Dell Entrepreneur Spotlight series: Kathryn Parsons, Decoded

What business today isn’t being kept on its toes by the unrelenting pace of digital innovation, regardless of the industry it’s operating in? Technology is a business enabler which can act as a leveller, but the digital ‘dark arts’ often need to be deciphered for businesses looking to take advantage of the opportunities they offer.

Kathryn Parsons, Decoded Co-FounderWith one business already under her belt, for her next venture, entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons decided she wanted to tackle the technology skills gap to help empower professionals to become digitally literate. She co-founded Decoded in 2011, a company with a pioneering approach to code education and a mission to teach people to code in a day. To date, the company has been working to demystify the web, teaching more than 2,000 UK professionals the basic skills they need to understand ‘what goes on behind the screen.’

Kathryn is also championing the agenda of women and technology, encouraging professional women to be code-literate so as not to be excluded from what she believes is the hybrid skill set of the future. 

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn at a roundtable co-hosted by Decoded and the Guardian, focused on the topic of women in technology. I sat down with Kathryn to learn more about the inspiration behind her business and lessons she’s learned along the way.

What is Decoded all about and how did you get here?

With a background developing cutting-edge campaigns within the area of branded content, I set up my first business in 2006 –- an innovation and product development company taking a radical approach to IP development and concept ownership within the marketing industry, working with brands including Transport for London and Metro. Having studied Classics at university, I’ve always been passionate about language and ultimately found myself increasingly immersed in the languages of the web. I recognised that code is a leveller and will be vitally important in the future, but that there was a need to offer a fast, comprehensive educational experience to empower professionals to pick up the skills in a day.

What was it that triggered the idea for your business?

It was a conversation I was having about transformative experiences, the mysterious language of code, the skills gap within the creative community at entry level, and how no one has any time – and Decoded was born! Since launching Decoded in January 2011, we’ve been working with teams ranging from start-ups and creative agencies, to the boards of companies such as Guardian Media Group, Talk Talk and WPP, as well as technology companies such as Google and Microsoft. We’re confident we have pioneered the global zeitgeist around code education, paving the way for a new generation of digitally literate, enlightened, empowered professionals!

What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting your business and how did you overcome it?

Everyone said it was impossible; luckily I've always liked impossible challenges. The key advice I’d give to other entrepreneurs is to work hard and don't give up, as the impossible is possible! Stay positive and do what you love and really believe in.

If you had to do it all again, what if anything would you have done differently in building the business?

We've become incredibly focused upon our vision and ambitions as a business from the outset. I believe this is even stronger now than when we started. I honestly did not think about a Plan B as I had such believe and passion in what we were doing with Decoded.  

The business was a big risk; we are entirely self-funded.  Had I not come up with Decoded however, I’m sure that I would have launched another business as I love seeing great ideas turned into realities.

What technology could your business not live without?

Code, the web, connectivity…all technology!  It affects every aspect of our lives and our businesses, which is why there is a pressing need to invest in code skills, education and literacy at all ages.

What’s the best perk of being your own boss?

Being able to surround yourself with colleagues who you not only admire for their skills and expertise, but who you believe to be great people too.  Decoded is all about the team.

What’s next?

This year we'll be taking on more ‘digital dark arts’ at Decoded –- namely, teaching data visualisation and social network skills in a day. I’ll be overseeing our international expansion too, including the launch of our Singapore and New York offices.

Thought leaders in code education at Decoded have been working with a range of partners including the government, Next Gen skills and Google to lay out a proposed methodology and curriculum for teaching code in schools. Amongst our initiatives, we recently launched free online code education content in partnerships with O2 being distributed to teachers and students throughout the UK to take them on their first steps behind the screen.


Kathryn is winner of the 2012 RED Hot Magazine's Women's Awards for both UK Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year and Digital Business of the Year. You can find Kathryn on Twitter @KathrynParsons.

About the Author: Sarah Shields