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Learn-to-code startup CK targets the Minecraft modding craze

ICE Graveyard 20/07/2016 Natasha Lomas

The learn to code space is packed with ideas. But when it comes to what children want to do online, towering over everything else is the build-it-yourself Microsoft-owned Minecraft platform. All lesser virtual, creative playgrounds are doomed to be overshadowed by this pixellated silhouette.

Minecraft is clearly great fun for kids, but less great if you’re a startup trying to build your own learn-to-code gaming environment… But, as the saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. So that’s exactly what London-based Code Kingdoms has been doing.

The startup launched its own learn-to-code game out of beta back in April 2015. And while it’s still working on that platform, it’s also since shifted efforts to focus on serving the Minecraft modding community with a subscription service to help kids learn JavaScript.

It’s also placing its eggs in the BBC micro:bit basket — aka the programmable single board computer gifted to one million UK schoolkids by public service broadcaster the BBC earlier this year.

At this point Code Kingdoms estimates some 4,900 UK schools are using its micro:bit software, and a further 30 are using its software for Minecraft modding. While the original Code Kingdoms game is being used by around 1,200 schools.

“Making an entertaining game alongside offering an intensive coding environment for kids and making strong video content was/is a real challenge,” admits co-founder and CEO Ross Targett. “Now we focus on teaching kids to design and code things using existing IP i.e. Minecraft, micro:bit, rather than making our own from scratch. It has made the business easier to manage and allowed us to focus on our strengths.”

Targett says the startup sees its core strength as being its educational content along with the code editor it’s designed to get kids writing code. This JavaScript teaching platform targets the six- to 13-year-old age-range.

“We place great emphasis on educational value and this is what we’re good at,” he adds.

Code Kingdoms closed a $1.4 million seed round at the end of 2015, led by Initial Capital and Blenheim Chalcot — which it’s only just announcing now, having been focused on stealthy product dev, according to Targett. 

It had previously raised around $410,000 in pre-seed funding, including from U.S.-based seed fund SparkLabs Global Ventures. As part of the most recent funding round Initial partner Tarek Abuzayyad has joined its board. 

The seed is primarily for growing the team and focusing on “product/market fit within our current model”, says Targett.

Code Kingdom’s newest product — CK for Modding — is a Minecraft-popularity-piggybacking subscription service that teaches Java through interactive videos and its online code editor. Pricing is £9.99 ($14.99) a month, for which kids get access to 40+ hours of coding course materials, a fully customisable Minecraft server and access to the web based code editor.

“We’re already close to achieving [product/market fit] and thus the focus has shifted into expanding into new regions, offering B2B services to expand revenue and soon offer a wider product range,” adds Targett.

Despite its London base and an initial focus on UK schools, Targett says the majority of Code Kingdom’s business is outside the UK, with the US and Canada being its biggest markets — so it’s planning a rapid expansion of its direct to consumer subscription modding product there.

For its b2b camps product, Targett says it’s been seeing “significantly more traction” in Asia, including in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

“Our assumptions are on these economies are investing heavily both financially and culturally into STEM subjects and particularly Computer Science in order to transition their economies as modern and highly productive service exporters. This coupled with a highly competitive generation amongst parents when it comes to education has meant the opportunity is both highly lucrative and growing,” he adds.

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