Ryan Clark Of Code Ninjas: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

…Ask Questions/ Don’t Assume — There is Never a No… You Got to Figure Out How: Adopt a proactive and inquisitive mindset in your franchise operations. Do not hesitate to ask questions, seek clarification, and actively pursue opportunities for business growth. Approach challenges with a solution-oriented mindset and be persistent in finding ways to overcome obstacles. Other franchisees get frustrated because they want to try something but never do. Do it, ask the questions, gain support, and feedback and then amend your approach and move forward. I work closely with our franchisor to explore new opportunities and ensure they understand what we are seeing in the market, and I work diligently to better understand their strategic priorities and how we can identify new opportunities to both our local and their strategic needs…

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Clark.

Ryan Clark is a seasoned leader and innovator with over two decades of experience in product management, development, marketing and operations in the military, financial services, and logistics industries, and operating small businesses. In 2021, he opened his first Code Ninjas location, and now has four locations across Florida. He earned degrees from Old Dominion University, Central Michigan University, and George Mason University. Committed to lifelong learning, he holds certifications in digital marketing, product management, and project management.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

There are two key events in my life that have really resulted in where we are today. First, I have always had an entrepreneurial mindset, starting a small business in college, and have missed it since I sold it. Second, at 37 years old, I was diagnosed with colon cancer and the realization that life is fleeting. You begin to ask yourself, are you doing everything you can, are you truly achieving your dreams, having an impact. It helps remind us that the next day is not guaranteed and there is no better time than now to get started.

As a college freshman, I started a local courier service, Clark Delivery, that delivered “everything but babies.” We grew it into a top ten service in the local area and sold it shortly after graduating college to enter the military. I have always had the desire to get back into business. After serving in the Air Force and spending 10 years in the private sector as a business consultant, product management and in development, I saw firsthand how technology was impacting all industries.

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with stage-3 cancer and quickly realized that the next day is not always guaranteed. Now cancer free, it served as a nexus to explore new business ideas and find something that would have a positive impact. After exploring numerous opportunities, I found Code Ninjas, a mission focused organization with the ability to serve the community and help prepare children for the future.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have been able to help companies improve their products and offerings. I am immensely proud of the work we did to modernize the new platforms to include a new online payment tool, text to pay functionality and a more customer-centric approach to their product design. These efforts resulted in improved process efficiency, higher net promoter score (NPS) and generated millions in new revenue. We launched over twenty new products and had an incredible run; we were able to launch four major products within 1 year. It was very intense, and it was extremely rewarding to see the positive impact of these new solutions.

However, my most satisfying moment is the direct result of the launch of Code Ninjas franchisees and seeing the positive impact we will have on our community and future. When you see the development of a Ninja from day one in our program to their belt ups to celebrate their learning, it is very exciting. We have been able to bring coding education to over a thousand children and prepare them for a future heavily reliant on technology. Our goal is to make this world better than we left it, and we play a small part in helping provide innovative training that will create a whole generation of future problem solvers, critical thinkers, and innovators.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

A couple words of advice come to mind:

1) “Surround yourself with successful people and follow the advice of successful people” — At its core, it means success breeds success. When you have a problem, successful people find solutions. When you are around other people, you can be influenced by their actions and traits. You notice their successful approaches, how they navigate challenges and how they can turn setbacks into learnings and improvement.

2) Hire for Intangibles: We can teach skills, but you cannot teach hard work, integrity, commitment, and passion. This is about getting the right people on your team. When you have a team committed and dedicated to a shared goal or purpose, it is powerful. When you do not know something, you can go out and learn it. If you do not have hard work, I then worry if you will even show up. Get the right people on your team and that means hiring for the intangibles first.

I am a huge fan of strength finders and really work to find team members that complement our other team members so that we have a diverse set of skills across the team and can leverage each other’s strengths to maximize performance and results.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

A truly mission based operation with an extreme focus on customer experience.

We are driven to create a positive impact on the community with the goal of preparing our children for the future and committing to improving our quality of life through the development of new products and solutions. Code Ninjas has a passion for technology and innovation to influence others and invest in their future.

