3cc0504In anticipation of the 21st Mid-Atlantic Growth Conference, Technology Showcase and DealSource, Corporate Growth, Capital Style has been sharing conversations with speakers and participants of the upcoming event.

We recently had the chance to speak with Michael Chasen, who will be a Keynote speaker at the conference on March 11th.

Mr. Chasen is the co-founder of Blackboard Inc., an e-learning software company used by 20 million students and faculty at over 20,000 institutions in more than 70 countries. Blackboard was sold in 2011 to Providence Equity Partners for $1.7 billion.

Michael founded SocialRadar in 2013, and currently serves as the CEO of the location services giant. In part one of our conversation with Mr. Chasen, he discusses founding Blackboard, what contributed to his success, as well as challenges that he had to overcome.

Here is what he had to say:

CGCS: Michael, you’re a successful businessman and entrepreneur who started one of the most recognizable education technology companies in the world. Can you tell our readers about co-founding Blackboard and working to grow the business during your 15-year tenure as CEO? What do you attribute the company’s success to?

Michael Chasen: I went to college here in DC at American University, and got my MBA from Georgetown. When I graduated I ended up working for KPMG Peat Marwick in the higher-education consulting group. I saw early on that schools were spending millions of dollars to connect their classrooms to the Internet.

My college roommate and good friend Matthew Pittinsky had taken a job with KPMG a year earlier. On my one-year anniversary, we jointly decided to quit to found Blackboard. We rented a two-room brownstone in downtown DC.

We raised a little money from some angel investors who believed in the opportunity, about $400 thousand. Then we met a few students from Cornell University who had already developed some technology that allowed Cornell to put their courses online, and they had other schools using the technology as well. So we met with them and decided to merge. Suddenly we had angel financing, a full team, AND technology that was being used by a school – which is when we felt we really did have a company.

Traction continued: we hired salespeople and developers and more schools signed on to use our technology. In a 30-day round of financing, we raised just over $3.5 million, and that’s when the company really started to take off.

To grow the company, we moved into larger offices. We raised $10 million in another round of financing. By then, over 100 schools were using our technology to take teaching and learning online. We took Blackboard public in 2004, valued at around $400 million. We ran it as a public company for seven years, when we sold it to a private equity firm for $1.7 billion.

I attribute the success of the company to two primary aspects. First, when we started Blackboard, we weren’t starting another game company or email company; we were developing unprecedented technology that we thought would improve teaching and learning around the world. When hiring for the company, we were looking for people who were as passionate about education as we were.

Second, a lot of our team members were consummate entrepreneurs. They helped us not only pursue a passion but also build a business. When you are lucky enough to gather the right combination of people with the right vision behind them, you can achieve great things.

CGCS: What were some of the major challenges you overcame along the way?

Michael Chasen: We faced challenges and made mistakes almost every day. The difference is that we had a strong company culture in place. We recognized there would be missteps along the way but were determined to learn from them each time and try not to make the same mistake multiple times.

Check back next week for part two of our conversation with Michael Chasen. To attend Mr. Chasen’s keynote presentation and to register for the 21st Mid-Atlantic Growth Conference, Technology Showcase and DealSource, click HERE