired you to found iCAMP?
“Have you ever seen Slumdog Millionaire? He wins this game show because he knows every answer through a series of unique life events that just happen to line up right. That’s kind of what happened with Lulu and me. We had just moved back to the Hamptons because we had just had a baby, and as new parents, we were thinking ‘Where is she going to go to school?’, etc. As the Hamptons doesn’t have so many enrichment opportunities for kids. My background was a software developer and, a lot of people don’t know this, I was a Manny… We had the idea in June in 2018 and that July we started advertising it…”
How would you define the culture of your organization?
Everyone is a friend. “Honestly, my only friends now are the people who work with me. My best friend is my wife and she’s both my boss at work and my boss at home – I don’t know any other way.”
What makes you excited to wake up and go to work every day?
“We love kids – that’s why my wife and I have a lot of kids. I think a lot of people forget what it was like to be a kid, and I can relate. Being around kids helps you stay grounded a bit. It allows us to be able to relate with why different age groups behave in certain ways which is important for us to empathize with different groups. I feel like I learn a lot from my kids. It’s a difficult business, but you see a real tangible impact in that you can discern that you can teach somebody something and you can see it click for them. Also, you see kids develop passions and develop hobbies.”
What are some of the challenges that you had to overcome to bring your vision to fruition?
– “Even with the outbreak of the pandemic we didn’t stop, the business kept growing; all the programs we were running became much more difficult to run – with the masks, and the sanitation, and the social distancing. Everyone was in pods with each other. It was all very challenging. Virtual programming that we were running. We were happy when we were able to go back to how the programs ought to be run. You really need to do it in person. You know, kids don’t really understand social distancing and kids don’t really know how to keep a mask on.”
– “Parent preferences and comfort levels were changing from quarter to quarter, or month to month, and we needed to stay on top of what will parents want now and, like, what’s not going to freak them out basically. It really all changed so quickly. Suddenly, parents were mad at us if they saw a single kid with their mask down. But then, suddenly, it was the opposite – if a parent had to put a mask on their kid, they were furious. We felt like we were a little bit ahead of the trends because we were getting, anyone really working in schools or with parents, were seeing first-hand how opinions and preferences were changing.”
– “Also, we had to run (which was pretty horrible, though we are grateful that we had the opportunity to serve the parents), these private camps. You know parents in the Hamptons, a lot of them have these really beautiful grounds and plenty of room, and parents who weren’t so comfortable to send their parents to camp, but not so anxious to only do virtual things, we get together with their friends and form ‘pod-camps.’ We were being hired (and this was only our 3rd summer in business) and running about 200 of these camps per week. They would bring us in for like 2-3 hours a day and running these programming at these people’s homes. Which was incredibly challenging. Besides just logistically, like getting people around and materials around, kids know their parents are right there – right inside – or, like, a pool right there… Especially when it’s, like, 85 degrees out and there’s a pool right there. Or they don’t want to listen to the instructor and mom’s right inside. It’s very difficult.”
What are some of the challenges you are currently facing as the organization continues to grow?
“On any given day we could have 60-70 classes running throughout the New York area and there’s lots of logistics that go into that. You have to figure out: who needs to be where, what they need to bring with them, what they need to teach, what they need to know about the school – it’s too much for our team to handle, which we wouldn’t be able to handle, if we didn’t have our automation tools in place that did all that for us, and that was all our Head of Product, Dan Rieger. Our team would probably have to be 3-4 times the size, if it wasn’t for the systems that we use.”
Which program offerings are the most popular?
“The classes are about 40% robotics, 40% coding and the rest are science and mechanical classes.”
How does your background as a Software Developer bring value to your organization as a whole?
Let’s give a big shout out to Airtable. “We see how important it is to use technology on an individual level but also at work. I see myself, with my background in software development, I see tools like AirTable that allow you to do SQL queries to retrieve data – I see myself being able to leverage those tools perhaps better than people who don’t have that background. Which I see as an argument trying to expose as many people as possible to software development and computer science at a young age. With that being said, who knows with AI, that’s going to change everything – it’s going to change education, it’s going to change jobs, it’s going to change life.”
What are your favorite moments you’ve seen with students in your programs?
- “We had one kid who was in the paper because he was 3-D printing all the stuff for his school and the summer before he was too nervous to even talk to other kids – through this passion he developed confidence.”
- “We have these 3-D printed coins – we developed this coin system at the camp for an arcade. Like, you collect coins based on your behavior, or you lose coins based on your behavior and then you can trade them in for a prize or you can save them up and get an even bigger prize. It’s like a behavioral management tool, but we started to see this like market economy sprout up – kids were like buying snacks off of each other. Like, the kids who could behave and end up with the most economic power and start eating everyone else’s food – though it almost turned into like a black-market, we had to put a stop to it.”
What is your best advice for anybody just starting out in this space?
“Remember you need to hold on to some of the money too. So, it’s very important to understand the numbers behind the business. Don’t give up. Just keep pushing, everything is possible. There are always worse problems than your problems. Even on your worst day what you’re going through is probably better than the alternative. Life is a miracle, we’re all very lucky.”
To learn more about iCAMP and its exciting programs, check out their website: https://icamp.com/