Over the last 3 years, this has resulted in us opening 4 Code Ninjas locations. Through these dojos, we have trained over a thousand children and provided over 22,000 hours of instruction.

Regarding customer experience, we closely track our NPS as a measure of customer satisfaction. It is a great indicator of the culture quality at the dojo, and a leading indicator to our ability to retain and grow our customer base and there for our impact.

Our team’s strength is in building a culture of enthusiastic technologists creating an optimal student and parent experience which has resulted in a NPS over 90 (based on the last 12 months) across all locations.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

Most importantly, I considered the franchise’s mission. I looked for insight into its values and long-term goals to ensure it aligns with our own personal mission and values. This is crucial.

In addition, several other factors come into play:

  1. Passion and Interest: Selecting a franchise that aligns with your interests and passion can make the business more enjoyable and fulfilling.
  2. Market Research: Analyzing market trends, demand for the product or service, and competition in the area is crucial to determine if the franchise has a viable market.
  3. Franchise Support and Training: Assessing the level of support and training provided by the franchisor is essential for success. A strong support system can help you navigate challenges and maximize profitability.
  4. Financial Considerations: Evaluating the initial investment, ongoing fees, and potential return on investment is necessary to ensure the franchise is financially viable.
  5. Brand Reputation: Choosing a franchise with a strong brand reputation and recognition can attract customers and instill trust in the business.
  6. Flexibility and Autonomy: Considering the level of flexibility and autonomy offered by the franchise is important, especially if you value independence in running the business.
  7. Franchisee Satisfaction: Researching existing franchisees’ experiences and satisfaction with the franchisor can provide insights into the overall franchise system’s health and potential for success. Does the franchisor protect franchisee territory?

Once you have considered these factors and found a franchise that aligns with your goals, values, and capabilities, it is essential to conduct thorough due diligence, including speaking with current franchisees, reviewing the franchise disclosure document, and seeking professional advice if needed. The right franchise should offer a combination of personal fulfillment, financial viability, and a support system that aligns with your vision for business ownership.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise? How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise?

Specific to my situation, I am the sole owner and fully self-funded. We must be extremely diligent in our cash flow management and financials. As I discussed options with financial advisors, a key point that was emphasized over and over was ensuring I had cash available. Just because you have the franchisee branding and process, it is not a guarantee to achieve profitability. It is important that you own your business and work diligently to get out and drive revenue, growth, and fiscal responsibility.

Capital and cash flow present significant challenges for franchisees, particularly in the initial stages of establishing and operating the business. Here is how:

  1. Initial Investment: Franchise fees, equipment purchases, leasehold improvements, and other startup costs can require a substantial initial investment. Many franchise agreements also require ongoing royalty fees and marketing contributions, further adding to the financial burden.
  2. Working Capital: Even after the initial investment, franchisees need sufficient working capital to cover day-to-day expenses such as payroll, inventory, utilities, and rent. Insufficient working capital can lead to cash flow problems and operational difficulties.
  3. Seasonal Variations: Depending on the nature of the business, franchisees may experience seasonal fluctuations in revenue. Managing cash flow during slow seasons while still meeting financial obligations can be challenging.
  4. Unforeseen Expenses: Unexpected expenses such as equipment repairs, maintenance, or regulatory compliance costs can strain cash flow and require quick solutions.
  5. Slow Ramp-Up Period: It may take time for a new franchise location to establish itself in the local market and attract a steady flow of customers. During this ramp-up period, revenue may not be sufficient to cover expenses, putting pressure on cash flow.

