School's in session: LA's The App Room hopes to stand out amid a crowded market for developer courses

By Michael Carney , written on March 28, 2013

From The News Desk

With headlines about millions in venture capital raised and billion dollar exit valuations seeming to appear daily, tech entrepreneurship is in full vogue. At the same time, platform app stores on iOS, Google Play, Windows, and Blackberry have democratized distribution of software like never before, meaning that there’s never been a better time to become a developer.

This trend has led to a proliferation of courses to teach you how to code. In Los Angeles, for example, there’s General Assembly and CoLoft Academy, while New York adds Starter League (fka, Code Academy), Flatiron School, and Hacker School, among others. Regardless of where one lives, free public courses from Stanford University and MIT have been exceedingly popular as well. And at the local level, most coworking spaces offer some form of education, although they trend toward the one-off, 90-minute variety, rather than the eight to ten week, immersive courses.

So the question becomes, in such a crowded market how do you distinguish among these countless options? The App Room, being the latest app development school to open in the LA market, hopes that the answer comes down to three things: location, focus, and exclusivity.

The first thing working in its favor is its Hollywood location, which although it’s just 12 miles from the heart of the Westside LA tech scene, might as well be in another state during rush hour traffic. In other words, The App Room addresses an entirely different audience than existing local programs. Interestingly, the program is stepping into a void created by the recent closure of the popular io/LA coworking space. The App Room will be utilizing part of io/LA’s former space, in conjunction with the soon to open WeWork Labs.

Secondly, the school is 100 percent focused on mobile development. So, if developing smartphone and tablet apps is your goal, this focus looks like a positive. (Though, if you’re interested in getting a broad introduction to computer programing and technology, the curriculum is a bit limiting.) The school further sets itself apart by offering a comprehensive program that attempts to cover all aspects required to launch a mobile product, including development and design, rather than separating these topics into multiple courses.

Finally, The App Room limits its student to faculty ratio to a maximum of 15:1, a figure many other programs nearly doubles. For topics as intricate and hands on as software development, this level of personal attention can be important.

The other interesting wrinkle in The App Room’s story is the background of its founder. Cliff Daiely, a Detroid-based designer, is mildly infamous for his ArringtonPleaseHire.Me “resume-site” (no longer active) aimed at CrunchFund and TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. The PR and social media stunt attracted more than 20,000 unique views, multiple job offers including one from Uber in the first 24 hours.

None of this particularly qualifies Dailey to run an app development school, but it does speak to his entrepreneurial spirit and a growing network of industry contacts. This network presumably aided Dailey in recruiting LA-based domain experts to serve as faculty and mentors.

The program’s lead iOS guru is current Fandango developer and former DocStoc developer Zach Howe. The design aspects of the course will be led by Scopely Head of User Experience Dr. Eric Kabisch. Among the early mentors are MySocialCloud co-founder Stacy Ferriera, Miso Media CEO Aviv Grill, and FetchNotes co-founder Chase Lee.

The App Room’s first course begins on April 22, and applications are currently open. Classes run two days per week, from 6:00pm to 9:00pm, for 11 weeks, and the tuition ranges from $1,800 to $3,500. At the end of each course, The App Room will have a student demo and hiring day, with established companies such as Twilio, MyScoialCloud, and Rockfish scouting for interesting products and talent. According to Dailey, the first class is currently one-third full.

Dailey has laid out an ambitious plan for his new school, and has raised a small round of financing from “friends, family, and fools” to get it off the ground. But building an effective education platform is no easy task. Ask mature companies in the space like General Assembly, and they’ll tell you that they spend more time and money on curriculum development and evaluation than they do on marketing or operations. If The App Room is to compete at that level, Dailey and his team will eventually need to make a similar investment.

At the outset, The App Room stands out as much because of the lack of proximate competition as for the online antics of its founder. The startup school should have little trouble identifying demand in the market. Whether it can satisfy that demand and create a sustainable business is less of a certainty.