To overcome these challenges, I:

  • Conducted thorough financial planning and budgeting to accurately estimate startup costs and ongoing expenses.
  • Secured adequate financing, through 20 years of building up personal savings and small business loans to cover initial and ongoing expenses.
  • Negotiated favorable terms with suppliers, landlords, and lenders to improve cash flow. You must be ruthless but professional as it is critical that lease terms are favorable. In many cases, this is your highest fixed cost and your first major decision. If your fixed costs are too high, you may have unknowingly set yourself up for failure from the start if your break-even point is too high. You need to ensure the market can support and cover your expenses.
  • Implemented effective cash management practices, such as monitoring expenses closely, minimizing unnecessary costs, and maintaining sufficient reserves for emergencies.
  • Sought and continue to seek guidance from the franchisor and other experienced franchisees who can provide insights and support in managing financial challenges.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

One aspect that completely took me by surprise when I first started my franchise was the level of autonomy and decision-making authority I had as a franchisee. While I expected and needed some level of independence, I was surprised by the extent to which I could tailor certain aspects of the business to suit the needs of my local market and community. This is critically important in service-related franchises.

Initially, I anticipated strict adherence to corporate guidelines and procedures in all aspects of operations. However, I soon realized that within the framework provided by the franchisor, there was room for creativity and innovation. I had the freedom to implement local marketing initiatives, adjust pricing strategies, and introduce new products or services based on feedback from customers.

This unexpected autonomy allowed me to truly take ownership of the business and adapt quickly to changing market conditions. It also reinforced the importance of open communication with the franchisor and fellow franchisees to share best practices for improving the business.

Overall, this aspect of running a franchise taught me the value of flexibility and adaptability in entrepreneurship, and it has been instrumental in driving the success of my business.

A common reality in business, including franchising, is that no process or system is flawless, and encountering challenges is inevitable. As a franchisee, being proactive in problem-solving and collaborating with the franchisor to find solutions is essential for overcoming obstacles and improving the overall operation of the business.

Stay resilient, maintain a positive attitude, and view challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement. By actively engaging in problem-solving and working collaboratively with the franchisor and fellow franchisees, you can overcome obstacles and contribute to the overall success of the franchise system.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

In hindsight, my advice to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals would be to prioritize opportunities that align with their passion and interests. Here is why:

  1. Passion Drives Success: When you are passionate about the products, services, or industry of your franchise, you are more likely to be motivated, dedicated, and enthusiastic about the business. This passion can drive you to overcome challenges, innovate, and continuously improve, contributing to the success of the franchise.
  2. Personal Fulfillment: Running a franchise is a significant investment of time, energy, and resources. Choosing a franchise that aligns with your interests can lead to greater personal fulfillment and satisfaction. You will enjoy the work more, feel more connected to the business, and find greater meaning in your entrepreneurial endeavors.
  3. Long-Term Commitment: Investing in a franchise is a long-term commitment, often spanning many years. Selecting a franchise that aligns with your interests and values increases the likelihood of long-term satisfaction and commitment to the business. It reduces the risk of burnout or disillusionment that can occur when you are not genuinely passionate about the work.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

Balancing adherence to established franchise systems with the need to innovate and adapt to the local market is essential for franchise success. Here is how you can navigate this balance, along with an example of a successful adaptation:

  1. Understand the Franchise System: Start by thoroughly understanding the franchise system, including its processes, procedures, brand standards, and core offerings. These established systems are often the foundation of the franchise’s success and help maintain consistency across locations.
  2. Identify Local Market Needs: Conduct market research to identify the unique needs, preferences, and trends in your local market. Understanding your target demographic, local competition, and community dynamics will inform your adaptation strategies.
  3. Communicate with the Franchisor: Maintain open communication with the franchisor regarding your local market insights and adaptation ideas. While adhering to franchise standards is crucial, franchisors often welcome input from franchisees on ways to innovate and tailor offerings to local markets.
  4. Tailor Solutions to Local Needs: Use your understanding of the local market to tailor solutions that meet the specific needs of your community. This could involve customizing service offerings, adjusting pricing strategies or offering unique promotions and events that resonate with local customers.
  5. Leverage Local Partnerships: Forge partnerships with local businesses, organizations, and schools to better serve the community and enhance your franchise’s visibility. Collaborating with local schools, for example, can lead to opportunities for fundraising events, sponsorships, or educational programs that benefit both the school and your franchise.
  6. Example of Successful Adaptation: One successful adaptation I implemented in my franchise was the introduction of “clubs” tailored to meet local needs and complement local schools. For instance, recognizing the growing interest in tech like AI and drones in my community, I launched a “Minecraft AI Club” and a “Drone Club” offering unique educational opportunities for our students that they do not get in school or other locations. Additionally, I collaborated with nearby schools to offer discounts to students and faculty, host fundraising nights, and sponsor school events.
  7. Pilot New Capabilities from the Franchisor: Stay informed about any new capabilities or initiatives introduced by the franchisor. Be comfortable participating in pilot programs which allows you, as a franchisee, to evaluate new offerings, technology, or operational processes before full implementation. Providing feedback on these pilots can influence future decisions and ensure that innovations are tailored to local market needs.


What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

  1. There Will be Gaps/Opportunities, Be the Problem Solver — Become the Trusted Advisor: Embrace challenges as opportunities for innovation and problem-solving. By identifying gaps in the market or franchise system and proactively addressing them, you can differentiate yourself as a trusted advisor and drive value for your customers and the franchise. We have changed our CRM systems. As the solution rolled out, it was obvious that there were opportunities, as some ensure everyone needed there were issues. There were others, like me, who started a conversation with the project teams and leadership to help identify opportunities to make improvements and drive positive change.
  2. Ask Questions/ Don’t Assume — There is Never a No… You Got to Figure Out How: Adopt a proactive and inquisitive mindset in your franchise operations. Do not hesitate to ask questions, seek clarification, and actively pursue opportunities for business growth. Approach challenges with a solution-oriented mindset and be persistent in finding ways to overcome obstacles. Other franchisees get frustrated because they want to try something but never do. Do it, ask the questions, gain support, and feedback and then amend your approach and move forward. I work closely with our franchisor to explore new opportunities and ensure they understand what we are seeing in the market, and I work diligently to better understand their strategic priorities and how we can identify new opportunities to both our local and their strategic needs.
  3. Your Team and Culture Matters: The franchisee brand and processes matter. The success of your franchise hinges on the effectiveness of your team and the culture you cultivate. Invest in recruiting, training, retaining top talent, and foster a positive work environment that promotes teamwork, accountability, and customer service excellence. As we have grown to multiple locations, it became increasingly difficult to find and maintain culture. The franchisee drives the culture, and you must have effective management routines and interactions to help influence and monitor culture. While I get out and about time to each dojo on a random basis and find it important that we are actively monitoring performance and help identify opportunities to improve to ensure alignment with our standards.
  4. Performance Matters: Strive for excellence in all aspects of your franchise operations, recognizing that perfection is not attainable but continuous improvement is. Focus on delivering exceptional performance, addressing shortcomings constructively, and consistently seeking ways to enhance the customer experience and drive business success. It is easier to propose changes when your location is performing well. I may have used that line a few times. Look how we are doing; there is an opportunity here.
  5. Take the Time to Be Good at the Core Product/Mission: Prioritize mastering the core product or service offerings of your franchise and ensuring alignment with its mission and values. Avoid spreading yourself too thin by expanding too quickly or diversifying prematurely. Invest time and resources in building robust processes, training programs, and operational systems to establish a solid foundation for growth and expansion. If you cannot get the core product or service right, you should not expand. In many cases, that core product or service could represent 50–90% of your sales, if you do not get that right, you really do not have a franchise. You are just donating to someone’s good idea. Make sure there is a market for the core product.

As your franchise has grown, what have been the key drivers of its success? Looking forward, what strategies do you plan to implement to ensure continued growth and sustainability in an ever-evolving market?

As our franchise has grown, several key drivers have contributed to its success and create opportunity for future success:

  • Expanded Community Engagement: Proactively engaging with schools, organizations, and other community stakeholders to identify their needs and collaborate on creating special programs or initiatives. By actively participating in community events and initiatives, we strengthen our brand presence, build relationships, and contribute to the well-being of the communities we serve.
  • Strategic Expansion: Pursuing strategic expansion opportunities across adjacent territories to capitalize on economies of scale and operational efficiencies. By strategically clustering locations, we can optimize resource allocation, streamline operations, and enhance our market presence while minimizing overhead costs.
  • Seeking Market Arbitrage Opportunities: Continuously scanning the market for arbitrage opportunities where we can leverage our expertise, resources, and processes to assist other franchises in need. By identifying areas where we can add value, whether through operational improvements, marketing strategies, or other means, we can expand our reach and contribute to the success of the broader franchise community. A strong brand across the network and a high standard across all franchisees, helps each franchisee in the long run.
  • Leveraging Team Expertise and Delegation: Empowering our team members by leveraging their expertise and delegating responsibilities effectively. By trusting and empowering our team members, we foster a culture of collaboration, innovation, and accountability, enabling us to achieve our goals more efficiently and effectively.
  • Process Control and Documentation Management: Implementing robust process control and documentation management systems to maintain consistency and quality across franchise locations. While providing guidelines and standards for operational success, we also recognize the importance of flexibility to address the unique needs and preferences of our customers and local markets. This balance ensures operational efficiency while allowing for adaptation and customization as needed.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

As the leader of the franchise, several thoughts and concerns can keep me awake at night, but one that weighs heavily on my mind is the responsibility I feel towards the well-being of the over 1,000+ code ninja families and 25 employees that count on us. Knowing that so many individuals rely on our franchise for their livelihoods creates a profound sense of duty and obligation to ensure their continued success and stability.

The thought of potentially letting down our employees and families by making a wrong decision or facing unforeseen challenges can be daunting. This concern influences my daily decision-making process in several ways:

  1. Prioritizing Stability and Sustainability
  2. Open Communication and Transparency
  3. Investing in Support and Resources
  4. Seeking Feedback and Collaboration

Overall, the thought of the responsibility I hold towards our employees and families serves as a guiding principle in my daily decision-making process. By prioritizing their well-being, fostering open communication and collaboration, and investing in their support and development, I strive to uphold our commitment to their success and ensure that I do not let them down.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would focus on promoting critical thinking and fostering a culture of intellectual curiosity, importance of creative environments that value individual freedom and responsibility, and open-mindedness. In today’s world, where information is readily accessible but often overwhelming and biased, the ability to think critically and discern fact from fiction is more important than ever.

This movement would aim to empower individuals to question, analyze, and evaluate information critically, rather than accepting it blindly. It would encourage people to seek out diverse perspectives, engage in respectful dialogue, and challenge their own beliefs and assumptions.

By promoting critical thinking skills, we can:

  1. Combat Misinformation: Critical thinking equips individuals with the tools to discern credible sources from unreliable ones, reducing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories that can undermine trust in institutions and erode social cohesion.
  2. Foster Informed Decision-Making: Critical thinkers are better equipped to make informed decisions in all aspects of life, from personal finance and healthcare to civic engagement and public policy. By empowering individuals to think critically about the consequences of their actions, we can promote positive societal outcomes.
  3. Encourage Innovation and Progress: Critical thinking fosters creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills, driving progress and advancement in all fields. By encouraging individuals to question the status quo and think outside the box, we can fuel innovation and address complex challenges facing society.
  4. Promote Empathy and Understanding: Critical thinking encourages empathy, humility, and a willingness to consider different perspectives. By fostering open-mindedness and respectful dialogue, we can bridge divides, promote understanding, and build more inclusive communities.

To kickstart this movement, I envision a grassroots effort involving educational initiatives, community forums, media literacy programs, and digital platforms dedicated to promoting critical thinking skills and fostering a culture of intellectual curiosity. By empowering individuals to think critically and embrace freedom of thought, we can create a more informed, resilient, and compassionate society for generations to come.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Follow me on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-clark-mba-cpm-cpmm-ctp®-5959b923

Follow our consultancy on LinkedIn @ www.linkedin.com/company/code-coast-consulting

Follow our Code Ninjas @





Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.